Make Your Prayers Count!

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Various Scriptures

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Lord, Make My Life Count!” You only get one life, and so you want to make sure that you make it count both for now and eternity. So far we have looked at make your work count, make your rest count, and make your faith count. Today we come to “Make Your Prayers Count.” (Read Psalm 5:1-3)

Charles H. Spurgeon once said: “It is a reading age, a preaching age, a working age, but it is not a praying age.” Sadly, that could probably be said about almost any age. And even though we may not live in a praying age, we are called to be a praying people.

Now everyone prays. They say even atheists pray in foxholes. You may never have been in a foxhole, but if you’ve ever hit rough turbulence in a plane, you know that everyone prays. But not everyone prays the same. So how do you make your prayers count? How can you make prayer an important part of your life that indeed changes your life and the lives of those around you?

There are many things we could say about prayer, and we certainly won’t get to all of them in a single message. But let me highlight four things about prayer for you from the Bible that will help you make your prayers count. Pray early, pray often, pray specific, pray big.

I. Pray early

First of all, pray early. Early morning prayer has an important place in Scripture, and the lives of believers across the ages testify to the importance of early morning prayer. Now for many Christians there are only two problems with this whole idea of early morning prayer. It’s the early part and the morning part. We don’t do so well with either of those. So why should we seek to practice early morning prayer?

   A. Morning prayer sets the tone for your day (Psalm 5:3, 119:147)

First of all, morning prayer sets the tone for your day. David writes in Psalm 5:3: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” (Psalm 5:3) David rose early for prayer, and it made a difference in his day. Meeting God early and laying his requests before God gave him peace and confidence throughout the day. God heard his prayers, and David carried an attitude of expectation into the rest of his waking hours.

I love what Robert Murray McCheyne wrote about early morning prayer:

“I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ arose before day and went into a solitary place. David says: “Early will I seek thee”; “Thou shalt early hear my voice.” Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness, and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then when in secret prayer the soul is often out of tune, I feel it is far better to begin with God—to see his face first, to get my soul near him before it is near another.” (Robert Murray McCheyne)

If you put off prayer in the morning, you are likely to put it off all day. E.M Bounds writes in his classic book, Power Through Prayer:

“Those who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, he will be in the last place the remainder of the day.” (E.M. Bounds; Power Through Prayer)

The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:147: “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.” (Psalm 119:147) Now we can’t all get up before dawn, but we can make prayer the first thing we do for the day. When you start your day with prayer, you are more likely to continue your day with prayer. Don’t let prayer get swallowed up by the day. Make prayer the foundation of your day. Morning prayer sets the tone for your day

   B. God’s mercies are new every morning (Psalm 57:7-8, Lam. 3:22-23)

A second reason to pray early is because God’s mercies are new every morning. We read in Lamentations 3: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

You might not be a morning person, but our God is a morning God! His mercies are new every morning! Every morning when you wake up God is waiting to meet with you. He has fresh grace and mercy for you. You need only spend time with him to be strengthened for your day.

King David knew how to start a day. He writes in Psalm 57: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. 8 Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.” (Psalm 57:7-8) Robert Murray McCheyne wrote these words in his journal on February 23, 1834: “Rose early to seek God and found Him whom my soul loves. Who would not rise early to meet such company?” [Journal: 23 February 1834] Begin your day with prayer and lay hold of God’s mercies for you in Christ. God’s mercies are new every morning.

   C. Jesus set the example for you (Mark 1:35)

And then a third reason to pray early is because Jesus set the example for you. We read in Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) Jesus knew the importance of starting the day right. He got up early while it was still dark, and he spent time with his heavenly Father in prayer. He made time alone with God a priority.

I like to take a prayer walk in the morning. I get up, put on my sneakers, and take a 20-minute walk with the Lord. I begin with praise, move on to confession and thanksgiving, and then pray over my family. When I get back to the house I grab a hot drink and spend another 20 minutes in the word. I call it my 20/20 – twenty minutes in prayer, twenty minutes in the word. Do you want your spiritual vision to be 20/20? Begin your day with the word and prayer.

