Hands folded in prayer
Hands folded in prayer

Principles of Prayer Part 5


RS: We’re going to spend several weeks on this series on prayer. The lesson this morning and next week you will find of great benefit, I really believe that. But just to kind of give you a little review of what we talked about on prayer. The end of May, and then three weeks in June, we spent time talking about prayer. In the four sessions we met, we looked at the issue of what I called the principles of prayer, and the first principle we said was the importance of approaching God with humility, with a sense of dependence upon Him. We then looked at the importance of praying with right motives. That your motives have got to be right. James talks about this in James 4:2-3, where he starts off by saying, “You have not because you ask not.” And then he comes around and says, and the problem is when you do ask, you ask with the wrong motives. Your motives are so self-serving, you just want to spend them on your pleasures. You’re not really interested in God’s will for your life. And then, we said the third principle was the importance of praying with persistence. And then we spent a whole session on the importance of praying by faith. Now if you’ll remember, prayer is the ultimate act of faith. Because when you pray, let’s just assume you’re not at church praying, along with your minister or your priest or whomever, we’re talking about when you pray by yourself. Let’s say this morning, I hope you all spent some time praying this morning, talking to God, you’re doing it basically by yourself. The motive is clear. You’re doing it because you want to say something to God, and you’re talking to somebody you can’t see, and the reason you do it though, is that you believe that He hears you. Otherwise, why would you pray? And that’s the ultimate act of faith. I’m praying to the unseen God, as He is described in Hebrews, and I’m praying to Him because I believe He hears me. That is a way we exercise our faith, when we pray.

Now, as we proceed and go forward with this series, we’re going to look at more how to pray, and what are the things that we really should be praying about. What are the things that we should be bringing before God? We’re going to spend a number of weeks on this, and I assure you when we are finished, you can’t come up with the excuse, I don’t have enough to pray about, I don’t know what to pray about. Now, the first component of prayer really involves our response to God and what He has done for us. Most people might call this praise and worship. In praise and worship, guys, it’s not about us. It’s about us honoring Him, and this is the great irony of it all, and you’ll see this as we go through the study today. When we honor God through our praise, do you know what happens? It impacts us. I learned this a number of years ago, I was realizing this, I had a guy, a very wise man talked to me about the issue of going to church, and I realized that my main reason for going to church is I was looking to get something out of it. It was about me. In other words, I went to church therefore, primarily, to hear a good sermon. And if the sermon wasn’t good, I felt like it was kind of a waste of time. But this man pointed out that’s not why you go to church. You go to honor God. It’s not about you, it’s about Him. You go to worship Him, and he says when you can take that attitude towards church, it impacts you. It impacts me. And so, my whole view of corporate worship has changed, and I don’t go, and say, I’ve got to get something out of the sermon, and if I do, that’s great. But, I’m really going to honor Him and to worship Him, and, in the process, it has an influence on me. Now, we have what is called public praise and worship, and you have private praise and worship. And you know one of the best ways to do this? It’s through the Psalms. Billy Graham reads two or three Psalms a day, as a way to worship God. He uses it as a kind of a basis of his prayers. The Psalm that is most helpful to me, and that’s where we’re going to start today. There are two Psalms of the 150 Psalms that are famous. You’ve got the 23 rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” and the second is the 100 th Psalm. And the 100 th Psalm is sung often in church worship today, it’s put to song. Because, you’ll see, it’s a Psalm of praise, but more specifically, let’s just turn to it. Psalm 100. Jim Ryan, how about reading that for us?

Jim: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness, come into His presence with singing. Know that the Lord He is God. It is He who made us, and we are His, we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.”

RS: Thank you Jim. I don’t know if your Bible says this, but right above the 100 th Psalm, it says, “This is a Psalm for Thanksgiving.” And, he says, enter His gates with Thanksgiving, His courts with praise, and give thanks to Him, and praise His name. You know guys, I really believe that the heart of praise is giving thanks to God. Back in Psalm 92, in the NAS, it says, “It is good to give thanks to God.” The NIV says, “It’s good to praise God.” And the Hebrew, I like the Hebrew word, it means praise and thanksgiving. It’s like they’re together. Thanksgiving is a way you praise God. But, at the heart of praising God is thanksgiving by God’s people. Some of you heard me say this, but this is the crux of the matter, and I hope when I share this, it will cause you to really want to listen to this. In my own life, by intentionally cultivating a thankful heart, this changed my life. It really has changed my life. I’m talking about intentionally taking time every day to reflect upon what God has done for you, and giving Him thanks. You see, thanksgiving does not come natural to human beings and therefore, you have to cultivate it in your life. And what happens over time, this is what I’m finding, it naturally leads to an awareness in your life, as you live each day, it leads to an awareness of God’s goodness and all that He’s done for you. And so what you’ll find yourself is throughout the day is, giving thanks, as you see His Hand in your life. And you become more and more aware of all that He has done for you.

