BACK TO THE BASICS: PRAYER
by Eric Elder
I spoke recently to a group about prayer and thought you’d like to hear it. You can listen at this link, or read the text of the message below.
Click here to listen to “Back To The Basics: Prayer” (12 minute message, plus 5 minutes of worship at the end)
I want to talk tonight about prayer. You might say, “Oh, I’ve heard so many talks about prayer. I’ve read about prayer. I’ve prayed.” And yet there’s a good time to return to the basics.
Chip Ingram tells a story in his book “Finding God When You Need Him Most” about Vince Lombardi, the great football coach. Every fall he would gather with his guys and every season he would do the same thing. He would take out this oblong ball and he’d hold it in front of him and say, “This, gentlemen, is a football.” Then they’d get back to the basics. They’d spend the next two weeks doing the basic training of blocking and tackling, blocking and tackling. They would just do the basics.
A lot of times we need to do that, too. We just need to get back to the basics. Maybe this is new for some of you, but for a lot of you this may be familiar. Even so, we need to say, “All right, I know all this. I’ve heard all this. But I just need to get back to the basics.”
Chip Ingram tells another story and I’d like to read you a paragraph or two about the importance of coming back to the basics. In this story he tells about a submarine captain and why submarines need to resurface every 90 days. I don’t know if you knew that fact. I didn’t know it until I read this story, but it’s an interesting story.
“The captain explained to him that his vessel could only stay underwater for 90 days. It wasn’t because they ran out of food, water or fuel. They had to resurface to get rightly aligned with the North Star. He said that these submarines carried missiles that could destroy the earth, therefore their calibrations have to be exact. While a submarine is underwater, the magnetic forces of the earth affect it. After 90 days have passed, those magnetic effects have the potential to alter the navigational aids considerably. Therefore they must surface so their antennae can lock onto the North Star to make sure that they are rightly aligned with that true reference point. That’s the only way to know that the missiles would go exactly on target, if – God forbid – they ever were ordered to fire them.”
Chip goes on to say:
“If the most sophisticated equipment on the planet has to come up to get realigned with a true reference point, doesn’t it make sense that people need to find a true spiritual due north and realign their lives to that? Do you have a North Star?”
Of course, God is your North Star. He is the one that you can come back to in prayer.
I think it’s good to remind people that prayer isn’t just throwing your requests up to God. It’s a conversation. Like any good conversation, it goes two ways. I’ve heard it said that we have two ears and one mouth, therefore we should listen twice as much as we speak. It’s a good visual reminder that to be a good conversationalist with your family and friends – listening is a key part of it – and you should listen twice as much as you speak.
It’s the same with God. When you come into His presence, it’s amazing that you can sit down and talk with the one who created you, who knows you inside and out, who knows everything that you’ve been through, who knows your whole history.
Since my wife died, one of the biggest things I miss is having that ongoing conversation where I could say something right now that would reference something from 15 years ago and she would pick up on it right away. I wouldn’t need to go through the whole story again and again. I miss that. But I have a God who knows those stories even better than I do, and when I come to Him in prayer, I can just say, “God…” and I can pick up right where I left off. Prayer is an ongoing conversation with God.
I’ve been working on some new quote books for our ministry. Every weekday we send out a daily quote from a Christian writer or speaker from throughout the ages. We have quotes back from the 2nd century and 3rd century and 11th century as well as contemporary writers living today. So we’ve just put together a big quote book, our largest yet, with about 1,700 inspirational quotes that we’re going to start offering through our ministry this week.
As I was putting this big books together, I was looking at the prayer section. There are about 150 quotes on prayer and each one was just powerful from the Christians who have been around for a long time; they’ve been around the block with prayer.
Here’s a more contemporary one from Emily Griffin:
“The best reason to pray is that God is really there. In praying our unbelief starts to melt. God moves smack into the middle of even an ordinary day” (Emily Griffin).
That’s great…the best reason to pray is that God is really there. If you think you’re just meditating, trying to collect your thoughts, you’re probably going to stay in a lot of confusion. Our brains can process a lot of stuff, but there’s a lot that we just don’t understand. So it’s important to invite God in and say, “You speak to me. You break through the confusion that I’m going through.” God is the one who can do that for you.
Here’s another quote from a contemporary writer, Stormie Omartian:
“Every day you have another opportunity to affect your future with the words you speak to God” (Stormie Omartian).
Here’s one from Sharon Daugherty:
“If Jesus had to take time alone with God, then we surely need to” (Sharon Daugherty).
And one from George Mueller:
“I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down, and when I rise up. And the answers are always coming” (George Muller).
And if you’ve ever read any of George Muller’s books, you know that his answers have come and come and come.
Here’s a great one from Abraham Lincoln:
“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go” (Abraham Lincoln).
You can imagine a president of a country going through a civil war and who do you turn to when you’re the Top Dog? Well, you realize that there’s a bigger Dog! Switch the letters around, and it’s God, of course.
