What Happens During Prayer?

It is a reality that we often do not know how to pray, or what to pray for, and the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), but it is also true that we usually pray for far less than the Lord desires for us (Ephesians 3:20-21). It is the Holy Spirit who knows what God is doing or wants to do in your life (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).

In prayer, we go before God and seek clarification in what we sense to be God’s will. We are not to simply run ahead and ask God to bless what we want to do for him. We must seek where he is working and decide to join him in that work.

Spiritual Concentration:

In prayer, the greatest need we have is for spiritual concentration. Then we are to anticipate the activity of God in answering our prayer. Most of the time we pray and then forget about what we just prayed; we get distracted and are not concentrating on seeking God’s answer. We must immediately begin to watch and anticipate how God will answer.

How often have you prayed for something and not received it or receive something different? I have a friend Tony, whose father had cancer. We prayed as a church for healing and then one day I received a call that he was at death’s door at the hospital. The family had been called in. At some point I asked him about his prayer life and faith, having so fervently prayed for his father’s healing. His response was inspiring to me. He said, “He IS healed, no more suffering and no more pain. The cancer is gone.”

So, what are you praying for right now and God is not granting? For me, I have been a fan of men’s ministry. I know the statistics and the value of men leading their families in faith and integrity, that accountability and involvement in a small group community is vital to being successful husbands and fathers. That is what the Men of Steel is all about. I have prayed over and over for God to bless what I want to do and only THIS WEEK have realized that men’s ministry is what I want to do. I have valued the relationships of several men who have participated but God has not blessed these efforts with growth or numbers.

So it is a time of seeking God, to discover if this is what HE wants me to do. When he is silent, it does not mean that he is not present or working.

A Summary of the Week

There has been a lot of teaching in the Experiencing God workbook this week, so for today, I’m just going to review the summary statements:

God Speaks in Different Ways (Hebrews 1:1-3):

  1. If I don’t know when God is speaking, I am in trouble at the heart of my Christianity.
  2. God speaks to his people, he desires to reveal himself, his purposes and his ways.
  3. THAT he spoke to his people is more important than HOW he spoke.
  4. When God spoke in the Bible, it was unique to that individual.
  5. When God spoke in the Bible, the person was sure it was God speaking.
  6. When God spoke in the Bible, the person knew what God had said.
  7. When God spoke in the Bible, THAT was the encounter with God (it did not lead to an encounter with God).
  8. If I don’t have clear instructions from God in a matter, I will pray and wait. I will not bypass the relationship with God by moving out in my own strength.

God Speaks Through the Holy Spirit:

  1. An encounter with the Holy Spirit is an encounter with God.
  2. I understand spiritual truth because the Holy Spirit is working in my life.
  3. When I read the Bible, the Word of God, the Author himself is present to instruct me.
  4. Truth is never discovered, it is always revealed.

God Reveals Spiritual Truth:

  1. God revelation is designed to bring me back into fellowship with him.
  2. God reveals himself to increase me faith.
  3. God reveals his purposes so I will do his work.
  4. God reveals his ways so I can accomplish his purposes.

 God Speaks Through the Bible:

  1. God speaks uniquely to individuals and can do it any way he chooses.
  2. When God speaks, his people hear and understand his voice.
  3. I cannot understand spiritual truth unless God reveals it to me.
  4. God is more interested in what I become than what I can do.
  5. The process of hearing God through the Bible (use Proverbs 22:7 as an example):
    1. The Spirit prompts me…
    2. So I read God’s Word.
    3. The Spirit reveals a truth.
    4. I adjust my life to that truth of God.
    5. I then obey God.
    6. God works through me to accomplish his purposes.
  6. Confession is agreeing with the truth that the Spirit has revealed to me.
  7. Here is a guide to responding to the truth God reveals:
    1. Write down the verse.
    2. Meditate over the verse.
    3. Study the verse, immersing yourself in what is written and revealed.
    4. Identify adjustments I need to make in my personal life, family, church or work.
    5. Write a prayer response to God.
    6. Watch to see how God may use this truth about himself and my life.
  8. Understanding spiritual truth does not lead me to an encounter with God, it IS the encounter with God.

God Speaks Through Prayer:

  1. When the God of the universe tells me something, I need to write that down.
  2. Truth is a person.
  3. Prayer is two-way communication with God.
  4. Prayer is a relationship, not a religious activity. Prayer develops that relationship, we spend time with people we love.
  5. Prayer is designed to adjust me to God, not to adjust God to me.
  6. Oswald Chambers said that prayer doesn’t change things. Prayer changes me and then I change things.
  7. I need to make sure that my only desire is the will of God, and not my own will.
  8. The process of God speaking through prayer:
    1. God initiates a desire to pray.
    2. The Spirit uses God’s Word to reveal truth.
    3. In the Spirit I pray in agreement with God’s will.
    4. I adjust my life to the truth revealed.
    5. I look and listen for confirmation from from the Bible, circumstance, and the church.
    6. I adjust my life and obey.
    7. God works in me and through me to accomplish his purposes.
    8. I then experience God just as the Spirit revealed during prayer.

