Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (part 4)

Prayer is effectual. That means prayer works. In James 5, we read these words.

James 5:16
16b 
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

In Romans 15:31–32, Paul wants his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray . . .

Romans 15:31–32
31 
that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

We know from earlier in the chapter that Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the financial love offering that he’d been collecting for the saints in Jerusalem. Keep this in mind as hear his prayer requests.

He has two prayer requests. First, he asks for prayer that he will be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea. He understands that there are people who would love nothing more than to see Paul dead.

Paul’s not afraid of death. He’s quite ready to die. So, why does he pray to be delivered from these individuals? He requests prayer because he’s planning on going to Spain to preach the gospel there. As Paul is writing this letter, the gospel hasn’t made its way to Spain yet, and Paul’s eager to preach the gospel where it hasn’t yet been proclaimed.

It’s a kingdom-oriented prayer. He wants to see the gospel advance.

Second, he asks for prayer that his service for Jerusalem will be acceptable to the saints there. He’s talking about the love offering that he’s carrying to them.

Now, we might wonder, “Why wouldn’t they be happy to receive financial help? Why is he asking for prayer for this?” After all, wouldn’t we be happy to receive an unexpected financial blessing?

But we do well to remember how passionate the Jerusalem believers were about the importance of keeping the Jewish law. Many of them were fanatically opposed to Paul even preaching to the Gentiles, and the offering that Paul was carrying to them had been collected from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia. There was a very real possibility that they would reject this help.

So, Paul asks for prayer.

And here’s what we know. Both prayers were answered! Prayer is effective.

Paul was delivered from his enemies (Acts 21:27ff). And the offering evidently helped heal Gentile-Jewish relations (Acts 21:17–20).

Prayer is effective.

As you consider the effectiveness of prayer, take some time to pray for your pastor as he prepares to preach the word to you this week.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (part 3)

Let’s look again at Romans 15:30.

Romans 15:30
30 
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.

In these words, we’re reminded that prayer is hard work. Paul tells us to “strive together with” him in our prayers. That’s another interesting Greek word that’s translated as “strive together.” The word means to strain along with others—straining as if engaged in a fight.

Prayer is hard work. Ask anyone who’s made a New Year’s resolution to pray more regularly. If you made that New Year’s resolution this year, how’s that going? It’s only February, but that resolution may seem like a distant memory.

We’re distracted from prayer so easily. Could it be that we’re so easily distracted because prayer is hard work? We don’t expect it to be hard work. We expect it to be easy, but it isn’t. Prayer is hard work, and it’s spiritual work. We’re fighting a spiritual battle when we pray.

In another letter, Paul writes this,

Ephesians 6:10–12
10 
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

When we fall to our knees in prayer, we’re entering into spiritual warfare.

In 1942, C. S. Lewis wrote a classic book called The Screwtape Letters. As the title suggests, the book is composed of a series of fictional letters from a demon named Screwtape written to a young demon nephew named Wormwood. Hence, The Screwtape Letters.

In the book, Wormwood’s been assigned a Christian “patient,” and Wormwood’s job is to keep his Christian patient from growing closer to the “Enemy.” The “Enemy,” of course, in the minds of these two demons, is Jesus.

In the fourth letter, Screwtape advises his nephew about Christian prayer. Here’s a portion of that letter. Screwtape writes,

The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently reconverted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood.
Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 15

In other words, Screwtape is suggesting that Wormwood should keep the patient from praying anything sincere and meaningful. Just have him pray repetitious, childhood prayers.

Screwtape continues,

If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him toward themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.
Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 16–17

Friends, prayer is hard work. It’s not about our feelings. When we pray, we’re entering into a spiritual battlefield.

As you pray today, if you’re a church member in some church, consider praying for 2 church members.