Faithlife Sermons

Prayer the Muscle of Faith

Renewed Faith: Prayer  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  53:24
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Central Idea/ Thesis:
Continuous prayer pays tremendous benefits to Christians while also building faith.
I Promise to Deliver:
I Promise to deliver an understanding why prayer increases the spiritual muscle of our faith.
I Promise to deliver some practical points to help us build muscle in prayer.
I was a pretty good athlete in High School/ College briefly
However I hated lifting weights and stretching...
About 2,608 years ago, in the year 586 BC, the city of Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians after an 18 month siege.
Once they controlled the city, the Babylonians deported most of the leading citizens to exile in Babylon and set up military control over the southern kingdom of Judah.
There were resistance/guerilla fighters who carried on the war hoping to overthrow the new rulers and the foreign governor who had been left behind to assure compliance.
The appointed Governor of Judah by Babylonian was Gedaliah, and soon after the siege he and a party of his men were ambushed by Jewish guerrilla fighters and they were killed.
This was against God's will because through the prophet Jeremiah God had told the Jews to comply with their new rulers.
After the plot was discovered by Jewish civilian leaders, they became afraid of the retaliation by the Babylonians and so began planning an escape to Egypt.
Before they escaped they went to seek counsel from the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 42 we pick up their story.
Jeremiah 42:1–6 ESV
1 Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near 2 and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us— 3 that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” 4 Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to the Lord your God according to your request, and whatever the Lord answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” 5 Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. 6 Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.”
When we have been disobedient to God’s Word, what should we expect from Him?
James 1:5–8 ESV
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Difficult situations do not excuse us from obeying God’s Word.
Everybody’s doing it, is not an excuse with God
Just this one time, is not an excuse with God
But there my enemy, is not an excuse before God
We need to stop being consistent, so we can start building some spiritual muscle
So Jeremiah goes to God for an answer for the remnant
Jeremiah 42:7 ESV
7 At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.
How long are you willing to wait
We find ourselves in similar positions today, asking God over and over again for certain answers, certain things to happen, but He make us persevere or shall we say wait in prayer.
Then, He encourages us to keep praying a long time before an answer comes.
What could be some good reasons why He does this…
If God is Omniscient, then He knows the answer the moment we pray
Why not just tell us right away...

Waiting is Good Discipline, call it Weight Training

When our prayers are not answered right away it means we have to wait and waiting upon the Lord is a good spiritual exercise.
Note what Isaiah says are the benefits of waiting upon the Lord:
Isaiah 40:27–31 ESV
27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
We build muscle waiting on the Lord
We build the the strength necessary to walk with God
Just like the person in this verse thinks that God does not hear his prayer, is unaware of his problems.
He is tired of waiting, he is growing impatient.
Isaiah explains what the discipline of waiting upon the Lord will do for him:
waiting helps an individual grow strong and overcome his enemies (whoever or whatever they are).
Isaiah reminds this tired and impatient person that God is not like him:
He does not get tired or impatient when things don't happen right away.
As Christians, we don't depend on exercise or yoga to create spiritual poise or a calm and trusting exterior –
it's waiting upon the Lord that builds these things for us.
When our petitions are not immediately answered and we experience a period of prolonged prayer, let's remember that time spent waiting upon the Lord is never wasted.
The relationship you build with God in prayer is always better than the thing that you are petitioning Him for!
Abraham and Sarah desired and prayed for a child most of their married life but their prayer was answered only when she was 90 years old! Both she and Abraham were not ready in matters of faith when they first began to ask. The fact that she had a child at 90 years of age served God's purpose better than if she had had one at 19. She could have at 19, but the birth at 19 would not have created the glory that it did when she had a child at 90.
Paul the Apostle desired in his prayers and strategy to go to Asia to preach the gospel. God prevented (blocked) it, limited it, thwarted his plans, and refused his prayers in this thing. Paul didn't realize that by going west he would establish the church in the dominant culture of the future. Because Christianity went west instead of east, it became the largest organized religion in history.
When we pray and say that we are ready to accept God's will, we must be ready that it be radically different than our own. It is important to persevere in prayer because if we do, God will not simply answer the prayer, He will reveal His will to us - this is much more important.
So now after the 10 days Jeremiah has the remnants answer
You know there are times when it is not good to make a decision.
One of those time is when you are grieving
When you aren’t willing to deal in reality
When you are depressed
Another of those times is when you are fearful
And judah was certainly fearful
which brings us to our next point...

We may not be Ready to Understand God's Will Yet

Jeremiah 42:8–17 ESV
8 Then he summoned Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, 9 and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: 10 If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. 11 Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. 12 I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. 13 But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the Lord your God 14 and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ 15 then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, 16 then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. 17 All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.
As for Jeremiah's answer, he said not to go, to remain in Judah and God would protect them.
When there is no fear of God, people are fearful of everything
We become so attached to our worldly existence that we fear all the things which would deteriorate that experience, so we worry about everything, the cares of this world
We are not in a position to hear from God
We are not ready to understand
We do not want to yield to the bigger picture
Jeremiah said do not go, guess what they did, they went
Here is our last point...

