PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
In Christ’s day few men demonstrated a righteous standard of living. The religionists–the Pharisees and Sadducees–were eccentric, out-of-touch, and aloof. The Romans were brutes that exploited people whenever possible. The Greeks were cultured but arrogant and immoral. But Jesus was different! He was spiritual but not weird; compassionate but not permissive; authoritative but not suppressive; cultured yet holy; and refined but humble. Everything about Jesus was perfect. When He preached and taught He addressed relevant issues and answered questions people were asking. When He ministered, He exercised divine authority that met needs and alleviated crises—“even the [storms] obeyed.” Those most impressed by His achievements were His closest companions—the apostles. And despite the many failures of the Apostles to second-guess Him, misunderstand Him, and ignore His predictions, this is one time they got it right! After a season of traveling and fellowshipping with Him they finally figured out that He was employing a special strategy that brought Him success. They linked His successes to His prayer life.
I think Jesus breathed a sigh of relief when they finally made the connection. They watched Him retire to the mountains to pray, escape to the desert to pray, and repeatedly go to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. And they perceived the connection between communing with God and experiencing His blessing. So surrounding Him with intrigue they made perhaps their greatest petition: “Lord, teach us to pray.” We get the message. Show us how to pray with Your results.”
How many want that? How many here would like to pray with greater results? What everyone clearly understands is, all praying isn’t effective! If all praying were equally effective this sermon wouldn’t be needed. In all candor, there have been times when I’ve been disappointed at the results of my praying. You probably have been too. That means we need to discover what makes prayer effective and what makes it ineffective.
(Example) Whenever you ever need a model of religious defection and distortion always count on the Pharisees and Sadducees to demonstrate it. They totally maligned prayer. Let me explain: some Pharisees blocked out three hours a day, three times a day for prayer. But even after praying nine hours of seeking God, they were still ineffective. And no wonder:
Jesus said in Matthew 6:5 that prideful prayer-on-display is rewarded only by the momentary attention it attracts.
James 4:3 says praying with a self-centered attitude won’t secure answers (James 4:3).
James 1:7 says unbelieving prayer is unanswerable.
And the Psalmist says God ignores the prayer of that refuse to deal with sin in their life (66:18).
Conversely, Scripture talks about prayer that prevails; and that’s what we want to practice. Prevailing prayer is the kind that’s offered under the Spirit’s influence. He is the catalyst, strategy, and success to every spiritual endeavor.
For years, I’ve stressed one spiritual strategy for living: There is no assistance like that of the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit offers the grace, power, favor, wisdom, direction, support, and success for every situation. He’s the ultimate Impacter for life. And He especially empowers our intercession! That’s why He needs a wide-open invitation to your praying.
In preparing this message, I wondered how I could illustrate the meaning of praying under the Spirit’s influence. It seems this message might imply two ways of praying and getting results. That is, you can pray without the Spirit’s presence and possibly get results or you can pray with the Spirit’s presence and definitely get results. But prayer doesn’t operate that way. You can’t pray with any degree of success without the Spirit’s influence.
(Illustration) The illustration isn’t a comparison between trying to catch fish with your bare hands and trying to catch them with hook and bait. It’s tricky and the results are meager but the bare hands can catch fish. When I was a teenager I vacationed at the beach with my cousin’s family. One night we took a lantern into ankle-deep water and as we spotted the fish we scooped them up with our hands and put them in a bucket. We didn’t catch ten-pound grouper, but we did manage to scoop out some minnows. But there’s only one way to pray successfully and that’s by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There does appear to be one prayer God answered that was totally uninspired by the Spirit and completely against His will. In the Old Testament Israel rejected God’s counsel and requested a king like the other nations had. Their demand grieved the prophet Samuel who took their request before God. God told Samuel Israel wasn’t rejecting his leadership they were rejecting God’s leadership. And God consented and installed Saul. It seems their prayer was answered. But when you examine this closely you discover God didn’t answer their prayer, He responded to their rebellion! When they flagrantly violated Scripture and persisted in having their way God judged them by enthroning Saul.
We need to be careful what we pray for. If we pray contrary to the written Word God and persist in having our way God could allow those prayers to return to us in the form of our just desserts! Prayer is only truly answered as the Holy Spirit works with us in “spirit and in truth.” And that’s what it means to “pray under the Spirit’s influence.” As mysterious as the working of prayer is praying under the Spirit’s influence is when He infuses us with the ability to articulate God’s will and purposes for this earth.
(Transition) And the Holy Spirit inspires and moves us in prayer several ways. First, Praying under the Spirit’s influence involves praying with His insight.
I. Praying under the Spirit’s Influence Occurs when we Pray with His Insight
One proof that Jesus was divine was His infallible usage of language. He said in John 14:24, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (14:24). That meant the Holy Spirit inspired every utterance—His dialogue, sermonizing, and praying. Now don’t get super-spiritual, because we can’t operate that way! But there are occasions when the Holy Spirit inspires us to pray in complete compliance with Heaven and it’s powerful when that happens.
Let me offer two ways we can pray with the Spirit’s insight:
A. One way this happens is by praying a portion of Scripture the Spirit quickens to you. This is called “praying the Word.” “Praying the Word” is more than thumbing the edges of Scripture and groping for a promise. It’s more than Bible lottery; that is, throwing open the Bible and claiming whatever pops forth. It’s permitting the Holy Spirit, according to His sovereign power, to activate a passage that you can claim.
Turn to Exodus 32. You remember when Moses caught Israel worshiping the golden calf. God was ready to wipe out everyone until Moses prayed the “Word.” Let’s read that:
B. Another means of praying with the Spirit’s insight occurs by praying His impressions apart from Scripture. It takes maturity to ascertain God’s voice but He does speak to His people. The impressions may come through a strong inward impulse, a word of knowledge, a dream, or a vision. There are numerous ways the Holy Spirit speaks to us.