Just Tuesday, I’m working on this book, I stayed late working, and I was leaving, and I was walking out, and I was just hit with this, Lord, I am so grateful that you’ve given me this job. I love what I do. I am so thankful for that. And as I’m walking out the door, I said, I’m so thankful that I have a home to go to, that I have a wife. I was struck by that. Now, if you go back over time, I was never struck by any of that. I never gave thanksgiving during the day, but this is something that is happening in my life and it’s changing me. It’s having an impact on me. Aldous Huxley, the very famous atheist made this observation about human beings, and I think he was right. “Most human beings have almost an infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” And I think we do. Gary Ard [unintelligible] this morning, in James 1:15-16, he’s right, when he says, do not be deceived. Every good and perfect gift comes from Heaven above. He says, you know, that’s our problem, we get deceived. Everything that’s in our lives, we think I’ve done it all, it’s all from me and my hands, and we get arrogant. And you always ought to pay close attention to the Scripture when it says, “Don’t be deceived,” because generally, what he’s saying is that man’s natural tendency is to be deceived as it relates to this issue. Let me stop here and see. Comments or questions, anybody?

RS: Well, I don’t think we notice sometimes when we read Paul’s letters the emphasis he places on thanksgiving. We just kind of gloss over it. We think, yeah, I know that. But he really, particularly in the book of Colossians. So, what I’d like to do is turn to Colossians chapter 1, and just kind of walk through and look at the verses in the book of Colossians where Paul places this great emphasis on being thankful. Take a minute if you would and turn to Colossians chapter 1. Everybody there? Starting at verse 9, Paul shares with this church, this is what I’ve been praying for you guys. And you get to read it and it’s very powerful. I wish somebody would pray this for me. But, then he gets to the end of it, “and giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in life.” So, we give thanks to the Father. Now, turn over to chapter 2, and go to verses 6 and 7. Colossians 2:6-7. Butch?

Butch: ” As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were instructed, overflowing with gratitude.”

RS: Guys, these two are great verses. It’s a picture of the Christian life. And where does it start? It says, as you therefore have received Christ Jesus into your life, and then you begin to walk with Him through life. You begin to develop a relationship with Him, and the more you put into that relationship, not only the more you get out of it, but the deeper you go with Him. And he talks about it, over time what happens, your roots, he uses kind of the illustration of agriculture, your roots grow deep down into Him, and you become strengthened. I love what the New American says, and “you become established in your faith.” Think about that word established. Many of you are very established in the work that you do, and the reason is that you have been doing it for so long, and so, you are established. And being established takes time. It takes time as you walk with Him through life, but he gets to the end, and he could have just stopped, but then he says, and your lives should overflow with thanksgiving. He doesn’t say, just give thanks. Your life should overflow with thanksgiving. Now go to chapter 3, verse 15. It says, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you are called to peace,” and be what? Thankful. Verse 16, “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Then in verse 17, “Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through Him.” And then go down to chapter 4. Look at verse 2. The NIV says, “Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful”, then the NAS says, “Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it, with an attitude of thanksgiving.” You know, you could read through the book of Colossians, and never really realize the emphasis that Paul places on being thankful, but most significant that our lives should overflow with thanksgiving.

Any comments or questions? You with me? It’s kind of interesting, R.C. Sproul, he’s probably in his 80s now, brilliant theologian, and he says, you know, if you had to summarize the theology of the entire Bible, it would be summarized in one word, and that’s the word “grace”. But he said, if you really had to summarize the Christian life, and our attitude towards life, the one word you would use is the word “gratitude”. Now, there’s a very interesting encounter that you read about in Luke that is very pertinent to what we’re talking about. And so, let’s all turn to Luke 17. Billy Barrett ( sp?), you want to read for us? How about verses 11-19?

Billy: “Now on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When He saw them, He said, Go, show yourselves to the priests. And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'”

RS: The big question in this incident is what are we to make of the nine?

