Praying For One AnotherErwin W. Lutzer | September 16, 1990
Selected highlights from this sermon
Christians are occasionally frustrated when trying to figure out how they can pray effectively. But if we want to see prayers answered, we need to pray according to God’s will and God’s Word with its power and promises.
The prayers of Paul, especially in the book of Ephesians, are a perfect place to start. In this message, Pastor Lutzer will show us how we should intercede for one another so that we can walk in love and stand against the enemy of our souls.
Because our emphasis is on prayer, I’m going to ask that we pray again, that these moments might be transformed by God into a time of confrontation with the living and the true Lord of the universe.
And now, our Father, whom we love so much, and to whom we give such unending praise, we thank You for Your presence. We thank You that You are not only going to hear every word that is being said today, but You are going to also be listening in to every thought that is in every mind that is present. And therefore we pray, oh God, that this shall be transformed into one holy glorious moment when You share with us Your burden for Your church, that we might learn to pray one for another. In Jesus’ name we ask, Amen.
Prayer is certainly the most important and most powerful medium in the world. To think that through prayer we can go behind a closed country, praying there for missionaries or believers or unbelievers! What an awesome responsibility rests with us to think that God has given us that privilege! Through prayer we can go into an apartment building. We can go behind that closed door, and we can pray for somebody who is going through a difficult excruciating marital experience, a relationship that is being torn apart. We can get there through prayer. Through prayer we can speak to and influence estranged loved ones. Some of you have relatives and friends who perhaps are not on talking terms with you. And you’ve often wondered to yourself, “What is it that I am able to do? Their heart is so hard. There is so much bitterness.” Through prayer we can come into lives like that and we can release them so that they might be free to get rid of their bitterness and serve God. What an awesome privilege and responsibility!
You look at the prayers of the Bible and you soon find that battles were won or lost on the basis of prayer. One day Joshua was fighting a group of people, a group of pagans called the Amalekites. Whenever Moses held his hand high, Joshua won, and the battle went to his side. But when Moses stopped praying, it was the pagans who began to win.
The power of prayer!
When you look at the New Testament you find that the great emphasis is on praying for other believers. Jesus said in John 17: “I do not pray for the world but for them which thou has given me, for they are thine.” That doesn’t mean that He never prays for the world. It means that that was not His emphasis, and certainly in that 17th chapter of John He was not praying for the world. He said, “Lord, I am praying for those who belong to You, because they are Yours, and I pray for them.”
You look at the prayers of the Apostle Paul and you find that Paul almost invariably is on his knees praying for other believers. Now next week’s message is going to be praying for the city, specifically the city of Chicago, so we should pray for cities, and we should pray for the unsaved. But in the New Testament the emphasis is on praying for believers, because God knows that if believers are all that they should be, the world will be mightily impacted with the good news of the Gospel. And sometimes when we pray for the world it is because we should be praying for ourselves. We really ought to be spending our time in prayer because we are the means by which God touches the world.
Now, how can we pray effectively? How can we pray in such a way that once we target a person for focused prayer, we see measurable change, and we actually see the transforming power of God? Today I hope, through the Word of God, to teach us all how to pray just that way.
First of all, we have to pray according to the will of God. We must pray according to the will of God. Now sometimes we pray about things that we are not sure are God’s will, and that’s okay, because we should pray about everything. But if you want to be sure to get a response, if you want to be absolutely certain that what you are praying for is precisely the mind of God, then we need to look at the Scriptures to see what God’s will is, and how we should pray. And that’s the kind of praying that I want to talk about today.
I want to speak about prayer that is so biblical, that is so specific, that at the end of it you do not have to tack on that little phrase that says, “If it be Thy will,” because this is going to be praying in the will of God—the very center of His will.
Secondly, we need to pray with the promises of God. Sometimes I listen to prayers, and I don’t want to be critical of the way anybody prays because I realize they’re not talking to me. But sometimes I listen to prayers and they seem to be as if people are just getting God caught up on what is happening on earth. They begin to say, “Now, Lord, You know this. And So-and-So did this.” And I’m saying to myself, “My word, doesn’t the Almighty already know that? Does He really need to get a report on what is taking place in the world?” I believe that our focus should be on the promises of God, on the witness of God, on the power of God, and affirming the power of God for a specific situation. We don’t need to brief God on what has happened in the world.
