Intercessory prayer, teach me to pray

The idea of burning incense, in the Old Testament is a picture of intercessory prayer.

“The fragrant incense stealing heavenward is a beautiful emblem of intercessory prayer. Let us pray more, not for ourselves so much as for others. This is the sign of grown in grace, when our prayers are fragrant with the names of friend and foe, and mingled with the coals of the golden altar.” – Meyer

Aaron and his descendants were set apart to be in charge of the sacred objects forever, to burn incense in the worship of the Lord, to serve him, and to bless the people in his name. – 1 Chronicles 23:13 GNT

“It is not enough to linger in soft prayer within the vail, we must come forward to bless mankind. He who is nearest to God is closest to man.” – Meyer

It takes a certain kind of focus to be able to pray.

The end of all things is near. You must be self-controlled and alert, to be able to pray. – 1 Peter 4:7 GNT

In other words, keep a clear head. It is the only way I can pray more effectively, even more appropriately. It is the exercise itself in being self-controlled and alert that leads me to prayer. If I really knew how totally and dependent I am on God and how I can do nothing without Him, I would pray a lot more. If I understood the spiritual battle for the souls of those who have not yet been touched by the Holy Spirit, I would pray with much more focus. If the end of all things is really near, and if I knew what that meant, I guarantee that I would pray.

And so a disciple, who was watching Jesus pray, asked Him as He was finishing, teach us to pray.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” – Luke 11:1 GNT

John the Baptist had done it. Now I must listen to the Holy Spirit as He begins to teach me how to pray.

John Welch, son-in-law to John Knox, was one of the most faithful men of prayer this world ever saw. He counted that day ill-spent in which seven or eight hours were not used alone with God in prayer and the study of His Word. An old man speaking of him after his death said, “He was a type of Christ.” How came he to be so like his Master? His prayer life explains the mystery. – R. A. Torrey

The prayer that is heard

David continued, “Now, son, may the Lord your God be with you, and may he keep his promise to make you successful in building a temple for him. And may the Lord your God give you insight and wisdom so that you may govern Israel according to his Law. If you obey all the laws which the Lord gave to Moses for Israel, you will be successful. Be determined and confident, and don’t let anything make you afraid. – 1 Chronicles 22:11-13 GNT

This prayer of blessing speaks gentle and thoughtful affection. David knew Solomon needed wisdom and understanding. There was an honouring of obedience – if Solomon accepted the charge, he would be successful. What father does not want his son to be successful?

This father/son blessing reminds me of the husband/wife blessing that Peter talks about.

In the same way you husbands must live with your wives with the proper understanding that they are more delicate than you. Treat them with respect, because they also will receive, together with you, God’s gift of life. Do this so that nothing will interfere with your prayers. – 1 Peter 3:7 GNT

Then to this, Peter adds words for anyone who wants to love life and see good days and how prayer relates to this as well.

As the scripture says,

“If you want to enjoy life
    and wish to see good times,
    you must keep from speaking evil
    and stop telling lies.
You must turn away from evil and do good;
    you must strive for peace with all your heart.
For the Lord watches over the righteous
    and listens to their prayers;
    but he opposes those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12 GNT

There is one more reason for constant, persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer, and it is a mighty one: because of what prayer accomplishes. Prayer promotes our spiritual growth as almost nothing else, indeed as nothing else but Bible study; and true prayer and true Bible study go hand in hand. – R. A. Torrey

Answered prayer, through prayer

He built an altar to the Lord there and offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He prayed, and the Lord answered him by sending fire from heaven to burn the sacrifices on the altar.

The Lord told the angel to put his sword away, and the angel obeyed. – 1 Chronicles 21:26-27 GNT

What an answer to prayer. Even with all David’s defects, deep in his heart was an inextinguishable love for God. My difficulties are not in prayers being answered, they most likely have to do with the nature of my prayer itself. What kind of prayer am I offering? Maybe mine is a cry of cowardice or timidity. I believe the reality of my prayer is proven when I publicly confess my sin. When my prayer reaches the point of agony, then I can be in a position to say whether God hears my prayer. Before I can comment on prayer, I must be praying myself. To pray is not a form of words, but a pouring out of my heart.

Look at Jonah’s prayer.

So he prayed, “Lord, didn’t I say before I left home that this is just what you would do? That’s why I did my best to run away to Spain! I knew that you are a loving and merciful God, always patient, always kind, and always ready to change your mind and not punish. Now then, Lord, let me die. I am better off dead than alive.” – Jonah 4:2-3 GNT

This is an honest prayer. It may be coming from a disturbed mind, but even then, the honesty of it and the desire to pray calls on God not to reject it completely. A hypocritical prayer would have rejected God, it would show signs of bitterness, there would be complaining and it would have elements of extremes.

The reason for constant, persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer is that prayer is the means that Christ has appointed whereby our hearts shall not become overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this life, and so the day of Christ’s return come upon us suddenly as a snare. – R.A. Torrey

Cannot pray or God says ‘no’

When I have decided to go in another direction from the will of God, I often find myself trying to run from the Bible, praying, and other Christians too. It is no wonder then that those who reject Jesus cannot pray. If they do though, and when I do, that prayer reaches the ear and heart of God. God wants me to love and serve Him with all of my heart, to confess Jesus to the world, to make the Bible my guide to life and to live by faith and prayer. I get it that Jonah was given a second chance.

