The Practicalities of Prayer
These notes from Paul Tothill are based a version of his message preached at Gateway Church on 24/3/19.
I want to encourage you this morning in one of the most vital disciplines we can engage in as believers. It is what Jesus practiced the most and was the foundation to His relationship with His Heavenly-Father and His daily endeavours and practices that brought God’s possible into the impossible.
Prayer is a practice that is largely lost to the modern church. For many people, they are not sure how to pray or even what to pray. Even if people pray, it is often only in a crisis, often out of fear. They are not sure what it means to pray in the name of Jesus, and they are not sure what words they should or should not use. For modern believers, prayer seems such an awkward discipline, an unnatural disciple to the point of avoidance. Prayer meetings are mostly poorly attended, unlike the early church who devoted themselves to prayer and the word taught by the apostles. (Acts 2:42)
Since prayer fundamentally affects our relationship with God and the life we lead it seems necessary for us to teach on that topic and encourage its regular practice.
In a different covenant God made plain in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
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 from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
So today, I want to attempt to draw you into the practicalities of prayer, in the firm hope that prayer is re-established in your life and re-established in our meetings in a way that gives us new confidence and faith that our prayers are not only being heard but they carry the power to transform practical situations just as Jesus demonstrated and as the testimonies of so many reveals. A praying church is a powerful church.
WHAT WE WIN ON THE MOUNTAIN WE ESTABLISH IN THE VALLEY
A wonderful example of prayer as God’s community is found in the Old Testament in Exodus 17:10. Israel were in a fight against the army of Amalek. Moses with Aaron and Hur went up the mountain of the Lord for Moses to hold up the staff of the Lord’s authority over the battle. Aaron was the High Priest and Moses’ brother. Hur was Miriam’s husband, Miriam was the sister of Moses. This is a shadow and representation of God’s family working together in unity of prayer. As long as Moses held his staff up, the symbol of God’s authority, Joshua who was in the valley fighting the Amalekites was winning.
The Amalekites came from the lineage of Amalek who was Esau’s grandson. Esau had been seduced to give up his birth right of the first-born son and blessing for a pot of stew. The spirit of death and revenge by Esau was carried generationally through Amalek against Israel to prevent them from coming into their inheritance. Esau is a type of the flesh, living from the present and complacency, serving the immediate. This was a constant battle that Israel, like us, had to engage in. The enemies that oppose us coming into our future inheritance on earth is complacency and the spirit of familiarity.
So, there was a direct correlation between the activity on the mountain and the activity in the valley. When Moses held up his delegated authority Joshua was winning in the valley. When he did not Joshua was losing in the valley. When Moses arms grew tired and his hands and staff were lowered both Aaron and Hur, held up the arms of Moses so that the authority given to him could be held up as he sat down on a rock.
Now there is a fundamental clue here for us. The prophetic metaphors here are very rich and as a shadow speak of future reality we now have in Christ. Like Moses did in the natural we have the ability in the spiritual realms. We have come to the mountain of the Lord by us being seated in Christ – co-enthroned with Christ, in heavenly places. In that place we have been given authority to use God’s delegated authority to pray from His presence and from His audience. We are actually seated in His name, His authority and His promises and blessings. That is where we are always to pray from into our context. The Holy Spirit will always lead us that way.
Part of our calling to co-labour with Christ is consistent prayer. It is part of our priestly Kingly function as sons of God. What we carve out in the heavenly realm before the Lord we can establish on earth. What we see formed in the heavens we will establish on earth. What we agree with that is being revealed in heaven will be revealed on earth.
Again, I give you an eternal truth: if two of you agree to ask God for something in a symphony of prayer, my heavenly father will do it for you. For wherever two or three come together in honour of my name, I am right there with them!
WE LIVE THE WAY WE PRAY
Jesus replied, “Let the faith of God be in you! Listen to the truth I speak to you: if someone says to this mountain with great faith and having no doubt, “mountain be lifted up and thrown into the midst of the sea” and believes that what he says will happen it will be done. This is the reason I urge you to boldly believe for whatever you ask for in prayer- be convinced that you have received it and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, if you find that you carry something in your heart against another person, release him and forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also release you and forgive you your faults. But if you will not release forgiveness, don’t expect your Father in heaven to release you from your misdeeds.
In tell you a timeless truth: the person who follows me in faith believing in me, will do the same mighty miracles that I do-even greater than these because I go to the Father! For I will do whatever you ask me to do when you ask me in my name.
But if you live in life union with me and if my words live powerfully within you- then you can ask me whatever you desire and it will be done.
It is illegal in the Kingdom to pray one way and live another.