Unidentified audience member: They weren’t grateful.

Unidentified audience member: I just think they didn’t think to go back and saying it.

RS: That’s kind of what I thought too. First of all, you kind of have to realize and understand, do you know what a devastating disease leprosy was? I don’t know if you have many people in the world that still suffer from leprosy, but basically your body just deteriorates, you lose all sense of feeling, you can’t feel pain, and your fingers, everything just kind of dies. It was somewhat contagious, you had to be quarantined, you would go and live in a leper colony. All the lepers lived together. And so it struck me that these guys are all healed from this horrible disease, and, in all likelihood, the nine ran home to see their families. And who can blame them? Except this one. I mean, he was. I guess a good way to look at it is, the nine people, they were focused on being delivered from this disease, and this one Samaritan was focused on the Deliverer, the One who delivered them. And he was overwhelmed with gratitude. He saw this more than just a physical healing. He saw it and recognized it as what it was. A supernatural event from the Hand of God. How else do you explain it? It not only impacted him physically, it clearly touched his heart. Because what does he do in verse 16.

Unidentified audience member: He throws himself at His feet. He throws himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him.

RS: Basically, he fell on his face. He was humbled and incredibly grateful for God’s mercy on his life. Now, it struck me, what we’re seeing here is a response when a person has been delivered from terrible circumstances. But shouldn’t that be our response when something really good happens in our lives? That type of gratitude towards God? What strikes me is that this man’s giving thanks to Jesus and giving Him the credit and all the glory, it seems Christ was very pleased. He was pleased with this man’s praise, with this man’s thanksgiving. And so, we can learn a lot about thanksgiving. One, as I mentioned, back in Psalm 92:1, it’s good. It’s a good work, to give God thanks, and the second thing is we know it’s well pleasing to Him. Billy?

Billy: Richard, I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t really ever have a problem with a grateful heart when things are, when I see the blessings in my life every day, but times when I have a struggle is when, you know, it says, He’ll cause all things to work for good, is when the storms in my life hit, and being grateful for the storms.

RS: Well, we’re going to cover that, because what you just said is very legitimate, and that’s the ultimate act of faith, if you think about it, is that God, I don’t know what you’re doing in my life, but I know this has purpose, and I know you’re using it, and so therefore, I give you thanks, even though I don’t get it. That’s the ultimate act of faith.

Unidentified audience member: I’m a little murky.

RS: You’re a little murky? I think probably everybody is, but that’s important. As you’ll see, we’ll come back to this and that’s very important. Anybody else? John?

John: Any time outsiders are more grateful for things being done for them, you got nine of them that were kind of smug, maybe not smug, but they just kind of the status quo, for an insider, then you’ve got somebody who’s an outsider, they really appreciate you sometimes more.

RS: That’s what we kind of can read between the lines. The nine were probably Jewish, and this guy was a Samaritan. Good point, I agree.

Mike: I think the nine, had a consumer mentality towards God, that I’ll run to Him when I need Him, then after I get what I want or need, then…

RS: (Laughter) I will run off and do my thing, yeah. I think you’re absolutely right, Mike. Anybody else?

Unidentified audience member: Richard, what was that you said, God, I don’t fully understand the things that are going on in my life?

RS: Yeah, but I know they are purposeful, you’re using this for a purpose, and that it’s ultimately going to end in my good, and therefore I give you thanks, even though I don’t get it right now. Alright, so, before Billy asked the question, the point I made was, it is good to give thanks to God, Psalm 92:1, from what we just read, it’s well pleasing to God when we give thanks, but you know what, number three, it impacts me spiritually when I give thanks. This man, he got it. His heart was clearly impacted. He experienced the ultimate healing. He was physically healed and his soul was touched, and I really see and understand this.

