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A Life Changing Experience
Sometimes, there comes a moment in your life when you really face a crisis, and one of the members in our particular church was in hospital, and I was called as pastor to go along. I saw on the screen every evidence that the lady was dead, there was no real signs of vital life. And in this tremendous crisis, I began to pray. As we prayed, suddenly, the screen sprang to life. The lady began to move and three days later she was taken out of intensive care, and a week later, left the hospital. When she left, the doctor looked at me, "we'd given up hope," he said, "but you have a mighty God."
I want to talk to you about the life changing experience of prayer. In this series, I want to cover in ten lessons, the topic of prayer, which can be a life changing experience. I want to deal in this particular lesson, about the power of prayer, and particularly, it's place and importance in scripture. I think very often people say they pray when they feel like it. C.S. Lewis says that some of our best prayers come when we don't feel like it, when, as it were, God catches us by surprise. In his letters to Malcolm, I think this is tremendously true. The power of prayer is vital.
Then I want to share with you on personal prayer and individual contact with God, which we have seen over a period of civil war here in Northern Ireland, has made a tremendous difference, and then thirdly, the practice of prayer in praise, there is a great secret of being able to say "thank you" to God. Then, following that, the prayer of faith, where we have even seen dying people touched by the almighty power of God. Sometimes, people have said to me, well, how do we pray for other people? So in the fifth talk I want to deal with priestly intercession, and particularly associated with that, in the next lesson, with pardon and confession of our own sin, and difficulties. People have said to me, "Keith, how do you pray in the Spirit, or with the Spirit?" And so, in our seventh talk, I want to deal closely with those subjects, followed by a talk on the prosperity and success that comes when we pray.
One of the major issues that I have found, particularly in email recently is the move of God in prayer and fasting. And there are currently in the pacific areas, as I travel around the world, six hundred churches, that are fasting forty days. So, in our ninth talk, I want to share with you, the power of prayer with fasting. Finally, I'd like to sum up the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ, because this covers the model and summary of all that we will be sharing together over this next ten lessons.
In the scriptures, then, dealing with the power of prayer, I see there are many, many examples of the way that God will answer. Particularly, as I go into the Old Testament, I see in Genesis 32:26, that Jacob was in a real problem. He deceived his father, alienated his brother, and had to run away from home. Perhaps some of those out there reading can identify with this, you've had home problems. But on his way back to meet his brother, he met in prayer, with an angel power. And the man said, in verse 26, "let me go, it is daybreak." And Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." There are two kinds of things, I think, which bring revival, the first is perspiration, but the second is desperation, and Jacob was desperate. Meeting his brother, he began to pray with a real need, and as he struggled in prayer, by the morning time, the angel said "your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God, and with men, and have overcome."
The second thing about the power of prayer is not that it changes God so much, as it changes us, changes our nature, and as we're moving forward. Norman Vincent Peale, as he wrote in his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, said "we move towards even our enemies at the highest level when we move in prayer, and in love."
And Jacob here, is in a desperate position, because he cheated his brother of his birthright some years previously, met with God, and became Israel, Prince with God. The price he paid had a permanent effect upon his body. We see in verse 25, that the angel touched the socket of Jacobs' hip, so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. And after we have prayed, there comes a permanent change in our character and in our life. We have a different position with God.
As a young believer, I went to Kent, and I noticed that in the conference there was a great deal of apathy in the afternoon meeting. Rather than have a cup of tea, (and an Englishman like myself likes his tea and chips) between sessions I gave up that moment to prayer. And after about twenty minutes, I suddenly felt the presence of a big angel in the room. I laid hold of God, and asked Him "In that night meeting, please to change the atmosphere."
When we went in, immediately I noticed something was different. The presence of God was so great, that over 40 people accepted Christ that night.
People say to me, "I didn't like the service, I didn't like the atmosphere". I've learned through prayer, you can bring your own atmosphere. You can come positively charged, with the power of God, so that even the worst preacher gets something from heaven.
May I say, in Gen 8:28, when the angel said that "your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel," this new name means that he became a Prince with God, he had power with God. In verse 30, Jacob actually called the place "Peniel", because he said "I saw God face to face, my life was spared, and I was changed." So, I believe prayer has a permanent effect, a character change in you and me. And this is probably the first aspect of the power of prayer which we need to see.
