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The Power of Prayer
Rarely do we understand so much about a subject and practice it so little. This series on prayer can transform your life. Learn not only precepts about prayer, but how to pray in an effective, powerful manner that will elicit supernatural results.More from this series
Here’s the question we want to ask, and answer, today: why is it that, so often times, when you pray, and when I pray, God doesn’t answer? Okay? Why is it, if you listed all, wrote down every prayer that you really prayed, and you meant, and then you somehow could pull up on a computer screen all the ones that really got answered, why is it, so often, an awful lot of them don’t get answered?
Now, I want you to hold that question in the back of your mind, and I want to share a little parable, a modern-day metaphor, if you will, and this is about the power of prayer. And I’ll let you fill in the pieces, as I tell it, but picture number one comes right out of your home.
If you’re a lady, there’s a chance you’ve got the garden hose, and you’ve wrapped the hose around this part of the house, and then you’ve been around a barrel over here, and you’re watering the flowers, or the grass, or something. You’re feeling good. You’re feeling like these flowers are going, “Boy, this water tastes so good,” and you’re enjoying it, and doing it. If you’re a guy, you may be doing the same thing, or you may be washing the car.
And as you’re doing this, the water’s coming out, and then, all of a sudden, when you look at that hose, there’s nothing. There’s no water, maybe just a little trickle.
And so, you do what very intelligent people do: you walk over, and you check the faucet, thinking maybe one of the kids, or the dog, or someone, turned it off, and it’s on. There’s no problem with the power. There’s all the water that you need. But then, you go back and you look at the hose, and there’s nothing coming out.
Now, as an adult, you know what’s going on. But imagine if you were a kid, and this was the first time it happened, and you discovered what we all now know is the great principle of “the kink in the hose.” Right? Isn’t it amazing? You can be washing the car, and you look, and it looks fine, and under the third tire, there can be one little bend, can’t there? One little bend, and the water pressure is almost gone.
We’re going to talk today a little bit about some kinks in hoses. I call those “roadblocks.” This morning, we want to talk about “Removing the Roadblocks to Answered Prayer.”
You need to hear the spirit of this, because some of you have grown up – and I don’t know where we got this, but a lot of people, at least in my generation, and older, grew up with this view of God that He’s always pointing His finger, that He’s got His hands on His hips, and He’s just waiting for you to mess up.
Another place that things get clogged is in people’s arteries, don’t they? Those blood clots, and I want you to think of God as a supernatural cardiologist, who loves you, and sees there’s a clogging in the artery, and because He cares about your life, and He wants the life-giving oxygen and nutrients in that blood to get to your entire body, He comes by, and, very lovingly, although painfully, may take a scalpel and make a major incision in your heart, and open it up, and do whatever is necessary to remove that blood clot.
See, God is here this morning, not down on anybody. The fact that you’re here says that your heart is tender, and open, and you want to hear from God. But when He points out the roadblocks, sometimes it makes us a little uncomfortable. So, you need to hear, His purpose for removing the roadblocks is not to make you and I feel guilty. That’s the enemy’s job. It’s to restore, to convict, not to condemn.
I’ve written here, “Roadblocks are anything” – notice – “known, or unknown, that hinders our prayers from being answered.” And just like in a hose, it doesn’t take a big kink sometimes, does it? It doesn’t take a big wire. It just takes a little something that can cut off the power.
Roadblock number one you find in James chapter 4, verse 2. He says, “You want something, but you don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and you fight.” Did you notice all those verbs? Kill, covet, quarrel, fight – they’re words of human activity, of energy. There’s a desire, and there’s energy going in to reach the desire, and then he explains why this goal is being blocked: “You do not have, because you do not ask.”
It’s simple, isn’t it? Roadblock number one is prayerlessness. We simply fail to ask. God really wants, longs, to give you, to show His eminence, and His power, and His love. But, many times, the kink in the hose is, we don’t even ask.
And I know, some of us grew up, Oh, this is too small. I couldn’t ask God about this. This is too personal. Some of us have grown up thinking that the only prayers God really wants to hear are our major crises.
