Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face, by Daniel Henderson and Jim Cymbala (Please support the authors by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).
A “new normal” had occurred and my soul was re-calibrated to move beyond perfunctory prayer lists and to set my heart to seek His face.
One thing I know–once you have tasted this kind of prayer experience, nothing else satisfies and everything else is seen in a new light.
I say often that prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. I get that. It is very easy for me to forge ahead on Christian autopilot, relying on the reserves of previous learning and last week’s worship, and not abiding in Christ in a constant, moment-by-moment reliance.
We look around church and assume everyone else must be praying more and better than we are. With rare exception, they are not.
According to George Barna, the majority of born-again Christians admit that their bi-weekly attendance at worship services is generally the only time they worship God. Eight out of ten believers do not feel they have entered into the presence of God or experienced a connection with Him during the worship service. Half of all believers say they do not feel they have entered the presence of God or experienced a genuine connection with Him in the past year.
This leads to a core inquiry. Who taught you to pray? Has anyone provided a positive and life-changing model of prayer for you? Do you feel that you even know how to pray effectively? What is the purpose behind your praying? Is it working for you? Are you sure it is a biblical approach?
Theologian D. A. Carson makes the observation: “Christians learn to pray by listening to those around them.”1 I must admit that I had to unlearn prayer.
The exhaustive requests continued until someone happened to glance at their watch and exclaim, “Oh, we’re almost out of time! We’d better pray.” Hurriedly, we would slide our folding chairs into smaller circles, yellow pads in hand, and start praying for the myriad of documented needs.
This praying minority would seldom miss a week. As much as I did not appreciate their pattern of prayer, I loved their hearts and willingness to persevere. These prayer warriors really did make prayer a priority. They saw some wonderful answers to prayer and were careful to thank the Lord for it all. It did seem, however, that they were inadvertently stuck in a long, deep prayer rut.
The rut occurs when we allow requests to serve as the foundation of our praying: focusing on our problems rather than actually engaging with God in a multifaceted biblical prayer experience.
Worship is the response of all we are to the revelation of all God is. J. Oswald Sanders describes worship as “the loving ascription of praise to God for what He is, both in Himself and in His ways. It is the bowing of the innermost spirit in deep humility and reverence before Him.”
Worship-based prayer seeks the face of God before the hand of God. God’s face is the essence of who He is. God’s hand is the blessing of what He does. God’s face represents His person and presence. God’s hand expresses His provision for needs in our lives. I have learned that if all we ever do is seek God’s hand, we may miss His face; but if we seek His face, He will be glad to open His hand and satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.
transformation. In the discovery of these realities, a Christian is then empowered and enlightened to pray about issues and needs in a whole new way.
As a pastor, I have seen firsthand the power of worship-based prayer to bring healing and restoration to hurting congregations. I have watched it reinvent a staid, traditional church into a church-planting, mission-oriented force.
Prior to the retreat, he was asking, “What am I going to talk to God about for three days?” Afterward he noted, “I was asking the wrong question. What I should have said was, ‘What was God going to talk to me about for three days?’
Peter Lord, one of my personal mentors and a pastor for over five decades, states, “Most Christians pray out of crisis or from a grocery list–period.” His point is that God has much more for us in our walk with Him when we learn to seek His face, not just His hand.
Too many times we become preoccupied with the tools, techniques, and even the finer points of theology when it comes to prayer. All of these are helpful, but prayer is not so much an issue of fine-tuning the regimens but of enjoying the relationship. It is not so much about fixing all the peripheral issues of our lives through prayer, but allowing God to change us through prayer. When we get the man right, by His transforming grace, it is amazing how so many other things seem to line up and make sense.
What created this spiritual movement? Not a program. Not a pastor. Not some new church-growth strategy. All of these blessings came because people learned to seek the face of God in prayer.
Personal prayer lives were ignited and changed as well. Ultimately things changed because people changed.
Christ’s evaluation, both now and in eternity, is based upon the fruit evidenced in the lives of the people to whom we minister.
It means to be “set apart” to God. It means God is working in me, around me, and through me to make me holy, more like Jesus.
The early disciples, who “filled Jerusalem” with their doctrine and “turned the world upside down” (Acts 5:28; 17:6), truly mystified the religious people of the day.
The world is not transformed by relevant Christians, strategic Christians, visionary Christians, leadership-savvy Christians, wealthy Christians, attractive Christians, educated Christians, active Christians, or articulate Christians. These are all interesting qualities, and might be helpful on occasion–especially in building big religious organizations and selling books. Ultimately, the world is transformed by sanctified Christians through whom the life of Jesus becomes a mystifying manifestation.
People changed by Jesus cannot help but change the world.
But when our Savior “puts the man together” to make us right first, then in so many ways the world comes together. God is glorified. We are sanctified. The church is edified. The world is mystified. The enemy is notified.
All true prayer Exists for the glory of God And is Based in the worship of God Focused on the face of God Shaped by the Word of God Inspired by the Spirit of God Offered through the Son of God Aimed for the Will of God Experienced by true children of God – DANIEL HENDERSON
“Prayer was simply asking, pleading, seeking action from God on one’s own behalf or on the behalf of others,” Connie says. “I participated dutifully but did not recognize the hole in my heart as the lack of a truly personal, intimate relationship with God. He was there, but distant, and I did not know life could be any different. I did not know God’s purpose for prayer.”
