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About this series
Good to Great in God's Eyes
Ten Practices Great Christians have in Common
Are you tired of the status quo Christian life? Do you long for a spiritual breakthrough? Are you looking to go to the next level or get a fresh infusion of faith and spiritual passion? Great Christians live out their faith with purpose. In Mark 10:43, Jesus says, whoever wants to become great among you must - what? You'll explore the idea that there are certain practices available to every believer, at every maturity level, to move us from good to great, in God's Eyes. ACSI approvedMore from this series
It was 1982, and there was a professor at Dallas Seminary named Walt Baker. And 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 twenty 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, and we will go to Haiti, and we will do ministry in one of the most poor, needy, desperate countries. I cannot let my heart ever get disconnected from Haiti.”
He was my missions prof. 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. And 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. And I remember walking through the hospital, and it had multiple cribs. And these were orphans, and little babies that had been abandoned that needed medical attention. It was a medical orphanage compound. And they did teaching, and ministry, and food. And I walked through, and saw all these kids.
And 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. And I saw these kids, and I saw this need. And I was a young pastor, and one of the elders was from the church. And Walt and I stayed in a little part, they had a little missionary house, and a family lived there. And we had a little room with a cot here, and he had a little room with a cot here. And he’s this big old man. And he said, “Chip, would you like to join me in prayer before we go to bed?” And I’m thinking, Well, of course.
And we came over, and he knelt down, and I knelt down. And there was a little desk, and I thought we were going to have a little goodnight prayer. 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.
And, he said, “Chip, why don’t you start?” So, I prayed a real sincere goodnight prayer. Probably three minutes and thirty-five 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 almost like a huge paw, and he put it on top of my shoulder. And 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 in 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.
And I was on my knees, with chills going up and down my spine, and a man who was in intimate communion with God , 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.
And I began to see why God used Walt Baker’s life. And 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. And 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 reality…
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, who has made these promises, and I need You to do this for these orphans, and this is what we need.
And 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.
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 have 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. And 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 has come from, and there is 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 thirty years, and after studying the Scriptures, and after being around people that I’ve seen God use their life, and answer their prayers. So, 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 is in Exodus 33:18 and 19. And he’s seen great things. 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, 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 loving-kindness. 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 – what? A good section of all the Scripture in the psalms, a great warrior, a great musician. What do you really want? Here’s a king that has, like, seven hundred wives, three hundred concubines, great warrior. 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.
And 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 the 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 does 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.
And 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 overhearing His prayers. And 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?”
And, 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, 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.’” And that word, Abba, was what a little, tiny boy or a little, tiny 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, 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, and 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. And, finally, he goes over, on his swimming shorts, and he pulls and he pulls, he goes, “Abba! Abba! Abba!” And 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 to know 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 are 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. It’s when 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 sense of what you say is, I need You. I need You, God. I need You. Oh, God, I really need You! Great prayers are birthed out of brokenness.
Examples are Moses, in Exodus chapter 4. Do you remember? He’s the superstar when he’s forty years old, and he can handle it. Then, he gets a forty-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. And 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, and there’s no way. And I just can’t.”
And he just…and then, you listen to the dialogue with he and the Father. And his prayers that he learns to pray are out of, not someone who has it together, who is indispensable to God, but it’s someone who recognizes, after forty 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. And 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 – he’s an Old Testament saint, and 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 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. Just, oh, here’s a man who was at the pivotal point of all Jewish history. And Jerusalem is burned down. The walls are falling apart. The gates are burned with fire. God’s agenda is going south. The people are exiled. And he’s a businessman, with a great position, and he hears about the sad news. And it says, “And when I heard the news from Hanani, my brother, I sat down and I wept; and I mourned and I fasted for some days.”
And if you pick it up in Nehemiah chapter 1, verses 4 through 11, you will hear one of the most phenomenal, great prayers in all of Scripture.
