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What is the Purpose of Prayer?

Exodus 4:1-17; John 4

Jim Davis

Prayer is the only avenue to recognizing the reality of God’s presence. Paul writes to the Thessalonians instructing them to, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 NIV). You cannot continually pray for the Spirit’s guidance in every circumstance without experiencing the reality of God’s presence.

My greatest need is to recognize God’s presence and guidance in every circumstance. I can’t do this without the avenue of prayer.

Dennis Cox says, "A good prayer life is being aware of God’s presence and being transparent with him about what I am experiencing." Too often our experiences in our circumstances are simply programmed responses. Often we have our minds set in such a fashion we only get out of things what we are programmed to get out of them. Only through prayer can we realign ourselves in our circumstances to see what God wishes us to see.

The psalmists writes, "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:10). Prayer times are the times to be still and know God. If we neglect prayer we will lose sight of God’s presence.

Psalms 18:2
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. NIV

Who Am I?

When Moses faced God in the burning bush he was told to take off his shoes for the ground he stood upon was holy ground. We may wonder if we are permitted to come to God on holy ground. Prayer brings every person to holy ground. Moses wasn’t invited to stand on holy ground because of his personal holiness, but rather because of God’s desire to make him holy. A couple of days ago I was asked, "Does God hear one man’s prayer over another, or are some people’s prayers more important than others?" God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). Every person has the equal privilege of approaching God on holy ground. The only prerequisite for coming to God on holy ground in prayer is a contrite heart and a broken spirit.

Psalms 51:16-17
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise. NIV

Moses came to God in the burning bush with a contrite heart and a broken spirit. God told him to go to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. When God calls you would think that men and women would jump on their white horses and ride bravely into battle. But this is not the way we do when God calls. Most of us are like Moses.

Exodus 4:1-17
4:1 Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?"

2 Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?"

"A staff," he replied.

3 The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground."

Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4 Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5 "This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has appeared to you."

6 Then the LORD said, "Put your hand inside your cloak." So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow.

7 "Now put it back into your cloak," he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.

8 Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. 9 But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground."

10 Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue."

11 The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

13 But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it."

14 Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it." NIV

Initially it doesn’t seem as hard to jump on at white horse and ride into completely new territory, as it is to jump on a white horse and face our old fears and failures. God is asking Moses to face his past failures and fears after spending forty years running from them. Instead of allowing our failures to build walls around us to keep God out we must face God with our failures realizing his presence.

Exodus 2:11-15
11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?"

14 The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "What I did must have become known."

15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. NIV

When Moses confronts God in the burning bush his feelings are very transparent as he contemplates going back to Egypt. Who would believe me? I am not an eloquent man. Send someone else! Behind all this Moses no doubt is thinking of his previous failure in Egypt.

Prayer doesn’t guarantee life will be easy. We will still face problems, frustrations and difficult times. God can’t refocus our lives without getting us to face our problems. When Moses went to Egypt he faced bigger problems than he could have imagined—he experienced the hardness of the world’s most powerful leader face to face. He faced the Hebrews disbelief that God was with him to make their lives better. He faced his own personal failures and his need for obedience.

Proper Prayer Focuses Our Lives

If we refuse to come to God on holy ground through prayer we will lose sight of God. We will become proud and arrogant men and women who think we don’t need God.

Prayer exerts unbelievable demands on us. This is why we feel like Moses as we say, "Please send someone else." But as we open our heart to the Lord’s rule, he will develop us in ways far beyond anything we have ever attempted on our own. Prayer is the only thing that can take us beyond ingrained behavior and rigid church tradition that confines prayer to church doctrine to be adhered to.

We have reduced prayer to an act of worship that seems necessary but often meaningless. Have we lost sight of the purpose of prayer? Human pride prevents prayer from being a natural thing. Prayer interferes with our own ambitions and our personal agendas. Prayer forces us to surrender our independence and submit to God. Prayer is not just an act of worship; it is a matter of God salvaging my life as I come to him through prayer.

The purpose of prayer is to get our lives aligned with God. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is the most basic purpose of prayer. More specifically desiring God’s will be done on earth is tantamount to getting his will done in my life.

Often our prayers are more like the conversation the Samaritan woman had with Jesus.

John 4:7-18
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

11 "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

16 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."

17 "I have no husband," she replied.

Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true." NIV

This woman had no problem talking about religion—you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan, "How can you ask me for a drink." She was ready to debate religious practices. However, she didn’t want the conversation to focus on her personal life. Jesus directs her attention to her personal life, but immediately she shifts the focus back to religion.

