All right, this morning, we’re going to continue a series I’ve been working on called “12 Scriptures That’ll Set on Fire the Course of Your Life.” That’s from a verse in Hebrews. Really what I’m saying is 12 scriptures that if you embrace them, you memorize them, and you put what the scriptures are exhorting you to do, if you put what they’re exhorting you to do, if you practice that in your life, it’s going to put you in a position to be blessed by God. The 6th scripture this morning is James 4:2. If you want to go ahead and find that. Also, if you would also find Mark 11, we’re going to be looking at both of those this morning. Today we’re going to talk about prayer, the importance of prayer. If you look at any successful Christian’s life, if you read a biography of any Christian that has been used by God, it doesn’t take long before you can find that prayer was a high priority in that man or woman’s life. And because of that, I preach on prayer more than any other subject. And the reason is because prayer releases God’s power, His influence, His provision. And one of the things we’re going to talk about today, as we pray, as we reach out to God, He changes our hearts. Many times when we’re praying, we want to pray according to God’s will and as we pray God begins to change our hearts and our minds to see things from His perspective. James 4:2 the sixth scripture in this series, here it is:
You do not have because you do not ask.
These nine words explain the general powerlessness in the American church, the general powerlessness in the American, Christian’s life. If you’re not praying, if you’re not seeking, if you’re not asking, if you’re not knocking, you generally are not accessing the power of God in your life. God is merciful but generally, you are not. It’s been my life’s passion to try to do my little bit to try to remedy this situation where Christians are living without the supernatural power of God working in their life, their everyday life! Before we read Mark chapter 11, a little background. In 4 days Jesus is going to be crucified, the day before this event that we’re going to look at, Jesus sat on a donkey and triumphantly rode into Jerusalem and people were screaming, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna, yeah!” Then Jesus goes into the temple and we’re told that He took a whip and He chased out the money changers and those selling sacrifices and He said the reason why He did it, “My house is to be a house of prayer and you have made it into a robber’s den.” What was He talking about, “a robber’s den”? Some of you may already know but a lot of people were coming to the temple to make sacrifices, for a lot of different reasons. And they sold sacrifices there. To buy a sacrifice there though you couldn’t use whatever money you had. You had to buy special currency coins that were only in the temple, kind of a racket. Sure, they’d be happy to change your money, so you can buy the sacrifice but of course we’re going to charge you a little money for doing that. And the reason why it was a scam is because people would bring two doves or a lamb into the temple and the chief, the inspectors would say, “Oh, there’s a blemish. Oh, you can’t use that, oh, sorry… but you can buy them right over there.” And you can see a lot of money was being made, and of course it made Jesus angry. So, Jesus, after that He goes back out to Bethany, He spends the night…
On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. 13Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. 20As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. 21Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed is withered.” 22And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. 23Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what He says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 24Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”
Jesus knew it wasn’t the season for figs, he’s trying to teach a lesson. Jesus is talking to fig trees now! In these verses, I believe Jesus wants to teach us 3 important lessons on prayer.
Jesus’ 3 Lessons on Prayer:
Pray about everything (v 24)
Several years ago, I read a Gallup poll that said that 87% of Americans believe in some sort of prayer. That was about 15 years ago. I think that number is probably less now but it still kind of proves the point that human beings want to have a connection with the supernatural, they want to have the supernatural working in their life. Of course, a lot of those people who said they were interested in prayer and prayed, you know they’re not praying to the Lord God Jehovah, they’re not praying to Jesus. But Jesus makes it very clear in this passage that we, God’s people, can have supernatural power working in our life and we access that power, that miracle-working power through prayer. This truth is emphasized over and over and over again in scripture: the truth that if you do not ask, you do not have. That truth is emphasized again and again. Let’s just read a couple scriptures, well, there are more than a couple…
Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.
In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
It is obvious that God, Jesus our Savior, wants us to pray about everything and if you look at the prayer life of Jesus, I did a whole six-week series on the prayer life of Jesus, it becomes very obvious that Jesus prayed about everything. I want to read something that Oswalt Sanders said, not Chambers, Sanders.
“Jesus prayed in the morning at the gateway of the day. In the evening when the workday was over. Great crisis was preceded by prayer. Great achievements were followed by prayer. Great pressure of work was a call to extra prayer. Great sorrows were met by prayer. He died praying.”