Not from a prophet, not from a pro, not from a Bible teacher – from a layman, positioned with high capacity, high leadership, in this area where God has placed him, as right-hand man to the Persian king. And in those eleven or so verses, he will have forty-four references to God, either by personal pronoun or adjective. He has God-centered prayers.
See, what you’re going to see, when prayers are birthed out of brokenness, there is this thing that happens there in brokenness, because 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.”
And the clearest picture, of course, is Isaiah 6. And he sees God in all his glory, and what’s he say? “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. Woe is me.” And the coal, from the angel, comes and touches his lips. And he first gets a high view of God, an accurate view of himself, and that brokenness then leads to a commitment to God’s agenda: “Here, my Lord. Send me.”
Great prayers are birthed in brokenness. And so, when Jesus was teaching His disciples, he started deeply personal: “Our Father.” Then, what did He teach him? “Who art in Heaven, holy,” or, “hallowed, be Thy name.” He is holy, and compared to who we are, that produces a sense of righteous brokenness before God.
The third characteristic of great prayers is that they champion God’s agenda. God is greatly delighted when our focus shifts from our own world, and our own needs, to His world, and His agenda for His world.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We pray for our daily bread. We pray for the specifics of life. And He knows our needs, even before we ask, and He’s delighted when we come in common conversation. And He’s thrilled when we carry and practice His presence throughout the day, and as we say a prayer before we say something here, or we ask even for, down to the smallest of things, it delights the heart of God, because He’s your Father. Those are good prayers. Those are important prayers.
But great prayers champion God’s agenda – prayers that are prayed by people who understand what God’s will is for His world, and they passionately desire to see His rule, and His kingdom become a reality in their sphere of influence.
Let me go through my Old Testament example, here, of Moses. If you will, could you open your Bible to Exodus chapter 32 for just a minute? This is one that you just don’t want to hear someone talk about.
The setting is God’s great grace to a people. He has delivered them. The Red Sea has been parted. Fire by night; cloud by day. He has spoken. Moses is up getting the Law. And what God has already done is, there has been smoke coming out of the mountain. They have heard His voice. He has given the Ten Commandments to all of Israel, and Moses is up now to get them. And while Moses is up doing his job, the golden calf experience occurs.
The very first thing, He said, “Now, whatever you do, no idols. No other God before Me.” They all take an earring off, throw it in the pot. Aaron is a weak, feeble leader, who wants to please people, rather than honor God, and then he’s a liar, afterwards. Reminds me a lot of me, probably a little bit of you, when you’re honest, at times.
Under great pressure with people. Remember what he did? He puts it in, and he fashions this calf, a picture of strength. And he tries a little synergy, like, “Well, this is sort of a picture of the Lord your God, He who has delivered you. Now, come and worship.” And they end up in debauchery. And then, when he’s confronted, remember what he says? “You know, I just – I don’t know, Moses. I don’t know what happened. I just threw the gold in the pot, and then the calf popped out.” And God doesn’t even think it’s funny. And God says to Moses, basically, in Exodus 32, “Moses, I’ve got a Plan B. Step aside, and I’m going to eliminate this stiff-necked people, once and for all.”
Listen to what Moses says in Exodus 32, picking it up in verse 9. It says, “‘I’ve seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone so My anger may burn against them that I might destroy them.’”
Now, this is a pretty sweet offer: “‘Then I will make you a great nation.’ But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God, and he said, ‘Why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that You brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”?’” Here’s his plea: “Turn from Your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on Your people.”
Now, notice the basis of his prayer: “Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom You swore by Your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all the land I promise them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ Then the Lord relented and did not bring His people the disaster that He had threatened.”
See, great prayers champion God’s agenda. If there was ever a time in the world where you could say, “You know, this works. These people bother me, too, Lord. I think this is a good decision. Me, a new great nation, my world, me as the focus? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – that was a good…but now, it’s Moses, and the Moses team, and we’ll have jerseys made, and I’ll be the new hero. And maybe I’ll get my own TV show, and we can talk about me and my descendants.”
