What is prayer? What is this lifeline to God? What is this channel of spiritual power? We want to consider prayer under three headings: prayer as speaking; prayer as listening; and prayer as a way of life.
I. Prayer is Speaking!
Our prayers must be pointed and specific. If we are praising God, let us praise Him for specific characteristics of His loving and divine nature. If we are giving thanks, we should thank Him specifically for answered prayers and for pointed movements of His Spirit in our lives.
If we are interceding for others; we should pray for them one by one by name and for specific needs in their lives. If we are praying for ourselves, we should pray for the specific needs and problem areas for which He has led us to pray. If true prayer really does begin with God, will He not lead us in the very things for which we should pray?
We should remember, however, that our prayers should be progressive. Some prayers seem to be unanswered because we ask Him to do what He had already guided us to do for ourselves. Why should He give us new guidance when we have not acted upon what He has told us to do? We cannot expect a "yes" to today's prayer when we have said "no" to yesterday's answer. Real prayer is progressive. We receive fresh and new guidance when we act upon His past guidance. Explanations come after obedience, not before.
In praying, we have to be patient. The Psalmist urges us to "be still and know," indicating that answers often come to the still and patient. In my self-centeredness, I have to remind myself that I am not as smart as God. He is God and He will answer my prayers according to His schedule, His time-table, and His perfect will.
God taught me this fact during the second revival meeting I preached. It began on Easter Sunday in my home church and the morning service was a wonderful outpouring of God's Spirit. Prayers were answered and souls were saved.
With evangelistic fervor, I prepared that afternoon for the evening sermon. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I felt God's leadership toward another evangelistic message.
Before I was to preach that evening, I surveyed the congregation and my heart sank! "God, did I read you wrong? I know everyone here. They are all saved with the possible exception of our music director's new girl friend. Here I have an evangelistic message and it is too late to change!" With no other option, I preached my message as prepared. Not one soul moved during the invitation. "I was wrong, God. I am sorry."
Not only was I the associate pastor and revival evangelist, I was also the church janitor. As she often did, Sharon, my wife, played the piano while I turned out the lights and locked up. Trying to ease my dejection, I sat with her at the piano and we sang for awhile.
A knock came at the church door. It was Dolly, our music director's new girl friend. "I saw the lights on and thought you might still be here. I want to be saved." That prayer required patience for a few hours. One other prayer required fifteen years. In prayer, we must wait on His timing.