Prayer Mad a Difference
Prayer Made a Difference
1 Timothy 2:1-4
March 5, 2006
A couple walked regularly in a mall known to have the highest crime rate in the city. In-stead of just walking, they decided to pray as they walked. They prayed for the employees, the customers, the owners, and the people who came just to hang out. After a year the police came to them and said, "We know what you are doing, and please keep on doing it. This mall, which once had the highest crime rate in the city, now has the lowest crime rate in the city, and we believe your prayers had something to do with it." The police were convinced that prayer made the difference.
The Spindrift group, a scientific organization doing research involving prayer and plants, decided on a simple experiment. They planted rye seeds in two similar plots. One lot was prayed over; the other was not. The rye seeds in the prayed-over plot germinated faster and better than those in the lot not prayed over. In the second stage of the experiment they reversed the lots. Once again the seeds in the prayed-over lot germinated faster and better. The results demonstrated that prayed-for plants grow faster and are healthier than non-prayed for plants. These Scientists were convinced that prayer made the difference.
World War I soldiers of the 91st Brigade agreed to recite Psalm 91—the soldiers' psalm—as a prayer every day. During the war the 91st Brigade was engaged in three of the bloodiest battles of the whole war—battles in which similar units had up to 90 percent casualties. The 91st Brigade did not have a single combat-related casualty in these battles. The soldiers of the 91st were convinced that prayer made the difference.
Long before these three examples, the apostle Paul—guided by the Holy Spirit, who inspired the words of today’s key verse was convince that prayer made a difference. Here’s what Paul wrote to his young trainee, Timothy, about the place pf prayer in the church. Turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 2 and I will start reading at verse 1.
“I urge you to pray for all people. Ask God to help them intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.”
As you heard in the three opening vignettes, when believers pray as God commands, God answers their prayers, it makes for huge gains in the kingdom and in the world (even the plant world). You want the crime rate to go down in Millet? Pray! You want Alberta farms to yield healthier crops? Pray! You want your personal battles to be casualty-free? Pray! Let’s look at our 1 Timothy passage more carefully.
Paul starts by urging us to pray.:
1. The Prayer God Urges
In the New King James version, Paul uses four words to describe the kind of prayer he has in mind. “Requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving.
Let’s take a look at each word.
First, "requests"—requests are prayers related to felt needs. This is the kind of prayer request you will get if you ask people, "How can I pray for you?" It will often have to do with health, employment, relationships, or anxieties.
His second word is "prayers"—this word often identifies the things God wants to see happen in our lives and in the lives of people around us—God's "felt needs." He wants us to come to Him, to trust in Him, to obey Him, to serve Him, but most of all to love Him. These prayers originate at God’s throne, are brought to our minds by the Holy Spirit and sent back to the Father thru our mediator Jesus Christ.
Third, "intercessions"— as we learned a few weeks ago, this word suggests meeting with God in order to converse with him on behalf of others. It suggests that the praying believer stands in between God and the need of another person. It also underscores the freedom of access that believers have to the throne room of God—a freedom that may be lacking for some of the people we pray for. Marcy and I are interceding for our son David, and two of our sons-in-law. Because they are not believers, they do not have access to the ear of God.
And the last word Paul uses in his letter to Timothy is, "thanksgiving"—this is an interesting item in the list of prayer words in light of the fact that we are asked here to give thanks for "everyone." In other words, this is not simply giving thanks for personal blessings but also for blessings that God gives others—their homes, their well-behaved children, their good jobs, and so on.
Who does Paul say to pray for? Look again at 1 Timothy, this time at the first and second verses. Pray “for everyone—for kings and all those in authority ..."
"everyone"—this obviously includes people who are close to us—our family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. It also includes people who are more distant—leaders in our communities, Christians from other denominations, government officials, even our enemies. Praying with a wide scope moves us beyond selfish prayers for personal gratification. Pray for everyone! Then he specifically reminds us to pray for those who rule over us – our leaders. They need our prayers. Do you want wise spending of tax dollars? Pray! Do you want just laws? Pray! Do you want democracy to work? Pray!
Also notice, The urgency—found in the words with which Paul introduces the paragraph.
"I urge, then"—This is Paul's way of way of saying that prayer of this type is urgent business, something that cannot be neglected or put off.
He goes on to say, "first of all"—Paul knew that prayer is very important, having a high priority. It needs to be a “pray without ceasing” thing. A priority!
