The Art of Prayer
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Is prayer a daily discipline for you, or is it something you save “for emergencies”? Crawford Loritts shares principles of effective prayer.
The Art of Prayer
Michelle: Do you find yourself struggling to find time in your daily busy schedule to pray? Now I’m not here to throw you under the bus, but Crawford Loritts says that could be a sign of a deeper issue.
Crawford: The reason why we don’t pray is because of a pride issue. I’ve discovered in my life that proud people can’t pray; proud people struggle with prayer. The reason is quite obvious when you think about it, because prayer is an expression of our neediness. You cannot pray, authentically, until you embrace your own need. Prayer is a statement that: “I’m desperate.”
Michelle: I’m desperate—are you?—desperate for an effective prayer life. That’s what we’re going to talk about today: the art of effective prayer on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. A couple of months ago, I reconnected with a couple, who used to live in my town. They are a couple who love God; they passionately serve him. When I think of these dear friends, I think of people who know how to pray. The more that I’m around them, the more I want to have that life. I mean, they pray for everything—they pray if they lose their keys; they thank God if the stoplight is green—they just are always praying. They have modeled for me what it means to have that deep, deep genuine connection with God.
There’s another man who knows prayer; his name is Crawford Loritts. He’s the pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Georgia. Crawford and his wife Karen have been friends of FamilyLife® for a long, long time. In fact, they’ve been speakers on our Weekend to Remember® getaways for probably almost three decades.
[Previous Love Like You Mean It® Message]
Crawford: Every year at our church—we’ve started a tradition there—the first full week in January is a week of extraordinary prayer. I preach the first Sunday and the second Sunday on prayer. We’ve just come through that at our church. I am more convinced than ever before that what E.M. Bounds said in his classic little book, Power Through Prayer, is absolutely, categorically, infinitely correct and right; and that is, “The greatest thing a Christian can do is to pray.”
I had the wonderful privilege on Wednesday of flying up and meeting with Dr. Graham, and walked in with two other friends. I had a list of questions to ask him; but then, when I sat down and we started talking, I didn’t want to ask him anything; just wanted to listen. But I did ask him this question/I said, “Dr. Graham, what is the most significant thing that’s ever happened in your life and ministry? What is core?” Before I could finish the question, he said, “Prayer—prayer has been everything—prayer.”
Then on Friday, I got a letter from a 90-year-old woman, Hazel Quackenbush. We’ve known Hazel for years; I went to college with her daughter. Her daughter dated and subsequently married one of my best friends; his name is Joe Douglas. Joe and I were prayer partners all the way through college. Joe’s room was right next to mine. At night, we would go to either one of the other’s room; and we would pray together in the evening. Joe’s a pastor of a great church in New Jersey now.
I hadn’t contacted Hazel in a long time. I saw in her letter that she had turned 90 and they had a big birthday for her. There was a phone number, so I called her Friday. I said, “Mrs. Quackenbush, do you know who this is? This is Crawford Loritts; do you remember me?” She said, “Well, of course, I remember you.” She said, “Why wouldn’t I remember you?” [Laughter] Then she said these words: “Your picture is on my prayer board.” That woman’s been praying for me all these years.
The greatest thing that we can do is pray. Why do we pray? I think that there are two reasons why we pray: I’m going to give you the lesser of them, and then I want to dive into the main reason why we pray. Then I want to talk about the loving involvement of the Trinity in our prayer lives; it’s going to be more relational than it sounds.
There are two great reasons why we pray. The lesser of the two is to get our needs met. But sometimes we don’t pray; the reason why we don’t pray is because of a pride issue. I’ve discovered in my life that proud people can’t pray; proud people struggle with prayer. The reason is quite obvious when you think about it, because prayer is an expression of our neediness. You cannot pray, authentically, until you embrace your own need.
Prayer is a statement that: “I’m desperate.” Prayer is a statement that I don’t have it all together. I’m forever indebted to Bob Lepine for sending me one of the top five books that I have read in the past five to ten years. It’s a book by a guy by the name of Paul Miller; the name of the book is A Praying Life. The first chapter and his chapter on the relationship between cynicism and prayer is worth the price of the book itself.
Miller says that one of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive:
“In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary. Money can do what prayer does, and it’s quicker and less time-consuming. Our trust in ourselves and in our talents makes us”—listen to this line—“structurally independent of God. As a result, exhortations to pray don’t stick.”
It’s a little bit of a bind; isn’t it? You’re not going to pray until you’re in touch with your need. As a pastor, I’ve learned that I can cajole, and preach, and guilt people—and tell them how to do stuff, particularly in the prayer area—but they’re not going to pray until, somewhere along the line, there’s this avalanche of need that grips them. That’s the tipping point; that’s when we really, really pray. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today.
I want to talk about the second reason, which is the primary reason, biblically. I’m convinced of this, from Genesis to Revelation. The real reason why we pray/the real reason why we pray is because God wants us to experience His love and care for us. Meeting our needs is a backstroke issue with God, but the real reason why we pray is because of the loving heart of God that pursues us and wants us to experience/wants us to experience His love and care for us.