Let me just share this thought with you. I’ve got three kids, and I guess they’re not kids, my oldest will be 20 in December, which is difficult for me to believe. My daughter is 18, and my youngest will be 17 in September. My oldest, and some of you all met him, he was here last week at 11. He is, my wife and I were talking about this last night, he is incredibly thankful for anything that comes along. Anything that we do for him. I mean, he’s always thanking us, and he’s very sincere in his thanksgiving. Now, my daughter, she’s about halfway there. I mean, yesterday, two days ago, she said, Mom and I went and got new glasses for me. I had no idea what glasses for young girls cost, particularly the designer, the ones that they really like, and my wife told me. But you know, she didn’t even thank me for them. She says, well she’ll probably thank you once she has them and she’s wearing them. I thought, yeah, she probably will. She’s okay about thanking us. But my youngest son, he doesn’t thank us for squat. We have to remind him, can you say thank you, but we’re hoping he’s coming along like his brother and his sister. But, I share this for this reason. When my oldest, particularly, who does it more than any of them, when he gives me thanks for something and he does it on his own initiative, you know what, it thrills my heart, not because I need to be stroke, but because I like what’s going on in his heart. Something is going on in his heart to cause him to do that. And, as somebody pointed out this morning, when you get that kind of thanks from your kids, it makes you want to do more for them. Maybe that’s God’s attitude, I don’t know. It could very well be.

You know, the truth of this has been borne out in scientific research. Do you remember? I’ve shared this several times, and it’s in the book, The True Measure of a Man, do you remember Hans Selye, the Canadian scientist who spent his life studying the impact of our emotions on our health? And he wrote 30 books on the topic. Thirty. Then he got to the end of his life, and he summarized all of his research, and you remember what he said? He concluded that gratitude towards life’s circumstances is the single response most nourishing to a person’s overall health, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. In fact, Gordon McDonald says that gratitude is the center of a healthy soul. Jim Goyer shared this morning about a TED talk, and I can’t remember who gave it, but they talked, they had four different people share for about five minutes what they thought the key to happiness was, and one of them said, clearly, having a grateful heart is at the core of finding happiness in this life. To be a person who is grateful. Comments, questions, anybody?

RS: You know, if this is accurate, about how thanksgiving is so good for your health, it’s so good for your soul, then the inverse ought to be true as well, that ingratitude can do great damage to your life. Warren Wiersbe, great theologian, contends that an ungrateful heart is fertile soil for all types of evil. That’s kind of strong, but, in fact, I would say this, and I’m going to demonstrate it to you in a minute, but I would say a lack of gratitude, to be ungrateful, puts you and I in great peril spiritually. In fact, Tim Keller says, everytime something good happens in your life, and you’re not grateful to God, it puts a mark on your soul. Now, about ten years ago, I went looking in my concordance, looking for all the different verses in the Bible that talk about ingratitude, being ungrateful. Having a lack of thankfulness. I was really surprised at what I found, in fact, I was stunned at what I encountered. And what I encountered is this, guys. This is a real serious issue. Let’s look at a couple of verses. Turn to Luke 6. Jimbo? Luke 6:35

Jimbo: ” Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from Heaven will be very great, and you will be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”

RS: Guys, this is a verse about forgiveness, and Jesus is saying you need to even forgive your enemies. The people you would never want to forgive. You’re to forgive them, whether they’re aware of it, whether they care, you’re to forgive them, and your reward will be great, because even God Himself is kind, He doesn’t strike down the wicked. He’s even kind, but isn’t it interesting who He’s kind to? It says, in the New American Standard, to ungrateful and evil men. I remember reading that, and thinking, ungrateful, that’s not that big of a deal. Or is it? I mean you could understand it if he said, He’s even kind to wicked and evil men, or unrighteous and evil men, or unholy and evil men, but ungrateful? I mean, come on. But maybe there’s more to it than we think. Turn with me to Romans chapter 1. Romans chapter 1 is a very famous chapter, and it’s got a lot of theology in it, and verses 18 through 25, particularly. Now, we’re just going to look at verses 20 and 21. Al, you want to read that? Verses 20 and 21.

Al: ” For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

RS: All right, in 20, he says basically God has revealed Himself to the world through Creation, and through the order that you see in nature. And, if you’ve ever read, one of the most fascinating things is how the Universe is so fine-tuned. And even though people knew of God, it says this is the problem. It says they didn’t what? They didn’t honor Him or what? Or what? Give Him thanks. That’s the word they used; they didn’t give him thanks. It said they became foolish, the word futile in their thinking. That word speculation, that means thinking, and that’s they way they thought, and their hearts became darkened. And why? Because they didn’t honor God or give Him thanks.