That’s not true, at all. He longs to answer. He wants to answer, down to the minutest details of your life. God wants to take the little kinks out of the hose, and block number one is, often, we don’t have simply because we don’t ask.
Roadblock number two comes right out of this passage. It’s verse 3. Some people’s problem isn’t that they don’t ask, it’s, they do ask, but you’re going to find that they ask for the wrong reason.
Verse 3 of James chapter 4 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” – the King James, if you have it, says amiss; the word means “with an evil desire” – “that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
In fact, roadblock number two is wrong motives. We ask selfishly. We can actually, I’ve learned, we can actually pray for the will of God, pray something like we’ve talked about, aligned with God’s Word, and it can really be, even, His will, and we can pray for God’s will, and pray for the wrong motives, and for the wrong reason, and God will say, “No.”
The most vivid example is a bit embarrassing, but it just so makes the point. I was a Christian not much over six or eight months, but, I would never say this now, because I was so selfish, and so self-oriented, back then, but I was naïve, and unsophisticated, and so, I just let it show. And now, I’m still very selfish, but I’m very sophisticated, and I know all the words to cover it up that make me sound spiritual. A lot like a lot of you.
And so, not knowing any better, I took masking tape – a zealous, new Christian – I took masking tape, and, in two-foot-high, I put on my dorm room wall, “To the glory of God” – spelled out the letters with masking tape. So, when you came in my room, boy, you knew where this guy stood.
And then, I got on my knees every night, and I said, Oh, God, my dream was to play college basketball. And You’ve let me come here, and, Lord, I don’t want to be a starter. I know I’m only a freshman, but I don’t want to be a starter. I want to be a star. And I want to score twenty-five points a game.
And then, I had this picture – And when the Wheeling Register interviews me for the sports page, and says, “Well, how in the world, as a young freshman, did you come here and average twenty-five points a game?” I’m going to say, “To God be the glory.” You can see through this one, can’t you?
I prayed that prayer for about three and a half years. Two hamstring pulls, a pulled quad, a stress fracture, five different coaches, a drug bust on the team. I was tackled in practice once, by a guy who was on some illicit drugs. My college career, I spent hours upon hours on the bench, never scored twenty-five points. And about the last third of my senior year, I remember getting very real, and very honest with God, and saying, God, I love this game. If I never, ever get to play this game again, it’s Yours.
See, God knew that if He gave me the desires of my heart, He would have such an egomaniac on His hands, He could never use me for anything. And He just allowed adversity, adversity, adversity, adversity. Instead of giving me my dream, what He started doing was building my character, and my dependency.
And by the last third of my senior year, God began to open some doors. And after a very unsuccessful, frustrating “college career,” I got a note in the mail, from a person I’d never heard of in my life, that ended up with me playing with a basketball team that traveled all over South America.
And when I got on the team, I was shocked, because the other guys were from UCLA, and USC, and Oregon, and New Mexico State, and they were 7’1” and 6’11”, and 6’10”. I’m thinking, What am I doing on this team? And I did the same thing the next summer, and then the following winter, all throughout the Orient, and the Philippines.
See, God longs to give you the desires of your heart. I got to play against Olympic teams, all over the world, and share Christ. But until the motives got right, God was not going to allow me to have the desires of my heart.
Think about what you’re praying – application time. What are you praying for? Even good things, like that your mate will grow closer to Christ – why are you praying it? Even good things, like that your kids will do well, and that business will go well, and finances will – and you’ll have an impact – why are you praying it? Because, see, this isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with this, and it’s not the last, probably not for you, either.
In John 14, Jesus teaches us how to pray with the right motives. John 14:13 – Jesus prays, and He says, “I will do whatever you ask in My name” – and then, get this – “so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” Jesus’ motivation in prayer was not self-fulfillment, a better self-image, a happier life, a bigger home, a nicer business, and a connected family! It was the glory of God.
If you get any of those things, God bless you. That is not God’s primary desire for your life. Those are all byproducts.