Joseph Alleine was a pastor in England in the 1600’s who rose early for prayer. If he heard other tradesmen out about town doing their work before he was up, he would exclaim: “O how this shames me! Does not my Master deserve more than theirs?”

Do you have trouble getting up in the morning? There’s an easy fix for that. Go to bed earlier, wake up earlier! Do you have a late night work schedule? Then think in terms of “first” rather than “early.” Early might mean 11a.m. for you, but still make prayer the first thing you do when you awaken.

There is something very important about starting your day with prayer, about giving God first place in your life when it comes to your time and your schedule. Your life begins to change in significant ways when you give God the first part of your day. Do you want to make your prayers count? Then start with this first principle. Pray early.

II. Pray often

Secondly, pray often. Around election time we often hear about “vote early and often,” which I don’t recommend, but I do recommend “pray early and often.” Pray often. How do you do that?

   A. Bookend your days with prayer (Psalm 4:4-5)

First of all, bookend your days with prayer. We have talked about praying in the morning when you get up, but it is also important to pray at night when you are going to sleep. We read this in Psalm 4: “When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. 5 Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 4:4-5)

Morning is a good time to lay out your day before the Lord in prayer. Night is a good time to reflect on your day, to confess any sin, to thank God for his mercies, and to recommit yourself to him as you rest up for another day. Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night. Devotion should be both the morning … and the evening star.” How do you pray often? First of all, bookend your days with prayer.

   B. Pray at key points throughout your day (Psalm 55:17)

Secondly, pray at key points throughout your day. David writes in Psalm 55:17: “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” (Psalm 55:17) The Jews and the early Christians had set times of prayer throughout the day. Daniel prayed three times a day. I don’t believe God would have us be legalistic and adhere to set prayer times today. But we should still stop and pray at key times throughout the day. When you hear of someone in trouble, stop and pray for them. When God brings someone to your mind, stop and pray for them. And then have some specific times when you will stop and pray. We have specific times built into our church week here at PCC – Monday morning staff prayer, Tuesday morning prayer in the chapel, Wednesday night mid-week service. It’s good to have some specific times for prayer set aside in your week.

   C. Learn to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

How do you pray often? Bookend your days with prayer. Pray at key points throughout your day. And then thirdly, learn to pray without ceasing. Or as Paul puts it in 1 Thess. 5: “Pray continually.” (1 Thess. 5:17) You might wonder, “How in the world do I pray continually? I’ve got work to do. I can’t close my eyes when I drive. What does it mean to pray continually?”

Obviously we cannot engage in the practice of focused prayer 24 hours a day. That is not what we mean by praying without ceasing. Praying without ceasing means that you bring the attitude of prayer into everything you do. When you begin a new task, commit it to the Lord in prayer. When something good happens, thank God for it. When something bad happens, pray to God about it.

There’s an old book called Practicing the Presence of God. I love that title. As believers we need to learn how to be aware of God’s presence with us in all the activities of our day.

Prayer is not something you do in the morning to get it out of the way. Prayer is an all-day affair. I like the old John Fisher song simply called, “The All Day Song.” It goes like this.

Love him in the morning when you see the sun arisin’
Love him in the evening cause he took you through the day.
And in the in between times when you feel the pressure risin’
Remember that he loves you and he promises to stay.

D.L. Moody once said, “I never pray more than five minutes at a time. But I never go five minutes without praying.” Now I’m sure there were times when Moody spent more than five minutes in prayer. But he makes a great point about praying with God throughout the day.

III. Pray specific

Do you want to make your prayers count? Pray early. Pray often. And then thirdly, pray specific. General prayers yield general results. Specific prayers yield specific results. It’s good to pray, “Lord, please bless my family today.” It is better to pray specifically for your family. So how do you pray specific?

   A. Pray for specific people (Philippians 1:4)

First of all, pray for specific people. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” (Philippians 1:4) Paul prayed for specific people at the churches he had served. We need to pray for the specific people God has put in our lives.

