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Monday, June 20, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Fervency (part 6)


In the earlier lessons on prayer and the person who prays, we learned several key things from the Bible. We learned prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. We learned how to approach God with our heart, mind, and soul by recognizing key things about God. Besides these, the Bible teaches us how to pray – petitioning for self, others, and enemies, adoring and thanking God, and confession and repentance. Added to this, we learned about some of the attributes, attitudes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. The first five taught:
·         The person has a righteousness which comes from God.
·         The person has a belief God has the power to do what is necessary to change things and answer prayers.
·         The person meets God in solitude so he or she is not distracted and does not seek acclaim for his or her piety from other people. God hears in secret and rewards in secret.
·         The person of prayer is watchful and alert.
·         The person of effective prayer prays without ceasing.
In this week’s lesson from the Bible, we will learn another attribute, attitude, or action of the person of effective prayer. That person will pray with fervency and enthusiasm.

Fervency and Enthusiasm

Along with ceaseless praying, the Bible instructs people of prayer to approach the Lord in prayer with what is on his or her heart. When a person does this, the person is fervent, passionate, and intensely enthusiastic about that for which he or she prays be it a petition, confession and repentance, or adoration and thanks. The word “fervent” comes from the Greek word ektenos and means earnestly, fervently, and intensely. When a person genuinely approaches God in prayer, the person speaks with enthusiasm (fervency) and not with meaningless repetition. The fervency in prayer is the side effect of a person’s vital and growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Let us now consider what Luke, Jesus, and James teach and model about fervent prayer through in four passages.

Acts 12:5

In Acts 12, Luke recorded Herod’s men arrested Peter and imprisoned him. Herod left four squads of soldiers to guard him until after Passover when he would bring him out before the Jews to please them. No earthly powers would intervene for Peter. The followers of Jesus knew God’s power could provide release for him. In verse five of this chapter, Luke recorded, “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” We see the believers’ belief in action through prayer. They fervently prayed to God. They recognized Peter’s only source of rescue could be God. The people of the church requested Peter’s release by Him. They did more than ask, they prayed with fervency.

Remember, prayer is focusing on God, not self. It recognizes and realizes all blessings and helps come from Him through His power. The Jerusalem Christians’ fervency – intense earnestness – showed they believed God would listen to their request and could do what they asked. Jesus made this form of prayer known to them. Jesus taught and modeled fervent prayer. The church had a close relationship with God through Jesus, believed in His power to effect change, came before Him with righteousness, prayed ceaselessly, and had been alert knowing when to intercede for others, particularly Peter at that time.

In verses six through nineteen. An angel of the Lord removed the chains from Peter’s hands and opened the iron gate that led into the city. When the people who had prayed for Peter saw him released, their joy abounded and a report of his release went to the other believers. The church’s faith in God and their relationship with Him along with their fervent prayers affected God and He provided release for Peter.

Luke 22:44

Christ’s followers of Acts 12 learned how to pray before the time of Peter’s imprisonment. Jesus modeled fervent praying. When believers today think of Jesus’ prayers, one most often considered showing fervency is His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

After the Passover meal, Luke recorded Jesus’ time in the garden. The disciples followed Him there, and He told them to pray so they would not enter into temptation. After that Jesus went about a stone’s throw away and asked God, if He was willing, to remove the cup of bitterness, (the death He would soon die as sacrifice for humankind’s sin) from Him. He asked the Father’s will be done, not His own (Luke 12:42). God helped Jesus by sending an angel to strengthen Him. Luke recorded the following in verse forty-four. “And being in agony He was praying fervently and His sweat became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” With intense earnestness, Jesus prayed to be strong through the next ordeal of His life – the one of betrayal and intense pain. His fervency was so great, Luke recorded that His sweat was like drops of blood on the ground. The writer of Hebrews, too, recorded the tears of Christ as He prayed to the One able to save Him from death (Hebrew 5:7). Jesus being wholly man and wholly God experienced the same fear of betrayal and pain any human feels. As part of the Godhead, He knew His betrayal and crucifixion was the only way to bring people into a right relationship with God. His fervent prayers came from man and beseeched God. They, too, were the communing of the Son to the Father asking for strength and courage.