What that means is that we pray from the leading of the Holy Spirit and from the life union of our life in Jesus, placing our complete trust in Him and His words, we pray with a faith expectation that our prayer will be fulfilled. In fact, we are to pray in a way that our heart, mind and emotions come together so that we bring our whole being to our prayers. This is what it means to pray as if you have received something you are praying about.
Think about that for a moment. Imagine you are praying for rain. You don’t have to ask for rain, the first thing you do is bring all your mind will and emotions to the spiritual reality of what you are asking for -that it is raining. You smell the rain, you hear the rain, you see the rain and you are excited by the rain. You give thanks for the rain, and you praise God for the rain. But above all you are agreeing with what is the Holy Spirit is showing you and you start to agree with. This is how Elijah prayed. This will make more sense later, as we discuss all the different kinds of prayers that we can pray. The point is to not only ask, but bring your whole experience to the faith reality that you have already received it and then give thanks to God. We always pray from the present in the unseen realm to the future not yet in the seen or natural realm. This is a massive key to unlock what Jesus was doing and teaching us about in my view.
So many times, we just go ahead and do things without first praying or genuinely inquiring of the Lord. We are not seeking permission but understanding His perfect pleasing and acceptable will for our lives. We want to walk in agreement with what He has planned for us to do. So often we do our thing and ask God to bless it. Sometimes we pray with wrong motives, or we pray in a way that violates God’s ways or His protocols or against someone else’s free will. Sometimes we pray when we have un-forgiveness in our hearts. All these things can affect the effectiveness of our prayers.
When we want to establish something on earth in any area of our life, we first engage God in prayer. God is absolutely for us, so we know that He wants to reveal things to our hearts. We know that He will lead us in all things through the Holy Spirit. We know He wants us to pray things according to His name. Praying in His name by the way is not simply adding the words “In Jesus name”, to the end of our payer. It means to pray from our very union with Him and from His character as if Jesus himself were praying. We are able to use the authority of His name because it actually means something very important before the Father and before all the spiritual forces. When we pray in Jesus name we are identified and identifying ourselves with Jesus as the risen King over the cosmos.
This is where we need to understand that not only that we have a mandate to pray- and it is essential to establish what we are doing in bringing forward God’s promises and blessings on earth and His Kingdom realm- we have authority in our prayers. Whilst prayer is fundamentally functional we forget the genuine starting point that Jesus makes plain in his pattern of prayer given to his disciples is relational.
After this Jesus went up into the high hills to spend a whole night in payer to God. At day-break he called together all of his followers and selected twelve from among them, and he appointed them to be his apostle.
PRAYER IS RELATIONAL
The first thing we need to understand is that prayer is relational. It is first and foremost a conversation we have with God inspired and led by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
As soon as people were fed, Jesus told his disciples to get into their boat and to go to the other side of the lake while he stayed behind to dismiss the people. After the crowds dispersed, Jesus went up into the hills to pray. And as night fell he was there praying alone.
But whenever you pray go into your innermost chamber and be alone with Father God, praying to him in secret. And your Father who sees all you do will reward you openly. When you pray, there is no need to repeat empty phrases, praying like those who do not know God for they expect God to hear them because of their many words. There is no need to imitate them since your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. Pray like this:
Our Father, dwelling in the heavenly realms, may the glory of your name be the centre on which our lives turn.
PRAYER IS FROM THE HEART
God responds to our hearts, not merely our words. Our words and our heart must act as one. When we pray sincere prayers from our hearts we do so with both humility and reverence, knowing that we are praying not as outsiders but to our heavenly Father. That means we bring our emotions into our prayers too.
PRAYER IS ALSO LISTENING TO THE SPIRIT
There is little doubt that coming before God relationally and in His love, with humility of heart, places us in a position to give thanks not only for what we already have in Jesus Christ- we pray from where we are seated- but we also patiently wait to hear the Holy Spirit as He is constantly interceding for us in prayer before the Father.
The Holy Spirit wants to show us or reveal to us certain things that we are to come into agreement with and even pray for. There are different kinds of prayers and we need to know when to ask, when to petition, and when to declare and when to simply thank God because we know it is already done. The Holy Spirit leads us in all of this.
PRAYER IS SOMETIMES BEYOND OUR UNDERSTANDING
One of the most important gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of tongues called Glossolalia. That Greek word means to speak in or with other tongues or languages. The gift of tongues is divided into two types if you will. The gift of other languages as on the Day of Pentecost, in which case the known language of various people groups were spoken and the gift of angelic language a prayer language if you will. Paul the apostle draws out these distinctions in 1 Corinthians 13:1:
If I were to speak with eloquence in earth’s many languages, and in heavenly tongues of angels…
1 CORINTHIANS 14
It is good that you are enthusiastic and passionate about spiritual gifts especially prophecy. When someone speaks in tongues, no one understands a word he says, because he is not speaking to people, but to God- he is speaking intimate mysteries in the Spirit.
