Last week, we discussed three principles of prayer.
1. Prayer is not talking to God, but being with God.
2. Know Who we are talking to—recognize God’s power and goodness
3. Prayer requires full stop concentration. Casual prayers are good, but prayer which focuses our entire being is what brings God’s power.
Let’s discuss prayer as focus. When I was a boy (about 1960) my father bought our first color television set. It seemed then like the ultimate in consumer technology. But when we first turned it on, it was a mess. It was like we had three pictures—one red, one yellow, and one green.
On the front of the TV, beside the volume and tuning were three more dials. These dials controlled the three projectors inside the picture tube that created all the colors. If they were aligned correctly, you had a nice color picture, but they were not, it was all fuzzy and weird--three different versions of the same picture. You had to fiddle with the buttons until they all lined up so you could have a color picture.
Prayer is something like that. Effective prayer requires having three images lined up correctly—our image of God, our image of ourselves, and our image of the person or situation we are praying for. If any of these images are off, then our prayers will become confused. But when they are lined up correctly, our prayers are powerful. When our picture of prayer aligns with God’s revelation of His will, then we may ask whatever we want. 1 John 5: 14-15 says, “ And this is the confidence that we have towards him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” If the image of what we want, lines up with the image of what God is sending us, then we can have the answer.
The expression of God’s ideas is called “confession”. Confession literally means “to speak with” or to “agree.” Confession is when speaking in agreement with the mind of God. It is both believing and saying the truth. If we just believe it and are afraid to say it, then our confession loses power. But if we both believe and say the truth, then we have confessed it.
There is power in a confession. If you confess to a crime, you are going to jail. If you confess your love to a woman, then you had better get married. If you confess Christ in church, then you can join it. If you deny that confession later, then you will likely be put out of a church. If you confess to yourself that you cannot do something, then you likely won’t do it. But if you confess that it is possible for you to do something, then you have a chance for accomplishing it.
In prayer, confession takes two forms. First there is negative confession, which is to agree with God that we are a sinner, and have done things wrong. By confessing our sins, we admit we need help. Then there is positive confession, which is acknowledging God’s sufficiency and power to do what we cannot. Confessing our sinfulness is to get the right image of ourselves. Confessing His promises is to get the right image of God.
Confession of sin has always been (until recently) an important part of prayer and worship. It is usually done early on in our prayer time. We see this in the Word in 1 John 1: 8-9, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Confession of a sin is not required for forgiveness, but for cleansing. There is no requirement in the Bible that every sin we commit must be individually confessed before it is forgiven. We have too many sins for that! God doesn’t expect total recall of everything we have done wrong before He grants forgiveness. The blood of Jesus covers all our sins, past present and future. But confession is necessary to overcome the power of sin over us. We cannot expect God to deliver us from an addiction or a bad habit unless we acknowledge that the sin exists. You can’t break a smoking habit unless you admit smoking is hurting you, or break off an adulterous affair until you admit the affair is wrong. If you think you have not sinned, John says you have deceived yourself. As long as you are living in deception, sin has power over you. If you think you don’t need God’s help with a problem, then you will not get it.
In James 5, it doesn’t say just to confess your sins but to confess your faults as well. We may not be intentionally sinning when we deal with personality flaws, blind spots, and honest mistakes, but we should confess them anyway. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but He does expect us to acknowledge our faults and mistakes. A student who already thinks he knows everything is a poor student. A person who thinks they already have the answers is not going to seek God’s will. We must hold a true picture of our imperfections if we are to stay in focus with a perfect God.
When you come before God, come before Him with your hands in the air in an attitude of surrender. You can’t fool Him by looking innocent. You must acknowledge your faults to Him, with complete honesty and openness. Otherwise, the Devil will use our faults to undo the good we do. If we are lazy, then our good intentions will amount to nothing. If we are prideful and narcissistic, the Devil will use it to make us closed-minded and insensitive. If we are stubborn, then he will destroy us through unwillingness to change. Without an honest acknowledgement of our sins and faults, prayer becomes more about defending ourselves, and not about advancing the Kingdom.
James and John agree that we should confess our faults not only to God, but to one another. We really don’t like that part! Confessing sin in private is hard enough, but why would God ask us to confess to others? No one can come to God in serious prayer without humility, and no one is humble who is not just honest with God, but before others. It isn’t necessary to confess to everyone, but there ought to be some Christian brother or sister with whom we can be completely honest, who can pronounce the forgiveness of sins over us in Christ’s name.
We confess the image of God by celebrating who He is, and what He can do for us. Positive confession is standing on the promises of God. Negative confession leaves us helpless, but positive confession restores our hope.
In order to confess God’s promises, we have to know them. That is why it’s almost impossible to pray without a Bible in our hands. God’s Word reminds us of Who He is, and what He has done.
When we get the right picture of ourselves and God, then we bring the third part into focus, which is the object of our prayers. Now we are ready to pray for others. This is not as easy as it sounds.
One mistake people often make when learning how to pray is that we make long prayer lists and just read them to God. How can we pray fervent, effective prayers (as James tells us to do) for people and situations when have no burden or relationship with them? I have known true prayer warriors who did, who kept a long list of fervent needs, but these people prayed for hours, not minutes. They walked so closely with God and had such a love for others that everyone on their prayer list was a personal concern. Until we come to that place, it is better to pray for one or two people passionately than a long list of people casually.
To be effective in our prayer, we should also be specific. Elijah prayed for a drought and got it, then prayed for rain until it came. The elders of the early church prayed for the sick until they were healed. These prayers produced tangible results, so that people could rejoice in Him. Don’t just pray for a person in general. Set objectives in prayer, and pray for them. If you don’t get what you prayed for, then ask God to show you why. If we don’t set goals in prayer, then we don’t know if we get results.
But how do we know what to pray for? If we confess our faults, we must recognize we don’t and we can’t. We don’t have solutions for all the world’s problems. There are many problems in people’s lives that we cannot know the answer to. But if we line our thoughts with God’s thoughts through reading the word and confession of that Word, then we ought to have some sense of what God wants for others. This is not always easy, but as we learn to see people from God’s perspective, we have a better idea of how to pray.
A rich, prosperous, and healthy life is something God’ wants for us, but it is not His main desire. He would rather see us poor, broken, and persecuted if it will lead us to inner peace and real spiritual strength. We may want to be healthy, wealthy, and famous, but first He wants us to be godly first. When God doesn’t do things our way, we get mad at Him for not listening to us. We really should be wondering why we are not listening to Him.
At first, we often pray for the wrong things. But as we learn God’s will we can become clearer in our prayers for others. When our prayers line up with God’s will, then our prayers will have great power.
How clear is your focus? As we come to rely more heavily on Christ, and listen to His voice in the Word and in prayer, we start to understand His will better. Then our prayers become the same as His will, and great things will happen. When we understand who we are in relationship to Him, then God can help us focus our attention on how to pray for others.