Spiritual Warfare – Clearly, prayer is an area where believers experience spiritual warfare. Our spiritual enemy is fully aware of the power and promises available to us in prayer. He knows that every major spiritual revival began with prayer. He knows we are all called to be “praying menaces” to his cause. Therefore, he fights us from every angle to keep us from praying effectively.
Fear of Intimacy – Some falter in prayer because of a fear of intimacy. I often say that we live in a culture of spiritual AI DS (Acute Intimacy Deficiency Syndrome). Some of us still carry the baggage from parents or other authority figures in our childhood who were distant, negligent, or even abusive. These experiences can leave us with distaste for emotional vulnerability and transparency. We protect ourselves from getting too close to anyone, even God.
Misguided Focus – Many of us maintain a misguided focus in our prayers and miss the life-giving reality God intended. Instead of our first resolve, we view prayer as our last resort. We see prayer as our spiritual e-mail sent to God, with instructions as to how He should manage the affairs of our life each day. We attempt to use prayer to get our will done in heaven rather than His will done on earth.
Counterproductive Tradition – Countless believers have learned to pray, from a counterproductive tradition, forms of prayer passed down through the generations without much critical evaluation and biblical investigation. Some traditions in prayer rely mainly on “prayer lists” and others on rote expressions, rather than upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. The primary content of many prayer gatherings is juicy information about other people rather than the foundation of God’s Word. We tend more toward discussions about the problems of people than the real experiences of the presence of the Problem Solver.
David Butts, chairperson of America’s National Prayer Committee, says, “The reason most people do not attend prayer meetings at their church is that they have been to prayer meetings at their church.”
Boredom – All of these factors can fuel a deep-seated feeling of boredom. As a Christ-follower for over forty years, I am resolute to banish boredom from my prayer life. As a pastor for almost thirty years, having led multiple weekly prayer times, I have declared war on sleepy prayer meetings.
Lack of Positive – Models One colossal reason we have not experienced transforming prayer is the lack of positive models. I have learned that people do not arrive at a new, powerful, and life-changing place in their prayer life through information. It happens more by “infection.” It is not accomplished through explanation, but by experience.
D. A. Carson confirms this truth when he writes, “Many facets of Christian discipleship, not the least prayer, are more effectively passed on by modeling than by formal teaching. Good praying is more easily caught than taught. . . . We should choose models from whom we can learn.”
I heard a Brazilian proverb years ago: “The heart cannot taste what the eyes have not seen.” This experience of praying with a pastor, church, and congregation that authentically value the priority and power of prayer has accomplished much to help me and many other believers understand a truly biblical paradigm.
I had discovered that prayer truly has only two purposes. First, it is the means to developing a true love relationship with God by communication with Him, not to get His ‘stuff ’ but to get to know Him more deeply. Prayer is intended to develop a two-way love relationship. Second, it is to receive His assignments for me, both daily and long term–by listening to Him–then acting, not only in how I live but also in how I pray for myself and others.”
What’s in a Face? What is meant by face? It is the representation of the real essence and character of a person. It is the unique identifying characteristic of an individual. It is also the key to really getting to know someone.
An Intimate Encounter – God’s face really speaks of His intimate, manifest presence. I like to speak of the teaching about God’s presence as His general presence, His indwelling presence, and His intimate presence. Psalm 139 speaks of His general, invisible presence in this world. While unseen, He is present everywhere.
Yet God calls us to an intimate encounter as we pursue Him with all our hearts. In my understanding, to seek His face today means to set our hearts to seek Him in worship with biblical understanding, submitting completely to the control of His Spirit with a longing to know and enjoy Him more. Again, it is not about rehearsing a quick list of needs with God, but seeking Him because of who He is, with a passion for a deeper intimacy and experience of His presence.
The Old Testament followers spoke of God “hiding His face” or even setting His face against people. This reflected those times when His intimate presence and favor was hindered because of sin (Deuteronomy 32:20; Job 34:29; Psalm 13:1; 30:7; 143:7; Isaiah 54:8; Jeremiah 33:5; Ezekiel 39:23–24; Micah 3:4).
First Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Clearly we understand that intimacy with God means life and blessing. For His face to be withdrawn or set against someone (Psalm 34:16) is misery of the worst kind.
God’s Invitation – The Scriptures are clear that God desires that His people know and enjoy Him. He is ready and responsive to restore His people, if they will again seek His face. We know the familiar call of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In a similar way, God made the offer through the prophet Hosea: “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me” (Hosea 5:15).
We need His face to shine upon, bless, and envelop us–because all that we are and all that we do in obedience to His commands and commission is the overflow of intimacy and the fruit of His blessing.
Here is what God wanted everyone to understand, from His heart to ours, every time His people worshiped: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. NUMBERS 6:24–26 Face time with the Almighty was the key to blessing, protection, grace, and peace. It is still true today. Let us join our voices and say, “Amen!”
With a second copy of the Decalogue (commonly known as the Ten Commandments) in hand, Moses arrived in camp–GLOWING ! God’s presence was so real that it left its mark on Moses’ face. The brightness was so overwhelming that it frightened the people. Moses had to put a veil over his face. Every time he went back to meet with God, experiencing His intimate presence and receiving His truth for the people, Moses would remove the veil in unhindered divine fellowship.