God Does Not Go Against His Word:

Blackaby mentions it is never God’s will to go against his reveal truth. Could it ever be God’s will to deceive in order to support a higher value of life? We know lying is wrong (Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 14:25, Psalm 58:3, 62:4, Isaiah 59:4, John 8:44), so we cannot say it is ever God’s will that I tell a lie, yet we read…

  1. Biblical examples:
    1. 1 Kings 22:21-23 mentions a lying spirit from God.
    2. 2 Samuel 15:33-36 mentions a planned deception: 33 But David told him, “If you go with me, you will only be a burden. 34 Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, will be there. Tell them about the plans being made in the king’s palace, 36 and they will send their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan to tell me what is going on.”
  2. Practical example:
    1. Suppose someone with a gun breaks into your house and asks if your wife and kids are in the house.
    2. You know that they are hidden in the back of the closet but you say “NO” in order to protect them.
    3. I know this is extreme, but does the situation warrant a choice of values whereby we sacrifice a lesser value (truth) to uphold a higher value (life)?

How God Has Spoken

The only way for us to know God clearly is for God to speak to us, by revealing himself. Keep in mind that HOW God speaks is less important than the fact THAT God speaks. In the past he has spoken is various ways (Hebrews 1:1)…

  1. Angels (Genesis 16)
  2. Visions (Genesis 15)
  3. Dreams (Genesis 28:10-19)
  4. Use of the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30)
  5. Symbolic actions (Jeremiah 18:1-10)
  6. Gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12)
  7. Miraculous signs and wonders (Exodus 8:20-25)

Important factors to remember about God speaking:

  1. When God speaks, it was usually unique to that person: Moses had a burning bush, so we are not to look for our OWN burning bush experience.
  2. When God spoke, the person was sure God was speaking: Moses had no excuse to not know who it was speaking to him from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).
  3. When God spoke, the person knew what God said: Moses knew exactly what God said and wanted him to do… or Moses would not have come up with all those excuses.
  4. When God spoke, THAT was the encounter with God: he is not just revealing new information, he is inviting you into an encounter with him.

Open and Closed Doors:

Many people want to do God’s will and say something like, “Stop me if I’m wrong and bless me if I’m right” or “I’m proceeding in this direction and will continue through open doors until the doors are closed.” Henry Blackaby says this pattern is found nowhere in Scripture.

He says that in following open doors, we are allowing experience to guide us; or a tradition, or a method or a formula. The key is then a relationship with God to know him, his purposes and his ways. I understand what he’s saying but I found an example of just the opposite.

Paul is doing the work that God had called him to do, preach to the Word of God to the nations, to people who needed to hear about salvation through Jesus Christ. Then we come to this passage in Acts 16:6-8.

6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

It sound a lot like they were traveling through open doors until those doors began to close. Are we to believe that God did not want the gospel to go to Asia? There will be billions of lost people in that direction. Hindsight would tell us that it was not God’s timing for Paul to go then. I’m sure Paul was confused until he received the night vision, the Macedonian Call is the very next passage (Acts 16:9-10).

9 That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

My point is that Paul used this method of open and closed doors, before he had this direct revelation from God!

Open Doors and Delays:

Here’s a question: “Does God allow us to choose between two ‘right choices’ and the outcome does not really matter?” For Paul the choices were Asia or Europe? Both areas are full of lost people in need of the gospel. He chose a direction and the door gets closed. So, here I find a different case, in Isaiah 30:20-21.

20 Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. 21 Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.

Did you catch that? God will confirm to you the “right path” only AFTER you make the decision, whether we go to the right or the left seems immaterial. Blackaby mentions delays… that we should wait on God until we hear a clear word from him. We often pray that way; to know the right path BEFORE we have to make the decision. We say, “God show me the way.” In the Isaiah passage, it sounds as if there are some decisions that will honor God no matter which direction we go. Delaying is not encouraged here, since we don’t hear God’s word of confirmation until we have stepped out in faith.

The Meaning of Isaiah 30:20-21

Perhaps Isaiah is speaking of a future time when God will be so close, like seeing him face to face, and we are so in tune with his Spirit, that we constantly make the right choices. In context the adversity and suffering is the captivity; God reminding them that although they were defeated by the Assyrians, God has not abandoned them. He is near and will guide them. When you know his voice and follow in obedience, he will confirm your good decisions.

