Intro: Faith and effective prayer are inherently linked. Praying to God requires faith, not just in the activity of praying, but in the attitude of praying. Effective prayer requires that I place my absolute trust in God, knowing that He hears me. Thus faith in praying is faith in God Himself.
I. The Character of God and Effective Prayer: What must I believe about God to pray to Him? What are the elements of faith that undergird effective prayer? Let me mention a few that come to mind:
A. God Exists. It always fascinates me when our secular world (politicians, entertainers, celebrities, etc) call on people to pray when bad things happen. Who do they want you to pray to, seeing that they do not believe God exists. (like sending email with filling in the recipient line). Prayer is not soliloquy-man talking to himself, nor is it just wishing things to change. If there is no God, there is no reason for man to pray. Before a man prays, he must believe that God is and that He is the rewarder of them who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
B. God Listens. 1 Kings 18:26-29 – So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us!” But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made. 27 And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. 29 And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.
1. Elijah’s proposal was simple, but profound. If Baal was the true God, he would be easily entreated to act. Elijah mocks their god, as one who must be awakened, or is not paying attention, or too busy to hear their requests.
2. In contrast, Elijah’s God is listening and responds immediately to the prayer of Elijah. 1 Kings 18:37-39 – Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”
C. God Sees. Does God see my predicament? Can He see the many contingencies that surround me. Prayer is justified in the omniscience of God. God sees everything I am going through. God calls on me to trust that He will do what is best for me, because He sees every detail. Nothing escapes His attention. (ex. ever been frustrated when an insurance company rejects a claim, and you know it is because the person making the decision has no idea what you are experiencing, or what you r needs are – just a person behind a desk looking at you as a number). This characterization of God can be viewed in several places in the scriptures (particularly in the Psalms), but consider the events of Exodus 2-3
1. The family of Abraham were living in a foreign land – in the land of Egypt. They arrived there a couple of generations before through the blessing of God in the promotion of Joseph to second in command in all of Egypt. Joseph saved his family from the famine, and for a while they prospered in Egypt. But There is a change in the situation facing the Israelites in Egypt during the centuries after the death of Joseph. As God prospers them and they grow in number the new rulers of Egypt see them as a threat. So Pharaoh issues three commands in this chapter:
• To enslave the Israelites, setting ruthless taskmasters over them
• For the midwives to kill all their baby boys at the time of birth
• After that fails, to throw all baby boys into the Nile
2. Although the Israelites continue to grow in number despite this oppression, they are suffering greatly. They cry out to God… Ex 2:23-25 – Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. 24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them. In the Hebrew, the author uses only 15 words in these verses, but repeats the word “God” four times. Each time “God” is used as the subject of a verb, putting strong emphasis on the Lord Himself.
a. “So God heard their groaning…” God did hear their groanings. And He always hears our cries. As the Psalmist says, When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears. (34:17)
b. “…and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob”. Not only does God hear, but He also remembers his covenant, his promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. Indeed, at the time of the formal establishment of the covenant with Abraham God tells him about this very time when his descendants will cry out in Egypt: Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. (Gen 15:13, 14)
1) In chapter 49 of Isaiah, the prophet portrays the fears of the exiled Israelites that God has forgotten them: “But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” But God replies: Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49:14-16a) If we are God’s people, our names are right on God’s palms, directly in front of His face, never to be forgotten. God forget? He can never do so. God always remembers His promises; He is always faithful to His people.
c. “And God looked upon the children of Israel” (v. 25) God sees the Israelites! He sees all that happens to them – the slavery under which they suffer, the murder of their children – even the worse oppression which is coming.
1) The enemies of God – especially Satan himself – always try to get God’s people to think that God does not see. The Psalmist quotes such enemies in 94:7: “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.” 8 Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? 9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? God always sees. The all-seeing eye of God is not just fear in judgment, it is also comfort in affliction.
d. and God acknowledged them.” (v. 25) The final clause is the hardest to translate. English translators have struggled with this phrase, and have rendered it many different ways.
• the NIV has “was concerned about them”,
• the NAU “took notice of them,”
• the KJV “had respect unto them.” But all of these translations include considerable interpretation. The Hebrew is quite simple: it says “God knew.”
• Young’s Literal translation says, “and God heareth their groaning, and God remembereth His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob; and God seeth the sons of Israel, and God knoweth.
3. In this context, what is it that God knows? What does the author of Exodus mean by this phrase? The NIV, NAU, and KJV translators evidently think the primary idea is that God knows the problems of the Israelites. But this in not just intellectual knowledge. It means more. It indicates that God is concerned about what He sees. This is brought out a few verses later in Exodus 3:7 (Moses at the burning bush. “And the LORD said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” (NKJ)
• Hezekiah prays for his life… 2 Kings 20:5 – “Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, ” I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. (NASU)
• Ps 56:8-9 – You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? 9 When I cry out to You, Then my enemies will turn back; This I know, because God is for me.
D. God Cares. There are some who see and know my troubles, but they do not care. It is difficult if not impossible to trust those who do not care about us. The faith that makes prayer effective is convinced that God cares
1. Jesus taught, “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7) “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matt 7:7-11) Peter says we must cast all our care upon Him “for he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Why would I cast my petitions on God unless I was convinced that He cares for me?
E. God Can. For me to pray to God, I must believe that He is able to do s6mething to relieve my need. This implies that God is omnipotent, the Almighty. Paul assures us that God is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 4:20). You know what it feels like to be helpless as a friend suffers. We have One who can do all things. He is able to act and change things.
Conclusion: In response to the church’s prayer, Peter was released from Herod’s prison (Acts 12). God heard these prayers, cared about the plight of the people, and acted to relieve their suffering. I must believe the same God cares in the same way about me and will act in response to my prayers.
- In the last words of James’ epistle he references the OT prophet Elijah. He calls this divinely connected prophet as “a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17-18) He prayed and it did not rain for 3 1/2 years. He prayed again and ended the drought. (we sweat out droughts and meteorological phenomenon, wringing our hands). There was no miracle here. It was God intervening in response to a prayer made by a man just like us. God hears.
- My brethren, if we are not praying, we lack faith. We need to go back to our fundamental concepts of God and reaffirm our commitment to them. Let us not be so subtly influenced by the infidelity around us that we reach the conclusion that prayer does no good and quit praying.