And the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:1 and Ephesians 3:1 that we are to be imitators of Jesus. We’re to pray like Jesus did about everything. God is our Heavenly Father, but the Bible says, and many of us are fathers, many of us are mothers, are parents and don’t we want to know and be involved in every aspect of our kid’s life? And it’s really a hard transition when your kids start getting older and they start thinking it’s nagging. But you know, “What are you doing?” Because we’re interested in them, we want them to be successful.
2 Chronicles 16:9 tells us that God is looking for hearts. He’s searching throughout the whole world to strengthen hearts that are completely His, show Himself strong on their behalf. Look guys, when we see a problem, God sees a potential miracle. We see obstacles, God sees opportunities to show Himself faithful. We see the impossible, God sees an opportunity to show us that with Him nothing is impossible. Jeremiah 32, it’s a great chapter in the book of Jeremiah. Three times in that chapter, God tells Jeremiah, Jeremiah is coming with this litany of things that are horribly happening in Judah. “Oh, woe is me!” And so God says, “This is nothing, nothing is impossible for Me! Is anything impossible for me, Jeremiah?” “Nothing is too difficult for me,” God says. In Luke 1:37 Gabriel tells Mary, “I know you’re a virgin, you’re going to have a baby. We’re talking about God here, Mary, nothing is too difficult for Him.” Situations in our jobs, marriages, health, finances, children are not too difficult for God.
I haven’t told this story in a while and I really like it. A little boy is playing in a sandbox. He’s got his trucks and he’s got his cars, he’s making roads and he’s building little overpasses with some of the sticks and tunnels and so forth. And his dad is watching this, you know, he’s sitting in the living room watching his son the whole time. And during the process of building the roads, the little boy runs into a big stone, he tries to lift it up, he can’t lift it up and he can’t move it. So, he sits on his rear end and he puts his feet on the stone and he, you know, so he can get leverage, and he pushes the stone to the edge of the sandbox, and then he wants to get it out of there. So, he’s trying to lift it up and he gets up a certain way one time…. in another time… in the third time it falls back down on his hand and he screams out crying. Almost instantly, he noticed a giant shadow coming over him and the sandbox. It’s his father. His father quickly grabs this big stone and takes it out of the sandbox and he asks his son, “Why didn’t you use all the strength that you had?” “Well, I did dad”, he replied. The father said, “No son, you didn’t because you didn’t ask me for help.”
God wants to be involved in every aspect of our life, that’s why He’s given us prayer. I’m going to sit here for a while. So many times people say, “Why should I pray? God knows what I need before I want it.” All these reasons. God has given us prayer because He wants to be involved in every aspect of your life, boom! God really does want us to pray about everything.
Trust in God’s faithfulness (v 22)
The second lesson I think Jesus wants us to learn from this passage we read today is #2, trust in God’s faithfulness. In verses 22 to 24, Jesus tells us that when we pray, we have to have some kind of faith or trust that God is hearing us and He’s going to answer us. Paul tells us in Hebrews 4:16 that we can have confident access to God. In Ephesians 3:2, Paul tells us the same thing, we can have bold access to God. In Psalm 35:2, King David refers to God as a God who answers prayer. The God who answers prayer.
Some years ago, I read about some Christian missionaries who were taking a sabbatical, it was in Southeast Asia and they went to a different part of the country that they were ministering in. And then, at one point in the trip they went to a large temple that had a big statue of Buddha. And people were coming there and praying. And when they were finished, they would write their prayer down on a smaller piece of paper and mix some dirt and make mud, make a mud ball and throw the prayer with the mud at the buddha. If the mud stuck, their prayer was answered. If it slipped off the buddha’s belly and plopped on the ground, you’re out of luck. And I remember reading and thinking—how tragic, how tragic to think that your prayers are contingent on whether mud sticks to a buddha’s belly, I mean a statue.
