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Prayer That Makes A Difference

Praying For Our City

Erwin W. Lutzer | September 23, 1990

Selected highlights from this sermon

God has a heart for our cities. Every city has its problems and its evils. While the human heart is more than capable at bringing this about, Satan and his spirits are perpetuating and strengthening crime, racism, false religion, and occultism in our office buildings and on our streets. 

Through prayer, we can wage war for the spiritual freedom of our city.

The word city occurs more than 600 times in the Bible. If you’re not concerned about the city, your concern is not where God’s concern is, because at least half the population of the world lives in big cities.

Did you know that there are something like 40 cities in the world that have a population of more than 4 million, and hundreds of cities that have a population of at least 1 million? Cities are where the action is. And wherever people are God is interested in what is happening.

There are many stories in the Bible about people who prayed for a city. We think immediately, of course, of Genesis 18 where Abraham was standing and saying, “Oh God, spare Sodom and Gomorrah.” Now the reason that Abraham prayed that is not because of his heart necessarily for Sodom and Gomorrah, but Lot was there, and Lot was Abraham’s nephew. And so Abraham was saying, “Oh God, please spare Lot.”

And you remember how the prayer went. He said, “Oh Lord, you wouldn’t destroy the righteous with the wicked, would you?” And God says, “No.” And Abraham said, “Well, if there are at least 50 righteous, will you spare the city?” And God said, “I’ll do it if there are 50.” Abraham knew right well there weren’t 50 righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah.

So then he said, “Well, what about 45?” And you remember he went down, down, down until he got to ten, and then it says that Abraham left because God says, “I will spare the city even if there are ten people in it who are righteous.”

Do you know that when Abraham left he thought that Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t going to be destroyed because he thought that there were ten righteous in the city? He thought that he at least had God in a place where the Lord couldn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

I want you to know that God could have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (snaps fingers) just like that, without breaking faith with Abraham, because there were not ten righteous in the city. There were only four. Eventually Lot and his wife leave, and his two daughters. There were only about four righteous, maybe possibly, some people think, six, but not ten. But God did answer Abraham’s prayer in another way. He took Lot and his family out of the city before the judgment fell. So Abraham got not what he expected, but he did get what he wanted. But here’s Abraham in the presence of God saying, “Oh God, do something about Sodom and Gomorrah.”

We think of another story in the Old Testament of Jonah who was sitting outside of Nineveh. And he wasn’t praying for Nineveh. He was cursing the place. Do you remember that he preached and all of Nineveh was converted? Can you imagine that? Preaching and everybody gets saved! Even the animals repented. Animal rights activists should note that in the Bible the animals repented. He had a tremendous revival. I can’t believe preaching so effectively that animals would be saved. But in the book of Jonah it says that they even had sackcloth on the animals. And Jonah was unhappy. You’d think he’d say, “Oh Lord, what a wonderful thing! Let’s write this up in Time Magazine. Let’s get the media here to see what God is doing.” And he’s unhappy. He sits outside the city with all of the heat coming from the desert, and God gives him a tree and it grows, and it’s shade to him. And he’s happy because of the shade. And then a little worm comes and cuts the tree down and Jonah is sorely displeased and he becomes angry. And the Lord says to him, “Do you do well to be angry?” And he says, “I have a right to be angry, even unto death.” The Lord says, “Jonah, you are concerned about this tree. I took your air conditioner away and you are complaining. Why is it, Jonah, that you can’t be concerned about the hundreds of thousands of children that are in the city and all of the people? Jonah, where on earth is your heart, you bigoted, self-serving prophet?”

And you know, there’s a little bit of Jonah in us all. We’re concerned about our air conditioners. We’re concerned about our conveniences. I spoke to someone yesterday who was in Romania recently who said that they were going to take some missionaries out to a restaurant. They went to six restaurants before they found one that had any food. But you know, most of us aren’t concerned about Romania. We’re concerned about our air conditioners. We’re concerned about our creature comforts. There’s a little bit of Jonah in us all.

Then we think of Jesus who was weeping over the city of Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

I want you to know something about the heartache of Jesus as He looked over the city of Jerusalem. And by the way, Jerusalem today also deserves our tears. There is not a strong evangelical witness within those old city walls. There are many Muslims. There is a form of Christendom that is dead, and that’s about it. What a challenge for some people to say, “We want to witness of the living Christ in the city of Jerusalem.” But we don’t live in Jerusalem, or in Nineveh, or in Sodom and Gomorrah, despite some similarities perhaps with those cities in the past, but we do live in Chicago.

