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The What and How of Prayer

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The What and How of Prayer

January 27, 2008


Jude 1, 20, 21, 24-25

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

The focus last week and this week is on the phrase in Jude, verse 20, "Praying in the Holy Spirit." Last week we answered the why question: Why pray in the Holy Spirit? We got the answer from verses 20 – 21. Let’s look at them now: But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. "Keep yourselves in the love of God." "Praying in the Holy Spirit, keeps you in the love of God."

Last week we called prayer a "means of grace." Why? Because keeping ourselves in the love of God is not something we can do on our own for God is the decisive keeper of our souls. He is the means of grace. God is the means of grace by which we persevere in our faith so we do not perish. We saw that in verses 1 and 24. of Jude. Verse 1: "To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ." We are kept by someone else, not by ourselves. We are kept for and by Jesus.

Jesus is Him who is able to keep you from stumbling (verse 24)"  the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord."(verse 25) So God the Father is our ultimate keeper through Jesus Christ.

Prayer is a crucial way of keeping ourselves in the love of God. How then do we keep ourselves, if God is the keeper? Answer: we ask God to keep us. That is, we pray. We are dependent keepers. And we show our dependence mainly by praying for him to be our decisive keeper.

We saw an example this kind of praying in Luke 21:36. Jesus says, "But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." Do you want to be kept from the destructive effects of the last days? Yes? Well, Jesus says, "Pray that you may be able . . to stand.

And we pray like Jesus: O Father, don't let my faith fail; keep me. Prayer is the means of grace that God uses to keep us secure and persevering.

Now today the question is not, Why? But, What? And How? What is "praying in the Holy Spirit"? And, How do we pray in the Spirit?

The best brief statement I have found of what it means to pray in the Holy Spirit goes like this: "pray that the Holy Spirit is the moving and guiding power." The key words are "moving" and "guiding." In other words, when you pray in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God is "moving" you to pray. He is the one who motivates and enables and energizes your prayer. And when you pray in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God is "guiding" how you pray and what you pray for. We pray by his power and according to his direction.

Let's see where this interpretation of praying in the Holy Spirit comes from in the Bible. The first thing to notice is the very close parallel passage in Ephesians 6:18, where Paul says, "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit." All prayer should be "in the Spirit." Praying in the Holy Spirit is not one form among several. It is the way all prayer is to be offered.

The second thing to see is the parallel in Romans 8:26 where Paul says, "The Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Here it is plain that one thing the Holy Spirit does for us is help our weakness when we need to pray but can't the way we should. So it is natural to take "praying in the Holy Spirit" to mean praying with the help of the Holy Spirit – with the strength and enablement of the Spirit to make up for our weakness.

A third parallel would be Romans 8:15-16 where Paul says, "You have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God." The point here is that the Spirit of God helps us have assurance that we are children of God by causing us to cry out from the heart (to pray!), "Abba, Father." The Spirit moves our prayers. He motivates, enables and energizes our prayers. That's a key part of what "praying in the Holy Spirit" means.

Our prayers are not only "moved" by the Spirit, but also "guided" by the Spirit. This is no surprise, because if the Holy Spirit is prompting and enabling and energizing our prayers, it would natural to think that he does so in a way that accords with his nature and his Word. We would not want to say, The Spirit moves our prayers, but they are not according to God's will. If the Spirit is moving us to pray, then he would move us according to his will and according to God’s Word.  Power! Guidance!

James 4:3 says, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." That would not be praying "in the Holy Spirit." That would be praying "in the flesh" or in your own sinful nature.

So now the question is the practical one: How do we pray in the Holy Spirit? First, it is God telling me to pray! And yet telling me that it is a work of the Holy Spirit when I do it. It is just like other things in the Christian life. Scripture often tells us to do things by the Spirit. As Galatians 5:16 says, "Walk by the Spirit." and Romans 8:13 tells us, "Put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit." and 1 Corinthians 12:3 tells us we can only , "Say Jesus is Lord by the Spirit." Philippians 3:3 implores us to, "Worship by the Spirit." In all these things we are supposed to do something. But we are to do them in a way that it is the Spirit who is doing them through us. Walk, put to death, say Jesus is Lord, worship, pray! Do it by the Spirit!