John 4:19-26
19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

25 The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." NIV

The woman sought to limit her conversation to the religion. Her conversation with the savior was should we worship on this mountain or that mountain. Jesus replies, "God is a spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." Jesus is not talking about the nature of a formal worship service; the remarks are focused on the heart of the woman. He refuses to turn this into a religious discussion. He is talking about the condition of that woman’s heart. He keeps the conversation focused on the woman’s innermost needs. Her personal need of the savior is manifested. She has had five husbands and is now living with a man out of wedlock. Later when she went back to town to tell others about the Messiah she says, "He told me every thing I ever did." The amazing thing is that Jesus refocused her life through his conversation with her. This is the essence of a prayerful conversation with God.

John 4:27-30
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?"

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. NIV

There is nothing holy about this woman, but she is standing on the same holy ground Moses stood on when he had a conversation with God. Of course she is not in Midian; there is no burning bush; but it is the same place Moses stood when he had a conversation with God.

The beauty of a prayerful conversation with God is that God helps you see yourself through his eyes. There is no other way for God to salvage our lives than to allow us to see ourselves through his eyes.

Approaching God in prayer doesn’t exempt us from dealing with our own problems, rather it forces us to face ourselves. After agreeing to go to Egypt, the Lord confronted Moses with his personal disobedience.

Exodus 4:24-26
24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met [Moses] and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched [Moses'] feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.) NIV

If we come to God on holy ground through prayer he will force us to face our personal disobedience. He does this because he must get our lives focused on him.

Moses was somewhat transparent with God when he expressed his apprehension about going to Egypt, but he was reluctant to confront God with his personal struggles with his family. Moses’ wife was a Midianite—she abhorred the thought of circumcision, but God revealed how important it was for Moses to face his personal problem. It was a matter of life or death—it was a matter of obeying God’s will. It is evident for God’s will to be done in Egypt he would first have to get his will done in Moses’ life.

There is no short cut to getting God’s will done on earth without it beginning with me. Religious questions are unimportant if God hasn’t refocused our lives on him. Jesus prayed, not as I will, but your will be done with my life. This is the focus of prayer.

Prayer Reveals God’s Provisions

Prayer reveals God’s provisions to get our lives focused on him. God revealed to Moses his provisions to help Moses get his life focused on God’s mission.

Exodus 4:6-17
6 Then the LORD said, "Put your hand inside your cloak." So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow.

7 "Now put it back into your cloak," he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.

8 Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. 9 But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground."

10 Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue."

11 The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

13 But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it."

14 Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it."

When fear becomes our God, God gets angry. "But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it." Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well." When fear prevents us from facing ourselves it becomes our god. Through prayer you can realize God’s provisions to remove your fears. There was nothing wrong with Moses understanding his limitations, but our limitations do not limit God’s provisions.

Matthew 7:7-12
7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 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 good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. NIV

What do you ask for? The things he desires to give you—a humble and contrite heart—resources to accomplish his purpose for your life.

God’s plan is for your success in accomplishing his will. Seeing ourselves through the eyes of God is the key to developing a faith that take us into the presence of God

Rubel Shelly wrote the following:

"It was poet Robert Burns who wished for humankind the power to see ourselves as others see us. My, what insights that would bring! But there is still another perspective on human affairs that is greater still.

"What if we could see as God sees? From the study of life, human nature, and Scripture, I’m convinced his perspective would set us free to really live.

"If we could see as God sees, we would know that most human fears never materialize. Most of the things most of us spend most of our time worrying over are never going to happen anyway. So we waste energy and weaken ourselves for the day’s task. Maybe this is why Jesus said, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

"If we could see as God sees, we would realize that no problem that does come is insurmountable. In our gloomier moments of financial stress, illness, or family problems, we brood over questions without answers. But the promise of Scripture stands: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."

"If we could see as God sees, we would understand that no trial comes without a blessing attached. It cannot be seen in advance. In our perplexity, we doubt that anything good can come from a heartache. But the half-brother of Jesus put the divine pledge this way: "My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing."

"If we could see as God sees, we would know that pain always signals the possibility for growth. Although we sigh for a world free of stress, we know deep inside that such a world would produce calloused and unfeeling people. "Endure trials for the sake of discipline," wrote the unnamed author of Hebrews. "Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

"God has given us the certain knowledge through Jesus that the meaning of all that happens here is found in realities we have never seen. To see through his eyes and to live on the basis of his promises is the meaning of a life of faith."

The purpose of prayer is to help us see ourselves as God sees us.

When we begin to respond to what God sees in us we will begin to lead others to Christ as Moses and the Samaritan did. When God touches your life in a personal way others will be led to Christ.

John 4:39-42
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world." NIV

Conclusion:

Your life’s struggles should be the content of prayer.

Discovering God’s mission for your life is the focus of prayer.

Accepting God’s provision is the means to living out God’s mission.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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