The greater the revelation, the greater the transformation. Unveiled in his worship and given incredible access to the presence of God, Moses also became a changed worshipper who glowed with the glory of God.”
Paul makes this potent declaration, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 3:17–4:1). I urge you to read that passage again, because I believe it is the core of effective, enduring Christian ministry and the source of daily transformation.
Yet at the core of Paul’s theology of life and ministry is this amazing truth that communion with Christ changes us! This is no superficial rearranging of the activities, approaches, and attitudes of life. This is inside-out change. Transformation. The English pronunciation of this Greek word is metamour-foumetha–very similar to our idea of a metamorphosis.
This all occurs by the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in our lives. We are captivated by Christ, changed by Christ, and conformed to Christ.
Paul understood transforming prayer from the moment of his first encounter with Christ. He never got over it and never stopped growing in it. He saw it as the core of his credibility and the life-source of all Christian living.
In relation to prayer, we want to use all we know from the Scriptures to discover the best practices. We want to learn to understand the leading of the Spirit to experience and achieve the desired result–the glory of God (we will talk more about this “desired result” as you continue to read). This would be “best-practices praying.”
Accordingly, we need to thoroughly know and understand what it means to seek God’s face in worship-based prayer. We need the Spirit to give us holy dissatisfaction and the motivation to change. We need to know how to engage in transforming prayer.
Unfortunately, we seem to give God our spiritual leftovers in prayer.
When we engage in the great privilege and joy of prayer with a “leftovers mentality,” the likelihood of spiritual blessing is slight. The Lord says, “Love me with all of your heart,” worship me “in spirit and in truth,” present your bodies as a “living sacrifice.” He calls for our passionate best. Instead, we bring spiritual leftovers to the throne of grace.
The Lord did not require great quantities–but He did ask for their first and best as a demonstration of their gratitude to God as the source of all their blessings and an indication of their reverence for God as the One worthy of worship. Instead, they were bringing leftovers. They offered blind, lame, and sick animals at the temple.
Even today, not all sacrifices are created equal. From a New Testament standpoint, acceptable sacrifices include: • A commitment to worship in spirit and in truth ( John 4:22–24) • A genuine sacrifice of praise, giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15) • The presentation of our bodies in complete surrender (Romans 12:1–2) • A life of love that produces right living (Philippians 1:9–11) • Doing everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus” with thanksgiving (Colossians 3:17) • Service conducted in supernatural power (1 Peter 4:11) • Generosity that flows from a heart of love (Philippians 4:10–19)
Relating to prayer, God is not looking for a dutiful contribution of time or energy in the spirit of religious observance. He is looking for a hungry heart that seeks after Him in praise, gratitude, and loving surrender, with a readiness to pray, think, and live like Jesus as the expression and overflow of that intimacy.
We must continue to grow so that we understand prayer as more of a transforming experience in the Holy of Holies and less like a rushed trip to the grocery store to grab what we think we need for the day.
There was not one single prayer for revival or awakening in our church, community, or nation. Sad. As I surveyed the results of this prayer snapshot, my gut reaction is that this is typical of the average prayer list, whether compiled in a Sunday school class or a personal journal. Thank God, people are praying, yet I believe something more powerful and purposeful can be discovered about the reality of prayer. No one really wants to serve God leftovers.
Frankly, I admire those who manage long lists of needs, answers, commentary, and details. I found that I was spending more time organizing, rewriting, or trying to find my list than I was actually spending time in prayer.
Yet in group settings, the focus on lists of needs and prolonged discussions about details can distract from the purpose. Some groups spend significant time talking and taking notes about issues, people, and problems. This has two effects. First, a gathering that was announced as a prayer meeting becomes mostly a discussion session. At times, those discussions border on gossip. This is not a best practice. Second, we can tend to be operating simply in the realm of our own human thoughts, our own observations, and our own ideas about what we should pray about. We often ask the question, “What do we need to pray about?” This is followed by long discussion of detailed situations in our lives, the lives of others, the church, community, and society. Sometimes the discussion occurs as if the Lord was not even in the room, aware of the problems, or had any opinion about the subjects at hand.
Now, I do not want to offend or anger anyone by what I am about to say, but I have to put it on the table: I find little evidence in the Bible for our routine emphasis on extensive prayer lists focused almost entirely on temporal concerns.4 I do not want to be legalistic here. But I do want to jolt us out of a rut of thinking that lists are the key to effective prayers.
I am not suggesting that everyone stop using prayer lists. But we must recognize the possibility that our prayer lists are replacing the Scriptures and the Spirit as the primary content providers for our prayer times.
We spend more prayer energy trying to keep sick Christians out of heaven than trying to keep lost people out of hell. – JAMES WALKER
We often pray to escape our difficulties rather than embrace discipleship.
Like anyone, I love it when God answers my prayers in ways that make my life more pleasant or pain-free. Yet I am learning that my deepest needs are met when my heart is most closely aligned with the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God, and the purposes of God.
Yet, it is so easy to reduce our focus in prayer to the typical “organ recital” concerns about Paula’s pancreas, Larry’s liver, Sarah’s stomach, and Artie’s appendix. Our Father knows, cares, and is fully capable of taking care of all these needs according to His will and glory. Yet the privilege of prayer offers so much more.
Amid all our worries about our health, finances, family, job, education, and ministry concerns, are we seeking first His kingdom and not our own?