Whenever I go on a speaking engagement, I usually begin my message by saying, “I greet you from the city of Chicago, the city of righteousness and love and truth and justice, where love and justice kiss each other.” And you know there’s generally a little bit of laughter in the congregation. For some reason Chicago isn’t known for its love and its justice and its truth. It’s known as the Windy City. As you land at O’Hare Field, frequently the flight attendant will say, “Welcome to the Windy City.” And I’ve discovered that people who even live in Chicago think that this is an expression that is related to the weather. Can you believe it? Well, for your information, I want you to know that Chicago is number 17 on the list of windy cities in America. There are 16 cities in the United States that have more wind that we do.

The reason that that expression became attached to Chicago is not because of the weather but because of the politicians that live here in the city. (laughter) I speak the truth! I speak the truth! That’s its designation. The people out east, knowing about the politicians in Chicago, called it the Windy City. And people think today it’s related to the weather.

Now, mind you, having said that, it does get cold here in the city—mighty cold. Some of you have heard how last year the news media reported that it was so cold one day that some members of our Chicago city council were actually seen with their hands in their own pockets. (laughter) It does get cold, but the designation of Windy City has nothing to do with the weather.

What do we say about the city of Chicago? Recent census, omitting some of the homeless people that were perhaps missed, the city of Chicago has 3 million people. If you include the metro area, all of the suburbs, we’re talking about 7.1 million people. There are 840,000 Poles, 700,000 Hispanics, 42 thousand Filipinos. Forty percent of the city is black. Chicago is a very interesting mix racially, educationally and vocationally. It is one of the world class cities, bursting with great opportunity.

But Chicago has another side to it, and that’s what I’d like to speak about to you today—the two sides of Chicago. First of all, I want to talk about the plight of Chicago, and then I want to talk about prayer for Chicago, or perhaps we could change it and say first of all, I’m going to speak about the grime, and then I’m going to talk about the glory.

So let us look at Chicago from these two perspectives. First of all, the negative side, the oppression of the city if you please. Call it what you will. You know, the Bible says in the book of Daniel that one day Daniel was praying to God, and the angel Gabriel was supposed to send a message to Daniel, but he couldn’t get through because of interference. He says, “The Prince of Persia withstood me, and then Michael, the archangel, came and let me through.” That’s what it says in Daniel 10.

I want you to know that there is evidence in the Bible that there are what is known as territorial spirits. Now, you know, the Bible says that Satan is organized according to rulers, authorities and dominions. There are four levels of classifications in Ephesians 6. And on Saturday, which is yesterday, I was reading a book that quoted someone who had been deeply into the occult, and was converted out of the occult, and he explained from his vantage point those four designations, how Satan has a kingdom, and then the world is divided into hierarchies until you get down to the lowest precinct, so to speak, where Satan’s activity is. But every city has a chief spirit that is supposed to keep that city bound so that as the Gospel is preached it is constantly being run into interference. That’s the way the world is organized. That may be strange for you to realize but there’s the Prince of Persia that is mentioned in the book of Daniel. There is the Prince of Greece, because there are various countries. And then the countries are divided into cities because there’s tremendous spiritual warfare taking place.

Now I’d like to suggest to you today that through our prayers, we can take these invisible powers and we can prevent them from continuing to raise all of these very visible barriers to the Gospel in Chicago. Now what I’d like to do is to just list some of the visible barriers to the Gospel in the city of Chicago, things that we need to pray against so that the Word of God can be freely preached here.

First of all, of course, there is the barrier of religion. The barrier of religion! That may be a surprise to you, but Chicago is filled with many, many churches that have a form of Christendom with dead rituals and dead traditions where people are not taught how they can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, to be born again of the Spirit and have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. And yet there are churches that go under the general banner of Christendom that do not provide enough light for people to see their way in their personal relationship with God.

You not only have that here in the city. You have the Muslim faith that is growing. It’s said that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. It grows faster than Christianity, faster than people being born again and being Christianized in America. Islam is outdoing us. Nine out of ten converts are black men. Here in the city of Chicago there are 34 mosques that have been counted—34 mosques. And many of these mosques are built in areas where there used to be churches. I say used to be because as you know oftentimes the Christians have fled to the suburbs. The city has been vacated. It has become a vacuum, oftentimes filled with crime, but also a vacuum into which has come various cults, and various other religions, and I speak particularly of Islam.

