It was 1982, and there was a professor at Dallas Seminary named Walt Baker. Walt was a career missionary, and the seminary had been pulling on his sleeve to say, “Come teach missions at the seminary. We want a worldwide impact.” And Walt said, “I can’t leave the field.” He’d been in Haiti for over 20 years. They said, “Walt, you’ve got to come, because you could do more good sending students, and giving a world vision to these bright, young people with a heart for God.”
He said, ‘Okay, tell you what I’ll do. I will come to Dallas Seminary. I will teach missions as long as God wants me to, with this one condition: Every summer, I have the entire summer off, and I will take a group of students to Haiti, and we will do ministry in one of the most poor, needy, desperate countries. I cannot ever let my heart get disconnected from Haiti.”
He was my missions professor. He was a friend of a leader in our church. I found myself, with three or four pastors, and three or four businessmen, getting on a plane and going to Haiti. We flew in. We got in Jeeps. We got in buses with chickens. We rode on donkeys. And we ended up in a jungle compound that was a hospital.
I remember walking through the hospital, and it had multiple cribs. These were orphans, and little babies that had been abandoned that needed medical attention. It was a medical orphanage compound. They did teaching, and ministry, and food. And I walked through, and saw all these kids.
If you’ve never been to Haiti, you’ve never seen poverty. The only thing that has ever come close is India, in my experience. I saw these kids, and I saw this need. I was a young pastor, and one of the elders was from the church. Walt and I stayed in a little missionary house, where a family lived. We had a little room with a cot here, and a cot here. And you know, he’s this big old man. He said, “Chip, would you like to join me in prayer before we go to bed?” And I’m thinking, Well, of course.
We came over, and he knelt down, and I knelt down. There was a little desk, and . . . You know, I thought we were going to have a little goodnight prayer.
You know, “Lord, thanks for the day, and help these orphans, and it’s been a long trip. Chip’s probably tired, and I’m kind of tired, and, Lord, sure would like You to do a good thing.”
He said, “Chip, why don’t you start?” So, I prayed a real sincere kind of goodnight prayer. Probably three minutes and 35 seconds, max. And there was a long silence between my prayer, and his prayer.
And then, I heard him begin to pray. And as he began to pray, I felt something like a huge paw, and he put it on top of my shoulder. He began to pray, and he began to pour out his heart for Haiti, and these children, and these people. And as he began to talk with God, the way he talked to God, and the passion with which he talked to God – I had one of those times where my confession was, I wasn’t praying. I just realized, I was in the room with a man of God, who knew God at a level and a way that I had never heard, and never experienced. I was on my knees, with chills going up and down my spine, and a man who was in intimate communion with God , a man who had lived with this need for now, probably, three decades of ministry, prayed to a God that had power, prayed in a way and a depth of relationship that I had never heard. And he didn’t pray any three-minute prayer.
I began to see why God used Walt Baker’s life. I don’t know – all I can say is that something happened inside that I thought Lord, I don’t want to pretend, and imitate his prayers. I don’t want to act more holy, and use the words the way he used the words, but, God, I’d like to know him, and know You, the way this man does. I want to pray great prayers. I want to know You in such a way that the level of intimacy and the –
He talked to God in such a way that he actually expected that God was going to do what he asked. He prayed with a sense, when he interceded – with a sense of authority, that, “These are the issues that are on the table, and there are unlimited resources, and I’m asking the God, whose made these promises, to do this for these orphans, and this is what we need.” Then, there was a sense of reverence, and, at times, pauses of silence that made me very uncomfortable . . . where there was just holy communion in the room.
We have talked about reading great books, and we’ve talked about thinking great thoughts, and we talked, this morning, about dreaming a great dream, and pursuing great people in our time together, but we’re going to kind of move into holy ground. I want to talk about praying great prayers.
Our invitation, or key text, is on the front of your notes. It’s from Jesus. It’s what He said on the very last night, for His disciples: “In that day, the day when I’m gone, you will no longer ask Me anything. I tell you the truth, My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.” Imagine if we believed that to even a small degree. “My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. Up until now you’ve not asked for anything in My name. My name, My merit, on the basis of My relationship, on the basis of My work.”
Little did they know, His name would mean what would occur at the cross, and His resurrection, and in His name and His authority. You can come to the Father based on all that Christ has done, and you can ask the Father to do what you know the Son’s will is.
It’s like He was saying, “I want to give you a spiritual MasterCard that has My name on it, and when you bring this card to the Father, He recognizes where it’s come from, and there’s unlimited supply. But you can only charge things that are according to My will. And ask, and you will receive, and your joy will be made complete.”