Praying in tongues is a deep prayer language that moves well beyond our intellect and is the product of the Holy Spirit working upon us and through us. The greatest way you can heighten your spiritual awareness is to join fasting with praying in tongues. Fasting does not earn you anything. What it does do is bring up your spirit-man and joined with tongues creates a heightened sense of Spirit awareness and consciousness.
PRAYER IS THE ACTION OF FAITH
The parable of the persistent widow is a wonderful example of prayer and faith. In fact, persistent prayer until we get what we have asked for is considered as great faith. I always struggled with this because at one level it seems counter intuitive. But Jesus who understands the realm of the Kingdom and the mysteries and protocols of heaven better than anyone else makes it clear. Being persistent is being faithful and full of faith.
One day Jesus taught the apostles to keep praying and never stop or lose hope. He shared with them this illustration:
Verse 6: The Lord continued, “Did you hear what the ungodly judge said- that he would answer her persistent request? Don’t you know that God, the true judge will grant justice to all of his chosen ones who cry out to him night and day? He will pour his Spirit upon them. He will not delay to answer you and give you what you ask for. God will give swift justice to those who don’t give up. So be ever praying, ever expecting, just like the widow was with the judge. Yet when the Son of Man comes back, will he find this kind of persistent faithfulness in his people?
PRAYERS ARE VARIED
Pray passionately in the Spirit, as you constantly intercede with every form of prayer at all times. Pray the blessings of God upon all his believers.
The prayer of agreement.
The prayer of faith.
The prayer of consecration and dedication
The prayer of praise and worship
The prayer of intercession
The prayer of binding and loosing
Binding and loosing is part of the dominion authority of the Kingdom realm. We are capable of binding on earth that which is already bound in heaven and we are able to “loose” on earth that which is already “loosed” in heaven. Binding means prohibiting and loosing mean releasing. The expressions “bind” and “loose” were common to Jewish legal phraseology meaning to declare something forbidden or to declare it allowed. It is said “When the apostles “bound” something, or forbade it on earth, they were carrying out the will of God in the matter. When they “loosed” something, or allowed it on earth, they were likewise fulfilling God’s eternal plan. In both Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, the syntax of the Greek text makes the meaning clear: “Whatever you may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever you may loose upon the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens” (Matthew 16:19, Young’s Literal Translation). Or, as the Amplified Bible puts it, “Whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth will have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth will have [already] been loosed in heaven.”” This is why it is best to pray with the leading of the Holy Spirit who shows us what is loosed and what is bound.
In other words, this is what Jesus constantly walked in. He was constantly only doing that which He saw His Father doing and only spoke what His Father was speaking. It was an action of legislating by declaration. He was declaring and manifesting God’s perfect will. Manifestations of the Kingdom followed the declaration of God’s words.
Then we have declarations:
If you lay your gold in the dust and the gold of the Ophir among the stones of the brook (considering them of little worth and not putting your trust in them) and make the Almighty your gold and the Lord your precious silver (putting your trust in Him who is of infinite value), then you will have delight in the Almighty and you will lift up your face to God. You will make your prayer to Him and He will hear you and you will pay your vows. You shall decide and decree a thing and it shall be established for you; and the light (of God’s favour) shall shine upon your ways.
Then there are prayers of benediction (thanks giving) prayers of supplication which means a petition for God to supply for various needs.
We do not need to know all of the types of prayers. We simply need to be sincere of heart and pray from a place of faith not fear or doubt. An example that brings all these prayers together is how Jesus prayed for the provision of the four thousand after he had performed the same prayer of provision for the five thousand. Given Jesus rarely, if at all, repeated a miracle in a particular way, we should pay significant attention to what Jesus chooses to repeat for our benefit and instruction as emphasis.
The story really begins in MATTHEW 15:29. Jesus had left Lebanon and gone to Lake Galilee. He climbed a nearby hill and sat down. “The huge crowds of people streamed up the hill, bringing with them the lame, blind, deformed, mute, and many others in need of healing. They laid them at Jesus’ feet and he healed them all.”
“And the crowds marvelled with rapture and amazement, astounded over the things they were witnessing with their own eyes! The lame were walking, the mute were speaking, the crippled were made well, and the blind could see. For three days everyone celebrated the miracles as they exalted and praised the God of Israel.”