What might Jesus have in mind with His commands to ask, seek, and knock? A pay raise? A new car? An all-expenses-paid vacation? What are the good things He promises? In the context, Jesus spoke specifically of the basic provisions of bread and fish, with no mention of fishing boats, lake cabins, or new video games. Perhaps the answer is in the point He has already made, that the truly “good” things we seek first are the issues pertaining to the kingdom of God.
Clearly, these teachings, like other instructions about prayer, are not carte blanche encouragements to concoct a long list of anything our heart desires. Rather, it is a promise of basic provision, spiritual empowerment, and guidance for His kingdom purposes.
Comparing the Content – We know we are supposed to bring our requests to God. Yet one of the most important questions we need to ask is how the content of our prayers differ from the biblical patterns and teaching about the things we should be praying about. I would suggest that the prayer requests we find in the Bible are shorter, deeper, and fundamentally different in nature than the lists that can tend to dominate the prayer approach of modern Christians.
Praying Just Like Jesus? – Scripture records numerous examples of Jesus’ prayer life. We find six references to Jesus’ prayers that give no clear indication of the content of what He said (Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 3:21; 9:18, 28; 11:1). We find He often withdrew from activity in order to enjoy private communion with the Father. While we do not know the substance of His prayers in these times, it appears they were directly related to fresh empowerment for His self-less, sacrificial service. There are also occasions where Jesus blesses people, but His exact words are not given (Mark 10:16; Luke 24:50).
Many modern-day teachers encourage us to “do” like Jesus, lead like Jesus, and speak like Jesus. Our passion must also be to embrace these truths so we can pray like Jesus.
We see the early church in prayer most often seeking the advancement of the gospel through any circumstance. They prayed daily as part of a vital regimen of spiritual growth–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 2:42). In the face of attack, they gathered to pray from the Scriptures, requesting fresh power for boldness–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 4:31). When they were persecuted, they rejoiced in God for the honor of suffering–for the sake of the gospel–rather than asking for a reprieve (Acts 5:41). When Peter was in jail, they prayed for his release–for the sake of the gospel (Act 12:5). When Paul and Silas were in jail, they rejoiced in prayer and singing, trusting God–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 16:25).
Every one of Paul’s model prayers sprang from expressions of thanksgiving, truths about God, and notes of praise. They are the fruit of his worship and intimate, experiential knowledge of the person of Christ. Paul’s requests were focused on the growing faith and love of believers with the goal of God’s glory.
Perhaps the fundamental difference between our prayer lists and the prayer concerns we find in the Bible is that we pray about personal problems, while most of the biblical prayers focus on Christ’s purposes. Worship-based prayers set the foundation for something other than “me” prayers, because they start with a “Thee” focus. This changes the nature of how we pray.
Psalm 70:4 had taught Bill that prayer is about seeking God, rejoicing in Him, and continually focusing on His glory. Yes, let God be magnified!
Suntan Lotion in a Snowstorm – Unlike Bill Sheehan, many of us fail to focus our prayers on the core motive: that God would be magnified in everything we seek or say. If we were to be honest, our prayers are often motivated by a desire for comfort and convenience. Many times our prayers are viewed as a divinely ordained way to get what we want out of life, or to avoid what we don’t want. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking prayer exists so God can be used to help us preserve our glory rather than our being used to promote His glory.
In John 14:13, Jesus gave us a standard for all of our praying, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” What motivates us to ask can often be all over the map. What motivates our Father to answer is that He would be glorified in our prayers through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Christ’s Work in Us for His Glory – No one ever lived with more passion and intentionality than Jesus, our Master and model. Everything in His life was for the glory of the Father ( John 11:4; 13:31–31; 17:1, 4–5). He is our ultimate example for everything we do, including our prayers.
An Agonizing Alignment – Inspiring as these reminders are, our flesh struggles to pray in alignment with the truth of God’s glory. Our prayer lists can easily become so saturated with our desires for ease, comfort, convenience, and accomplishment, that the goal of God’s glory becomes obscured. Our human tendency to avoid pain, loss, and difficulty can dilute our passion for God’s glory. When our goals and God’s glory are in conflict, it can be hard for our hearts to choose.
Think about this exchange. Jesus describes a very undesirable death as part of Peter’s destiny as an obedient disciple. If we could rate our old age or death scenarios, what Jesus described here is “dreadful.” Yet John says it is a death that will glorify God.
As good as this process was for me, I still drew this conclusion: The hardest thing about the Christian life is that it is so DAILY
There is a sense that every day we live with one hand on the perishables of this life: family, health, job, home, hobbies, plans, etc. In the other hand, we grasp the unseen and eternal reality of thinking, feeling, speaking, acting, and praying, all for God’s glory.
Grace to “Go for the Glory” – I define grace as God doing for us, in us, and through us what only He can do through the person, power, and presence of Jesus Christ. I have learned that God has tailor-made grace for everything we face. I need the grace to long and pray for His glory.
Just as God’s Word must reform our theology, our ethics, and our practices, so also must it reform our praying. D. A . CARSON
Mark describes it as a profound, life-changing experience. The power of praying from the Scriptures in the company of other believers brought healing and hope to their hearts–as spouses and parents. Mark discovered an incredible unity with leaders from other churches in the Lord’s presence.