Now, we’re going to talk about praying great prayers, and as we do, I’m not, in any way, telling you that this is the only way to pray. I’m not going to give you the basics of prayer. This is not an overview of, this is how prayer works, in general. This is one man’s observation, okay? Just one guy’s observation, after walking with God for about 30 years, and after studying the Scriptures, and after being around people that I’ve seen God use their life, and answer their prayers. So, this is unscientific data before you. This is not a systematic, “this is the way all prayers are to be prayed.” But if you want to move from praying as a Christian, to praying what I believe are great prayers in God’s eyes, I think there are six characteristics.
Characteristic number one of great prayers: Great prayers are deeply personal. Great prayers are deeply personal. Great prayers begin and end with God Himself. Great prayers flow from a passion to know God, to meet with God, to enjoy God, and to be known by God. Great prayers are not rote, and they are not routine. They are not perfunctory, and they are not about performance. Great prayers are intimate, and personal, and relational, and heartfelt.
Let me give you some examples of great prayers, a survey of Old and New Testament. When you want to hear Moses’ greatest prayer, I believe it’s in Exodus 33:18 and 19. And he’s seen great things. I mean, he’s seen miracle after miracle after miracle. Yet, when he comes before God, what’s his prayer? “Yahweh, God of Gods, God of Heaven, show me Your glory.” Do you realize what he’s asking? “I’ve seen Your works. I’ve seen Your miracles. I’ve seen Your power. You’ve shared with me Your covenant name: I AM THAT I AM. I want to see all of who You are.”
Of course, God says, “You know, Moses, you don’t know what you’re asking. If you saw all of Me, you would be toast, because you have no idea of the unapproachable light, and the absolute holiness, and the unlimited power of the God that created all that there is. But, Moses, what I will do is, I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will place My hand over you, and I will pass by, and I will let you see the manifestation of My presence.”
And then, do you remember? Then, God speaks as He passes by, and talks about the very characteristics of who He is: full of goodness and mercy, slow to anger, filled with lovingkindness.
What’s Moses’ prayer? He wants to know God. He wants to see God. Great prayers are deeply personal.
You go from Moses, to David. Here’s a man who wrote a good section of all the Scripture in the Psalms, a great warrior, a great musician. What do you really want? I mean, here’s a king that has, you know, like, 700 wives, 300 concubines, great warrior. I mean, what would you really like out of life? This is a man that has, probably, more than everything – probably a lot more than he should have had.
Psalm 27 says, “One thing I desire,” right? “One thing I want, this is what I would desire of You: that I might behold the beauty of the Lord, and that I might worship You, that I might see You. I want to know You. I want to come into Your temple. This is the thing that I desire: that I might really taste and see who You are.”
Great prayers are deeply, deeply personal. They’re about not getting something from God. They’re about being with God Himself.
Paul, for all his success in ministry, when you zip open his heart, what does he want? “Forgetting what lies behind and pressing forward to what lies ahead” – what’s he want? – “I press ahead. I charge ahead. I lean forward. I want to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering.”
He says “More than all these things,” after giving his pedigree – “more than all these things, knowing Him – that’s what I want. I want to know Him, and the power of His resurrection. All the other” – he uses the word – “is like dung, or rubbish, compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
And even Jesus, in the final prayer, John 17:3 – remember what it was? “This is eternal life, that you might know Him, and his beloved Son.”
See, great prayers don’t start with technique. It’s not about how long. It’s not about the actual words you say. Great prayers, first and foremost, are deeply personal.
That’s why, when the disciples wanted to learn to pray, they came to Jesus. And you get the picture, if you study it, they were kind of overhearing his prayers. They watched this pattern, and He’d go up into the mountains, and . . . Actually, when they wanted to kill Him – how did Judas know where He’d be? Judas knew where He’d be because He had a pattern. There was a certain time on the day, He would go to the garden, and He prayed. And so, they came to Him and said, “Lord, will You teach us to pray?”
Remember, we learned it as kids, most of us: “Our Father” – literally, “Abba,” “Abba Father.” And we take that for granted, like, “Oh, yeah, we call it ‘the Lord’s Prayer.’” It was a radical notion in the day. By that point in Judaism, God was so transcendent, and there were all these rules, and there were all the written rules, and all the verbal rules, and all this stuff, and all this religion, and here, this radical Teacher comes and does these miracles, and teaches like no one else.