At the Brooklyn Tabernacle (led by Pastor Jim Cymbala) the Tuesday-evening prayer meeting is considered to be the most important meeting of the week. It fills their large auditorium and lasts for two to three hours. No wonder they are rescuing down-and-outers from the streets and haunts of Brooklyn as well as up-and-comers.
Prayer was also a priority in the early church. In Acts 1:14 we read that the believers "all joined together constantly in prayer." In Acts 2:42 we read that they "devoted themselves . . . to prayer." In Acts 4:24 we read that they "raised their voices together in prayer." In Acts 12:12 we are told of an all night prayer meeting. Prayer should be an urgent, first-of-all priority. James 5:16 tells us that the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
2. The Answer God Gives
God is fully aware of our prayers and He promises that his answers will make a difference. Do you want to transform society?
The result of our praying for "everyone" as well as for "kings and all those in authority" Paul says, is that we will be able to live "peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness."
This is not a new idea that God initiated in the New Testament. In Jeremiah 29:5-7 God says to the Israelites who have been carried into exile because of their sin and rebellion, "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. . . . Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." If Millet prospers, we prosper. And how do we ensure that Millet prospers? We pray to the Lord for it as we seek peace and prosperity.
God wants to see changes in society. He wants to do something about pornography, drug addiction, alcoholism, high crime rates, the breakdown of the family, and sexual promiscuity as well as the more sophisticated sins of materialism, worldliness, hedonism, and "the pride of life." But God chooses to change things in response to prayer and not to change things when we are not praying for these changes. God’s way always starts with prayer.
Do you want your neighbors to come to the Lord? People matter to God. Remember what 2 Peter 3:9 says? He wants all people to be saved; the Holy Spirit has urged us to pray so that this will happen (1 Tim. 2:1, 4). God makes it hap-pen by taking the initiative to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ when his people are faithful at making "requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving . . . for everyone."
The 73 members of a 77-year-old church were graying. They recognized that the church would die if they were not able to add new members. After discussing, analyzing, and strategizing they finally decided to pray for ten converts in the next year. At first they prayed for the entire community. Soon, however, they began to pray for specific people. Within four months, seven new believers were baptized into the church. The year ended with thirteen new members. There was no doubt in their minds that prayer had made the difference.
God wants us to pray so that people, who matter to him, will be saved. Prayer is effective evangelism! Prayer is also effective discipling. God also wants those who are saved to "come to a knowledge of the truth." The Greek word for "knowledge" literally means "full knowledge." In other words, God wants us to grow mature through the wisdom and understanding that come from the Holy Spirit.
Urgent, high-priority prayer is a key factor in the spiritual growth and maturity of believers. Paul's prayer for the Philippian Christians was that their love would "abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight" so that they would be able to "discern what is best and ... be pure and blame-less" (Phil. 1:9-10). Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that believers would have spiritual wisdom and insight so they might grow in the knowledge of God. Ephesians 1:17)
3. The Pleasure God Has
The results of faithful urgent prayer give God great pleasure.
Paul goes on in his letter to Timothy to say "this is good"—Paul reminds us that in God's eyes urgent praying for everyone so we can live peaceful, quiet, godly lives is good, good because these prayers fulfill God's will and accomplish his purposes. Good because these prayers bring blessing to earth. Good because with this kind of prayer the forces of darkness go into retreat (see Ex. 17:8-13) and the kingdom of God is advanced.
This is good "and pleases God our Savior"—it is God's will to save people from the stain and the power of sin. To see it happening right before his eyes brings him great pleasure.
When God sees you praying for your family members and your neighbors, he is pleased. He says, "That's wonderful, I love it." “Keep it up!”
When God sees a church that is making an impact on its community and supporting community leaders through prayer, he says, "That's good; that brings me great joy." “Keep it up!”
When he sees you praying for everybody in your workplace, God says, "That's great; that's good." “Keep it up!”
Prayer is all the above; it is also immensely practical. In her book, “Let Prayer Change Your life”, Becky Tirabassi relates the following example of just how practical prayer is:
“The sheer thrill of moving from the Midwestern cloudy days, flat terrain, and cold, cold winters to the year round sunny, warm days of southern California seemed too good to be true! But when reality struck, six weeks was an unbelievably short period of time to sell the house and cars, tie up loose ends.