Prior to this weekend, Mark says his prayer life was “mostly focused on request-based praying.” His attempts to pray with others were often “dry and boring.” He notes, “I knew that praying with others was important, but it was a real chore!” This dynamic young pastor explains, “More than anything, worship-based prayer has made me a more passionate lover of Jesus. I see His Word and prayer as means, not ends. Worship-based prayer has helped me to see that the ultimate aim of my time with the Lord or with others before the Lord is worship. It is the starting point and the goal.”
Calvin Miller explains, “Too often, we go into God’s presence with a list of pleas, trying to talk God into granting our desire. But this kind of praying makes us ‘one big mouth’ and God ‘one grand ear.’ But when we pray the Scriptures, it makes God the voice and leaves us as the ear. In short, God gets His turn at getting a word in edgewise.”
One core focus of worship-based prayer is the commitment to always start our prayers from the Word of God. This is the key to abiding. Jesus emphasized, “If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” ( John 15:7–8).
Abiding and Abundance – What does it mean to abide? The word means to “continue, remain, dwell, or stay.” It is the idea of a life-giving connection with Christ that produces His character and accomplishes His will in us. As Charles Spurgeon noted, abiding means “yielding ourselves up to Him to receive His life and to let that life work out its results in us. We live in Him, by Him, for Him, to Him when we abide in Him.”
Pastor John Piper gives the right perspective when he says: There are dozens of instances in the Bible of people praying for desires as natural as the desire for protection from enemies and escape from danger and success in vocation and fertility in marriage, recovery from sickness, etc. My point is not that those desires are wrong. My point is that they should always be subordinate to spiritual desires; kingdom desires; fruit-bearing desires; gospel-spreading, God-centered desires; Christ-exalting, God-glorifying desires. And when our natural desires are felt as a means to these greater desires, then they become the proper subject of prayer.
A. W. Pink described this fruit as “Christlike affections, dispositions, grace, as well as the works in which they are displayed,”5 adding that fruit is “the outflow of our union with Christ; only thus will it be traced to its true origin and source.”
George Muller, the renowned man of faith and evangelist who cared for thousands of orphans and established dozens of Christian schools in the 1800s, spoke about the vital role of Scripture in his prayer life. He noted that for years he tried to pray without starting in the Bible in the morning. Inevitably, his mind wandered sometimes for ten, fifteen, even thirty minutes.6 Then, when he began to start each morning with the Bible to nourish his soul, he found his heart being transformed by the truth, resulting in spontaneous prayers of confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. This became his daily experience for decades, resulting in great personal growth and power for life and ministry. In his autobiography, Muller noted that this kind of prayer is . . . . . . not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts. When we pray, we speak to God.Now, prayer, in order to be continued for any length of time in any other than a formal manner, requires, generally speaking, a measure of strength or godly desire, and the season, therefore, when this exercise of the soul can be most effectually performed is after the inner man has been nourished by meditation on the Word of God, where we find our Father speaking to us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to instruct us, to humble us, to reprove us.
John Piper says, “I have seen that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer.”
When we get into a routine of simply praying our own ideas and thoughts, our prayers are increasingly misguided. The longer we do this, the further we travel from God’s design for prayer.
Pastors speak with me often about the unreasonable resistance they face when trying to move people in their church from a request-based paradigm to a worship-based approach.
Who Starts the Prayer Conversation? In a sense, prayer is a continual conversation between our hearts and God’s. Nevertheless, when we stop to spend time in focused prayer, it is important to know who should start the conversation. If prayer is simply the discharge of my own will and thoughts, in the hope that I can help God run the universe, then I should start the prayer conversation. On the other hand, if prayer is about my heart becoming intimate and aligned with the heart of the Savior, then I should let Him start the conversation. This is the reality of abiding in Him and letting His words abide in us.
Our Father, with His unlimited resources, and His commitment to teach us to pray, has given us a supernatural tutor. The Holy Spirit is available to us and resides within us 24/7. Our Father longs for intimacy with us and knows that real prayer is impossible apart from the indwelling Spirit.
Worship-based prayer brings us to a greater sensitivity and surrender to the Holy Spirit. As a result, our prayers become Spirit-fueled. And we are transformed.
Worship-based prayer brings our hearts into intimate harmony with the person of the Holy Spirit and enhances our surrender to His control, wisdom, and power for our prayers. The Spirit then enables us to worship more fully. This worship, in turn, brings us into a deeper reality of the Spirit’s life, thus continuing the circle.
In his book Forgotten God, Francis Chan writes, “From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny His existence, I’m willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.”2 He continues, “If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit . . . but when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.”
Word is a stimulus to worship and a tool for worship.
Those who have adopted a worship-based approach of seeking God’s face first and foremost have experienced this amazing reality. God’s Spirit takes God’s Word and ignites our heart with truth, wisdom, direction, focus, and passion in our prayer experiences. Once you have tasted this kind of prayer, you never want to go back. This is why God longs for us to pray in the Spirit.
Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest noted: “Praying in the Spirit is praying in dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is prayer exercised in the sphere of the Holy Spirit, motivated and empowered by Him.”
Spirit Scriptures Eastern religions, and even some teachers of the Christian faith, propose that the best way to hear from God’s Spirit (or maybe some other spirit) is to empty your mind, accompanied by various breathing exercises. That might be a great way to get a D in Prayer. Rather, the Scriptures affirm the best way to hear from the Spirit is to fill the mind with the Word of God, accompanied by careful reading and meditation on the sacred text. That’s the best way to receive what the Spirit is speaking clearly.
