We have been looking at what the first disciples of Jesus devoted themselves to after hearing and responding to the gospel. Acts 2:42 reveals that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. This is our last lesson in this series. I hope that we are considering the things that these Christians devoted themselves to and asked what we are devoted to. The final description is that the disciples were devoted to prayers. In fact, even before this text we see the disciples praying. Look back to Acts 1:13-14.
When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:13–14 CSB)
So we see all of the disciples of Jesus continually devoted to prayer. Then these 3000, after hearing the message of Jesus, devote themselves to prayer (Acts 2:42). There are myriads of scriptures telling us to pray without stopping and continue in prayer (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18; Romans 12:12). These Christians saw prayer as being so important that they devoted their time together to prayer.
Now we could spend the whole lesson with me trying to convince that you need to be devoted to prayer. Prayer is supposed to be a vital connection for you to God. But you know that. Prayer is a challenge. Prayer is difficult. These are some of the reasons why we can struggle with prayer, neglect prayer, and not be devoted to prayer. So in this lesson I want to talk about how we can overcome the obstacles to a vibrant prayer life.
God Wants You To Talk To Him
We need to know that God wants us to talk to him. Too often we can think of prayer as something formal rather than a way to talk to our Father. The reason we are told to pray is not because this is supposed to be yet another rule we are supposed to follow. We are told to pray because God wants to hear from us. I have a better sense of this now than ever before. Parents want to hear from their children. But they especially want to hear from their children when they are far away. Paige was away from home this last semester as she went to college. This is the first of our children to leave the house and it was difficult. April has a special long ringtone and text alert so that she knows when Paige texts her or calls her. Everything stops when that ringtone goes off. It does not matter what is happening. April will drop everything to make sure to answer the phone. Why does she do that? She does that because she wants to talk to her child who is far away from her.
Friends, our Father is in heaven (Matthew 6:9) and we are physically separated from him. But he wants to hear from us. He wants to know what is happening in our lives. He wants to know how we are doing. He wants us to tell him what we need. He wants us to tell him about our victories and about our difficulties. We are not bothering God. He wants to hear from us. God is not so busy or so big that he does not want us to come to him with our issues.
God Wants To Answer You
Not only this, but God wants to answer you. Prayer is not a vain exercise where you are simply getting things off of your chest. Prayer is not some kind of therapeutic experience. Sometimes prayer is presented this way. Sometimes people will say that the benefit to prayer is you feel better by talking to God about it. While that may be true and may be something you have experienced, God never says that this is some kind of psychological, therapeutic experience. God wants to answer our prayers. Listen to what Jesus said about this:
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (Luke 11:5–8 NIV)
So Jesus begins with a simple story. If you have a friend that you are pestering at midnight, you may not want to act on the request because of the friendship, but you will act because of the audacity displayed. You are going to get what you need simply because your friend wants you to go away. Now Jesus continues with a contrast.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9–13 NIV)
Our Father in heaven is going to open the door for you when you knock on it. Our Father is going to give to us what we ask from him. God wants to answer our prayers. In fact, God wants to bless us with good gifts. If you ask your father for food, is he going to give you something to harm you instead? Even we as humans who are bent toward evil know how to give good gifts. So how much more will our Father in heaven do the same for us?
Now please let this sink in: God wants to answer your prayers. God is not a stubborn father who is not interested in his children. God is not a father who is completely disengaged from the concerns and cares of his children. God knows how to give good gifts. God wants to give us good gifts. God is in this for our good not for our harm. God wants you to talk to him and he wants to answer you.
When God Says No
But with this renewed desire to pray, something is going to happen. You are going to pray for things in faith, knowing that God is listening and wants to give to us, but the answer is going to be no. We are going to pray for something and it is not going to happen. We can become depressed and dejected because our Father, who says that he loves us, wants to hear from us, and will answer us, did not give us what we asked for. I want to turn our attention to John 11.
In John 11 we are told about Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. They are siblings of each other. Lazarus becomes sick. He is not sick like he had the flu or a cold. He is sick with something serious that the sisters believe is going to take his life. In verse 3 they send a message to Jesus that Lazarus, the one who Jesus loves, is ill. Now look at verse 6. “So, when he heard the Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” Now this seems counter-intuitive. Jesus, the one who you love is sick. So Jesus stays where he is at for two more days. Does Jesus not care? Does Jesus not want to answer Martha and Mary’s request? Does he not love these disciples of his?
The text wants to show us that this is not the problem. Not only do the sisters know that Jesus loves Lazarus, as they include in the message to him, the text itself tells us this in verse 5. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Jesus does love all three of them. Jesus’ unwillingness to come to them when they asked for him did not mean that he did not love them. He loved all three of them, even though this was going to result in the death of Lazarus. Jesus knows that this illness is going to take Lazarus’ life (11:14). To understand what Jesus is doing, we need to put the two sentences together. Reread verses 5-6.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:5–6 ESV)
Jesus loved these three, so he said no. We do not look at prayer in this way. We think that if God loves us then he is going to answer our prayer and say yes to our requests. But I want us to see that Jesus loves us and that means he will say no. Why would Jesus say no? Why would Jesus ever deny our requests? Before I answer this, I want us to thinking about parenting for a moment. Even if you are not a parent, you had parents before if not now. Do parents always say yes to their children? When parents say no, does that mean that they do not love their children? No, in fact, good parents say no BECAUSE they love their children. The parents know that the request is not for the child’s good. Parents say no because they have the understanding and wisdom to know that whatever is being requested is not for the welfare of the child.
Please hear this: God does not say no because he does not love us. God does not say no because he does not care. God says no because it is for our good. God says no because he has something else that he is going to do. God says no because he has a different purpose than what we are looking at. We see this in verses 3-4.
So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:3–4 ESV)
Jesus is working for his glory. Jesus can take something that from our perspective has nothing good and do something for his good and for his glory. That is what Jesus is going to do here. Jesus tells these disciples no because he has bigger plans. Jesus says no, even though he loves them, because he is going a different direction than what they can see or understand. God’s glory is going to be seen through this event. This is how we must approach prayer and see the joy that comes from a vibrant, engaging prayer life.
Be devoted to prayer because either God is going to give you what you request or he will not and you will know that God is working a different direction in your life. God will be working to give you what you request or God will be working to give you what you did not know you needed. Devote yourselves to praying to your Father who desires your good.