Sunday, November 16, 2008

Praying On Purpose

Last week, I talked about "Winning on Purpose," and I think a huge part of that (whether we're talking about all of us winning together as a church, or each of us winning individually in our spiritual lives) is rooted in praying on purpose.

So many times, our prayers are actually aimless. They lack genuine thought, conviction, or a clear objective. We say things like, "Bless them... be with me... help her..." and after that, we've pretty much run out of ammunition.

But if we want to win spiritually, we need to learn how to pack more power and purpose into our prayers. They are our main weapon for attacking the strongholds of our enemy, Satan.

To help us, I want to take a look at one of the prayers of the apostle Paul. If you want to learn how to pray for somebody--to really pray for them--he provides us with a great example. Here's what he writes in Colossians 1:9-12:

Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

Here are some of the important features of a purposeful prayer:

  • Persistance. "We have not stopped praying for you." For myself, I find this is a great weakness for me in my prayers. I have so many different concerns that are new each day, I often forget about what I have prayed yesterday or last week or last month. It just sort of slips off the prayer radar. But the Bible does instruct us to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1-8) and not to give up. Our needs are ongoing, the opposition of the enemy is ongoing, so our prayers should be ongoing too. If it continues to be important, it should continue to be included in our prayers.
  • Comprehensiveness. "fill you with... all spiritual wisdom and understanding... please him in every way... every good work... all power..." Many times, our prayers are too small, and we don't ask for very much. But God wants us to be bold and to be outrageously successful in our struggles against the forces of darkness. So let's lay claim to all the power of God, all the wisdom of God, all the faithfulness of God to be brought to bear in every situation, every relationship, every conversation, every decision, so that we can bring him all the glory possible through our lives.
  • Goal-Consciousness. "We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way." There is a clear reason for the prayer, a specific aim that Paul has--something that he wants to see take place in the lives of the Colossian Christians. Truth be told, sometimes we can't even express what exactly we're praying for. We might say something like, "Lord, help Sam on his test today." And what does that mean? Do we want God to help Sam pass the test? Get an "A"? Do we want God to supernaturally help Sam get a better score than he deserves because he hasn't really studied that much? Do we want God to help Sam stay calm? Be intense? Undistracted? What kind of help are we looking for, and why? Probably, we can't even really say what we're praying for. But a purposeful prayer has a clear objective.
  • Kingdom-Focus. "worthy of the Lord... please him... bearing fruit... great endurance and patience..." This whole prayer is built around the idea of propelling God's kingdom forward. It's all oriented toward his glory, his cause, his plan. Notably absent from Paul's prayer are the sorts of things we often center our prayers around--make things easy for us, keep us comfortable, bless us, make it go smoothly, keep us safe. Instead, Paul prays for development of the kind of character that will help the Colossians be victorious through their trials and struggles, rather than praying that they could avoid them.
  • Eternal Perspective. "the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." So often we get bogged down in the day-to-day stuff that we exaggerate its importance. Even small details become "urgent" and "critical" and "essential." But a purposeful prayer sorts out what is ultimately necessary in light of eternity. We relinquish our own desires and preferences, and we let God declare what truly matters. If we pray with an eternal perspective, we might find ourselves completely letting go of many of the things that keep us stirred up.

There's a ministry of our church called the Prayer Posse; it's composed of individuals who have committed to praying at least once a week for the mission, vision, and values of our church. I send each of those individuals a weekly email (we place a paper copy in the church mailboxes of those Prayer Posse members without email), asking for specific prayer requests. If you want to sign up, you can do so by simply sending me an email. It can also become a helpful tool for learning how to pray on purpose.

If we adopt a strategy of purposeful prayer for ourselves, our families, our marriages, our church, our county, our nation, and our world, not only will it change our lives, it could change eternity as well for the people we're praying for.

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