“Will You teach us to pray? The Pharisees, you know, they teach their disciples to pray, and John the Baptist, he teaches his. Give us a prayer. How should we pray?” And He says, “This is how you ought to pray: Say, ‘Our Father, Abba.’”
That word, Abba, was what a little boy or a little girl would say to their daddy. It’s a term of endearment, a term of access. It’s what a little kid says when –
I actually saw it happen. We were visiting Israel, and we were by a pool. And, you know, I don’t remember a lot of Hebrew, and I praise God for all the guys, and I took the years, but, tell you what, I got through it – thank God for it – and I couldn’t remember a whole lot. But I do remember, as I studied Hebrew, and then they talked about the Aramaic, and this little word, Abba, and what it meant. It made sense, and I wrote it in my notes.
So, I’m sitting next to the pool, and there’s a man there, in Israel, and he’s talking with his wife. He has a drink; he’s in his bathing suit. And there’s this little boy, who’s about three, and he wants his dad, and he wants his dad, and his dad is busy. Finally, the little boy goes over, and he pulls and he pulls on his dad’s swimming shorts. He goes, “Abba! Abba! Abba!” His dad just reached down with one arm, and lifted him up, and put him on his lap. And I learned, that’s what Jesus was saying.
He is the almighty, powerful God of the universe, who invites you to call Him “Abba,” to come with childlike dependency, to come without an agenda, to come knowing that you are deeply loved, to come knowing He is a good God, that He’s for you, that He cares, that there’s nothing that ever can come between you, that He loves you, and, in every time of need, the way you come to God, first, is as, “Abba Father.” Great prayers, first and foremost, are deeply personal.
The second characteristic of great prayers is, they’re birthed in brokenness. They are birthed in brokenness. Prayers that get God’s attention, and that He calls great, are free of self-confidence. They’re characterized by desperate dependency, and an overwhelming sense of need.
Brokenness – it’s when you pour out your heart to God. You don’t always have the right words, but, because of a time of fear, or a time of crisis, or a time of remorse, or a time of grief, or a time of sorrow, or perplexity, and you don’t know what to do, you come before God, and there is this sense of bankruptcy, and you can’t work it out, and in your brokenness, you pour out your heart before God. And underlying this is a sense of, “I need You. I need You, God. I need You. Oh, God, I really need You!” Great prayers are birthed out of brokenness.
An example is Moses, in Exodus 4. Do you remember? He’s the superstar when he’s 40 years old, and he can handle it. Then, he gets a 40-year education. Then, God meets him in the burning bush, and he has the burning bush experience, and God is holy, and he takes off his shoes. And then, God says, “Moses, I’ve got a job for you.” He gives him the job.
In Exodus 4, do you remember Moses? “I can’t do that. I’m inadequate. I’m slow of speech, and slow of tongue. You couldn’t use a guy like me. There are other people more qualified. There’s no way. I just can’t.” And he just . . .
And then, you listen to the dialogue with Moses and the Father.
And the prayers that he learns to pray are not those of someone that has it together, that’s indispensible to God, but it’s someone who recognizes, after 40 years, the distance between God and him is a big gap. And so, he prays out of his brokenness.
But it’s a pattern all through the Old and New Testaments. When you hear David’s prayer, in Psalm 51 – Here’s a man that is godly, who knows God. In a weak moment, he ends up doing – what? Committing adultery, and then, later, murder. And then, he lives with that guilt that’s piling up for almost a year, until Nathan comes and confronts him, and says, “David, let me tell you a little story.” He gives him a word picture – “You’re the man.”
And then, he’s broken from within, and he realizes the depth of his sin. You open up Psalm 51, and we get to overhear David praying his prayer of confession, of restoration, to the Father. And you get to about verses 13 or 14, and David – you know, he’s an Old Testament saint He’s the king, and he’s got bulls, and he’s got cows, and he’s got goats, and he can make sacrifices until, literally, the cows come in.
And he says to God, “It’s by Your grace I’ve been forgiven.” And he says, “If burnt offerings were really what You wanted, I mean, I would bring them.” But out of his brokenness, he says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise.”
See, great prayers are birthed out of brokenness, and when you come to the point where you’re spiritually bankrupt – I don’t mean just saying words, where you have desperate dependency, and great need, and you recognize it, God promises He’ll always meet you. And when you meet God, which is the whole point of prayer, things happen in you, and then through you.
So, you have Moses; you have David. Nehemiah – another great example. These people see the holiness of God, and where they really are with God. And it’s the distance between God’s holiness, and where they are, and where we are, that produces this thing called “brokenness.”