He doesn’t go there. He says to God, “You made promises. You have an agenda.” And did you see where he went? “Don’t You understand?” Of course God did. “It’s Your reputation. What will the Egyptians think? What would the world think? What about Your promises?” See, he championed what he knew was God’s best, God’s will, God’s Kingdom, God’s agenda.
Great prayers are deeply personal, and great prayers are birthed out of brokenness, but then, they are people who champion God’s agenda. We looked at Nehemiah. He does the same thing in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 1.
After he has those verses of praying, and exalting God, and owning his stuff, then he steps up, and he says, “They are Your people, and Your great hand that You promised, whom You delivered.” He said, “Lord, You promised that if we sinned, that You would scatter us all over the world, but if we would repent, if we would come clean, from all four corners of the earth You would bring us, and in Your great name, You would rebuild the city, and You would do what You said You would do with these people.”
Have you prayed any prayers, where you have gotten, in a reverent way, and said, God, wait a second. There are some promises here. This word says something about Your agenda. I’m going to stand before You and hold You reverently to Your agenda, and I want to champion Your cause. It’s not about my family working out all the time. It’s not about my job working out all the time. It’s not about my financial security all the time. It’s not about my personal fulfillment, my relationships all the time. Life is about You. And, so, when I pray, I’m coming to a Father I know is good. I’m coming out of a position of brokenness, because You’re high and I’m low, and that makes me very much appreciate the work of the Lord Jesus. And then, when I come before You, I want to champion Your agenda. I want to be someone that, when You motivate, and the Spirit of God prompts me to pray, I want to be someone blazing a trail for what You want done in the world, instead of trying to get You to do what I want done in my world. It’s so subtle, isn’t it?
How often our prayers are, Dear God, make my life work, my way, for me, so that I can be upwardly mobile, very comfortable, highly spiritual, lots of blessing, and no suffering. It’s the American version of the Lord’s Prayer.
Remember what Solomon prayed? He said, “Lord, I can’t handle the job.” This is when he’s young and broken. He loses perspective later, but in 1 Kings 3:7 to 14, he says, “What I need is wisdom, because the weight of guiding and leading such a great nation, and thinking of all the promises that You have given to Your people, and now the stewardship of being a king over these people, will You please give me understanding, and wisdom, and knowledge, so that I could be the man You want me to be, to lead them in a way that would fulfill Your agenda?”
And do you remember what God said? Solomon, I’m so pleased that you didn’t ask for wealth, and a long life, and all this personal stuff for you. Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you wisdom like no man has ever had on the face of the earth, and in the bonus round, I’m just going to throw in wealth, long life, and all the things you didn’t ask, because when You championed My agenda, it brought great delight to My heart.
Do your prayers champion God’s agenda? When Jesus was teaching those disciples to pray, He said “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
The fourth characteristic of great prayers are: great prayers take God seriously. People who pray great prayers actually think that when God says something, He means it. People who pray great prayers think when God makes a promise, since He’s God, and He can’t lie, and He’s all-knowing, and He’s good, and has all power, and He’s really sovereign – when He makes a promise, people who pray great prayers, they think God will actually keep His promises.
They think God will so much keep His promises that they will make what looks to be ridiculous steps with their time, and their energy, and their money, and their future, based on just what God has said, because they take Him seriously.
People who pray great prayers take God so seriously – they take His Person seriously, and who He is in His holiness; they take His program seriously, and what He’s going to do through His Church until the fulfillment of time. And they also take His promises seriously. People who pray great prayers, they have promise-centered prayers, not problem-centered prayers.
And I don’t know about you, but it is easy to fall into the problem-centered-prayer approach, isn’t it? You’ve got a wayward kid, and you find yourself – boy, you pray about that. You pray that. You’ve got financial pressure – you pray about that; you pray about that. You’ve got some struggles in your marriage – you pray about that; you pray about that.