George Mueller was a man who gave away his money, and lived by prayer. Going over the Atlantic by sea, he came to Newfoundland, and they found that the ship could not go forward because of fog. He said to the captain, "are you a Christian?" He said "I am", and he said "let's pray about this." And they went into the chartroom, and the captain began to pray. "O God of Our Fathers, we pray if it be thy will..." And George stopped him. He said, "man, you don't believe, you're not talking to a God you know in that way." And very simply, he said, "Daddy, please shift this fog, amen." And the captain looked at him, and George Mueller said, "I've had this relationship, because I'm totally dependent upon my heavenly Father."
And I think one of the sins of Adam was that he tried to get independent through the fruit of the tree of knowledge. And God wants dependent people, so that we become as little children. When they opened up the chart room door, the captain was amazed, the fog was already shifting, and George Mueller kept his appointment.
So, there is a relationship established between us and God through the life of prayer.
Another tremendous thing I see in the Old Testament, is the prayers of Elijah. Particularly, in 1 Kings 17, you remember when he had prophesied and seen a child arrive for this lady, and then suddenly the child had taken ill and died. He sent his messenger, he tried at distance to help, but my bible says in 1 Kings 17:21, "he had to stretch himself upon the boy three times." And he said, "Lord, let this boys life return." And God heard Elijah's cry, and the life returned, and the boy sneezed, and sat up. And God has told us in James 5:18, that we should pray the Elijah type of prayer. There is therefore, for you and for me, the same priviledge of going to God, stretching ourselves (not just in an instant of time, but perhaps over a period of time) and we'd see in this particular prayer, a new wonderful blessing from God that could raise the dead.
In my church, we had a man and he was a chain smoker. Wonderful Christian, but he had this habit. When we went in and we went to see him, we actually saw he was like a corpse stretched out on the bed. And I sensed, with another friend of mine, Brother Bill Turner. And I said Brother Bill Turner, "I sense something here, I sense a spirit of death." "That's right," said Bill, "let's rebuke the spirit of death." We rebuked the spirit of death in prayer, standing by the man's bed. The doctor came in with the death certificate when the man sat up. And he said, "Oh dear, something's wrong here." And the man said, "I know. I'm a smoker." Very quietly, the doctor tore up the death certificate and said, "you were a smoker, the next cigarette is your last one." Sometimes God has to deal very severely with us along this line. And yet, it is prayer, as in the case of the widow who felt that Satan had taken away her son in 1 Kings 17, God has given us power over all the power of the enemy, and even the feelings that we have in our own conscience.
James explains in fact, that the secret of Elijah's success in prayer, lay in his righteous relationship with God, and in his fervency. James actually says that anyone who is right with God, and has the same fervency, can see the same results. Do you really know the Lord?
Have you given him your life? If you're walking with God, and your heart does not condemn you, then you can have confidence towards God. And in this way, I have seen two dying people raised by His mighty power. There's nothing impossible by prayer.
A third situation which I find in Luke 23:42 is when Jesus was crucified. And with him on the cross, the dying thief cries, "Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." What I notice here, is first of all, the prayer is brief. I don't believe we have to keep on and on and on laboring with particularly the same words. Very frankly, if you have a relationship with God, there is a situation where a simple heartfelt prayer is a key. You remember in the word of God, that this prayer also was directed to Christ, it wasn't directed to anyone else. "Lord Jesus, remember me!" And so, in prayer, you can have direct, immediate access to the Lord. And it's great to be able to talk to Him directly.
Thirdly, I see not only was it brief, and directed to Jesus, but it had an immediate reply. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, today. Today, I tell you, you will be with me in paradise." He didn't immediately get to heaven, it took three days for the Lord to get there. But He says you can know now that you're going to heaven. Isn't it wonderful that in answer to prayer you can know that you are going to heaven. You can have assurance of salvation.
And very clearly, this is something the Lord wants us all to have. He wants us to come into that tremendous assurance, our sin is forgiven, and we are on our way to heaven. And this is what Jesus did on the cross, "He said it is finished". He finished your sin, and you can know that you're going to heaven. Please notice too, in dealing with verse 40, with the other thief, this particular criminal says, "Don't you fear God? We're under the same condemnation." He admitted his need, he admitted his sin, and then he received the Lord.