Now my friend, it is possible to pray for people in depth, even though you may not know their specific circumstances or their needs. Occasionally I’ve taken that little committee booklet that we have here at The Moody Church—the Executive Committee, and I wish I could say I’ve done it more often, but from time to time I’ve prayed for every single person that is listed there and his wife, all the way through that Executive Committee booklet. Do you know that I am able to pray with freedom and with a sense of assurance even though I may not know the specific situations that the people listed in that booklet are going through? It’s because I know that biblically there are some things that are so fundamental, that are so basic, that I can pray for every single Christian, and these interestingly, are not only fundamental and basic, but they are the most important things that we could ever possibly pray for. If you ever want to know how to pray for me, just listen to this message, because this is the way I’d like to be prayed for.
Take your Bibles now and turn to some prayers. They are prayers in the will of God in Ephesians 1, where the Apostle Paul prays for the people at Ephesus. If you end up in the book of Philippians, you have to turn left to get to Ephesians.
Notice what Paul says in Ephesians 1:16: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Skip now to chapter 2, verse 5: “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Let’s stop there.
Today we have many people who have what is known as a bad self-image. And the reason for that bad self-image is that our opinion of ourselves is largely determined by what important people in our lives say about us. That’s how our self-image is formed. So if you were brought up in a home where you were told that you were ugly, or that you were useless, or you were a failure or you were dumb, or any other kinds of adjectives, you will tend to grow up believing that what others have said about you is true, and you will act in such a way as to fulfill what they have said, because fundamentally that’s who you believe you are.
Now, is it any wonder that the Apostle Paul, when he got down on his knees to pray for the people in Ephesus, prayed that they might be able to see their lives through God’s eyes, because that is the ultimate answer to those negative messages, those bad self-images that people have. And what he’s saying is, “If you were to see yourself through God’s eyes, you would see, first of all, that Jesus Christ is raised above every principality, above every power, above every name that is named both in this world and in the world to come. You would understand the triumph of Jesus Christ. And then also you would understand that God legally and judicially put us in Him so that we are today seated with Him in heavenly places in Jesus Christ, next to God’s right hand.” That’s what the text says.
Now, that means two things. First, it means authority. There are four words that the Apostle Paul uses here to speak of it. He says, for example, in verse 19, “And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power (There’s one of the words.) toward us who believe, according to the working (That’s another word for power.) of his great might?”
Jesus is above everything. We often speak of that, too, don’t we? We say of Him, “He rose high in the organization,” or “He is high up.” We mean authority. But not only does it mean authority. It also means honor, sitting with Christ at God’s right hand. What a credible privilege!
In the late 1970s I drove to the Milwaukee Crusade when Billy Graham was there. And I intended to only go to the Crusade and then I ended up talking to someone who is part of the organizational set-up, and he let me sit on the platform not too far from Billy Graham. The next night I drove back. I said, “This is too good to be true. If I can sit next to Billy Graham one night, I’ll go there and I’ll sit next to Billy the second night. So he sat right across the aisle from me there on the platform. I couldn’t believe it. There he was.
My dear friend, what the Apostle Paul was saying is (This is not sitting next to Billy Graham or some significant human being who has meant something to us.) that you have the privilege of sitting with Christ at the right hand of God the Father. And what he’s saying is, “If your eyes were open to the way in which God views you, you would be ready for anything. You’d be ready for life.” No matter how miserable life would be, it would be bearable if only God would show you that you are seated at the right hand of God the Father. Is it any wonder that Paul says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart might be enlightened?” Why? It’s because it’s not a matter of IQ. It’s not a matter of whether or not we have enough understanding. That is not the issue. This truth is so wonderful. It is so transforming. Paul says, “I pray that you might be able to see it, because without the help of the Holy Spirit, you’d never be able to grasp it.”
Why is it so important that we pray like that? I’ll tell you why. Any believer who sees himself seated with Christ at the right hand of God the Father is never going to say, “I’m a hopeless addict.” What do you mean you’re a hopeless addict? What do you mean you’re a hopeless adulterer? What do you mean you are a defeated slob (as some people see themselves)? Here is God, the One whose opinion matters the most, and He has exalted you, and He loves you, and He makes no distinction between His love for His Son and His love for you. And you are so precious to Him that it says in Psalm 139 that God’s thoughts about His people are more in number than the sand, and you see yourself as defeated? It’s unthinkable. Unthinkable! And so the Apostle Paul is saying, “Oh, I pray that people will know that they are seated with Christ.” What an awesome prayer to pray.