Even the apostle Paul confesses that in our mere human intellect, we are not able to pray effectively. Our minds and hearts are weak. The Holy Spirit moves and prays within us, in perfect harmony with the will of the Father and the Son. The Spirit works in us to tutor us in prayer according to the will of God, as we have assurance of God’s goodness and sovereignty in the unfolding of the events of our lives (Romans 8:28).
Oswald Sanders wrote, “Prayer in the Spirit is prayer whose supreme object is the glory of God, and only in a secondary sense is it a blessing for ourselves or for others.”
Of course, the reason many of us tune out the pre-flight orientation is that we have heard it so many times before. This familiarity can lead to ignorance and perhaps tragedy. The flight attendants are there to prevent this. Prayer is a very familiar idea to many of us. We are also accustomed to the truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Like the road-warrior frequent flyer, we may tune out the instructions we need because we are so familiar with the experience. However, unlike a flight, where the instructions and routines are usually predictable, there should be nothing mundane or standard about our prayer times.
Every one of us is confronted with a choice. Will we allow familiarity to breed apathy and ineffectiveness as we tune out the vital instructions? Will we be content to simply pray from our own intellectual framework of understanding, with potentially careless and endless lists of ideas that have not been surrendered to the power of the Word and the Spirit? Will we merely seek God’s hand to get what we think we need to get by for another week as we hurry in and out of His presence? Or will we seek His face, from His Word, by His Spirit, as we learn to pray in a life-transforming fashion?
Prayer is a means God uses to give us what he wants. – W. BINGHAM HUNTER
There is no name like the name of Jesus Christ. Knowing the power of His name, most of us remember to tack it on to our prayers virtually every time we pray. However, like Carnegie’s students, our reason for remembering His name may be for our own purposes, not His.
It is the traditional thing to do. In group or public prayers, it is a given that whoever prays better wrap it up “in Jesus’ name.” When they fail to do so, they may get a few raised eyebrows and words of doubt about the spiritual legitimacy of their prayers. After all, will God really hear their prayers if they fail to include this three-word add-on?
A popular worship song says, “It’s all about you, Jesus,” and leads us to acknowledge that our lives are really not about our own agendas. We recognize that Jesus is God and our response is to surrender to His ways. In my years of learning about and leading others in prayer, I have found this to become the heart reality of what the Lord accomplishes as we pray. This is the path to praying in Jesus’ name.
This is God’s gracious work in drawing us to a deeper knowledge of Him and a greater response in prayer. He excited their worship, for example, with the “I am” statements Jesus made in the gospel of John: • “I am the bread of life” ( John 6:35). • “I am the light of the world” ( John 8:12; 9:5). • “I am the gate for the sheep” ( John 10:7, 9 niv). • “I am the good shepherd” ( John 10:14). • “I am the resurrection and the life” ( John 11:25). • “I am the way, the truth, and the life” ( John 14:6). • “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). Later, the New Testament books will explode additional truths about our Christ, telling us that He is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 1:8), the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the chief cornerstone of the household of God (Ephesians 2:20), the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), the very Word of God (Revelation 19:13), and the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). Again, these are more than name tags on the lapel of His robe. These are powerful revelations of His character that empower our worship and prayers.
Samuel Chadwick wrote, “To pray in the Name of Christ is to pray as one who is at one with Christ, whose mind is the mind of Christ, whose desires are the desires of Christ, and whose purpose is one with that of Christ.” Chadwick further clarified, “Prayers offered in the Name of Christ are scrutinized and sanctified by His nature, His purpose, and His will. Prayer is endorsed by the Name when it is in harmony with the character, mind, desire, and purpose of the Name.”
In his excellent book The God Who Hears, W. Bingham Hunter summarizes the New Testament teaching about praying in Jesus’ name with these four truths: • It seeks the glory of God. • Its foundation is the death, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus. • It is offered by Jesus’ obedient disciples. (Hunter points out that praying in Jesus’ name is virtually synonymous with obedience to Jesus.) • It asks what Jesus himself would pray for.
Frustration comes from bombarding heaven with our own ideas of what God should do to accomplish our will in heaven. Fulfillment comes from knowing that His will is being implemented in our lives.
People talk as if prayer is the way we get God to give us what we want. Those who think this way seek prayer promises, techniques, locations, mediators, and other methods they believe will influence God or place Him under obligation. But Scripture points in virtually the opposite direction, indicating prayer, communication with the living God, as a means He uses to give us what He knows we need. – W. BINGHAM HUNTER
When anyone is in the presence of something very powerful and experience, it is difficult to remain the unusual to their normal experience, it is difficult to remain the same.
Four common and essential responses are: a believing faith, authentic confession, conformity to His will, and empowerment for spiritual warfare.
Worship-based prayer is a powerful spark that produces a response of faith. When we begin our prayers with a passionate pursuit of the character of God, we are gripped with the reality that “He is” and are soon reminded that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Again, notice the focus on “seeking Him,” not just trying to solicit His help or provision. This is an emphasis on His face and a key to faith.
We are familiar with Romans 10:17, where it says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer is the foundation that fills our minds with the truth of God’s Word and great thoughts about God.
