Prayer: Lord, Teach Me More – John 15:12-17
In 1959 a song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller debuted on the music charts sung by The Clovers. The song’s title was “Love Potion No. 9.” The song only made it to #23. The song is about a man who can’t find love and so turns to a Gypsy who gives him Love Potion No. 9. After he took the potion he started kissing everything in sight which led to him kissing a cop, who then took his potion. There was some controversy over the song which is why it probably did not do well on the charts. Since the lyrics express the man kissing a cop, the song was banned by some radio stations. Anyway, this song would later influence a movie with the same title in 1992 starring Sandra Bullock and Tate Donovan. Both the song and the movie point out a very interesting concept. You cannot force love. No potion will bring true love. Only the freedom of choice brings about true and perfect love. I bring this up because love is an essential aspect of prayer that we must choose to learn.
We come to a junction in our series on prayer to talk about the effects of prayer. Does prayer effect things? If so, then how? I assume that it is most people’s belief that when we pray God hears our prayers, but to what end? Do our prayers matter to God when it comes to how He does things in the world? In essence can we change God’s mind when we pray? Can we effect God’s plans through prayer? For me the answer is yes, with exceptions.
First lets look at scripture to see if this answer has any weight. I will bring up three instances for our consideration, although there are probably more, but these will show the weight of prayer with God’s decisions. The first one comes to us in Genesis 18. Abraham meets the Lord by way of three strangers heading to Sodom. He greets them and offers them hospitality of the finest kind. As the strangers were leaving his presence they let Abraham know what they are about to do. God is about to destroy Sodom because of their wickedness. But Abraham pleads with God and asks, “Will you really sweep away the innocent with the guilty? What if there are fifty innocent people in the City? Will you really sweep it away and not save the place for the sake of fifty innocent people in it? It’s not like you to do this, killing the innocent with the guilty as if there were no difference. It’s not like you! Will the judge of all the earth not act justly?” The Lord responds and begins to compromise and change His mind. Abraham talked God down to finding ten innocent people. God went from destroying the entire city of Sodom to letting it stand if He could find ten innocent people. Of course they couldn’t, but through Abraham’s prayer, Lot and his family were spared from the destruction because God found them innocent. Does prayer effect God?
The second example comes to us in Exodus 32. After God has rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt. After God had sent the plagues and destroyed the Egyptian Army in the Red Sea. After God had displayed very well that He is God, Israel turned on God and began to fashion and make a golden calf to worship while Moses was in the mountain receiving the Law. God’s anger and fury began to burn for Israel and God decided to destroy Israel and start over with Moses. Moses began to plead and pray to God saying, “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth?’ Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’” Again we see Moses prayer effected God because God changed His mind. This doesn’t mean that Israel was not punished, but they were not destroyed as God had planned. Does prayer effect God?
The last example I will bring up comes from 2 Kings 20. King Hezekiah became deathly ill. God sent Isaiah the prophet to tell Hezekiah that he was going to die, he was not going to recover from this illness. Hezekiah then prayed, “Please, LORD, remember how I have walked before you in truth and sincerity. I have done what is right in your eyes.” And Hezekiah cried. Before Isaiah left the palace God told Isaiah to turn around and tell Hezekiah that God had heard his prayer and changed His mind. God healed Hezekiah and added fifteen years to his life and also promised to defend Hezekiah’s city from the Assyrian King. Does prayer effect God?
From these examples and many more I have come to understand that prayer changes things, even the mind of God. But the question then becomes WHY? Why does prayer have such an effect on God? Why would my prayers even be considered by God? God does not need me so why listen to me?
I believe the answer to these questions come down to “choice.” Not our choice, but God’s choice. God chose us! He chose humanity to be His image, creation, partners, servants, friends, children, and people. God chose to be in relationship with us. As Jesus states, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit would last.” The result of God’s choice is fruit. Fruit that would last. Fruit that would change yourself, others, and the world. For a relationship to work there must be reciprocal affections. There must be a mutual partnership. If one partner dominated the other without consideration then is there really a relationship. When God chose us, He chose to be effected by our choices and our understanding of situations. He chose to listen and respond to our prayers. This is why Jesus calls His people, “Friends.”
When we pray we are not just doing a religious habit. Nor are we doing an act of obedience. As we have said before, prayer is our hearts joining the Fathers heart through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is our hearts crying out to God. Prayer comes from the deepest recess of our heart. Since we are all created in the image of God we were created to reflect and live in that relationship between the Creator and the creation. Prayer is the bridge that God chose that sits in-between the creation and the Creator. We were created with the power to create because of the image we were created in. We rest and share in the created power of the Creator. Prayer is the extension of that creative power.