This is the way human life is, since God is sovereign and we are responsible. We act. We are responsible to act. But God is the decisive precipitator of that action. Our action is dependent. So when we are told to "walk" (Galatians 5:16), or fight sin (Romans 8:16), or confess the Lordship of Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:3), or worship (Philippians 3:3), or pray (Jude 1:20), we are told to do it "in the Holy Spirit." You do it so that it is the Holy Spirit who is doing it in you and through you.

So how do I pray so that it is really the Holy Spirit prompting and guiding the prayer?

I think there are two basic answers. The first is by faith. We pray "in the Holy Spirit" when we take our stand on the cross of Christ (which purchased all divine help) and trust God for his help by the Spirit. In other words, when you admit that without the help of the Spirit you cannot pray as you ought, and then you consciously depend on the Spirit to help you pray, then you are praying "in the Holy Spirit." That’s faith, trusting God to give you the Holy Spirit to help you pray.

Philippians 3:3 says, "We worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh." Here, worshipping "in the Spirit of God" is explained by "putting no confidence in the flesh." We put confidence in the Spirit, that is, in God's blood-bought mercy to help us worship as we ought by his Spirit. So I take it that the way to "pray in the Holy Spirit" is the same as the way to worship, by putting our confidence "in the Spirit of God." Look away from your own resources. Trust in the mercy of God to help you pray by his Spirit.

That is what we should do this year in all our praying. Trust God for the help we need to pray. When we are too weak or too confused or too depressed or too angry or too dull to pray, at that moment do not assume that you can't pray. Instead, consciously look away from yourself to Christ and to the mercy of God in Christ, and trust him to help you – even if it is only to produce groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). Learn to distrust yourself and to trust God in prayer. Learn that without him you can do nothing. Cast yourself on him at all times for all you need in order to pray.

The other answer to the question of how to pray "in the Holy Spirit" is to bring all your praying into conformity to the Word of God which the Spirit inspired (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Words of God, the Bible, was written by men who were moved (inspired) by God to write His Words. That’s why they are called divine words. My words are not divine; yours aren’t either. But God’s Words are! Listen 2 what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 has to say?: “Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action), So that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Right here is where God's call to be in the Word every day and his call to pray at all times in the Spirit become intertwined. If you live in the Word of God, meditating on it day and night by reading it every day and memorizing portions to carry with you all day and savoring them hour by hour, then your prayers will be shaped by the Word. Which means your prayers will be shaped by the Spirit. And that is what it means to pray "in the Holy Spirit." Not only to be moved by the Spirit in prayer, but to be guided by the Spirit in prayer. And since this is something we are called to do ("pray in the Holy Spirit"), our role is to take what we know from God’s Word and saturate our prayers with it.

So that is my pastoral appeal to you this year: Keep yourselves in the love of God by praying in the Holy Spirit. That is, pray continually by banking on the Spirit's help and by living in the Spirit's words from the Bible. Stay in the Bible! Stay in prayer! Look away from your own resources to the infinite and merciful resources of God in Christ.

Here are some concrete examples of praying in a Bible-saturated way – which is a key to praying in the Holy Spirit.

When you ponder praying for more in pledges for Manitou Lake Bible Camp or Teen Challenge, consider texts like 1 Chronicles 29:18, where the people give lavishly to build the temple and David prays, "O Lord . . . preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You." Then pray about the intentions of the hearts of people and call on God to shape them and incline them toward generosity. And say with David in verse 14, "All things come from You, and from Your hand we have given back to You."

When you ponder praying about the future of our church in 2008 and how to respond to growth, and how to structure our ministries, and how it all fits together to meet so many needs, recall what Solomon prayed when the Lord said to him in 1 Chronicles 3:5, "Ask what you wish me to give you." Solomon did not ask for long life, or riches or revenge on his enemies (3:11), but asked for "an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil" (3:9). What a precious prayer that would be to ask of God that each person here before me now be able to discern between good and evil!