Perhaps all those reasons prodded me to ask the Lord for something special. So I simply asked, “Lord, would You sell our house in a day?”
As hope gained a foothold that it was indeed God’s will for us to move to California, I felt it was not wrong to at least ask for His supernatural intervention.
On a Tuesday, I called the newspaper to put in an ad for a “House for Sale”, with all the details. The telephone solicitor asked if we’d be having an open house – a one day showing. I said, “No.” She continued to push me, oddly, until I had narrowed it down to that coming Sunday for 1:00 to 5:00 P.M.
Then I began to ask my friends to pray, “Would you pray with me and ask God to sell my house in a day?” Some jumped on the bandwagon with great anticipation, and others chided me by saying, “Well, you know, Becky, God doesn’t always do things like. Therefore, when a few of my friends didn’t seem to believe God would answer that prayer …. I asked them not to pray at all, because I believed God has been giving me Scriptures and an inner confidence – or faith – to believe that He certainly could sell our house in a day if He so desired.
At 1:00 P.M. many visitors streamed through our doors, but by 3:00 P.P. not one person had placed a bid on the house or expressed a serious interest in buying it. At that point, my husband went to the car wash, and my son “bailed” on me and went to Grandpa and Grandma’s down the street.
Alone in my family room, I looked up at God, then down at my Bible, and sincerely asked, “Did I hear You wrong, or did You tell me that You would sell my house in a day?” Opening to Isaiah, I read, verse after verse. Then Isaiah 51:5 stood out on the page as if it were one-fourth inch higher than all the other verses: “My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way.” That’s it, I said aloud, closing my Bible. He did tell me. And whoever is going to buy this house is on the way!
The doorbell rang and a prospective couple entered. Before I could even start showing them the house, another couple entered the front door.
One hour earlier that couple had been headed south on the highway. Picking up the newspaper, they ran across our open house ad and made an unplanned turnaround. By 5 o’clock that afternoon the sale by owner papers were signed, and the rest is history.”
To us, the sale of our house in one day was a miracle To our family and friends who witnessed the prompt sale of our house, it was a miracle. From that experience, I learned that it is okay to ask of God. I can’t say this any stronger: God invites us to ask. He is willing to answer. He calls us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Have you ever witnessed or experienced a miracle or an unexplainable answer to prayer?
· God wants you to make "requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for everyone." This is urgent business. It is not optional.
· God promises to answer your prayers, transform society, save lost people, and bring them to full knowledge of the truth.
· God will take great delight in your prayers and in the changes he sees happening as a result of your prayers.
· Prayer makes a difference! What difference will there be in your world—in the lives of those around you—because you have prayed? Will God say of your praying. "This is good and pleases me"!
Let me close this message and this series on prayer by reading what Andrew Murray has to say about “A Life of Prayer.”
This life devoted to God must be accompanied by the deep confidence that our prayer is effectual. We have seen how our Blessed Lord insisted. 'Ask and ye shall receive;' Count confidently on an answer. That is the beginning and the end of His teaching. God does what we ask. We dare not neglect the use of this wonderful power. The soul turns wholly to God. Our life becomes prayer. And to the faith that knows it gets what it asks, prayer is not a work or a burden, but a joy and a triumph; it becomes a necessity and second nature.
The Holy Spirit dwells in us, hides Himself in the depths of our being, and stirs the desire after God. It is always and alone the Holy Spirit who draws our heart to thirst for God, to long for His being to be made known and glorified.
But the chief thing we need for such a life of unceasing prayer is, to know that Jesus teaches us to pray. Jesus takes us up into the fellowship of His own prayer-life before the Father. It was the sight of the praying Jesus that made the disciples long and ask to be taught to pray. It is the faith of the ever-praying Jesus, that teaches us truly to pray. We know why: He who prays is our Head and our Life.. Christ makes us partakers with Himself of His prayer-power and prayer-life. We understand then that our true aim must be to pray much. It is Christ communicating His prayer-life to us: He maintains it in us if we trust Him. He is surety for our praying without ceasing. Yes, Christ teaches us to pray by showing us how He does it, by doing it in us, by leading us to pray. Christ is all, the life and the strength we need for a never-ceasing prayer-life.
I have place our hymnals on chairs around the room today. Find one and turn in the back to responsive reading #630 and we will read together what Christ says about prayer.