Being in relationship with God often requires fervency. When a person prays – communes with God – he or she should be earnest/fervent in knowing Him better and becoming more like Christ. Jesus modeled fervent prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

Matthew 6:7

Jesus taught His followers about fervent prayer. This occurred before Gethsemane and His arrest. Fervent prayer is speaking with meaning and depth. It speaks with intense earnestness. This means no frivolous words are wasted in conversation, but depth and conviction with passion.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the people not to practice their righteousness before men, but solely before God. He taught about solitary prayer and righteousness in the first six verses of Matthew 6. With verse 7, Jesus taught His followers to pray with intention, not meaningless words that sound good and impressive. He said, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” Jesus told them not to speak with frivolous words, but come before God communing with Him with intentionality. Draw near Him to know Him better, seek His will, and petition His help. Come to the point. Be honest in conversation with God.

 I think of children who want to ask a parent to buy them a toy. They talk in circles stating how they have done well at school, the cleaned their rooms and they behaved. The children try to convince the parent of their worthiness. The parent would rather the child genuinely talk and be transparent with him or her. A good parent will bless his or her child with gifts and necessities just as God the Father does. What is more wanted is genuine communion with the person. Instead of flowery words or lots of meaningless words, Jesus taught His followers to come before God with a genuine, earnest intent to commune with Him. He taught His followers in Matthew 6:7 to be genuine and pray with intention and fervency/earnestness.

James 5:17

James taught in this chapter about effective prayer. Before verse seventeen, he spoke of praying for the sick and praising God. With the second half of verse sixteen, we recall one of James’ most famous teachings. He said, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” From these verses people have learned much over the millennia. James gave an example of a righteous person who offered an effective prayer to God. He said in verse seventeen, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.”

Elijah was a man of God. He acquired this status because He believed in God and obeyed Him. He acted upon what God said and commanded even though it was unfathomable. Elijah’s prayer to God to keep the rains from falling from His storehouse was an earnest prayer. Elijah was a man who had no previous history in the Bible, but he came from Tishbe, went to King Ahab, declared the name and power of the LORD God of Israel, and proclaimed no rain would fall until he prayed again to God. King Ahab was the most evil king to reign over Israel. God wanted his attention, repentance, return, and obedience. Because the purpose to withhold rain was God’s means of getting Ahab’s attention and repentance, when Elijah prayed for no rain to fall for forty-two months, he joined with the will of God. Notice in the conversations with Ahab, Elijah was concise – did not use meaningless repetition – and earnest. His heart’s desire was to do the will of God.

What occurred in this story? Read 1 Kings 17-18. Ahab did not return to the Lord. Forty-two months later, Elijah confronted Ahab again to show him the power of God. Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and Asherah. Their gods failed them at their altars to them and the Lord God prevailed at the altar Elijah built. After Elijah with the prophets of Baal and Asherah, he went to the mountain top and prayed with his head between his knees seven times for rain. On the seventh time his servant returned saying a fist-size cloud hovered over the sea. Elijah told his servant to tell Ahab to hurry and return to his palace because rain was coming. Before Ahab returned, the rain fell. Elijah was an earnest man. He was a man obedient to God. Elijah did not use fluff words, but spoke his mind and the mind of God. His prayers, because they were sincere and sought the will of God, were fervent prayers to God. God answered His prayers, Elijah grew in his relationship with God, the people of Israel saw the power of God, and they returned to worshipping Him.

Relevance and Conclusion

Earnestness/fervency comes from the heart. Praying with fervency does not mean praying a rote prayer. It is not a habitual child’s prayer. Fervent prayers do not come from repetition, but from a heart’s cry to the Lord almighty. Jesus stated the Gentiles prayed meaningless repetition to their gods, and those supposed gods remained silent. Their prayers went unanswered (Matthew 6:7). Instead, Jesus taught His believers should pray to God about what is on their hearts. Be earnest. He modeled fervent praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The church in Jerusalem sought the Lord through fervent prayer for the release of Peter from Herod’s prison. An angel of the Lord released him. James used Elijah the prophet as an example of a righteous man who prayed fervently. Elijah prayed fervently to God, and the rain ceased for forty-two months.

Each of these people and groups sought God in truth. They strove genuinely to commune with Him. These people sought God’s will, asked believing in His power, received God’s righteousness for their sins, were alert to what was happening and prayed accordingly, and prayed with intense earnestness – fervency. They offered effective prayers to God seeking Him in a growing relationship and becoming more Christlike.

We each should examine ourselves to determine first if we pray genuinely seeking a relationship with God and His will. If we are merely throwing out words with little meaning or heartfelt belief in God, then we pray in vain. If we are seeking God in prayer genuinely seeking to be with Him – communing with Him by speaking, listening, and obeying, then God will hear and answer our prayers. Being in a vital, growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ is what gives us life and gives our prayers to God life.

How is your prayer life?
Now is the time to stop and consider your relationship with God and the effectiveness of your prayers.