We have just read 7 scriptures that assure us that God answers prayer. And it’s Jesus saying the same thing over and over and over again. He did it for a reason. I just showed you, Jesus said basically the same thing again and again, you cannot deny it. God hears and answers prayer. But this truth does you and I no good unless we pray. And I want to prove to each of you right now that you have enough faith to pray. You have enough faith to release God’s power in your life. You have enough faith, if need be, to move that mountain that’s looming over your life. I’m going to do it by using an example from Jesus’s life, in Luke chapter 5. He has just finished preaching to the multitude, He’s in Peter’s boat, because there’s so many people, He asked if He could use Peter’s boat and Peter said yes. And so, they went out just a little bit from the shore and He preached to the people. When He was done, He asked Peter to row out to a deeper part of the lake and throw down the net. And Peter, you read it, he didn’t want to do it. It says that he’d been fishing all night, all morning, they hadn’t got anything. As a matter of fact, when Jesus first found him, they were cleaning and mending the nets. Now Jesus is asking them to go in the middle of day, in the middle of the lake and fish and he’s a professional fisherman. “Jesus, this is not the time of day to catch fish.” If you know anything about fishing, you know if you go to a lake or anywhere in the middle of the day, good luck. Unless you know, you’re someplace like Montana or something where no one ever fishes, and you throw anything, a piece of stick and they’ll attack it. But professional fisherman know, they’d spent all night. But Peter said, he says, “We fished all night, we’re not going to catch anything (I added that) but because you say so, we’ll go out.” So, they get the nets, they’re out in the middle of the lake, they drop the nets in and most of you know the story. They caught so many fish that their nets began to break. So what does this teach us about prayer? If you and I have enough faith to obey and pray, that’s enough faith to release God’s power, and if need be, move the mountains that loom over your life.
And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.
Now preachers, they don’t like to talk about this verse because it causes all kinds of problems. It doesn’t cause any problems for me. Jesus said it, so that’s the way it is. You can try to explain Jesus’s words away here, but I’ve looked in the King James and New King James, the NIV, the ESV, the NASB, I’ve looked in the Greek and that’s what Jesus said! If you have faith the size of a mustard seed. Now, a mustard seed is a small, little seed. Jesus said if you have that much faith to get on your knees and pray about any situation, I’m going to hear you and I’m going to hear from heaven and I’m going to release my power into that situation and if need be, I’m going to move a mountain. That’s the power of prayer! When God’s power is released, nothing is impossible. A virgin gave birth to a baby. Impossible but it happened. God parted the Red Sea. God closed the mouths of lions. And if you don’t think Daniel was praying, “God help me!” as they were lowering him down to all those lions… can you imagine? He was praying! A hundred and eighty thousand Assyrians… an angel came and destroyed them so that they wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem the next day. And God’s people were praying. Impossible but true. Jesus rose from the dead. Just a handful of people were baptized in the Holy Spirit and through God’s Spirit, they went through all the world and then their disciples and their disciples to the point it came in the third century that the Christian Church conquered the Roman Empire without any armies. Christianity became the formal religion of the Roman Empire.
Almost every week we show you a testimony. The only reason we didn’t this week is because we had that long interview with the president of San Diego Christian College, Dr. Ague. So every week, we share a story about somebody praying and God releasing power and doing something miraculous for them. James 4:8 says this. God says, “Draw near to me and I will draw near to you.” In other words, when you and I pray, God passes by. When you and I pray, Jesus passes by. When you and I have enough faith to persist in prayer, I’m not sure that most of us realize what we set in motion. We release God’s power and influence in whatever situation we are praying about. And when we pray, we pray in faith, we pray according to God’s will.
Our prayers become reality (v 24)
Jesus tells us #3, this is the 3rd thing He wants to remind us. Our prayers become a reality. In the 7 scriptures we looked at today, Jesus told us that our prayers would be heard, and our prayers would be answered, but there’s one more scripture I got to look at, I’ve got to share with you. 1 John 5:14-15, the thing about the Word, a basic hermeneutic principle, (that means interpreting the Bible and Scripture), is you have to look at the entirety. You have to look at all the scriptures and put it together.