Confession means “agreeing with God” about our sin and failure to align with His person, purpose, and plan.
Lasting Restoration – One of the many ways I have seen this truth on dramatic display is at prayer summits. These multi-day “worship fests” are marked by spontaneous Scripture reading, singing, and heartfelt response, bringing people into an encounter with the living Christ that is incredibly intimate and moving. The more the truth of the Scriptures is read, heard, cherished, and applied–the more deeply the Spirit begins to expose needs, habitual sin, and broken relationships.
A. W. Tozer described this reality: “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”
Our Lord and Master has a will. It is the specific and intimate expression of His heart. His Word is His will. The application is revealed by His Spirit. Our requests that have not been surrendered to His Word and Spirit in intimate pursuit may simply reflect our will, not His.
John Piper describes it well: “The number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that they try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission.”
I may be naïve compared to the warfare experts, but I have discovered that a life of passionate worship–one that delights in biblical truth about God’s character, seeks the empowerment of the Spirit for application and articulation, then surrenders in every way as prompted by this intimate encounter, is equipped to “fight the good fight” every day. Jesus, on the heels of forty days of prayer and fasting, wielded the truth of God’s Word in facing down the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4–11). We, too, are equipped by His sufficiency to brandish the “sword of the Spirit,” which is the spoken word of God (Ephesians 6:17). We have His perfection and power living in us. He has given us the victory in His finished work of redemption. As we abide in Him, with hearts fully responsive to His intimate revelation of truth and insight, we overcome temptation and are delivered from evil.
In a similar spirit, some today repeat the Lord’s Prayer verbatim as some kind of magical charm. Jesus’ intention was not that we simply recite this prayer to manipulate some blessing. It is not a celestial secret password to opening the treasuries of eternity.
Guilt–the belief that if I do not pray, I will not be an acceptable Christian.
Approval–the belief that if I do pray, I will be an acceptable Christian in the eyes of others.
Church growth–the belief that prayer can be a useful tool to meet my tangible ministry goals.
Revival – the belief that God will bring revival if I will just “work Him” enough through prayer.
So we pray because God is worthy. But there is a second side to the motivational coin: I am needy. As I said earlier, prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. The heart of real prayer is, “Lord, I need you. I cannot do it on my own. I must seek you today.”
I heard a speaker say once, “You can tell someone how to do something and they may keep it up for awhile. But if you show them why they are doing it–it will take a brick wall to stop them.”
So as we prepare to clearly understand and apply a pattern that can enliven our prayer life and give us a biblical, balanced approach to prayer, let’s review a quick list of “pray this, not that” principles: • Pray to seek God’s f ace, NOT just His hand. • Pray with your heart fixed on God’s glory, NOT just for personal satisfaction. • Pray from the treasury of God’s Word, NOT from a list of your own ideas. • Pray according to the Spirit’s instruction, NOT only from human reason. • Pray with a heart completely surrendered to His will, NOT with a hurried personal agenda. • Pray in anticipation of living triumphantly in the war zone, NOT in satisfaction with your comfort zone. • Pray that God would change you, NOT simply change things.
Prayer is not asking God to do my will. It is bringing myself into conformity with His will. It is asking Him to do His will and to give me the grace to enjoy it. – JOHN MACARTHUR
The Lord’s Prayer is the ultimate pattern of prayer Jesus gave to His disciples. He repeated it twice in the gospels. The first delivery (Matthew 6) occurred near Galilee before a large crowd in the context of an extended sermon. His second iteration (Luke 11) occurred near Jerusalem after the disciples observed Him in prayer. He repeated this specific pattern after they made a request to learn how to pray.
In keeping with Jesus’ instructions, prayer begins with the character of God as we take time to focus our entire being on the wonders of who God is.
If our prayers are not focused on God, we are guilty of idolatry, as we are putting someone (or something) else in God’s place.”4
A. W. Tozer said it famously: “What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”
This response to God’s character in prayer involves yielding to the control of the Holy Spirit and recommitting ourselves to God’s kingdom purposes.
Scottish writer Robert Law said, “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth.”
I often say that we do not really know what to ask for until we have worshiped well and surrendered completely.
As our prayer continues, the outward stroke reminds us of the spiritual contest before us and, more important, reassures us of the spiritual resources within us. We know the time comes when we must get off our knees and reenter the warfare zone. We must be battle ready.
I often say the comfort zone is the danger zone. As we come to the concluding moments of a prayer time, we not only anticipate but also embrace the responsibility to “fight the good fight.” We are called to be praying menaces to the devil. Prayer is not an escape from the battles of life but a great equipping to fight them in supernatural power. The very fact that we are seeking God’s face and engaging in life-giving prayer alerts the enemy to our increased threat to his dominion. When we pray, we pick a fight with the devil at a completely new level. Yet this is why we are on earth–not to cruise along on a luxury liner until Jesus comes, but to stay actively engaged in our “search-and-rescue mission” in the midst of the global spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of people.
At the beginning of our Christian life we are full of requests to God. But then we find that God wants to get us into relationship with Himself – to get us in touch with His purposes. – OSWALD CHAMBERS
I like to call it Christianity in its purest form, as there are no celebrity speakers, music groups, bulletins, or agendas. In fact, for me this is one of the most beautiful demonstrations of the sufficiency of the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God in active and practical ministry. My faith in God’s desire and power to lead us into life-changing, Christ-exalting prayer has grown immensely over the years.