And by the way, what is Jesus Christ doing today at the right hand of God the Father? Is He reigning? No, not yet! Indirectly certainly, but the Bible says that He’s waiting there until all of His enemies become His foot stool. What is He doing? Romans 8:33-34 says: “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
What does it say in Hebrews 7:25? “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus is before the throne of God the Father, interceding for us continuously.
Now, you think this through. When you begin to pray for other believers, when you begin to pray for that person, that child that is going through times of need, when you begin to pray for the person who is going through times of distress, your neighbor, your friend, do you realize what you are doing? You are becoming a prayer partner with Christ. You are joining Him for special prayer before the throne of God for other believers.
A few months ago some of us were in the Garden of Gethsemane where we had a little service, and then we all individually prayed, and what a time that was. But do you know, as I was there reading Scripture and thinking about Jesus Christ’s agony, I thought to myself, “You know, if I had been Peter, James and John, and Jesus would say, ‘Could you watch with me for an hour?’ I’d like to think that maybe I could have watched with Him for an hour.” But then I’m reminded of the fact that they are representative of all humanity, and very probably if you and I had been there in the garden we would have done exactly as they had done. We’d have been asleep too.
You know, how come I know we probably would have done the same thing? It’s because Jesus invites us to watch with Him today, and some of us are sleeping, and we don’t. And Jesus, before the throne of God, who continuously makes intercession for us, says to you and to me, “Could we not be prayer partners together in the presence of God the Father for an hour? Could you not watch for an hour?” And you say, “No, don’t you understand my schedule, Lord Jesus”? “Don’t you understand I’m too busy? Don’t you understand that we have lost some people at work and I have to work overtime? I cannot watch with you for ten minutes, not to mention an hour.” Jesus invites us to intercede with Him at the throne of God.
How shall we pray for one another? First of all, would you pray that believers may see themselves as seated with Christ above (above all principalities and all powers and every name that is named both in this world and in the world to come), a place of authority and a place of honor?
Secondly, we now also have to pray for believers that they might be able to walk in this world. Notice in Ephesians 4:1 the Apostle Paul says: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” And he goes on to talk about the Christ-like character qualities that you and I should have as we walk in this world. Now, I wish I had time to explain all these character qualities. I don’t. I’ve simply read some of them to you.
By the way, if you want to know what it is like to pray for someone that they might have love, Paul has a second prayer in Ephesians in chapter 3, beginning in verse 14. He says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth (It includes Jew and Gentiles.) and length (It goes on forever.) and height (It goes to heaven.) and depth (It goes to the quagmire and the graveyard of sin.) and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
What a prayer! You say, “Well, you know, we like to pray for the pastoral staff, but we don’t know really what to pray.” Oh really! Why don’t you turn to Ephesians 3:14 and read that prayer for the members of the staff or the elders, for your Sunday school teacher, for your child, for your husband and for your wife? What a prayer! To be filled up to the fullness of God! Not filled with the fullness of God, because it’s impossible to get an ocean into a thimble, but to be filled up to the fullness of God. That is to say that I as an individual may be filled with God.
I want you to notice that in chapter 5 the Apostle Paul also uses the word walk. He says in chapter 5, verse 2, “and walk in love.” And in verse 8 of chapter 5 he says, “For you at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” In verse 15 he says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”
Here’s my point, and don’t miss it. Before you can walk, you have to know how to sit. You have to know how to sit! That’s why Paul has that progression in Ephesians. You see, you get all these believers who said, “Well, I want to walk for the Lord. I want to walk in light. I want to walk in love. I want to walk in humility, whatever it is.” And the fact is there is no way that we can walk until we’ve learned how to sit, because in the Christian life nobody walks without sitting. Paul says, “It is when you see yourself as seated with all of the resources of heaven at your disposal, it is then that you can begin to walk. And nobody walks until he has learned how to sit.
Now there’s a third way that we can pray for one another, and that is to stand. If you turn to Ephesians 6, notice that it says, beginning in verse 10: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” He mentions it again.