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
Prayer, to the Apostle John, was not some kind of magic, wasn’t some kind of desperate hope, experiment or gamble. John knew that God answered prayer. He had experienced it. So John tells us with assurance that if we come to God with boldness, whatever we ask in His name, if it’s in His will, it’s going to become reality. So, the next question becomes, and we’ll have to do this quickly, the next question… how do I know that I’m praying according to God’s will? First of all, we have scripture. That’s the obvious thing. If you’re praying “God help to sanctify me. God help me to walk away from this unholiness…” the scripture says, you shall be holy. It’s God’s will. So, if it agrees with Scripture, it’s obvious. Secondly, when you and I persevere in prayer, whatever you’re praying about, if you continue to pray, I’ve seen it many, many times, your prayer will begin to change. As your heart begins to understand God’s will for that situation, your prayers will change and again, I’ve seen this again and again. Most dramatically, I’ve seen it in cases where people are dealing with a son or daughter that may have a life-threatening disease. And as that disease progresses, I see their prayers change, to the point that when their child passes away, their prayers have changed and they’re glorifying God. That’s a miracle in itself. That’s why it’s so important to keep praying.
I’ll give you an example. Years ago, I don’t know how many years ago, but we were meeting in the San Carlos rec-center and we needed a building. I don’t know 1992-1993, I don’t know, Mark? Somewhere way back then. And so, we started praying. We needed a new building. “God, we believe you’ve called us to somewhere, you know, west La Mesa to the ocean, that’s our place, Lord.” If you would have said, “You know, you’re missing out on some places, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, El Cajon.” “No, no, we’re not called there.” So interestingly, 2 years later, I find myself praying for a building in El Cajon. How did that happen? Mark and I kept praying and God slowly, not only us but the church, slowly got us to a place where we were praying according to God’s will and look what happened.
The truth is God always answers prayer. I believe He answers prayer in 4 ways, I cannot take time, I’m going to go through each one very quickly. I go into great detail in these 4 ways in chapter 10 of my book. Now, I believe God is a very positive God, He always wants the best for us and these are the 4 ways I believe He answers prayer.
4 Ways God Answers Prayer:
- Yes, in a little while
- Yes, you are part of the answer
- Yes, I have heard you, but I have something different planned
The first is “yes”, of course that’s wonderful. It’s usually right away and you see it. You pray and boom. The next is “yes, in a little while.” Well that’s okay, as long as it’s little, the while is little, right? That’s okay. The 3rd is “yes, you are part of the answer.” A lot of times, we may be praying for someone or some situation and God wants us to forgive that person. Before He can do what He wants to, we have to forgive that person. Or maybe we have a part to play in bringing someone to the Lord Jesus Christ. You know what I’m saying. As we pray God shows us, “Hey, you’re a part of the answer here.” And then fourthly, “yes, I have heard you, but I have something different planed.” Now I know that sounds a lot like no but instead of emphasizing the no, I want to emphasize the fact that God’s got something different planed for you. He loves you but you need to keep praying because your prayer isn’t according to God’s will. You just keep praying because God’s got something different planned for you.
A while back, I was reading a message that I preached in 2006. And Mark and I were talking about it earlier… I have preached a lot of messages on prayer. Probably close to 100, because the last time I looked it was like 65 or 70 and that was a while ago. And it was one of the first times I preached on prayer in this building and I said something during that service (I was talking about prayer), I said, “I’ve got a brother that I’ve been praying for for 20 years.” And I told everybody praying, “I know by the Word of God, this is according to God’s will. It’s only a matter of time before he comes to Jesus and he may not go to this church but one time or another, he’ll be sitting in this church.” Now, I see him most Sunday’s sitting in this church, bringing my mother to church. And the Sundays he’s not here, he’s at my other brother’s church, The Grove, taking my mother there. He’s in church every Sunday and he’s been a real blessing to Mark and me and the rest of the family, how he takes care of my mother. And I’m telling you, 20 years ago you would have never dreamed that. He was a little scoundrel. And I think he’s sitting over there but that’s okay… you know I’m not lying… but he’s a blessing today.
It is my firm belief that there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. Where is that subject discussed in the Bible? There’s no such thing as unanswered prayer. What you and I usually call unanswered prayer is answered prayer—we don’t like it! God has something different planned and we’re just stamping our feet. Nothing verifies the truth about God in our lives more than answered prayer.
…ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.
I like that! No one can argue with a testimony of answered prayer. Look, I remember when the doctor told me that she was positive that I had this precancerous condition in my throat. I said, “I know, you’re going to go to see if I have cancer” and she says, “No, no, no, I know you have Barrett’s Syndrome. We’re going down to see how bad the cancer is.” So, we started praying. I had Marc DuPont, I’ll never forget, Marc prayed for me. I actually felt my throat jiggle as he was praying. They did this procedure and there wasn’t even Barrett’s Syndrome. Everything was gone. Now, here I am talking about it again. I mean, you can’t argue with an answered prayer like that, the joy of answered prayer.