This takes legalism out of prayer, and this really motivates us to pray; because quite frankly, prayer is the means by and through which we hang out with God. There is no intimacy with God apart from interaction with His heart; the way that we interact with His heart is by seeking Him, talking to Him, experiencing Him. Prayer is massive; it is the gateway into the very presence of God. That is the reason why Hazel Quackenbush and Billy Graham would answer—bam!—“Prayer is everything.” They weren’t saying that they—like going to the grocery store, God just checked off what they were asking for—they were talking about the intimate relationship that they had with the loving Father. It’s a way by and through which we hang out with God.
God loves us and desires to have an intimate relationship with us. That’s why, in the Bible, the Trinity is pictured as a loving resource. Have you ever thought about it?—that the three persons of the Godhead majors in prayer on our behalf. It is this picture of a sovereign, loving, pursuant God—through God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—chasing us down and drawing us to Himself.
Let’s just take a snapshot at these three portraits: the first portrait is a caring God; the second portrait is a powerful Representative; and the third portrait is a passionate Interceder. Look at what He says here in Luke, Chapter 11—I really want to look at verses 11-13—but I do want to just drill down with the opening word when Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him, “Would You teach us how to pray?” [Paraphrased]
He says, “Yes, and here’s the first thing you say, ‘Father.’” [Paraphrased] Then Jesus picks up the explanation and the application of that down in verse 11; He says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”
God wants to give us what is good for us. Now, I don’t want to play with words; notice I said, “what’s good for us,” and not necessarily “what’s good to us.” That will change the way we pray. God gives us what’s good for us and not necessarily what’s good to us. The implications are right there. God does want the best for us, but not by our definition/not by our definition.
Secondly, what we think is good could be harmful/could be harmful. But God always wants what’s good.
The third implication is what might be a blessing to you could be a curse to me, so you’ve got to get past this comparison/jealousy stuff. Simply because God said, “Yes,” to someone else about how their—brought their prodigal child home when they were 18—don’t be prescriptive when it comes to God. Because what could be a blessing to you, from a timing perspective, could be a dastardly curse to me.
Whenever you’re going through a tremendous challenge, it is tremendously important to immerse yourself in the control of the Spirit of God. You need to see where you’re going and what you’re doing through supernatural eyes; run to the Father. I love what Warren Wiersbe says along these lines; he makes the observation: “Because God knows us and loves us, we never need to be afraid of the answer He gives us.”
When I was about ten or eleven years old, I was swimming up at the Boy’s Club there in Newark, New Jersey, which wasn’t too far from our house. A bunch of us were just jumping off the side of the pool and just turning in the air as we jumped and went in the water. When I jumped off, I was a little too close to the side of the pool. I turned around and hit my chin on the side of the pool, so I busted my chin. My dad worked nights, so he happened to be home. They called my father; and he came and got me, and took me to the hospital.
Back in those days, they didn’t have the anesthesia that we have now and this kind of thing; so when you got stitches—you got stitches—and everything that went with it. I’ll never forget this; I can remember it to this day: I’m laying there on the table. The doctor says to my dad, “Hold his arms down,”/“Hold his arms down”; and he stitched me up. My dad would not hurt me for anything; but sometimes, you’ve got to be held down before you’re fixed.
You hear what I’m saying to you?—somebody here needs to hear that. Sometimes you just have to be held down before you’re fixed. You’ve got to trust in a loving God that sees the beginning from the end; He’s not out to get us. It hurts like the dickens—and you want to cuss; and you want to throw things; and you want to do bad stuff—He says, “I’ve got to hold you down until I fix you.”
So we have the portrait of a loving father that does things that’s good for us but not always good to us.
Michelle: —a loving Father, who disciplines us and guides us. That discipline doesn’t always feel good; does it? Crawford Loritts reminding us of the power of prayer.
There is something powerful when you and I enter the presence of God. That doesn’t always have to be in church: it could be your living room, your bedroom, or even the outdoors—just whenever you say—“God, I’m here to talk.” Oh, and when you’re driving—that’s the perfect place to be—well, just don’t close your eyes or anything like that; we don’t want any accidents; and please, don’t blame it on me.
We’re going to take a break and hear from Ron Deal; but when we come back, Crawford’s going to continue talking with us about this art of effective prayer. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. Today, we’ve been talking about prayer or, rather, learning about prayer with Crawford Loritts. As Crawford said before the break, prayer is the gateway to the very presence of God. It’s time with Him that makes us into who we are: He molds us, and He shapes us. But instead of me telling you about it, let’s get back to Crawford; because he’s the one with the goods today.
[Previous Love Like You Mean It Message]
Crawford: Secondly, we have the portrait and picture of a caring Representative. The writer of Hebrews says: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession
[Hebrews 4:14; emphasis added]. We hold fast our confession predicated on the perfect work of Jesus. Nothing else needs to be done. We have stability in Him. He’s our security. We don’t need to waffle; we don’t need to be rattled. Everything that we have is found in Jesus—that Jesus, unlike earthly priests, is not inadequate—so we stand, gratefully, secure.