The word glory, in Hebrew, means “a great weight, a massive weight, of magnitude.” The best way I can describe it is, wanting God’s glory is to enhance His reputation. Jesus prayed, “My life, My heart, My prayers are so that when You answer them, people won’t think what a neat person I am, but they’ll see who You really are – Your greatness, and Your power, and Your love, and Your mercy.”
If that’s your motive, you’re on praying ground. But you can pray a lot of biblical things, and honestly pray for selfish reasons, and you can have a kink in your hose.
The greatest example in Scripture, to me, is Moses. Exodus 32 through 34 – you ought to read it sometime. It’s great. And Moses is taking these people out of Egypt, and they are rebellious, stiff-necked, and they have just pushed God to the limit. And God says, Moses, step aside! I’m starting over. Whoo. I’m going to clean this place out. I’m sick of these people. I’ll start a new nation, just with you.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d say, “Sounds like a good idea, to me. Great, let’s get rid of them, and let’s…” And do you know what Moses said? “Lord! Lord! What about Your name? What are the Egyptians going to say? The Egyptians are going to say that God had enough power to take them out of Egypt, but the God of the universe didn’t have enough power to lead them through the wilderness? Oh, no! No!”
And Moses literally stands in the gap before God. He says, “For Your name’s sake, for Your reputation’s sake, for Your glory and reputation among all,” he said, “if You’re going to blot them out, You need to know, I’m going to step right in with them, and You blot me out, too.” Unselfish. He coveted God’s glory. He coveted Christ’s reputation. That’s what God wants for us.
Roadblock number three is sin in the heart, or the life. The context of this passage – Isaiah 59, verses 1 through 3 – is, the nation of Israel was very religious, very religious – going to the Temple, doing all the right stuff, offering the sacrifices – but they weren’t getting the answers to their prayers.
And so, they come to Isaiah, and they say, “Maybe God’s winding down. Maybe He’s tired. Maybe He’s having a bad day. Maybe He’s just not up to the job anymore. Because we pray, and it’s obvious that we’re good and righteous people, but He just can’t come through! Maybe He just doesn’t have what it takes anymore.”
And so, Isaiah responds to that, in verse 1 of Isaiah 59. He says, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear.” You can almost hear Isaiah saying, “Hey, look, buster. There’s a problem here, but it ain’t with God, trust me. His arm is strong to do whatever. If His ears aren’t hearing your prayers, it’s not because He has a hearing problem.”
And in verse 2, he says, “You want to know what the problem is?” He says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” And then, he didn’t leave it vague. Verse 3 – he gives them four examples. He says, “For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things.”
The Scriptures teach that when there is sin in my life, when there’s sin in my heart – this isn’t reference to having a few ups and downs, and struggles, and failing here and there. We all have that. We’re talking about God revealing: This is wrong in your heart, and your life, and you say, “Tough. I’m not changing this one.” It’s Him showing you that you’re selfish, or there’s an attitude toward another person, or an unforgiving spirit, or a moral issue, and you say, “I’m not changing.”
In fact, the principle, here, is in verse 18 of Psalm 66. It says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” You might ask, why? Why? God’s first and primary goal in your life, on this whole planet, is not to make you happy, or successful, or have a connected family, or to boost your self-esteem. His primary purpose on your journey through this planet is to make you like His Son. Period.
As a byproduct of your relationship with Him, your self-esteem will grow. There will be blessing. You’ll have joy that’s incredible. But His number one agenda for your life is to make you just like Jesus: loving, holy, pure, compassionate, honest, a man or woman of integrity.
And so, when you have an issue in your life that’s unresolved, and you pray for these things, God doesn’t answer because He wants to allow some frustration to occur, so that, as you pray, your prayers will shift from the outward focus to asking the question, first, “Is this God’s will?” and then you check the Scripture and say, “Yes,” to where you and I would start asking, Lord, is there a kink in my hose anywhere? Is there a short in the wire? Is there something You want to do in my life that I’m unaware of?