James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” You don’t have because you don’t ask. Take out your prayer Society pledge that is in your bulletin, will you do that for a minute? I’m going to go through this quickly but if you’re visiting or you’re new to the church, Mark and I believe this is the most important ministry in this church. If we can get you praying for your family, praying for your marriage. Let me tell you something. I looked at a statistic this last week. In the 1980s, (and I forgot to bring it, sitting on my desk), Gallup poll did a study with a Christian organization in the 1980s and this is what they found out (and I had my secretary, Sylvia, look this up this last week to make sure what I’m telling you is true). If a Christian couple both pray together on a regular basis, their divorce rate is one in 1,152. One in 1,152. Now that was about 20 years ago and I was in contact with them and I said, “Have you done a further study?” And they said, “No, but we still use that statistic because it’s unbelievable.” One out of 1,152 marriages fail when the husband and wife pray together every day. We don’t know the power that is released when we pray. Now that statistic may be a little less today but it’s got to be still phenomenal, that was only like 20 years ago, 15 years ago.
So, the most important thing about joining the prayer society is that you’re praying, you’re releasing God’s power in your life, your family, your children, your community, your city, your state, that needs it desperately, the craziness continues, I better stop about that. So here are the 5 things that you’re going to say, “This is what I’m going to do my best to do”:
Prayer Society Pledge:
- I’m going to try my best to Pray a minimum of 2.5 hours each week.
For some of you that may seem like a lot. I just challenge you, go get my book, I’ve got 2 whole chapters on suggestions on how to pray. That’s 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. I just want to camp here for a second. You are signing up for 6 months. If you signed up six months ago and you didn’t do very good with this, guys, don’t let Satan stop you from praying. Try it again. If one week you only pray 3 times, start the next one and say “Lord, forgive me.” That’s what I love about Jesus. He doesn’t care about yesterday. He cares about this week, not last week. Be successful this week. Joining this prayer society, Mark and I hope that it helps you to develop a discipline of prayer because it releases God’s power in your life.
2. Attend church regularly.
3. Support the church’s ministry through tithes.
4. Strive for holiness and obedience to God in my daily life.
5. Pray regularly through prayer points.
Every 2-3 weeks, we’re going to send you prayer requests from the pastoral staff. On the bottom there, you can either say you want the prayer society letter emailed to you or mailed to you, but you have to fill out the appropriate thing. So, every 2-3 weeks you’ll get these prayer points, and at a staff meeting, we hand out the prayer requests. I tell the guys, “Fill out what’s happening that you’d like the church to pray with you about” and they do. So, what we’re asking you to do is when you get these prayer requests in the mail, we’re not asking you to spend 2.5 hours a week praying about those things. All we’re saying is one time in those two weeks before you get another prayer request, that you’ll pray for each one of those prayer requests one time. I have them in my Bible and as I do my morning devotion, I’ll pray through one every day and then when I get through the 6 or 7, I’ll start over again. Also, when you get the prayer request, look and see, just read through them kind of quickly and see if any of them are time sensitive, they’re asking you to pray about something that’s coming up and try to pray for that one first. I hope that each of you want to be a part of somewhere between 800 – 1,000 of your fellow Foothillians praying on a regular basis. When people ask me, “How are you so successful in reaching all those kids?” Well, there are a lot of reasons. Faithful volunteers, vision. Guys, last week we had 9 or 10 Youth Venture kids get baptized, a couple of weeks ago, how does that happen? God touches them miraculously. When you pray for the different ministries in this church, God releases His power, and you can pray confidently about those types of things because it’s according to God’s will.
We ask that you would just take this pledge and say, “God, I’m going to do my best. I may fail one week but I’ll just come back the next week.” You’re telling us, “I’m going to do my best to do this. I believe in prayer. I want to see God’s Holy Spirit moving in my life, in my marriage, in my children, in my work, in my community, in my school, with my friends. And I promise I’ll do my best to do this and if I fail, I’ll just come back the next day, the next week. I will not let Satan defeat me. I will not let Satan condemn me. I’ll just start anew the next week. I want to be used by God.”