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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
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.