The deepest longing of the human heart is to connect with the source of life, with God Himself. Prayer is the language of faith. It is also is the privilege of intimacy with the Lord of the cosmos. If I were to ask you today, How is your prayer life? Most people – whether believers or not – will respond with a sense of guilt. I don’t pray enough, or I don’t pray with passion or I don’t pray correctly as if our technique or our vocabulary are the most important aspects of prayer.
My daddy was a preacher, but my mommy taught me to pray when I was a boy. When I was discouraged or faced some unique circumstance, she would often ask me if I had prayed about it. I would at first resent her question, and then think to myself, “Yes. She’s right. I can pray about it.” She would often say, “Don’t cross your fingers; fold your hands!”
I remember very well one time when I was a young boy and had a high fever with measles. My mom entered my bedroom, knelt by my bed, and laid one hand on my forehead and the other on my heart. She then talked to Jesus about healing my illness as if He were right there beside her on the bed. My daddy was the preacher, but my mom taught me to pray.
It is important to know that II Chronicles 7:14 is set in the celebration and dedication of the glorious Temple of Solomon. In all of II Chronicles 6, Solomon, knowing the fickleness of the human heart and the waywardness of God’s people, gives a group of scenarios and says, If this happens, will you hear us and forgive?
• “If we sin against our neighbor, will you hear us and forgive?”
• “If we disobey you and are defeated by our enemy, will you forgive us, will you hear us and forgive?”
• “If we chase after other gods, will you hear us and forgive?”
All these possibilities are stated with the fear that the grace and patience of God might be exhausted. Therefore, God would no longer answer our prayers or be merciful.
In response to this, God gives a wonderful, powerful invitation to always be people of prayer. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear them. I will forgive their sin. I will heal their land.”
First, we learn that we come into the presence of God humbling ourselves, confessing the truth about ourselves before Him. When I pray, I’m often petty and selfish. In fact, I believe I can actually use prayer as a technique to control God, to get Him to fix my life. I become a boss giving orders, and I use prayer as a way to make sure all of life is just as I want it to be. I forget that God is Creator and I am creature. So the first thing we do when we bow before the Lord is to confess our smallness, our dependence, our unworthiness. We humble ourselves before God not demanding things, nor commanding God.
We also turn from our wicked ways. You may think to yourself, I’m not a wicked person. Perhaps I am not grossly immoral, but I want to confess to you that my brain is warped. I am turned in upon myself. The opposite of surrender and submission is self-direction and defiance. The moment I begin on a path of disobedience, I have ceased to seek the heart of Jesus Christ. Then, when I disobey and rationalize my behavior, I’m intrinsically involved in self deception.
Instead I need to turn from my wicked ways and my self-ruled life. I must totally own the responsibility of my wrongdoing. I resolve to stop the wrong behavior that violates God and the people around me. I humble myself, turn from my wickedness, and turn full on to the God who gave me life.
Next, I need to seek God’s face. Scripture is full of verses like Psalm 105:4 – “Seek the Lord and his strength. Seek God’s face continually.” Biblical scholars comment that often in prayer we seek God’s hands, but not His face. We come to God in prayer asking Him to do something for us, or to give us something rather than just seeking His presence and His heart for their own sake. Seek the Lord, and seek His face.
Jesus said we should come like a child. When I spend time with my grandchildren, I notice they are prone to blurt out whatever is on their mind – unfiltered and honest. We can pray like that.
Sometimes young children can be self absorbed, their vision of reality a bit myopic. Pray like that. Let God sort it out.
Children also come uninhibitedly asking boldly for anything. They are not ashamed of confessing their neediness or dependence. They ask repeatedly for what they hope to receive. But children also come trusting the love of the parent and the ability and power of the parent to grant the request. We can seek the face of God in prayer, like a child coming boldly, confessing our messiness and neediness, trusting the love of our Father and the power of our God.
Often I think we have a God problem. Our image of God is a harsh, cold, judgmental, cranky old man who is quick to condemn us and give up on us. It is the opposite of the picture Jesus painted of God as the waiting Father who watches the road daily hoping for the return of his child to His arms of embrace. When we think of God as judgmental, critical, and condemning, we run from Him. But if we think of God as a loving Father with His arms open, we run to Him.
Remember in the garden after Adam and Eve had blown it, God went searching for His children. When we pray, God does not play hide and seek with us. It’s almost as if prayer awakens us to the reality that God is enveloping us with His presence and power and love. Confess in humility and turn from your wickedness. Seek the face of God.
We also celebrate the access God has given us to His very presence. If you went to visit the President of the United States today, do you think you could see him? Or if you went to the governor of the state in which you live, do you think you can get in to see the governor? God, however, says we can stand before Him, confident in the name of Jesus to ask for mercy and help in our time of need. “We don’t have a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who has been tested in all things as we, and yet he was perfect” (Hebrews 4:15). So confidently, come.
When Jesus hung on the cross and made the bloody cry, “It is finished,” the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom. Now, forever in the name of Jesus, we have eternal access, continual, unlimited access to the presence and power of God for us anytime of day or night. How awesome is the privilege of prayer!
Next, in prayer we invite Jesus’ Spirit into the details of our life. President Abraham Lincoln once said in the middle of the Civil War, “I’ve been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”
Ole Hallesby, in his classic book, Prayer, describes prayer as the expression of our helplessness. He says that Revelation 3:20 is the key verse to understanding the whole privilege of prayer. Behold Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” Jesus never forces Himself upon us, nor forces His way into our lives, yet He gives us the loving promise and awaits our invitation. Prayer invites the presence of Jesus into the details of our lives.
John said it this way: “As many as receive Jesus, who believe in his name, to them God gives the power to be the children of God” John 1:12.
Lastly, prayer is laying hold of the power and promise of God. Preacher and author Francis Chan once said, “Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?” God has said He will hear us when we pray.
He also forgives our sin. Nothing stands between us and God blocking the flow of His grace to us. His unlimited favor of God to you is now freed. He forgives your sin. His forgiveness is not transactional – moment by moment – and blocked unless we pray. As we live in the spirit of prayer and faith, grace flows from God’s heart to your life.
God promises to heal our land and heal our lives. He is in the business not only of erasing our naughty deeds, but also restoring us and transforming us. He does not want to leave us stuck in the same destructive patterns of our sin and shame, but desires to maximize our created best potential as His beloved children.
A few weeks ago I visited with a man named Bill who is almost ninety. Bill shared that his father died when he was just a young boy. They had a farm auction and were going to sell a pair of beautiful big, strong, spirited horses. The auctioneer was leery of trying to handle the horses because of their strength and their spirit, but the little boy, Bill, went into the barn and grabbed hold of both their halters and led them out into the arena for sale. The horses knew Bill. They knew his voice. In their great power, they could have dragged him all over the countryside. Instead, the horses subdued their power to do the boy’s bidding.
It occurred to me that prayer is like that. When we pray, we’re like little Bill. We call upon the unlimited Father of heaven whose power is so great we couldn’t think about it or contain it. God has promised to focus His power to hear our prayer and do our bidding.
Prayer is the holy privilege of a loving, trusting relationship with the One whose power is infinite, and when we pray, we touch the very heart of God. So in the name of Jesus, I invite you to pray. Amen.
Pastor Lee Laaveg