Today we begin our series on prayer, The Agony of Victory. The idea of prayer is significant because every people group and culture in the world prays. It’s like we’re hardwired to pray, and God made us to pray.
And yet most of us don’t pray as much as we ought to pray. Throughout this series, we’ll talk about the practicality of prayer (what, when, or how we should pray) and the call of the believer to pray.
Most of us would probably agree that we could all be praying more than we do; that at some point, we’ve all struggled to have a consistent and passionate prayer life. And yet the scriptures are emphatically clear that prayer is to take a primary role in the life of the believer. The Greek word Proskartereo is used ten times in the New Testament, and means to be devoted to something, to be committed to something, to be dedicated and to give yourself fully to something. In five of the ten uses, it is used in relation to prayer:
These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” Acts 1:14
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4
Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be devoted to prayer.” Romans 12:12
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2
The Bible is very clear and calls the Christian to a life of consistent, persistent, dedicated, and devoted prayer. The Bible calls us to be devoted to prayer more than it calls us to be devoted to anything else. Christians are not just called to be devoted to individual prayer, but also to corporate prayer, gathered together. In Acts the church was constantly gathered together and united as they prayed together, and the Psalms are an amazing collection of prayers that the nation of Israel sung and prayed together.
Prayer is a necessity; much like water to our physical bodies, prayer nourishes our soul. Prayer brings us into the very presence of God. Prayer affects the heart of man and can direct the hand of God. Prayer overcomes the natural boundaries of space and geography and moves freely through borders, cultures, and languages. There is no argument formed by man that can stop prayer, no mind that can stand against the effectual power of God through prayer, and no human will that can resist the movement of God through prayer. Prayer has parted waters, stopped the sun, raised the dead, healed the sick, multiplied food, brought peace in the midst of uncertainty, and given faith to the weak and weary. Prayer is a gift designed by God for us and we are designed for prayer—it is the umbilical cord by which faith flows.
There is no defense against prayer as we go to God and pray according to His will. There is not one individual on this planet who has a relationship with God the Father through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, that cannot at this very moment, no matter the situation, no matter age or stage of life, raise her or his voice to God and be heard. Anytime, day or night, God is ever-present — He has made a way.
Even though we know about the gift of prayer, most of us do not experience prayer as an everyday necessity of life. Why don’t we pray more? Most of us do not expect prayer to make a difference. It may be that we lack belief in God’s love for us, or that we’ve tried prayer and God never answered, or that we don’t know how to pray. And it could be that effectual prayer is a spiritual battle that requires work — prayer takes intentionality, understanding of God’s word, discernment, and discipline.
The Bible describes prayer as agony. This agony is not what you automatically think of when you hear the word agony, such as pain, defeat, and something to dread. The New Testament word for agony comes from the Greek word Agon, meaning to struggle like an Olympic athlete. It can actually refer to the arena where the ancient Olympic games were held. It can also mean an internal or spiritual struggle.
When Paul asks the Romans to pray for him, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me” (Romans 15:30), he literally says, “struggle together on my behalf” or work for me in the spiritual realm. Effective Biblical prayer is an intentional act of faith that involves submission of self to God’s will, engages the Holy spirit, advances the kingdom of Heaven, thwarts the enemy and brings glory to God. The ability to engage in this discipline grows as we exercise faith and prayer in our lives.
Our hope for the Remedy body through this series on prayer is that we enhance the culture of prayer in this church and in our lives. A culture of prayer means we look to prayer first, believe God wants the best, and we anticipate that God will move in our lives and the lives of others for our good and His glory. Before spending money, before spending time with a friend, before choosing a class, before going to the doctor, pray. During work, during class, during a game, while driving, pray. Before the day begins and as it draws to a close, pray. Some prayers will be long and some will be short, but all will be filled with intentionality for the love of God and others, for the advancement of His kingdom, and for our daily provision.
We see the same premise as our series title, “The Agony of Victory” in Paul’s words to the Colossians and Laodiceans:
We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, Colossians 1:28-2:1
Paul was struggling in his heart for the Colossians and Laodiceans even though he had never met them. Paul had a love for them which compelled him to pray for them. Paul, who was formerly Saul, had been transformed by the love of God. The Bible tells us that when someone encounters the love of God, a love for others grows in our hearts as we experience His love for us.
We also see this in Nehemiah when he hears of the state of Jerusalem in devastation. His heart breaks for the people and their relationship with their God, and he prays:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. I said, “I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. Nehemiah 1:1-6
Nehemiah was still in captivity and prayed day and night on behalf of the people. He wrestled with God and claimed the promises of God. Daniel, who came before Nehemiah, was reading the Prophet Jeremiah and realized that the time of exile was coming to an end and he began to pray:
Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. “At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision. Daniel 9:20-23
In response to his vision Daniel continued to pray and seek answers, and for three weeks he prayed and struggled on behalf of Israel:
In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks. I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed….Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Daniel 10:2-3, 12-13
While Daniel was praying, there was a battle in the spiritual realm. Yet from the first day he payed, Daniel’s words were heard and God moved. Your prayers make a difference. Ezekiel tells us that God was looking for someone who would stand in the gap like Moses for the people but could find no one so judgement came.
“I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. Ezekiel 22:30
We all have different reasons for not praying. Doubt, disbelief, lack of understanding of God’s love or power, or His will for our lives. One reason we don’t pray is because prayer is a struggle and an effort. Prayer takes faith, time, and emotion.
Effective Biblical prayer is an intentional act of faith that involves submission of self to God’s will, engages the Holy spirit, advances the kingdom of Heaven, thwarts the enemy and brings glory to God.
1. Prayer is not just about us – Prayer is about the advancement of the kingdom and the glory of God. God has invited us to be part of this eternal plan through prayer. He did not design prayer so we would never flunk a test and always drive new cars; He designed prayer as a weapon in conjunction with His word to advance His kingdom.
2. God gives us all we need
In the same way 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; Romans 8:26
Do you want to see God move? Do you want to see salvation come to your family, friends and this community? Are you willing to pray with intentionality, submitting to God’s will, to quiet your hearts and listen to the Spirit of God lead? Will you commit to take a journey for the next 10 weeks to practice the discipline of prayer, to agonize over your family, friends, this body, and this community? Will you come to a pre-service prayer or Tuesday morning prayer once in the next ten weeks? Will you keep a journal documenting the wonders of God and share them with others? Are you ready to see the mighty hand of God work? The challenge is to be a Nehemiah, a Daniel, a Moses, and stand in the gap for those God has placed in your life.