And after a while, I’m not sure we’re praying. I think it might be just worrying sessions before the Father: Dear God, I’m really upset about this, and this is really upsetting. When are You going to fix this? And You’re not fixing it on time. And, Well, what about this? And if this happens, this could happen. So, I want You to kind of fix this, in case this happens. And will You take care of this? And do You understand how discouraging this is?
And, well, what about that? And think of all the time I’ve given You, and I’ve been faithful to the church, and I’ve been giving financially, and I’m reading my Bible on a regular basis, and, we had this deal. It says in the Bible, if I do everything that I’m supposed to do, that my life’s going to work out; it’s going to be wonderful, and it’ll be on my terms, and You’ll fulfill my agenda, and You’ll make me happy, and I’ll be desperately fulfilled. It’s what all the books say in the bookstores!
See, the difference is, you start focusing on your problems. You look at God through your problems. You look at life through your problems. Or you can pull back, and you can look at life through God’s promises. Is it hard? Sure. “I am with you always.” I didn’t say that life would be without suffering. In fact, why don’t you read a little more carefully. What I promised was, “In the world you’ll have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” In fact, what I really promised was, all those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Do you feel like you’re at the edge, and you can’t break out, and you don’t know what to do? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” – that’s a promise. Do you feel like you don’t have the emotional resources, the financial resources to fulfill My agenda? “But my God will supply all your needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus.” Is that real? Is it a promise? Do you take it seriously, or not? Would you bank your life on it?
Well, God, it’s overwhelming, and this happened, and this happened, and this happened, and this happened, and I’m overwhelmed! I can’t live one more day. “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will rejoice and be most glad in my weakness, and difficulty, and hurt, and adversity, for when I am weak, You’re strong.” See, people who pray great prayers are promise-centered. They take God seriously, they take His Word seriously, and they take His promises seriously.
The fifth, oh, I forgot the teaching here, because this is a great one. I think this is one that we lose sight of is Jesus’ teaching. Talk about a promise. He says, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Boy, that’s a promise, isn’t it? With a condition.
Lord, thank You that You – you know what the word forgive means, literally? Lutrao, “to loose,” or, “to release.” He says, “Forgive, release, don’t give account of, don’t make it charged to my account of those things that I’ve done wrong.” A trespass is just crossing a line. It’s knowing what’s right to do, but not doing it. It’s then knowing something you ought to do, and choosing not to. It’s breaking a barrier that you know: this is what God wanted you to do, and you do it anyway.
God, will You please release me from that? And Jesus says there’s a promise: “Of course.” The prayer is, “As we release others.” You know one of the fundamental things that is a roadblock for answers to prayer? An unforgiving spirit in your relational world. You got anybody that, if you heard something – is there a face, or a name, that would come to mind if something a little negative – let’s not be too drastic – just a little negative you heard about this person would bring a secret little level of joy and delight to you? Anybody like that?
Someone that, if they kind of just lost a lot of money, or, you wouldn’t want them in a real bad car wreck, but maybe a little car wreck. Like an ex-mate that walked out on you. Maybe like a kid that you gave just time and energy to, and, man, they have done things and said things. Maybe a boss that ruined your entire career, a business partner that robbed you. Anybody have someone in your background that, down deep, you have a few anger fantasies over?
See, those people who have great prayers, they take God seriously, and they take His Word seriously, and they take His promises seriously.
And that means if there’s bitterness in my heart, if there is an issue with a person, I’ve got to deal with the horizontal issues, or the vertical issues are never right. If I say I love God, and hate my brother – what’s 1 John say? “I’m a liar, and the truth isn’t in me.”
Let me give you some examples of people who have done this. Great prayers take God seriously, and they are promise-centered, not problem-centered. And let me give you just three or four examples.
Number one: Moses. Do you see the pattern in these people? Over and over and over and over, as you read through Moses’ life, he keeps going back to – what? “Lord, You promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob this. You’ve got to fulfill Your promises.”