I’m told by a friend who frequently goes to County Jail that you’ll find men in the jail studying Arabic. And the reason that they are studying Arabic is because they are being converted to the Islam faith. And I said to him, “What is it that Islam offers these people?” Well, the answer was, “Islam offers them a new name. When you become a member of the faith you are given an Arabic name, and with that name you have a new identity. You are given a brotherhood so that you now belong. There are people who are going to help you find jobs, who are going to help you get reintroduced to life. There are people there at your side to help you, and therefore, the religion is very attractive, even though it does not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, nor salvation through Christ alone, who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by me.”

You see, what happens is Satan does not mind which religion or which group you get involved in as long as there is not a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As long as there is no understanding of what the Christian faith is all about, it really doesn’t make much difference to him. So even religion, which on the surface seems to be promoting goodness and righteousness, can misdirect people so that they end up not knowing the truth. The barrier of religion!

Secondly, the barrier of crime, drugs and immorality! I’m lumping those together. Chicago is known throughout the world since the days of Al Capone particularly for its crime. Some of you remember how Dr. Sweeting was in Europe and he mentioned that he was from Chicago, and the person did not understand English, but he did catch the word Chicago and he pulled his hands out of his pockets and went like this—bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! That’s Chicago.

Do you know that there are 600 murders in the city to this point this year, and that is 100 more than there were at this same point last year? And that’s why you have people meeting throughout the city, wondering what we are going to do with the growing crime rate. You have drugs—yes! You have immorality. There is violence in the city. Most of us feel quite insulated from that violence, but can you imagine living in homes where there is that kind of violence? Can you imagine what it does to children to know that there are fathers who are in jail because of robberies, because of crime, because of murder, because of whatever? Have you ever thought of how that tears people, how it misdirects them and gives them a sense of hopelessness and a feeling that they have to repeat the kind of environment in which they are raised? Can you take out a moment to just get a bit of a burden for the heartbeat and the emotional turbulence and heaviness of spirit that tens of thousands of families here in the city of Chicago feel?

There’s racism, which creates political, regional, and religious barriers. There’s occultism. People are overcome with the New Age experience, which offers so much. The New Agers offer immediate gratification for long-term problems and emotionally and spiritually dysfunctional lives. And so that’s what you have here in the city, and people are falling for it. Why is it that they are falling for it? Sometimes it’s because the churches have given a sense of elitism, a sense of rejection and of alienation. That may be at least a part of the reason why people are searching because of that inner hunger for God, and they don’t know where to turn. We have in this city Pearlism, which offers to you whatever you want, you can have, you can accept. And so these strongholds are used by Satan. They are magnified.

Now all of these things would be here even if there wasn’t a devil, because there’s enough evil in the human heart to produce them. But what happens is Satan strengthens these barriers. He makes sure that they are deeply rooted. He digs their foundations. He guards them from being dismantled by the power of the Gospel. He does his thing so that there are sections of this city, and apartment blocks, and various areas that are under his guard and leadership. He is, after all, the prince of the power of the air, said Paul. Jesus said that he is the god of this world. And it says in 1 John that the whole world is cradled in the lap of the wicked one, and he wants to make sure that it is not only cradled. It is smothered with his presence and with his power.

And by the way, there are some barriers that exist even regarding Moody Church in this community. You’d be surprised at the number of things that people have said to me from time to time about what they hear about us. For example, somebody said that he heard in the office that at Moody Church the minute you go into the doors there are people standing there asking for ten percent of your money. Well, has that ever happened to you? I hope not.

There are people who have images of us being some kind of a right-winged cult, and they like to perpetuate that so that they feel as if they can’t come in here. These are barriers that are used by Satan to keep people from being where, in all humility, I think they ought to be. That’s the dark side.

We’ve talked about the grime. Now let’s talk about the glory. We’ve talked about the dark side. Now let’s talk about the bright side. We’ve spoken about the plight. Now let’s talk about prayer. What is our responsibility in this city? Well, first of all, let us understand that we must remove the invisible barriers to the Gospel before we can really confront the visible ones that we’ve talked about.

Take your Bible today and turn to Mark 3 for just a moment. You know that when Jesus was on earth His ministry made a tremendous dent in the work of Satan on earth, and in Mark 3 Jesus reminds us that there is something that must be done before we can set captives free. He says in verse 27 of Mark 3: “But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” The context is speaking about Satan’s power.