One of my friends in Northern Ireland had a daughter and she was dying. The doctor gave her very little hope. He got down, He says, "Lord, I'm not a religious man, I've actually swindled the income tax out of a few things, and Lord, I'm going to fix this up, but if you'll heal my daughter, I'll do it now." And immediately, miraculously, the daughter turned round. She walked out of the hospital, and he walked into the income tax office, and put it right. And since then, this man who lives just ten miles from where I am in Northern Ireland, has seen two miraculous healings in answer to prayer.
I believe if you admit your need, you come to God just like the sinner Jesus tells of in the story. He says, "Lord, have mercy upon me!" God hears that prayer, and God can give you assurance that He is going to answer. We see this in the book of Acts, Chapter Four, verse thirty-one. "When they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were filled with the Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." So prayer can be the key to the move of the Spirit of God. The apostles had just been told severely you mustn't preach again in the name of Jesus.
What do I see? Are they praying for their safety? No! They're praying, "God do more miracles! Help us to have boldness!"
Don't run away from fear, begin to pray in a positive way. In fact, in Acts Chapter 4:29, I read, "Lord, consider their threats, enable your servant to speak your word with great boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal and perform miracles, signs, and wonders." In an emergency it is right to pray for a miracle. There is a place to use what God has promised. And it says in Acts 4:25, that this is exactly what they did.
You spoke through the Holy Spirit by the mouth of your servant David, why do the heathens rage? Why do the peoples plot? Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate have raged against your servant now in answer to all that you have promised. Lord, grant us miracles!
And immediately, that's what happened. Please notice, in this particular thing too, that the place of the Spirit was directing their praying, and had some definite physical effects, in that the place they were praying was shaken.
In the islands of the Hebrides, when Duncan Campbell had a very difficult time, they spent a night in prayer, and he turned to a new convert, "Hamish, I think you should be praying." Hamish got up. "Lord," he said, "in your word you said I'll pour water on him that is thirsty, in Isaiah 44. Lord, I don't know how other people stand, but I'm mighty thirsty, I want your Spirit." Every dish began to shake in that house. And when they opened the door, they found people had been shaken out of their beds, and souls got gloriously saved that night. And I feel when Duncan Campbell was talking about the people being really restored to God and wonderfully taken into this gospel meeting, he was elaborating on a definite principle. God is a covenant keeping God. What He said in His word, you can go with that word, in prayer, and say "God, you must keep your promises."
How does God encourage us to pray? I believe three ways. First of all, He gives a wide promise for anyone. This is what He says in Matthew 21:22. "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Secondly, if you abide in Jesus, there is unlimited answer to prayer. In John 15:7, "If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you." C. T. Starnes used to read his bible right through, and he would make sure that everything that God told him, he was now obeying. In fact, he saw a poster saying "Cannibals want missionaries". "I bet they do," he said, "and the fatter the better. I must go and see this." He found 2,000 in Congo needed the Lord. He prayed, and God gave him the money, and thousands came to Jesus. As he stepped on the boat, God said to him, "this is for the evangelization of the world." That was the beginning of WEC, World Evangelization Crusade.
Thirdly, in prayer, the Lord has promised to release believers from difficulties. Remember in Acts 16, in prison about midnight in verse 25, "as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns, an earthquake came and every prisoner was loosed." And God gives us examples of this. Jesus gave thanks, remember when he needed thousands to be fed in Matthew 14:19, He gave thanks. Thank God for grace. David in Psalm 50:15 looks to God, call upon me, he says, "in the day of trouble and God says I will deliver you and you will honor me." And David actually proved God's help in the very presence of his enemies in Psalm 3:1. "You are a shield," he says in verse three, "round about me, you bestow glory on me, you lift up my head." And when human help fails, in Psalm 60:11, it says "the help of man is worthless, but God will give you aid." And Jonah, in the belly of the whale in Jonah 2:7, said "when my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose before you, and you delivered me."
So how do we pray that simple prayer of deliverance?
Here it is: In Deuteronomy 4:29,it says to seek the Lord with all your heart. Admit your need. It's as simple as ABC; first admit your need, second believe God's word, and thirdly, when you have taken Christ, confess Him and give Him the glory. When you do this, you can pray that prayer and know you're going to heaven. You can know your prayer has been answered and God is going to meet your need.