Nehemiah – what’s he do? Exactly the same thing. “You made these promises.” He reaches back into Deuteronomy, reaches back into Exodus, and said, “You said if we did bad, You would do this. You said if we repent, You would do that.” Promise-centered.
David, in Psalm 103 – classic passage. He takes that passage that when the Lord passed by Moses, and goes over it, over and over and over. “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness. He will not hold your sins against you.” David, in Psalm 103, repeats those words and says, “As far as the east is from the west, then so God will take our sin from us.” He banks on it.
Do you know that David’s life, when he ends this life, the commentary isn’t, “bad guy,” “murderer,” “adulterer.” What’s the commentary in Acts 13 about David’s life? He was a man after God’s own heart. Being a person after God’s own heart is not an historical issue. It’s an issue of the direction of your heart, and how you deal with life, and how you deal with your failure.
And those who take God seriously are people who say, “You know something? I’m not going to buy the line, ‘I just can’t forgive myself.’ If the God of the universe has accounted my sin as blotted out, and makes it as far as the east is from the west because the price His Son Jesus paid for it, I believe that, and I accept it. I am not a second-class Christian. There is not a cloud over my head. I am clean. I am pure. I am forgiven. I’m a new creature, and God has a great plan and purpose for my life.” And I don’t know about you, but, man, that is encouraging.
And people who pray great prayers, they’re not living with the baggage of the past. They believe that what God has said is true. And they know with confidence that when we say, “Forgive us our sins, even as we forgive those who trespass against us,” it’s true.
And you think about Paul, whether it’s Philippians 1, or Ephesians 1, Colossians 1 – those are Paul’s prayers. What’s he do? He’s got this reality, and he says – what? “I’m praying that you might” – what? – “know God’s will” – Colossians 1 – “in order that you might walk in a way that is blameless.” “I’m confident of this in you,” Paul prays in Philippians chapter 1, “I know that He who began a good work is going to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus, and you’ve been filled with all this fruit of righteousness.”
And he takes this truth, and these promises, and these realities of what God has done, and he prays it into their life. He just prays prayers, because he takes God and His Word very, very seriously.
Second to final – Great prayers demand great courage. Why? Because they’re dangerous. Great prayers take us to places with God, and with ourselves, that are frightening. Praying goes far beyond words and talking. The prayers that God delights in are ones that call us to exercise every fiber of moral courage that we can muster before a holy God.
And you say, “What do you mean? How do you say, ‘Great prayers demand courage’?” Great prayers demand courage because they boldly demand of God that He live up to His character. This is a level of praying that I think is rare, and one that brings great delight, and that you don’t go into unless you’re in the right place in your relationship with God. But there are prayers that are dangerous, and they take great courage, because they boldly demand, in reverence, that God live up to His character.
Genesis 18 – remember the picture? Abraham, the angel of the Lord, the Trinity shows up. And I don’t know how all that works – “Should We reveal to Abraham what We’re about to do?” And you know the story. And They decide, Okay, and the second Person of the Trinity, manifestation, speaks to Abraham, and tells him what He’s about to do: “And there’s perversion, and there’s sin, and We’re going to destroy it.”
And Abraham says, very interestingly, “Would the Judge of all the earth slay the righteous with the wicked?” In other words, “That’s out of character. Time out. Wait, time out. That can’t happen. You’re just; You’re righteous. You would never give anyone a raw deal. You’re the God of the universe. You’re always fair. What if there were fifty righteous? Would You still, would You still destroy it?” Can you imagine really talking with the God of the universe like this?
And what’s it based on? It’s based on His character. What’s Abraham saying? “Live up to Your character, God. I’m an intercessor.” God’s looking for men and women that have the chest, and the boldness to call God and say, “Live up to Your character. Would the Judge of all the earth slay the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous?” “No.” “Forty-five?” “No.” “Forgive me, Lord, but –” you know the story: forty, thirty-five, twenty-five.