Wait Training in Prayer Reveals the Quality of our Faith

James says, "I will show you my faith by my works" in James 2:18. When we read this, we usually think of good works as those things done to help others in a holy and dedicated lifestyle. But "prayer" is a faith exercise that builds spiritual muscle is good work.
Pray doesn’t save us, it conditions us!
To direct our words to Christ - this is faith.
To believe that He hears, He answers - this is faith.
To continue to do so over and over again, to wait patiently for an answer -
this is muscle building showing that our faith is sincere.
This is the muscle of faith.
That we pray to God in Jesus' name showing that we believe the right things in the right way.
That we continue to do so, that we persevere in it is a way of showing that our belief is not only accurate but that it is strong, and real, and goes deeper than just our lips.
Sometimes God leaves us in prayer for a long time because the testing and shaping of our faith is more important than the answering of our prayer.
Why? because without faith it is impossible to please God.
An excellent example of this is Paul's constant prayer to God to remove "a thorn in the flesh" that he was suffering from (II Corinthians 12:7). We never find out what the thorn was, and until that moment, Paul says that God had not answered his prayer. However, Paul's persistent prayer had helped him build muscle in faith to the point where he was ready to suffer from his thorn regardless of God's answer.
Are you ready to serve Him, no matter the answer?
When we become bored repeating our prayers at meal times, or prayers during worship; when we become discouraged when our prayers are not answered the way we want, or not answered at all - we need to remember an important reason for persistent prayer.
It is more important that we are a faithful people than a people where prayers are always answered, or quickly answered.
Wait Training in prayer may not always produce a satisfying answer but it is always a sign of a sincere faith.
When Jesus returns it won't matter what we're praying about so long as He finds us building muscle in it.

Practical Pointers in Persevering in Prayer

Prayer is like every other exercise, whether physical or spiritual. The more you do it, the better you get at it. If you're going to persevere, here are a few pointers to help your prayer life:

1. Focus on God, not on what you want

The most precious benefit of constant prayer is fellowship with the Lord. If your focus is only on the thing you want, then you're missing the whole point. Jesus says that God knows what you want and need before you even ask for it (Matthew 6:8).
The purpose of prayer is not to continually describe and request what you want; the purpose of prayer is to draw you closer to God, to know Him and His son Jesus Christ. Jesus says that if we seek His kingdom (His will in our lives) first, He will grant us everything we need. The great benefit of persevering in prayer is that we develop a relationship with God, not that we finally get what we want.
Remember that it's about:

2. Submission not repetition

Many think that the "thing" to be accomplished in persevering prayer is to repeat every day what it is that they want. Two times a day is better - morning, noon, and night is great. Jesus says, "...they suppose that they will be heard for their many words" (Matthew 6:7). This passage is speaking of those who thought their prayers were effective because they repeated them over and over, or they were very flowery and elaborate.
The goal of prayer is surrender, not repetition until you get what you want. In Luke 11:5, Jesus tells the parable of the person who wakes up his friend at midnight to borrow bread. The repeated knocks on the door in the middle of the night were a sign that this man had surrendered all his reserve and pride and was willing to lower himself to disturb his friend because his need was great.
There's no magic number of repetitions where we get what we ask for after asking for it 1,000 times. The exercise of constant prayer should enable us to give up our lives and surrender our wills to God as we lay ourselves open before Him. It's as if we open the portals of our hearts, minds, wills, emotions, memories, and imagination - for Him to enter and fill.
John Powell, in his book "Happiness is an Inside Job," says that God communes with us through all of these. Constant prayer sees us surrendering our lives bit by bit to God who will provide all the things we need - including the things we ask for, or the ability to live without the thing we ask for. Therefore, submission in prayer yields greater blessings than repetition in prayer.

3. Peaks and valleys

Be ready for mountain top experiences where the presence of the Lord is almost palpable, where His word is so rich and convicting, His will for your life so clear, that your time in prayer will leave you breathless. The only thing stopping you from continuing in the moment is your own weak flesh. These prayer times are separated by many hours of dry reading and times where you think you're only talking to yourself.
We should not be discouraged, even the Apostles who were physically with Jesus, spent many hours simply walking the dusty roads from town to town or rowing across the Sea of Galilee to their next stop. The time of uninterrupted fellowship in a glorious setting will come when Jesus returns, for even we must persevere in prayer and await those times the Holy Spirit fills us with insight and holy encouragement in the Lord.
If you are not praying or only praying once in awhile, you are limiting your spiritual growth and the blessings that come with constant faithful prayer. There are a lot of things that come with hard work, talent, drive, and dedication -- but these things will not produce spiritual balance, or understanding of God's will, or a strong faith -- only constant prayer can give you these things. If these things are missing in your life, perhaps it is time to renew your prayer life before God and that will Renew Your Faith.
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