Once again the Lord spoke to Jonah. He said, “Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to the people the message I have given you.” – Jonay 3:1-2 GNT

I can pray for Jesus to leave, just like the people who were around the demonic that was set free. He answered that request. Jesus did refuse the healed man’s request though. He asked if he could go with Jesus and Jesus said, “no.”

Then all the people from that territory asked Jesus to go away, because they were terribly afraid. So Jesus got into the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged Jesus, “Let me go with you.”

But Jesus sent him away, saying, “Go back home and tell what God has done for you.”

The man went through the town, telling what Jesus had done for him. – Luke 8:37-39 GNT

I never saw this before, but what if the healed man wanted to come with Jesus because he was afraid the demons would come back.

Of course, this was because this man could be a light among the people of these Gentiles cities in a way that Jesus and the disciples could not. But it was also to cure the man of any superstitions. He might have thought that he had to stay close to Jesus so the demons would not come back. “Perhaps, too, his prayer was not answered, lest his fear should have been thereby sanctioned. If he did fear, and I feel morally certain that he did, that the devils would return, then, of course, he longed to be with Christ. But Christ takes that fear from him, and as good as says to him, ‘You do not need to be near me; I have so healed that you will never be sick again.’” – Spurgeon

Doubtless many have received the Holy Spirit the moment of their surrender to God before there was time to pray, but how many there are who know that their first definite baptism with the Holy Spirit came while they were on their knees or faces before God, alone or in company with others, and who again and again since that have been filled with the Holy Spirit in the place of prayer!

I know this as definitely as I know that my thirst has been quenched while I was drinking water. Early one morning in the Chicago Avenue Church prayer room, where several hundred people had been assembled a number of hours in prayer, the Holy Spirit fell so manifestly, and the whole place was so filled with His presence, that no one could speak or pray, but sobs of joy filled the place. Men went out of that room to different parts of the country, taking trains that very morning, and reports soon came back of the out-pouring of God’s Holy Spirit in answer to prayer. Others went out into the city with the blessing of God upon them. This is only one instance among many that might be cited from personal experience.

If we would only spend more time in prayer, there would be more fullness of the Spirit’s power in our work. Many and many a man who once worked unmistakably in the power of the Holy Spirit is now filling the air with empty shoutings, and beating it with his meaningless gesticulations, because he has let prayer be crowded out. We must spend much time on our knees before God, if we are to continue in the power of the Holy Spirit. – R.A. Torrey

Prayer of faith, praying with you

A prayer made in faith comes through the pen of James. It comes right when the conversation is about the type of praying that happens when someone is sick and needs healing. I am pretty sure it applies to all circumstances.

Are any among you in trouble? They should pray. Are any among you happy? They should sing praises. Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, and the sins they have committed will be forgiven. So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect. Elijah was the same kind of person as we are. He prayed earnestly that there would be no rain, and no rain fell on the land for three and a half years. Once again he prayed, and the sky poured out its rain and the earth produced its crops. – James 5:13-18 GNT

The encouragement comes as an exercise of trusting in God. In prayer, I lean on God, His wisdom and understanding, and the knowledge that every good gift comes from Him.

I note that if I am in trouble, I should pray. If I am sick, I go to the elders who will pray a prayer of faith. In the confessing of sin and in the praying there is healing.

I like the idea that the sick person is not responsible to pray for themselves. They are probably already alone, love the idea they do not have to walk in their faith alone.

Jonah was alone – three days and nights in the belly of a fish. There he knew God still was listening.

In my distress, O Lord, I called to you,
    and you answered me.
From deep in the world of the dead
    I cried for help, and you heard me. – Jonah 2:2 GNT

It is hard to imagine that Jonah’s prayer was fake – who calls on God with a fake prayer when you are sitting in the belly of a fish? Those kinds of prayer are what I call desperate. He has become the praying prophet, as opposed to the prodigal one.

Three ministers were talking about the most effective ways to pray. As they were talking, a telephone repairman was working on the phone system in the background. One minister said that the key to answered prayer is to hold your hands together and point them upward as a form of symbolic worship. The second said, “No, the most effective position for prayer is to be on your knees as an act of humility. The third minister said, “No, the correct position for prayer is to pray while stretched out flat on your face. The phone man interrupted and said, “I found that the most powerful position to pray was when I was dangling upside down by my feet from a power pole 50 feet above the ground!”

My takeaways are a bit obvious – do not wait for a crisis to start praying.

As the hymn suggests, “O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!”

Jonah did what I need to do – he desperately looked for a right relationship with God. How often do I pray because I want something – this prayer reminded me of my priorities.

Lastly, I was reminded again to be thankful, even in the midst of difficult times. Jonah had no idea whether he was going to live or die and still was able to see something and to give thanks for it.

But I will sing praises to you;
    I will offer you a sacrifice
    and do what I have promised.
Salvation comes from the Lord! – Jonah 2:9 GNT

A story that illustrates this is the story of two men who were being chased by a raging bull.

As the men raced towards the nearest fence, it became apparent that neither of them would make it in time. In a state of terror, the one man shouted to the other: “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”. John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life”. “But you must!” implored his companion. “All right, I’ll say the only prayer I know–the one my father used to repeat at the table: “Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful”

Imagine if I am near death and decide not to pray – what would that clearly indicate? The prayer Jonah did pray did not fit into the normal mould. It is almost all about being thankful. Maybe those kinds of prayers are the best kind to pray.

The reason for constant, persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer is that prayer is the method that God Himself has appointed for our obtaining the Holy Spirit. – R. A. Torrey