You sit, and then you begin to walk. And as you begin to walk in life, and you begin to walk in love, and you begin to walk in humility, suddenly you come across a brick wall. There it is. You can’t walk anymore because there’s a barrier ahead of you. Now the question is, how are you going to handle those barriers? How are you going to handle those deeper levels of satanic conflict because you know that Satan wants to distract us. He would like to drain every desire and passion for God right out of our souls. And one of the best tools that he uses to drain away all of our passion for God is television, because it drains away any spiritual life and vitality that we have. So it can be television. It can be monetary pressures. It can be anger. It can be a whole host of things. And so what he wants to do is to deflect us so that we don’t see ourselves as seated with Christ, so that we don’t know how to walk, and so we obviously then do not know how to stand.
Now, when the Apostle Paul is talking here about standing, there are two different methods of warfare that are important. The first is defense. Defense means that I have on the armor of God and I am standing here, and I am saying, “I am refusing to give in to Satan because I’m not ignorant of his devices.” And so what we need to do is to pray that people will stand.
Interestingly, in my devotions this morning it just so happened that I was reading 1 Peter 5 where it says, “Your adversary, the devil, walks about as a lion, seeking whom he may devour, whom you should resist, steadfast in the faith.” So I had defense because I recognized the work of Satan. And I don’t want him to get a part of me.
But there’s also what is known as offense. Offense means that in my standing I am standing in territory that really belongs to Satan, but I’m going to claim that territory for Christ. I don’t know how to emphasize this enough, but I wish that this would be burned upon your soul. Always remember that defense is easier than offense. It is much easier to hang on to territory in your life that has never been given over to Satan than to win it back once he’s had a piece of the action. It is so much better to have never tasted a drop of alcohol than to have tasted it and to find out that you love it, and then to be hooked on it. How much better to have never tasted it. How much better to have never been involved in illicit sexuality than having been involved and now trying to put that behind you so that it no longer has any authority or power over you! Now it can be put behind you, needless to say. But the way in which it is done is now not nearly as easy as defense, but offensively, standing in territory that Jesus Christ has already conquered, and saying, “I refuse to allow Satan to continue to have this part of my life. I am willing to stand firm and not budge because I’ve given this territory to Him. It is territory that belongs to Christ, and I’m going to stand here until he has to vacate the premises.”
Now that kind of praying is warfare praying. I told you last week that there are three levels of praying. First of all, there is casual praying. There is committed praying, and then there is combat praying, and one of my heart’s desires is that the number of combat prayers here at Moody Church is going to increase, and I believe that it’s starting to happen. That focus prayer group that is taking place on Wednesday night is becoming a group that is committed to aggressive kingdom warfare praying. Why is it that we are committed to that? It is because we recognize that there are so many battles that need to be won. So many have been lost, and for every one that is lost, you need to win one.
Now I am told that the Romans, when they would go to war (It talks here about the shields of faith.), had shields that were beveled so that they locked them in. One shield locked into another until you had a huge wall, and then everyone would just begin to walk forward. And a whole wall was coming at you.
My dear friend, do you realize what could happen here at The Moody Church is if one believer were locked into another believer, and that believer were joined to another believer, onto another and onto another and onto another until we had a whole wall of people who were involved in spiritual combat, marching forward for the glory of God? Think of it. I think we could take this church and move it across the street if we really wanted to do it. We could do anything that we liked here in the city of Chicago. By that I mean, of course, anything that was biblical. We could do anything that we like in terms of capturing the city for God if we had a whole group of warfare prayers who said, “Satan has had this territory long enough. It is time that we stood up and we took it from him for the glory of God and the honor of Christ.” And that’s what we want to see happen here at The Moody Church.
My dear friend, you say, “Well, how do I pray within the will of God?” You pray, first of all, that people will see themselves seated with Jesus Christ, no longer seeing themselves through their own eyes with all the discouragements and the sins, and the defeats, and the inconsistencies, but through God’s eyes who has legally elevated us to the right hand of God the Father, and we are there with Christ, sitting in triumph. So we learn to sit.
Then after we learn to sit, now we learn to walk. And the minute we learn to walk we’re in combat. And when we are in combat, we learn to stand. Now you can remember that easily, can’t you? You sit, you walk and you stand for the glory of God. And you know that the more people there are who are committed to that kind of praying for other believers, who will actually have prayer lists, and then say, “I’m praying for you consistently,” and know that they have people for whom there is concerted, focused faithful prayer, suddenly you begin to notice changes in people’s lives. There are attitude changes, and bitternesses that have never been given up are suddenly surrendered to God, and all kinds of hang-ups that people use as to why they cannot live the Christian life victoriously suddenly fall by the wayside, because in the presence of Almighty God and with that kind of praying, there is transformation and there is change.