So let’s see how we can make this approach very practical. Again, we always begin with the Scriptures, and then I use four key questions to bring focus and stimulate specific prayers. I call these the who, how, what, and where questions of practicing this pattern. • Who is God? (reverence) • How should I respond? (response) • What do I pray about? (requests) • Where do I go from here? (readiness)
Individual + Community = Transformation We know that God wants our prayers to be transformational. If you were to ask, “Which is more important, private prayer or corporate prayer?” My answer would always be “yes”! It is like asking which leg is more crucial to walking–the right or the left?
It says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” You could not learn the apostles’ doctrine by downloading a message to your iPod! You had to be gathered in community. The same was obviously true of fellowship and the breaking of bread. And how did they learn to pray? Together.
The church was birthed in a ten-day prayer meeting (Acts 1:14; 2:1). They coped with crisis and persecution together, on their knees (Acts 4:24–31). As the church grew, the apostles refused to become embroiled in administrative problems because of their resolute desire to model prayer in their leadership team (Acts 6:4). Through united prayer, they trusted God for miraculous divine interventions in times of extreme trouble (Acts 12:5–12). They received ministry direction through intense seasons of worshipful prayer (Acts 13:1–2).
What a contrast to our individualized culture. Most of us were taught prayer is something we do almost exclusively on our own in a closet somewhere. In reality, early Christians learned to pray largely by praying together.
In our Western culture, we have come to believe that it is more important to pray alone than with others. This is a symptom of our basic view of society. In his book The Connecting Church, Randy Frazee describes our culture of individualism. He explains that we are no longer born into a culture of community but a “way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything.”2 Frazee documents this as a problem especially for those born after World War II . He laments the impact on the church by observing that we have “all too often mirrored the culture by making Christianity an individual sport.”
Therefore, if I were the devil, I would use my best deceptive tools to keep Christians from praying in transforming ways–and especially to keep them from praying together. I would keep them busy and isolated from one another. I would do everything possible to keep them distracted and disinterested in biblical, balanced, revival-style prayer gatherings. To accomplish this, I would do the following: Fuel the spirit of rugged individualism. By keeping Christians independent of each other, I would keep them independent from God. I would keep them frustrated in their personal prayer lives by preventing them from learning to pray by praying together. Dig ruts of boring prayer. When they did try to pray together, I would make sure the prayer meetings were based more on human needs than on God’s power. I would do everything possible to encourage boredom and gossip in these gatherings so that most people would stay away from these passionless “prayer” times. Delight in theological orthodoxy without spiritual passion. I would know how effective it is to get Bible-loving Christians to delight in theological correctness without spiritual intimacy. It worked very well in Ephesus (see Revelation 2:1–7), a once-great church that fell out of love with Jesus, even though they had great theology and teaching. I would let them be content with good sermons and grand theological ideas, as long as they stayed off their knees in trying to make it real in their hearts. Encourage idle preaching on prayer. I would know that sermons on prayer frequently fall on deaf ears, especially when the leaders do not model prayer. I would keep pastors content with talking about inspiring prayer ideas as long as they did not actually lead their people into extraordinary gatherings of prayer. I would know that prayer information without prayer action anesthetizes Christians from spiritual reality. Promote “success” in the ministry. Crazy as it sounds, I might even promote church growth as a replacement for real revival. I would encourage an interest in numbers, activities, strategies, and events. This would keep them away from brokenness, repentance, and passion for God’s transforming presence. This would distract them from a real pursuit of the awakenings that have undermined my nefarious efforts.
As long as Christians were sincere but isolated, active but powerless, entertained but shallow, I would win.
If Jesus answered all of your prayers from the last thirty days, would anything change in THE world or just YOUR world? – JOHN W. BRYSON
We need an Acts 6 revival. Revival is not a week of evangelistic meetings or a televised healing crusade. It is a period of unusual blessing when God brings a supernatural re-enlivening to His people. Dr. A. T. Pierson, pastor and missionary leader from the 1800s, observed: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”2 It is broadly believed that whenever God wanted to bring a great work of revival, He always began by sending His people to their knees.
Ultimately, the goal is not only that you experience transformation or that your circle of friends feels the change or even that your church becomes spiritually reawakened. If these realities are authentic, it will spill into the community and beyond in powerful, Christ-exalting fashion.
Honestly, I find myself wondering if this is really the Lord’s best plan for reviving His church. In the rush of getting God to show up at another revival event, I wonder if we might not need to slow down, tone down, and get down to the humble, quiet, grassroots spiritual transformation that revivals are made of in intimacy and obscurity.
The vision for organic revival that moves my heart today looks like this: “Pastor-led, local church-oriented movements of Christ-exalting, worship-based prayer–leading to a full-scale revival, supernatural evangelism, and cultural transformation.”
Change Starts Now You can be a vital part of this compelling and essential vision. Ultimately, this kind of revival starts with my heart, my home, my church, and my community. If you pray that for me–and I pray that for you–and we act in faith to seek His face, something organic and glorious might just occur. It is worth dreaming about, worth seeking after, and worth living for.
My friend Byron Paulus says, “The biggest billboard for revival is a changed life.” That is the beautiful outcome of transforming prayer.