(Illustration) I can remember one of the first times the Lord spoke to me as a young man. I was seventeen years-old and painting in a cafeteria. My mother and dad were away eating dinner with friends. Instantly I was overcome with an urgency to pray for my dad’s safety. I descended the latter, fell to my knees, and prayed. Later that evening my dad and I stood in the kitchen of our home as he related how his life was miraculously spared that evening from a head-on car collision.
I’m sure some here have interceded in response to an urgent prompting of the Holy Spirit. That’s praying under the Spirit’s influence!
(Illustration) In 1989 a minister named Dick Eastman was visiting the Berlin Wall when the Holy Spirit prompted him to lay his hands on it and pray for its destruction. The toppling of that wall seemed impossible in the 60’s and 70’s but you know the story. In 1989 Mr. Gorbechev “tore down that wall” and communism continued collapsing! That’s praying the Spirit’s impression and it’s powerful when that happens!
(Transition) Second, Praying under the Spirit’s influence involves earnest praying.
II. Praying Under the Spirit’s Influence Involves Earnest Praying
You generally don’t imagine Jesus praying this way but it’s exactly how He prayed. You imagine Him praying in soft, mellow tones that wouldn’t offend anyone. But Hebrews 5:7 says: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
God honors passionate, fervent praying. And again, when you check the Scriptures it bears out this:
Exodus 2:23 shows God responding to the “groaning” of the Israelites while they were in Egyptian captivity: “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. (24) God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.”
Psalm 102:19 says, “The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, (20) to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.”
James 5:16 says: “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (18) Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”
Listless, lethargic, half-hearted praying possesses no heavenly persuasion! It’s not that we’ve lost the art of fervent prayer, there’s nothing artistic about it. Passionate prayer isn’t cultured or refined; it doesn’t necessarily use an outline or diagram; it simply explodes from brokenness, pain, or distress and pours itself out before God’s throne.
Anyone that’s been on the brink of disaster or watched a loved one self-destructing knows what I’m talking about. You resorted to praying with desperation! And with your heart turned inside-out your troubled soul ignored grammar, eloquence, and dignity and the gushings of your heart released its sighs!
(Illustration) A few years ago, our Church held early morning prayer meetings. One Friday morning the Holy Spirit moved on an elderly sister in the church to pray for the city walls to collapse. I admit it was a strange and intense outburst, but everyone sensed it was of God and agreed with the prayer. Several weeks later the city ordered a wrecking crew to flatten a barrier wall in a housing project. What’s interesting is those walls concealed drug-lords in their dealings and it was where snipers fired guns. But when those walls were destroyed the drug dealers were forced to move on.
(Quote) I like what John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, said about the matter: “When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words without heart.” You see, Heaven marks perfunctory, complacent praying apart from fervent, hot-hearted praying as distinctly as night is from day! The Bible says, “God is a consuming fire.” How can a consuming fire God respond to ice-cold prayers? God is disposed to respond to prayer that burns with red-hot intensity!
Moses’ prayer, Paul’s prayer, Elijah’s prayer, Christ’s prayer—analyze them from any perspective and one quality is evident. They were hot-hearted Spirit-anointed prayers and they were productive.
(Transition) Thirdly, praying under the Spirit’s influence is, Praying in other tongues. Pentecostals identify this as praying in the Spirit.
III. Praying Under the Spirit’s Influence Occurs by Praying in other Tongues
I mentioned earlier that one cause for unanswered prayer is selfishness. Although praying in tongues is a subjective experience it’s not a selfish experience. It’s edifying! The Spirit’s inspiration upon our lips blocks selfishness, identifies needs, and unleashes power! And God commands us to pray in tongues:
Ephesians 6:18 says: “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
Jude 20 says: “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”
Paul wrote the same to the Corinthians: “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind [“understanding,” KJV]; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind [“understanding,” KJV]” (1CO 14:15).
Romans 8:26 says: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
There are huge advantages to praying in other tongues. I like what David Wilkerson said about it. He said, praying in tongues is the “only code the devil can’t crack.” It keeps Satan from eavesdropping on your communication with God. And since Satan can’t understand the Spirit’s language he’s impeded from thwarting the prayers. Here are a couple of testimonials of those that have employed this type of prayer:
(Illustration) Awhile back, an unsaved husband demanded that his wife attend an X-rated movie with him. Upon hearing the news she went to another room and began “praying in the Spirit.” The woman said she received no word from God but felt confident He would take care of matters. As show-time neared her husband ordered her in the car. She wondered, “Is a tire going to blow?” It didn’t. They drove to the adult theater and bought tickets. Before entering she thought: “This place is going to blow up.” It didn’t. They entered and the movie began with sexually explicit scenes. Again, she bowed her head and continued praying in tongues. After about ten minutes she noticed her husband squirming so she said: “Let’s get out of here.” Incredibly, he stood from his seat and was delivered from X-rated films. (PARACLETE, Cox, Publications., General Council A/G, Fall, 1975, page 5.)
(Illustration) Another Christian wife tells of her experience with her lost husband. Each night after she thought her husband was asleep she placed her hand on his head and prayed in tongues. The woman preceded her husband in death and two months after her passing the man secured a counseling appointment with the pastor and accepted Christ as His Savior. Here’s what he told the pastor: “It’s been two months since I’ve been able to get much sleep. My wife always thought I was asleep when she touched my head and prayed, but I wasn’t. In fact, it got so I couldn’t fall asleep until after she prayed. And now she’s not here to pray. I want what she had.” He got it! (IBID., Cox, page 6.)
Praying under the Spirit’s influence is prayer that produces victory. Commit yourself to it! It is prayer that works!