Now you can try and work off your memory for this, but I have found I can only do a good job praying for specific people when I have a list. I put my first prayer list together when I was in high school. I had a list of about 40-50 people – family, friends, people I knew at school – and divided them up between Monday through Friday. And each day I would pray for the specific people on my list. When I was a youth pastor, I kept a list of all the youth and prayed for each of them. And as your senior pastor I keep a list and pray for each of you specifically by name.

   B. Pray for specific needs (Ephesians 6:18)

So pray for specific people. Secondly, pray for specific needs. Ephesians 6:18 says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18) Once again, a prayer list is helpful in keeping track of various needs. You can pick up a prayer list on your way out of church today with the current prayer needs of the church. It’s in the lobby in the literature holder on the wall to your left as you go out the back door of the sanctuary. I would encourage you to pick one up each Sunday when you leave church. Or even better, get it on your way in so you don’t forget!

   C. Pray for specific outcomes (James 4:2, 5:17-18)

How do you pray specific? Pray for specific people. Pray for specific needs. And thirdly, pray for specific outcomes. James 4:2 says: “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2) How many times have we missed out on God’s best for us simply because we failed to ask?

It’s good to pray for specific people and needs, but it is also good to pray for specific outcomes. If you do not pray specifically, how do you know if God has answered your prayer? James 5:17 says: “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:17-18) Now that’s specific prayer with specific outcomes.

I have specific prayers that I pray for our church. Right now our average weekly attendance is about 200-250. I have been praying that God will grow that number to 400 before the end of this year. Our current average weekly giving is about $8,600/week. I have been praying that God will raise that to $12,000/week before the end of the year. Our current church mortgage is about $1.1 million. I have been praying that God would help us to completely eliminate that debt before the end of the year. Now I’ve been praying these things since January. It’s already October. We have one quarter left. Will God answer those prayers? I don’t know. But if I don’t pray specifically, I will never know.

IV. Pray big

And that leads us to our fourth principle this morning. Pray big. Now it’s okay to pray for small things, too. That’s part of praying to God throughout your day. But you should also pray big. Let me share with you three reasons.

   A. We serve a mighty God (Jeremiah 32:17)

First of all, we serve a mighty God. Jeremiah 32:17 says: “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17) We serve a mighty God! He created all things. Nothing is too difficult for our God. There are no tasks too big for God to accomplish; there are no problems too big for God to fix; there are no issues too complicated for God to resolve.

We sing a praise chorus that goes: “Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other.” And there is an old hymn by John Newton that has this great verse:

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much. (John Newton, “Come My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare”)

Why should you pray big? First of all, because we serve a mighty God.

   B. Jesus is our mediator (John 14:13-14)

Secondly, you should pray big because Jesus is our mediator. Now we are used to thinking about Jesus as our mediator in terms of salvation. When it comes to salvation, Jesus is our mediator in that he is the only way to the Father. But Jesus is also our mediator when it comes to prayer. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 14: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

If you don’t positively gasp when you read those words, then you didn’t read them correctly. This is an amazing verse. Jesus promises that he will do whatever you ask in his name that will bring glory to the Father. Of course that rules out any selfish or immoral requests, but when you go to God the Father in prayer through Jesus your mediator, you have Jesus on your side. And he will do whatever it takes to bring glory to the Father. Now that’s an incentive to pray big.

   C. Pray in faith believing (Mark 11:23; James 5:16)

Pray big because we serve a mighty God. Pray big because Jesus is our mediator. And finally, pray big because we are told to pray in faith believing. Jesus said in Mark 11:23: “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” (Mark 11:23) James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

When you pray in faith believing, you believe that God can do the impossible, you believe that God can do that which you cannot see. When you pray in faith believing, you pray big, because nothing is impossible for our God.

CONCLUSION: So there you have it – four biblical principles to make your prayers count. There is nothing more exciting than knowing that God has heard and answered your prayers. There is power in prayer to bring untold blessing and goodness to the world around you. You have been given that power in Jesus Christ. So pray early, pray often, pray specific, pray big.

© Ray Fowler

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