When you ponder praying about these and other needs recall what Jesus said to the crowds in Matthew 9:38, "Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." Pray that the right workers would be positioned in his kingdom, to make us grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

When you ponder praying for boldness for yourself and others in evangelism, recall the way the church prayed in Acts 4:29 and what happened, "And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence. . . . And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness" (4:29-31). Would you pray with me that we would ALL speak the Word of God with boldness?

And when you love someone and ponder praying for his or her conversion, recall Romans 10:1 where Paul set his sights on his own Jewish kinsmen and said, "Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation." You know it is God’s will that none should perish.

To be in the Word rightly is to be in prayer. And when faith and the Word shape prayer, we are praying in the Holy Spirit. And when we pray in the Holy Spirit, we keep ourselves in the love of God. And every blessing in heaven will be ours. O learn to pray in the Word – for the sake of your soul and for the sake of this church and for the sake of this community and for the sake of our nation.

Similarly, Jesus prays in John 17:11 that the Father would keep us. "I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. ”Are you praying for unity? Unity in this body? Unity in all believers in Cut Knife? Unity in our nation? Jesus did! Listen to Jesus final prayer in John 17: “"I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me because of their testimony. My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.“ Jesus prayed for us! He wanted us to be one! There is power in oneness isn’t there? God’s power is in us because the Spirit is in us!

Listen to what John Calvin said about praying in the Spirit: "This order of perseverance depends on our being equipped with the mighty power of God. Whenever we need constancy in our faith, we must have recourse to prayer, and as our prayers are often perfunctory, he adds, 'in the Spirit,' as if to say, such is the laziness, such the coldness of our makeup, that none can succeed in praying as he ought without prompting of the Spirit of God. We are so inclined to lose heart, and be diffident that none dares to call God 'Father,' unless the same Spirit puts the Word into us. From the Spirit, we receive the gift of real concern, ardor, forcefulness, eagerness, confidence that we shall receive – all these, and finally those groanings which cannot be uttered, as Paul writes (Romans 8:26). Jude does well indeed to say that no one can pray as he ought to pray, unless the Spirit direct him."

1 Peter 4:11 states, "If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen."

Let’s finish today with these words of wisdom from E.M. Bounds in his book, “The Power of Prayer”. E.M. Bounds book is a classic. Bounds was a man hidden away by God with God. He was a son. A husband, a father, a gold miner, a lawyer, a pastor, a Confederate Army chaplain, a writer, a community leader, a friend, and a neighbor. But his legacy is that he was first and foremost God’s man – a man of prayer. His book on prayer is a compilation of all his writings on prayer written over 100 years ago. It is said he lifted people by bringing them to their knees. Would that be said of me? Here are some of his key points on prayer. First and foremost,   “If we are to pray in the Spirit, we must surrender our wills and ourselves absolutely and unreservedly to God.”

In the second place. If we would pray in the Holy Spirit, we must scrupulously obey God in every department of our lives. Disobedience at any point of our life grieves the Holy Spirit and makes it impossible for Him to control our prayer life.

In the third place, if we would pray in the Holy Spirit we must realize and keep in mind our own utter inability to pray rightly, and our entire dependence upon the Holy Spirit, if we are to pray wisely and prevailingly.

In the fourth place, If we would pray in the Holy Spirit we must definitely ask God to guide us by His Holy Spirit as we pray.

In the fifth place, If we would pray in the Holy Spirit we must count upon God's answering our prayer to send His Holy Spirit to teach us to pray;

In the sixth place, If we would pray in the Holy Spirit we must keep getting filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul's inspired exhortation in Ephesians 5:18, "Be filled with the Spirit," has the most intimate connection with our prayer life.

Finally, If we would pray in the Spirit we must study the Word of God daily and earnestly.

There is the deepest significance in Jesus’ own words found in John 6:63: "The words that I have spoken unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life." How often in our study of the most significant and precious passages in the Bible on prayer, have we been brought face to face with the great truth that, prevailing prayer always goes hand in hand with persistent and obedient study of the Word of God.

There is one final quote from Bounds, printed in your bulletin today:

“Man is looking for better methods.

God is looking for better men.

Men are God’s methods.”

Last Sunday, I asked you this question: Do you really believe that what you believe is real? I haven’t heard any answers yet! So, have them ready for next Sunday!

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