Had any prayers like that lately? See, that’s dangerous, because you can even hear as Abraham, about the third, fourth, fifth time, “Forgive me, Lord. Please don’t be impatient with me. May I just ask this one more time?” He realizes that he is right up to the edge of where you would never want to go with a holy God, but he is going on the basis of God’s character, saying, “A righteous Judge will be righteous. And I’m standing in the gap before You for those who are righteous, and demanding, reverently, based on Your character, that You do what You said You would do, that You would act consistent with who You are.”
It’s a powerful place of praying, and it’s a dangerous place of praying, because not only do they boldly demand God live up to His character, but they dare to stand in the gap, and become the very answer to the prayer.
See, what if you start praying? And I don’t mean the little prayers, and the, “God, fix this, and take care of that” – but what if you start praying? And by the way, the test of real praying is, when you don’t see any results, you stick with it. You know that God is in it, and He wants you to pray, so you persevere, and you persevere, and you persevere.
But what if you persevere, if God says, You know something? The answer to this prayer is you. You’ve been praying for this new ministry at the church. You’ve been praying about the conflict in this relationship. You’ve been praying about this financial need that these people have. You know what the answer is? You go talk to the people. You go empty so much out of your bank account, and you take care of that financial need. You start the ministry. It keeps coming to your mind, doesn’t it? “Yeah.” You’re concerned about it, aren’t you? “Yeah.” Well you start. “Well I can’t.” No, no, you start it.
See, when you pray, it takes great courage, because it’s dangerous. Esther, we’ve got a situation. The whole Jewish nation is going to be wiped out. Mordecai, her uncle, comes to her and says – this is loose translation of the actual Hebrew, of course – “Honey, you may think you’re safe, but all of us Jewish people are going to die. Could it be that God placed you as the queen for such a time as this?”
And she asked all the people to fast, and they fast, and drink or eat nothing for three days. And she risked her life. She goes before the king. And remember what her words are? “If I perish, I perish.”
Great prayers demand courage, because there are times where you don’t just go and say, God, You need to live up to Your character. You go and you pray, and you pray, and God says, Guess what, you’re the answer to the prayer. You’re the missionary that I want to go. You’re the one who starts the ministry. You’re the one who’s supposed to fund it. And so, Esther says, “Okay, I’ll be the answer to the prayer.”
Nehemiah – what’s he ask? He prays, “Lord, please grant me success.” You study chapter 1 and chapter 2 of Nehemiah, what do you realize? He’s prayed for about four months, started alone. He ends up, we find, praying with a small group. And he realizes, God says, “Nehemiah, you’re the man.” Four months of prayer and guess what the answer is? “It’s you. I want you to go talk to the king. I want you to ask for a sabbatical. I want you to go rebuild Jerusalem.” And he does it at the risk of his life.
The final example there, and the greatest example, is Jesus. He’s in the garden. He prayed an actual prayer. He’s fully God, but he’s fully Man, without confusion. And in the garden, He says, “Lord, may this cup pass for Me.” Translation: You know, I know, from the foundations of the earth, We decided this is it, but maybe there’s a Plan B We could reconsider.
That’s really what He’s praying. “If there’s any other way” – as a human, as a man, and the dependence of the Holy Spirit, and knowing it was going to mean separation from the Father, knowing what was going to occur, He said, “If there is any way for this to bypass Me, may it be. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
He’s the answer to the prayer, and we’re glad He is. And that is exactly what Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” This is one of my favorite topics of these on “dream great dreams,” and “think great thoughts,” and “pray great prayers,” but is this not exponentially up a level from everything we’ve talked about? This is heavy, heavy, heavy.
And that’s why E. M. Bounds, I think, is right. You know, we can talk. We can do Bible studies. We can send out videos. We can be active. But what the Church and the world needs are people who pray. Not people who talk about prayer. Not people who can explain prayer, but people who really pray.
People who pray out of a heart that is deeply personal. People who pray out of a sense of deep brokenness and lack of self-sufficiency. People who pray, and would take God seriously, and His promises seriously, and His Word seriously. People who would understand, God, we desperately need You.