You know, I went down to the beach a couple of weeks ago to work on this book, and while I was going down there, I listened on a CD Tim Keller gave a sermon on Romans 1:18-25, and I have access to the transcriptions of all of his sermons, so when I got back, I printed out the transcription of the sermon and put here in my notes what he had to say about verse 21, and it’s very profound, if you really listen to it and think through it, I’m going to read it to you. But he may, he has a reaction very similar to the reaction I had. He says, “I remember years ago, when I first started studying this passage. That sure sounded anticlimactic to me. They didn’t give Him thanks. That’s it? That’s man’s problem? That’s the source of all of the problems in the world, the evil, the misery, the suffering…” because if you keep reading, it talks about basically man’s slide into the abyss. He said, “We don’t give Him thanks, you know. You think about when you were little, all the teachers, and adults, and parents always saying, say thank you, don’t forget to say thank you. Yeah, it seems like just a proper courtesy. So, that’s it? That’s the problem with the whole world, bad manners, is that it? No, let’s think about it for a second. Step back and think about it for a second. Do you know what plagiarism is? We say that’s intellectual property theft. But do you know what plagiarism is, do you know why it’s so severely punished? Because it’s not giving thanks. In other words, it’s claiming to be self-sufficient, claiming that you came up with this. And not acknowledging dependence or acknowledging the fact that you didn’t come up with this. You got it from over there. You’re dependent on this other person. And plagiarism says, no, I did all of this. Plagiarism is a refusal to give thanks, and it’s a claim to self-sufficiency when it’s not there, when it’s not true.” And then he says this, “Cosmic ingratitude, cosmic unthankfulness is living in the illusion that we are self-sufficient, that we can call the shots in our lives, that we can decided what’s right and wrong in our lives, that I’m going to decide how I live. We hate the idea that we’re utterly and completely dependent on someone else, and therefore thankful to God for everything, because otherwise, we’d lose control. Then we’d be obligated to Him, if all good gifts come from Him. Therefore, we’re told because of the sin in the heart makes us want desperately to keep control of our lives, and to live the way we want to live, we cannot acknowledge the magnitude, the size, the greatness and how much we owe God, and how dependent we are on Him, and how accountable we are to Him, and how much we should be living in thankfulness.” Any comment on that?

You know, we won’t look it up. Let me just share this real quick. If you’re taking notes, you might want to write this down. There’s one other verse, there are others, but this one in particular. Over in II Timothy 3:1-5, it talks about the evil man, and the kind of description, it says he is unholy, he is without love, he is unforgiving, and he is ungrateful. He is ungrateful, so, my idea, or my thoughts on this, the first time I looked at this, was just way off. Gratitude is not that big of a deal. Guys, it’s a big deal. It’s a huge deal. And you know what, you see all this play out in the Old Testament. What does it say? God led His people into the land of milk and honey. He led them in. He blessed them. And you know what? They prospered. But you know what happened over time? Instead of being humble and grateful for all that He did, you know what it says? As they prospered, they became satisfied, and as they became satisfied, they became proud, and when they became proud, they forgot Me. You see throughout the Bible guys, this over and over, God’s people forgetting Him. You see that word, forget me. They forget, they forget, they forget. Thanksgiving is a way you remember. You wouldn’t believe the number of times God says remember, remember, remember. Keep in mind. Don’t forget. And you know the way not to forget. Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in one sense is a way you humble yourself. Humble people are very grateful people. They know who to give the credit to. We talked about this a couple of weeks ago. Remember what C.S. Lewis says about pride? He says, “pride is a spiritual”, and pride is like arrogance, he says, “pride is a spiritual cancer in your life. It’s the utmost evil. It leads to every other vice and sin. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.” And so, guys one of the ways we can truly stay humble is to daily spend time giving God thanks. And we’re going to pick up on this next week and look at all that He has done for us. So, there’s a great application.

But, as we close up today, I want to read you something I read from Dallas Willard, I read this about ten years ago, in Dallas Willard’s book, Renovation of the Heart , it’s a quote from a very famous minister, but he’s not really that famous to us because he lived back in the 1700s. His name was William Law. You can tell this is kind of old; he uses wonderful language. Listen to what he says. “Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world?” And whenever we use that word saint that means Christian. Who is the greatest Christian in the world? “It’s not who prays the most, or fasts the most. It’s not he who gives most alms, or who is most imminent for temperance, chastity, or justice, but it is to he who is always thankful to God. Who wills and wants everything that God wills, and who receives everything in his life as an instance of God’s goodness, and therefore always has a heart that is ready to praise and thank God for it.” Guys, this is a big deal, and in my opinion, thanksgiving should be at the heart of your prayer life, or as the apostle Paul says, our lives should overflow with gratitude, because, when that happens, it makes such a difference in my life, and in my own personal health.


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