Then in verse 15, he underscores the whole concept that He knows what we’re going through: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize”—unable to sympathize—“with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus knows the depth of all of our struggles, whatever it might be—He understands your battle with lust; He understands your torturous battle with jealousy and envy; He understands your struggle with insecurity—anything imaginable, Jesus understands it.
The third observation I want to make right here from the passage is that: “He is the basis for our confidence in prayer.” This little paragraph comes to a point—it’s like driving to this one point—the writer says, “Because of all of this, ‘Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’” God doesn’t just tolerate the meeting; but when we pray, we tap into the sovereign power and resources of God, who proactively, out of His mercy, wants to do the best for us and says that we have access to everything that He has; it’s ours.
There’s a portrait of a caring Father; there’s a portrait and picture of a caring and loving Representative in Jesus. Then thirdly, there’s the portrait and the picture of a caring and a loving Intercessor. Romans, Chapter 8: I want to make two observations about the role of the Spirit of God—which is incredible—the role of the Spirit of God in our prayer life.
One, He intervenes for us; and then secondly, specifically, He intercedes for us. This comes right out of these two verses. Look at what he says in verse 26: “Likewise,”—now I’m reading from the English Standard Version; but I would like for you to underscore these words/these are incredible words—“Likewise, the Spirit helps”—[emphasis added] that’s the first word—“in our weakness,”—[emphasis added] that’s the second word—“for we do not know what to pray for as we ought,”—that’s the third expression: “as we ought.”
Unbelievable! The Spirit intervenes; He helps us. And the word, “help,” there is a rich word that comes from a word that means to help someone carry a load. He keeps bearing us along as we cry out to God. The word, “weakness,” comes from a general word that refers to spiritual, emotional, even physical disability. Again, this is the point: “We are strongest when we run from our competencies.”
At this stage in my life, I fear deeply for the state of evangelicalism in this country. It seems as if we so run from leading with the spiritual dynamics that the Bible leads with. We celebrate so much our abilities and our competencies that, for all practical purposes, the spiritual and the supernatural has been eroded from the equation! I fear; I fear.
Now, don’t hear me as saying that we should not be competent—there are plenty of Proverbs that are in the Bible; Paul’s words to Timothy about developing his skills and gifts—but what I’m saying is that we lead with, and we’re not ashamed of, the fact that we are weak.
In all ministry, in the Bible, in all advancement in the Christian life—does not advance from strength—it advances from weakness. Prayer is not the celebration of our skills and abilities; it’s not the Pharisee standing over in the corner. But it’s the penniless widow that says, “Help me,” “Help me.” I can only be helped when I embrace my weakness. The way Paul words this: that He’ll help you to carry the load as long as you know you got a load that you need to carry and you can’t carry it! He says He prays for us as we ought—He intervenes for us—He comes alongside of us: “Crawford, you don’t even know what to pray for,”—I feel it all the time—“God, I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know what to ask You for. Will You help me?” He intervenes.
Then secondly, intercedes for us. I’m just blown away by this—that the third person of the Trinity, right now, is interceding for me—he says, again, in verse 26: “but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
Let me say—without getting into a ditch on this—I’ve heard some people use this text to apply to speaking in some prayer language to the Lord. I’m not knocking that at all, but that’s a misapplication of the passage. Grammatically, we’re not the ones that’s groaning and neither, grammatically, is the Holy Spirit groaning through us. It is the Holy Spirit, taking our audible prayer requests before the Father, and He’s the One that’s groaning—we don’t know what He’s saying—that’s what Paul is saying. We don’t know what He’s saying, but He groans for us. The other implication of that word, groaning, is that He wrestles for us; He fights for us before the Father. What an incredible thought.
Then it says that: “And He,”—that’s God—“who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit [Romans 8:27].” I used to be confused by this verse until I paid attention to some things that I should have learned in English grammar in high school or junior high school. This is not very confusing at all; this is amazing. It says that: “He”—God—“[who] searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit.”
In other words, they are aligned; they are aligned. As He is groaning on my behalf, there’s no confusion between God and the Spirit as to what’s being said, or what needs to be said, or what needs to be done; they’re just kind of like this [motion made with hands]. Because the Spirit intercedes for the saints—and here’s aligned—not necessarily what’s good to us but what’s good for us, according to the will of God.
Michelle: “Thank you,” to Crawford Loritts today for sharing with us what our role in prayer is; but also, reminding us the role of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit when He hears our prayer, and intercedes for us, and teaches us. We serve a mighty God; don’t we?
I don’t know if you remember the quote that Crawford Loritts started our time off with, but it was from E.M. Bounds; and he said, “The greatest thing a Christian can do is to pray.” He didn’t say, “It’s the least you can do.” He didn’t say, “Pray and add other things to it.” He said, “Prayer is the greatest thing we can do.” That’s something really good to think about as we head into another week: “The greatest thing we can do is pray.”
Coming up next week, we’re going to talk about giving grace/extending grace when someone has hurt you. I hope you can join us for that.
Thanks for listening today! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, our co-founder, Dennis Rainey, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Phil Krause. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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