People who would stand in the gap. People who would be courageous and say, “I’m going to pray, and I’m going to seek You, and if I’m the answer to the prayer, although it frightens me to death, I’m going to remember that You’re Abba, and that You’re a good Father, and that Your will is great, and that the safest place in all the world is the center of Your will.”
And that’s why the sixth characteristic is really a summary, is that: Great prayers ask the improbable, expect the impossible and receive the unthinkable because of Jesus. See, great prayers always go back to Jesus. It was in Hebrews 4: We have a Great High Priest we know about, but, literally, it talks about, He blazes a trail, so that we can come boldly before the throne of God. He commands us, “Go boldly before the throne of God, before the throne of” – what? To find mercy in our time of need.
My standing, my basis, my power, my effectiveness for the answers of moving God’s heart, for Him to do dynamic, supernatural, over-the-top things for His glory is solely based on Jesus, and what He’s done. And so, we can ask the improbable. By improbable, it’s like, is it improbable to say that God could do a great work in a relationship in your family that you think, It has been broken for thirty-five years. It’s improbable to say that God could do something in your church, and use you to begin to see something happen, like never before.
We can ask the improbable, but we can expect the impossible, because nothing is impossible for God. And then, we will see, this book is filled with God doing the unthinkable, the exceedingly abundantly beyond what you could ask or think.
And it’s because of Jesus. Jesus commands we boldly ask the improbable. “Seek” – right? – “and you’ll find. Knock, and it’ll be opened. Ask, and you’ll receive.” That’s what He’s saying: “Ask. Seek. Knock.” He commands us.
It’s because of Jesus’ promise we can expect the impossible. The promise is, “Ask My Father for anything. Until now, you haven’t asked. Ask, that you can receive” – why? – “so your joy can be made full,” as you become a part of what the Father wants to accomplish in the world.
And finally because of Jesus’ power. We are people of great, great power. Exceedingly, abundantly beyond what you could ask or think.
I want to confess that I don’t think I pray very great prayers. I’m on a journey, but when I look at this, when I look at the people we’ve looked at, when I see what it takes to pray great prayers, I think this is a direction that you say, “I want to be on the journey where I pray the way Jesus wanted me to pray, and understand it, at a level like never before.”
Abba Father. Holy is Your name. I want Your Kingdom, Your agenda to come, and Your will be done. I want it to be done with the efficiency and the smoothness on earth, as it is in Heaven. I want You to provide for me what I need, my daily needs. But I’m not going to just stop there. I want You to forgive me. I want You to do a work in my heart, in me, in the same way, that I begin to learn to give, and forgive, and to loose the people who have wounded and hurt me.
And, God, I want You to know, I want Your Kingdom, and Your rule, and Your power, and Your glory to be paramount. And I want You to know, I want it so badly, in spite of how fallen I am, and how broken that I am, is that I will courageously pray prayers that, if You tap me on the shoulder and say, “Ingram, guess what, the answer to this one is you,” then I will step up to the plate in my weakness, and I will believe that You will give me what I need. Not tomorrow, or next week, or what I think it’s going to take – You’ll give me what I need today. And when I wake up tomorrow, You’ll give me what I need tomorrow. And when I wake up the next day, You’ll give me what I need, so that Your life, and Your Word, and Your agenda, and Your glory gets fulfilled.
That’s the journey I’m on. I’m not sure you ever graduate. I’ve met some people, like Walt Baker, who are way, way, way down the field from me, but I think what we’ve got in this passage is a picture of what great prayers look like. And I think what I’d invite you to do with me is to say to God, Lord, I would like to learn to pray great prayers. I’d like to be a man, I’d like to be a woman, that prays great prayers.
And I’d like you to look at those six things, and ask yourself, rather than being – I don’t know about you, but when I hear about Moses, and David, and all these things, it just – oh, my lands, it’s so overwhelming. But he’s just a regular guy, and he started, somewhere, someday, learning what he learned, just like we’re doing.