The word teachers or a teacher could mean the prophets to come, but since the word is singular, perhaps it means one divine teacher who is to come. God himself would teach his people. His presence will be visible and active, everyone will know the direction to go.

The words, “Walk in it” contrasts with “turn aside” in Isaiah 30:11. The people had been living in such a way that they were oblivious to their spiritual teachers (Isaiah 30:20); now they would be taught by the Spirit of the living God. After their period of judgment because of disobedience, God is to open Israel’s eyes to the soundness of the message of His prophets (Isaiah 29:24). When they hear “a word behind you,” the teachers will be near and the pupils sensitive to the Lord and his prophets, in strong contrast to the callousness they had been demonstrating (Isaiah 29:10-11).

Where God is at Work

We do not always know where God is at work, so how can we tell where God is working. First there are some things that only God can do, so identifying these are a good place to begin:

  1. God draws people to himself (John 6:44)
  2. God causes people to seek after him (Romans 3:10-12)
  3. God reveals spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:14)
  4. God convicts people (John 16:8)
    1. Of sin
    2. Of righteousness
    3. Of judgment

No one will seek after God or pursue spiritual things unless the Father is at work in his life. If someone is interested in spiritual matters, the Father is at work in their life. The great thing is that we have the Holy Spirit to help guide us through the spirituality of our lives (John 14:15-17, 26)

A great example is that of Zacchaeus. Jesus left the crowd that day and focused on one man in particular, and salvation came to that house (Luke 19:5). Jesus looked for the activity of the Father and joined him in that work.

So what can we do to put ourselves into a position of hearing a word from God, and see where God is working?

  1. Start by praying.
  2. Then get off your knees and watch to see what God does next.
    1. Watch for people with needs.
    2. Discover people who might be interested in spiritual matters.
  3. Ask questions to people around you.
    1. How can I pray for you?
    2. Do you want to talk?
    3. What do you see as the greatest challenge in your life?
    4. What do you see God doing in your life?
    5. What is God bringing to the surface of your life?
    6. What burden has God put on your heart?
  4. Then listen to people.

Here is a convicting part: we often don’t join God in his work because we are not really committed to God. We are more interested in his blessings that in his work. How many times have you prayed for God’s blessing? I am convicted that prayer needs to change from focusing on God blessing us to God’s revealing to us where he is at work. When we focus on God working through us, the blessing will follow.  I intend to stop asking God to bless me, and my church, and will ask him to reveal to us where he is at work, and to work through us.

God speaks when he is about to accomplish his purposes, and we can be assured that what God initiates, he will complete (Isaiah 14:24, 27, 1 Kings 8:56, Philippians 1:6).

When we say that we have a “word from the Lord” be careful. We need to stick with that leading until God brings it to pass. Abraham waited 25 years for the son of promise, and Moses was in training for 40 years before God sent him back to Egypt. If your “word from the Lord” does not come to pass, you are in danger of being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18-22, Jeremiah 28:9, Ezekiel 12:24, 25).

Loving God and Obedience

The love of God is so strong that he pursues us in this love relationship, yet it is not supposed to be a one-sided relationship. God desires that we love him back. The verse for this week is one of love, obedience and trust:

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him. (John 14:21)

When we obey Jesus, we show him that we love him. The reward for obedience is that he will show himself to us. It is not just keeping the letter of the LAW, but keeping the SPIRIT of the Law. Where there is an obedience problem, there is a love problem!

I like to pair two verses together:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His [a]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16)

There are three trustworthy statements regarding the attributes of God (This is a conditional statements):

  1. If God is love, then his ways are always best.
  2. If God is all-knowing, then his directions are always right.
  3. If God is all-powerful, then he can enable you to do his will.

When it comes to God’s commands, they are also an expression of his love. Sometimes we tend to think that God’s rules are there to keep us from having fun or enjoying life, but actually there are two great reasons to obey God’s Word:

  1. God wants to protect us.
  2. God wants to provide the best for us.

Read what God said at the very beginning of the nation of Israel:

He said to them, “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. 47 For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 32:26-27)

When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the Lord our God commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Moreover, the Lord showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; 23 He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ 24 So the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. 25 It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded. (Deuteronomy 6:20-25)

Notice the progression:

  1. When you come to know God by experience, you will be convinced of his love.
  2. When you are convinced of his love, you will believe him.
  3. When you believe him, you will come to trust him.
  4. When you trust him, you will have confidence to obey him.

You would listen to the guy who has the information to avoid land mines in a war zone, so why will we not trust the God who created this world, loves us and wants to protect us and provide the best for us?

God is looking out for your very best, so if you will not obey him, it means you really don’t trust him or love him.