As Colossians points out, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation, Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him.” The Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things dwells within us and so we share in the glory and power of the Triune God. Sin may have widened the gap between us and God, but Jesus Christ came so that the gap would be closed.
When we respond to Jesus and the Spirit of God dwells within us, our image of God is being restored. What was lost by the first sin is restored by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For this reason it is essential to understand that God chose us. By choosing us, our prayers become an extension of our created nature. Prayers bring life and action in the world because we speak and cry on creations behalf. God has chosen to listen and consider our prayers as a reciprocal action of our friendship.
Now lets step back for a second. We must remember the first sermon in this series. Being united and in relationship with God means we remember God’s plans. The climax of God’s work in creation is for all things to be united in Christ. This will not change. God is forever working toward this future hope. No matter what our prayers are, God uniting all things in Christ will not change. If our prayers are to be an extension of the image of the Creator then our prayers must align with this future hope. So when we pray, with this future hope as our goal, the fruit that is produced by our prayers will last because they are a part of the new creation that God is bringing about on earth. This is why Jesus states, “As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.” When our prayers reflect the Fathers will in the name of Jesus Christ, He will be quick to respond.
As stated last week we must be taught how to pray. We must be given the language of prayer because our prayers matter and have power. Not that they have power in themselves, but the power comes from the Creator who is All Powerful. I have a confident hope that when I pray and it is in alignment with Gods will, my prayer will be answered. The question then comes to mind, “What about prayers that do not align with God’s will?” It is amazing that God even responds to these prayers, but when we pray them we must be willing to accept the answer God gives us.
I remember a time when I was on a mission trip. We blew a tire on the trailer without a spare. I had a van full of youth in downtown Colorado Springs in the middle of the night. What was I to do? I don’t truly remember what I prayed, but I know I cried out to God for help. Then all of a sudden a cop showed up. Not only did he drive me to Walmart to get a new tire, but he asked Walmart to open up the shop, he paid for the tire, and he got us on our way. Now, it does not always work that way. I have prayed for a lot of things to happen in my life, but those prayers did not happen. You need to understand that God sees the bigger picture and God responds in an appropriate fashion. The one thing I am sure of is that because of my relationship with God, I knew that when I cried out, God heard me. I knew God would respond. Many times I have prayed and the answer was no. Just because we can ask for whatever in Jesus’ name does not mean it will happen as we want it. But we take assurance in the fact that God has chosen to give us the opportunity to ask.
Last week I said that our prayers must be genuine and persistent. This week as we ask God to teach us to pray, we need to be taught where our prayers are supposed to come from. Jesus begins our passage by talking about the love that God has given us. I suspect that if our prayers are completely self-centered that prayer lacks that creative power. Jesus begins our reading stating, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Our prayers are to be centered on love that is from the Father. Our prayers are to be driven and given out of love and devotion to the Father. To learn to pray is to learn to love. This is why prayer is so effective because it comes from and goes out of the greatest power; Love.
The Love that established our relationship with God is the same Love that brings us the New Creation and prayer is a product of that creation. We pray because we love. A lot of people pray for money, or cars, or their own way, but if these prayers do not reside in our love for God, they are useless and fall short. We might claim they come from a place of love, but God knows our hearts better than we do. When Jesus taught proper prayer in Matthew 6 He distinguished a difference between showy prayer and true prayer. I believe this carries over and distinguishes a difference between selfish prayer and a selfless prayer. This is why it is important to understand God’s will and His grand plan of what He is doing in the world.
Just because God choses to listen and respond to our prayers. Just because God has chosen to be effected by our prayers does not mean we can force God to do things our way. No more than a love potion can create true love, our prayers cannot force God. Nor does God force us in our relationship with Him. A relationship is mutual affection. Our prayers reside in this relationship. Our prayers must come from the love that God has given us. For our prayers to truly be a reflection of the Creator, they must reside in Love.
Yes, our prayers effect God. And our prayers can and do change things. There is power in prayer. But it is not a power of force or dominance. It is a power of love and relationship. We will truly see the power of prayer when our will becomes aligned with God’s will. When we want what God wants. When we love like God loves. “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” That is where our powerful prayers come from and are directed; toward the love of God and neighbor.