You know, the Bible says that if we agree on earth, it will happen. The word agree in Greek is symphōneō, which is the word from which we get the word symphony. You know in a symphony everything has to be in tune. You ask Mr. Edmonds. He knows. Everything’s just got to be in tune exactly.
Now, when we go together in prayer, what we need to do is we need to agree exactly. Focused prayer, saying, “God, this is your will that believers learn to sit, to walk and to stand, and we know that we are praying in the will of God. No questions asked.” And God begins to hear from heaven, and people begin to be changed simply because finally we recognize that we are totally helpless in confronting human need. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t reach out and touch somebody. We ought to be involved, but there are some situations that are so far beyond us that there is no way out except up, and God loves to do the unexpected.
My friend, do you realize today that if you want to grow in the Christian life, I believe that there is no such thing as uncontested spiritual progress. No such thing because, you see, when we walk in the Christian life, if we’re going to continue to walk, we eventually are going to get into Satan’s territory, and the only way we can continue walking is to take the territory away from him so that very inch becomes contested. But when we learn to pray, God intervenes and miracles happen.
Do you remember Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress? I believe it is Pilgrim who comes to Wicket Gate and knocks. And when he begins to knock a dog begins to bark, and he’s with a little child and they become very frightened. They don’t know whether to run or not. I can identify with that experience. You go to the neighbor’s house and you knock, and there is a dog in the backyard, and we don’t know whether there’s a fence. Should I continue to knock? Should I run? What shall I do?
Well, in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, despite all of the fear and the apprehension of the barking dog, they continue to knock and suddenly the owner comes to the door, and when he comes to the door and speaks to them, the dog ceases barking, and they are invited in.
My friend, today I want you to realize that when you come before the throne of grace, not just to say, “God bless So-and-So,” but to say, “God, I want You to change this person,” and you begin to read the prayers of the New Testament such as explained this morning, you will begin to hear barking dogs—the dog of unbelief saying, “Why go through this? You never know whether God answered this prayer or not.” Or, “Don’t you remember you prayed for So-and-So and nothing really happened?” And “Don’t you realize this person shouldn’t be prayed for because they are just getting what they deserve anyway?” And furthermore, “How can we expect God to do something for somebody that they aren’t willing to do themselves?” And all these barking dogs will keep us from focused prayer.
The more we are yielded to God and we say to ourselves, “I want to just go in, and I want to seek God’s will, and I’m going to read God’s Word, and I’m going to pray Scriptural prayers for people,” soon the dogs cease their barking and God hears from heaven and there is transformation of life and there is change because the Scripture says that prayer changes things.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had hundreds of people here at Moody Church absolutely totally committed to praying for one another? I know that I have the good fortune of having a number of people who pray for me regularly. Somebody told me last week, by the way, that they pray every single day. And I can’t think of a greater honor that could ever come to me.
You say, “Well, how shall we pray for you?” Look at Ephesians 6. Here’s another prayer. Paul says in verse 19: “Pray also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains (That doesn’t apply to me yet. Maybe someday it will.), that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” You pray scriptural prayers right in the middle of the will of God, and you don’t care what dogs bark, and God answers. God answers.
Where are you at today in your prayer life? I want to tell you that if you’ve never received Jesus Christ as your Savior, there is one prayer that you ought to pray that is always instantly answered. And that is, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Christ died for sinners that those who believe in Him might be saved. That is one prayer that you can pray with confidence, knowing that it will be instantly answered. Some of the other prayers that we pray take a little while, but that one you can be assured of.
Would you draw near to God today as a believer if you are here as a born again Christian, or as an unbeliever, would you open your heart to Him and pray that prayer? Let us all draw near to God as we bow together in prayer.
Our Father, we pray that You might help us to learn to stand. First of all, we know that before we do that we need to know how to walk, and before that, to sit. You’ve raised us up. You have given us all of the resources. You’ve honored us. You’ve loved us. You’ve called us by name. You’ve told us that we are precious in Your sight, and we pray, Father, that we might leave behind all of the barking dogs and come to knock, to seek, to yield, to pray. Thank You, Father, for hearing us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.