Now I have been in a few large crusades where God is moving powerfully. The atmosphere is charged and electric. Faith is through the roof and everyone is buzzing. I can only imagine that same atmosphere here. Now Jesus invites His disciples into a teaching experience based on prayer and faith.
Jesus called his disciples to himself and said, “I care deeply about all these people, for they’ve already been with me for three days without food. I don’t want to send them away fasting or else they may be overcome by weakness on their journey home.”
The key here was that Jesus had compassion for the people. God has already moved in power, now God needed to move in provision. The disciples had been trained to pray the Amidah three times a day. Parts of the Amidah were adapted as a pattern of prayer that Jesus gave to the disciples. They prayed three times a day giving thanks that God was their provider. Strictly the Amidah was also known as the standing prayer or the Shemoneh Esreh. It was divided into three parts- praise, petitions, and thanksgiving. Basically, in petition that God would look after all their needs.
Remember what I said in the beginning today? You cannot pray one way and live another way. That means your prayers lack faith and expectation of fulfilment. So, look how the disciples reason.
“So the disciples said to him. “Where in the world are we going to find enough food in this desolate place to feed this crowd?”
They had just witnessed three days of miracles! The atmosphere was buzzing. They had prayed the Amidah the prayers of benediction and blessing three times a day. Yet their reasoning hindered their revelation. So, Jesus taught them how prayers of faith really work and how they carry a manifested expectation. You must remember this was the second time that Jesus had performed this miracle of provision. He had done it in the same way with the same process for the 5,000. Again, He was pointing back to the power of prayers of faith not mere ritual.
When He did it before with five loaves and two fish and twelve baskets full left over they had actually been invited into the miracle. You would think they would have remembered especially in such an electric faith atmosphere they were now in. But their hearts were veiled. They were not yet thinking from the testimony and they were still thinking in natural terms of fear loss and lack and the law of work and wages.
They were not yet thinking in terms of blessing, God’s promises and faith that operate in a higher way than the law of work and wages.
We are even in a better position. Jesus wore a crown of thorns to his death representing two things. First that he had broken the curse of gaining by the sweat of the brow, and second he was changing our mindset from the curse and fear, loss and lack to faith and the mind of God.
Not only had Jesus demonstrated this miracle of prayer previously so as to create a testimony, he was in a faith charged atmosphere with a present unction of the Spirit tugging on His heart- He had compassion on them. He knew God was going to do it again! All the signs were there for a miracle. But the disciples like us sometimes were not getting it! They were thinking naturally instead of with God’s faith through God’s covenant promises!
“How many barley loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied “ and a few small fish”.
So He gave the order, “Have the people sit down on the grass.” Then he took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks to God. He broke the bread and gave it to the disciples who then distributed the food to the crowds. When everyone was full and satisfied, they gathered up the left overs. And from what was once seven loaves and a few fish, they filled seven baskets! There were four thousand men who ate the food multiplied, and even more including the woman and children!
Jesus prayed the thanksgiving of the Amidah. He held before God his offering of faith for the multiplication He simply gave thanks for. He expected to realise what He was giving thanks for.
This is what Paul the apostle wrote to the Ephesians.
Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you.
Friends we need to come back to prayer in a serious way and come back together in prayer in a regular way to watch God move powerfully in our midst. The enemy of time and energy, complacency and familiarity needs to give way to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We need to be a praying church more than ever, not just for ourselves, but for each other and for our region, city and nation. Remember Jesus associated prayer with a people of faith, and he wondered if he would find faith when he returned!
We are facing a political storm that will affect us all. Legislation is in the pipeline that will change our society. We need to be praying for this great nation and praying that God’s Kingdom is released on earth as it is in heaven. When we remain silent in prayer, every coven, every demon, every principality and power rejoices. They are praying against us. They counterfeit what we should be doing!
But when the church comes together and prays, and gives praise and thanks as a habitual lifestyle, and learns that the most powerful posture we can have is on our knees praying in the Spirit and all kinds of prayers the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. We start giving agreement to heaven in a way that permits us to successfully co-labour with Christ and cause God’s blessings and promises to break in to our lives and to route the plans of the enemy.
I have not even got to praying the sword of the Spirit, using Scripture as the power to establish, dismantle, overthrow and destroy. The power of God’s eternal words in your mouth are powerful and they have authority and power in the unseen realms that God acts upon.
So bless the Lord, all his messengers of power, for you are his mighty heroes who listen intently to the voice of his word to do it.
But I will leave that for another time. The first thing we need to do is to get practical and powerful in our prayer life.
Let’s stand together as we pray.
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