What Jesus is saying is that if you have somebody who is holding hostages, you can’t just go in there and release the hostages unless first of all you take care of the man who is holding them. Before you can go into somebody’s house and steal everything that he has or release it, you’ve got to take care of him first because he is protecting it. Get the imagery. Jesus is saying that Satan owns people. He’s talking here about Satan’s possessions. He wants to keep women in prostitution. He wants to keep young people in drugs. He wants to keep people with immoral temptations so that homes can be ruined. He wants to hold sway in all these people’s lives because he’s a destroyer. And wherever he gets any kind of even a little bit of a stronghold he wants to hang on to it for all that he is worth.

What Jesus is saying is if we want to loose these people, if we want to present the love of Christ to them so that they can be free from all the things that we’ve talked about, we must bind the strong man. We must take care of the hostage-taker before we can get to the hostages and release them. How does that happen? It happens, first of all, through prayer where we simply tell Satan, taking authority over him, that he no longer has a right to bind that office building so that people are not free to listen to the Gospel, or that condominium, or the city of Chicago so that we begin to understand that God has given us tremendous authority. Jesus said in Mark 4 that sometimes when the Word of God is preached and it lodges in people’s minds, he says, “Satan comes and snatches it out of their minds.”

You see, that’s what happens where there is a region that is under Satanic authority. You know that there are people, some even who perhaps are attending this church, who find it almost impossible to memorize a verse of Scripture because the minute they begin to memorize their mind begins to dissipate, and it cannot retain the Word of God, because the Satanic conflict in the mind is so strong.

And what Jesus said is that our responsibility is to preach the Word and understand that through the truth people are going to be set free, because Satan is a liar and the father of lies. And therefore, through prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel, light begins to break upon the human soul, and people begin to understand the truth of Christ, and they are freed. And that’s the way it happens, but you know, it only happens through prayer, and prayer must be continuous—not just on Wednesday evenings, though, thank God, we are having an excellent time at that prayer focus on Wednesday evenings. And we encourage others of you who are serious about prayer to join us. The number of people is beginning to grow.

But it’s not just on Wednesday evening. I’d like to make a suggestion. Would you this next week whenever you walk a street here in the city, would you pray for that street? If you are walking down Michigan Avenue, pray for the merchants. If you are along Lake Shore Drive, pray for all of the people who live in those condominiums. You may be living there yourself, and we thank God for all those who live in this area and are Christ’s representatives wherever He has called them.

But you begin to say, “I’m going to pray for this street. I’m going to begin to pray for this apartment building. I pray for my office, and in the name of Christ I pray that it shall be freed so that people are able to at least listen to the Gospel without the interference of the god of this world who wants to blind their minds lest the glorious light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

Pray continuously. Pray as you drive your car. Pray as you walk. All of us praying continuously for the city! Prayer that is continuous and corporate that involves as many people as possible, and not only Moody Church but other churches in this community that preach the Gospel of Christ who stand with us in praying for this great city! Prayer that is combat praying!

As I’ve mentioned in this series of messages on prayer, my stated goal is to increase the number of combat prayers. We already have many here in the church, but we need people who are willing to stand against Satan, who will no longer accept his word and his intimidation. You see, we’re intimidated by the city.

One day Joshua was walking around the city of Jericho. Forty years earlier they could have taken the city but they were in the desert for 40 years because they had been intimidated by the giants and the high walls. Isn’t it interesting that when they go in 40 years later and the spies talk to Rahab the prostitute, what does she say? She says, “Our hearts have been terrified for 40 years because of what we heard of all the miracles that your God has been doing. We have been scared. Our hearts melt for fear, and God has removed our protection from us, and we’ve been wondering what in the world you Jews have been doing in the desert for 40 years.” That’s a Lutzerian translation, but that’s basically what she says.

Did you catch the phrase, “God removed the protection of Jericho from Israel’s enemies?” You see, Satan wants to hide behind the things we have mentioned—crime, religion, drugs, immorality, misdirected pluralism. He hides behind all those things. And what it says is that God removed the protection of the enemy, and the walls collapsed, and there he was, exposed so that then Israel could walk in and take care of them and capture a city for God.

Do you know what our big problem is? It is so much easier for us to see giants and walls than it is for us to see God. You see, that’s why some of you, perhaps, have no vision for your office—spiritual vision. It’s because you say, “Well, it’s because the people here aren’t interested. You have to understand that everybody is doing their own thing, and don’t you understand that the evil in the human heart and the greed is so great that there’s no way that God could do anything?” Oh really? What God are we talking about?