You can always come to God, yet a lot of times, we wait until we have no where else to turn. It’s sort of a waste of a whole day and a whole lifetime if that’s the only time we turn to God. We can turn to Him every day. If Jesus prayed and Moses prayed and Abraham prayed and all these great men and women of faith prayed, then it just makes sense that we should pray, too. Maybe there’s something more to it than just talking into blank space. I would affirm and say, “Yes,” there’s a lot more to it!
God can bring a great peace to you when you pray. If you’re in a time of confusion right now, or facing troubling things, or you’re not sure what kind of decision to make, know that God, when you pray, can bring a peace that passes understanding.
This passage is from the words of Paul in the Bible, in Philippians 4, starting in verse 4:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).
Paul says in here that you can rejoice in the Lord always. Why? Because the Lord is near. Then he says, as you pray, don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, make your requests known to God, and the peace of God will flood your heart and your mind, in Christ Jesus.
I want to close with one story here, just about the the power of prayer.
I was sharing at our Ranch Retreat we had a few weeks ago–several of you were praying for us about that and I told you I was nervous whether anybody was even going to show up. We did have about 40 people come, and some are here tonight that came, too, which was nice. It turned out to be a great weekend. The third session, on Saturday night, I talked to them about prayer.
We spent a lot of time praying and I reminded them that if anything significant happened during this weekend that we were together, it would not be because of my wise and persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, so that their faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (That’s not my quote, it’s a great quote from Paul from the Bible. See 1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Paul said if these were just my wise and persuasive words, this wouldn’t last. But if the Holy Spirit shows up and does something in answer to your prayers, that is going to be fruit that will last.
So we just spent a couple hours in prayer, talking to each other and praying for each other, doing some worship, and praying some more, asking God to work in our lives.
I was sharing with the people that I was feeling bad that whenever I give an altar call at a church or wherever I’m called to preach, and I invite people forward, but people don’t come forward. I’ve done all kinds of evangelism training and my heart is for evangelism and I just love bringing people to Jesus in one-on-one conversations. But I sort of have this running joke with God the last however many years I’ve been a Christian that when I stand up, I’ll still give an invitation to follow Christ. But I have yet to have one person walk down the aisle and come in that public kind of setting.
One of the guys there reminded me, “Eric, what about me?” It wasn’t in a church setting. I had met him at a conference. We were walking around on the campus and he was asking about my life story. Before I told him, I asked him what he did and he said he was a reporter. It turned out he was an anchorman for NBC News in a huge city! I just thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’m just a little nervous to tell you about the dirt in my life!”
But I also thought, if I quote everything that I have to say, then I pair it with a quote of Scripture, I’ll at least have a chance to get some Scripture in there. So for about two hours, he got a quote of mine and a quote of Scripture, a quote of mine and a quote of Scripture. He probably got a quarter of the Bible in that two hours.
At the end, I said, God can do anything in anyone’s life, even yours. I invited him to a worship service that night. He came, he gave his life to Christ, and he’s now in full-time ministry.
He took in his troubled nephew and it changed his nephew’s life. His nephew is now a youth pastor and has two little girls. His nephew said to him, “If you hadn’t introduced me to God I would probably be in jail or dead.” And my friend said, “Eric, if you hadn’t introduced me to God, I wouldn’t be the same, either.”
I look back on that story and think, if that was just based on my wise and persuasive words in that two-hour conversation, it would not have stuck for 21 years. That was a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit in this man’s life.
I just want to encourage you to pray. Pray for people. Pray for others. Pray for yourself.
God answers prayer. He really will bring a demonstration of His power as a result of your prayers.
If you’ve never put your faith in Jesus Christ, you can do it today. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins, to turn your life around, and let Him take you the rest of the way on a new path here, as well as in heaven.
It doesn’t sound very politically correct to say that Jesus is the only way, but I’m not the one who said it. Jesus did. Jesus said:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:16).
And if you want to come back to God, if you want to come and resurface, maybe you’ve been a Christian for awhile but you want to resurface your submarine and get aligned with your North Star again, I encourage you to come back and turn your eyes towards Jesus. Fix your eyes on Him and you can come back and have peace in your heart, now and forever.
Father, I pray that You would seal these things in our hearts. Help us to turn to You in everything and help us to look to Jesus for everything we need. It’s in His name that we pray, Amen.
P.S. As I mentioned in today’s message, we’ve been working on some books of quotes to inspire people in their faith. When I read through the section with the quotes on prayer, I thought it would make a great devotional book for anyone who wants to write down their prayers, and read quotes on prayer to encourage them along the way. So I’ve just finished putting together a paperback called “A Personal Journal With 101 Quotes On Prayer.” It’s filled with 201 blank, lined pages for you to write your thoughts, prayers or things you’re learning, plus 101 quotes on prayer like those I mentioned above. I’d love to send you a copy for a donation of any size, as just a way to encourage you to pray. Just visit The Ranch Bookstore on our website to make a donation and I’ll send you a copy of the book, anywhere in the world. You can also request our complete book of quotes if you’d rather, which is our largest book of inspirational quotes yet, called “15 Years Of This Day’s Thought,” also for a donation of any size whatsoever.