Are you telling me that God isn’t greater than the human heart? Are you telling me that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can’t do anything in your condominium? That’s what you’re telling me? Is that why we pray such small prayers? We like to pray very safe prayers because we wouldn’t like to get out on a limb where we might be asking God for something that’s beyond what we could normally expect so we say, “Oh God, I pray that the sun will rise in the morning.” It’s safe. It’s comfortable. And then when the sun rises we can say, “Ah, there it is again. Oh, the faithfulness of God!”

My dear friend, today I want you to lift your vision as I ask God to lift mine, and to say, “Why can’t we, under the hand of God, begin to make a much bigger dent in the work of Satan in the city of Chicago than we are doing? Why can we not see people converted from darkness into light? Why is it that we must capitulate and accede and to simply say, ‘Well, let Satan have it because times are tough and he’s got lots of power.’” And God sometimes doesn’t answer in the way that we think He should, true though that may be. And so what we’re doing is our unbelief is perpetuating the darkness.

I’m praying today that God will raise up hundreds of people in this church who will pray for the city of Chicago continuously and consistently and with big, huge, faith-filled prayers, because I want you to know that there is no wall that no matter how deep it has been anchored, there is no wall with a foundation that is deep enough, there is no wall that is so high but that God cannot remove the protection of the enemy so that people can hear the Gospel and be saved. God is greater than all of our fears, our insecurities and our unbelief. He is greater than that.

You know we, of course, as you all know, stand with a tremendous heritage behind us. Many years ago, D. L. Moody, of course, was born in Northfield, Massachusetts. Then he came to the city of Chicago. He was converted at Mount Vernon Baptist Church there in Massachusetts, and you remember that when Kimball led him to Christ… You probably know the story of how he visited him where he was selling shoes, and Moody made a profession of faith, but he didn’t pass his membership exam because he was asked about his faith in Christ, and he gave an answer that was too unclear. By the way, that’s an encouragement for 67 people I believe it is who I am now teaching in a new membership class, some of whom are going to be interviewed next week by the Executive Committee. If you don’t do well, that’s okay. You’ve got a great history behind you. Moody didn’t do too well either. But later on he was admitted into the church, and he came here to Chicago and began a Sunday school. Then the church was eventually begun in 1864 with 12 charter members. Moody never was the pastor of that church, by the way. He was only a deacon. He spent most of his time in Great Britain after that, making three trips abroad. While he was there a man by the name of Varley (Was it [Henry] Varley? I think so.) said to him, “D. L. Moody, I want to tell you that the world has yet to see what God can do through a man that is totally yielded to Him.”

Moody said that when he came across the ocean it seemed as if the very boards of that ship shouted those words at him. He said that when he walked the streets in Boston and Chicago it was as if the words were painted on the sidewalk. “The world has yet to see what God can do through a man that is totally yielded to Him.”

Later on, D. L. Moody said, “By God’s grace, I will be that man.” And we stand today with that heritage behind us, but I want to take D. L. Moody’s words and paraphrase them just a little bit. Folks, I believe that the world has yet to see what a church can do, and what God will do through a church that is totally yielded to Him. The city of Chicago has not yet seen what a church can do that is totally yielded to Him.

Can you say with me today, “Pastor Lutzer, by the grace of God, let’s be that church”? Let’s be that church! Let’s put away sin from us. Let’s put away the unbelief that causes us to think so small. Let’s take the visitors that come Sunday by Sunday and befriend them so that they will understand how desperately we need them to help us. And let us step out and begin to get involved and yield ourselves to the work here to which God has called us so that financially… And by the way, giving at Moody Church in the 10 years I’ve been here is always great, but you know there are so many things we want to do, and finances always get in the way. Or more accurately, the lack of them gets in the way. We don’t like to say much about it, but you know, there are some of you here who could give generously to help us. We’ve got some projects we’d like to do, but we can’t do them because of that budget that is always there. But you know that we need people who pray even more than we need people to give. We need people to serve. We need people to say, “By God’s grace we will be that church.”

What do you see when you see Chicago? An opportunity for financial advancement? An opportunity to go to school as many of you students are doing? I was in a couple of cabs this week. I spoke to the cab drivers. They saw Chicago as an opportunity to hustle and another much-needed buck. And we all need to live, but sometimes I want to say to myself, “Let’s look beyond that cab driver, let’s look beyond the taxi, let’s look beyond the office building, and let us see God. Let us see God!” Let us take on the enemies that Chicago has. Let us think big, and let us pray until we begin to see men and women freed up to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and respond in faith to a believing message.

I want you to know we need you to do what we believe God has called us to do in this city, but I want to tell you also that above all, we need people who are willing to pray, and then go and be the presence that God will use to make a dent in Satan’s territory.

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