At Gateway Church in Austin, we conclude our series, WHY PRAY?
Many people talk about prayer—this idea of talking to God, but for some it can be an elusive practice. What is prayer truly meant to look like? What is its purpose? If we begin to seek answers concerning what prayer is all about and what it can lead to in our lives, what might we find?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE ROBB OVERHOLT SHARED:
HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JUSTIN MCCARTY:
A six year old was loose in the White House. Despite the best attempts of those in charge, this six year old boy had managed to evade each of his pursuers. He was running down the halls, calling out to those in different chambers, breezing through meeting rooms, and, by all accounts, was having the time of his life. Every time one of the White House officials would close in, he would dart through a gap in their defenses and escape through an open door. It was disruptive, but lighthearted — until the boy turned down the hallway headed to the President’s Office. A critically important meeting was happening and the staff knew it couldn’t be interrupted. Their pace quickened and their intensity ratcheted up. But the boy was too far ahead of them. Somehow, a six year old had breached White House security, and with a proud “ta-da!” burst into the President’s office. Heads swung in response to the disruption, all conversation ceased. The President lurched up on his feet, staring at the six year old — who wasted no time and ran straight at the Commander in Chief… only to be scooped up in his arms and welcomed with smiles and laughter. The six year old boy was Tad Lincoln, the son of then-President Abraham Lincoln.
Have you ever known someone who seems to have that kind of relationship with God? Rather than wait in line like the rest of us, they get straight through? Like they have a secret inroad to God, the batphone, or maybe it’s just that God just likes them more? Some of us have had a grandmother or mom that prayed like that — probably for us. Or maybe you’ve heard someone else pray powerfully and when you hear them, it makes you think: 1) My prayers sound kinda lame 2) Something was going on in that prayer!
For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about why and how to pray, but today I want to dig into what makes a prayer powerful. And the answer is right there in Tad Lincoln. This six year old boy was able to do what no one else was able to do because of his relationship to authority. Tad was Abraham Lincoln’s son — and he knew it. Therefore, he knew he could gain access to the President and be assured of his attention. So what does this have to do with prayer?
The Bible records that Jesus possessed and demonstrated rare and powerful spiritual authority. A quick glance through the New Testament yields numerous examples like this: That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. Mark 1:32-34 Jesus demonstrated a mastery over biological, natural and spiritual forces. He could heal people’s bodies, he could remove evil spiritual beings that had taken control of people, He even showed authority over weather patterns (stilling a storm) and physics (walking on water). There was something inherently powerful about Jesus.
But that power wasn’t limited to Jesus. After a period of time, Jesus called together his closest followers and conferred that same authority on them. He shared it with them. The gospels record this — here’s a few excerpts: Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. Matthew 10:1 It works! Jesus laters widens the circle to 70 people; they go and do this and come back, and are celebrating with Jesus: “It worked! Demons submitted to us!” Jesus says: I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Luke 10:19-20
Jesus is saying, Yes! I have absolutely given you authority over evil spiritual forces, but don’t be impressed with yourselves. It’s your connection to the authority that’s actually the celebration! Jesus, the one whom the Scriptures say is God, has entered into a power-sharing relationship with humanity. I was talking with John Burke about this, and he helped me think of it like this: Imagine you walk out onto a major road today and try to stop traffic, just wearing your street clothes. What’s likely to happen? Cars, trucks, semis might slow down and swerve around you, but will they stop? I wouldn’t chance it. But, let’s say you become a police officer, and you’ve got the badge and all the gear on, and you walk out to stop traffic? What happens? 18 wheelers put on their brakes because your hand is in the air. Why? Because you made that happen? No — it’s your relationship to authority. That truck driver knows that he could run you over, but won’t — because the authority of the city government has been conferred on you. And if he wants to run over you, then he is actually violating the authority of the entire city government — and there are dire consequences for that that he would rather avoid.
Jesus has invited all of his followers into this kind of power-sharing relationship — just like he did with his first disciples. There is power that comes when we connect with God through prayer — healing, spiritual freedom, etc. But notice Luke 10:20, the focus isn’t on the “fireworks” — it’s on the relationship: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. Celebrate that you are connected to God in relationship — the power is a byproduct. In fact, you see throughout the remainder of the NT (and even if you want to look at people like Moses & Elijah in the OT) that the power of someone’s prayers grow in correlation to their deepening relationship with God. The more they came to know and understand God’s heart, his character, his motives, his plans — the more their prayers seem to get almost radioactive. God dispensed power freely to those who were more and more “in sync” with God’s will. Make sense. In your workplace or house, who do you most want to give increasing power to? Someone who knows you well enough to know what you want done.
And now one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible might make a little more sense: The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. John 14:12-14 Have you ever heard someone pray and then conclude with “In Jesus’ name, Amen”? This passage is why! It’s an oversimplified application of this idea: Well, if I really want it to happen, I’ll call on the “in Jesus’ name” promise so I make sure it pops on God’s radar. But think about it: If the focus is growing in relationship with God, does tacking on “in Jesus’ name” really make the difference? Or is it just good prayer etiquette so God knows when you’re done? Not the case. When Jesus says, “in my name” — He means what we were just talking about — ask God for what is in sync with his will.
Are you familiar with “power of attorney”? It’s a legal relationship that enables you to legally manage someone else’s affairs should they be unable to do it for themselves. With power of attorney, you can handle their financial transactions, business affairs, in some cases you can make life-altering medical decisions or decide what happens to their children. Power of attorney allows you to act on someone else’s behalf, using their resources, and representing their interests. In other words, you are operating in their name. But what makes for a wise person to give power of attorney to? Someone who knows you well; someone who can be trusted with that power. Jesus says there is a power-sharing relationship that he invites his followers into — but he won’t just empower anything you take “in Jesus’ name” onto. Does it represent his interests? Does it reflect his character and his purpose? Is this something he wants to be involved with? [This opens up a host of things you can just put in the category “Never pray for this”. “God, would you please kill my boss — in Jesus name? No, not my style. See the Ten Commandments. God, would you please bless the affair I’m having with the person I’m not married to — in Jesus’ name? No, not a fan of adultery. “God, would you please make my life go my way so I can be blissfully happy — in Jesus’ name.?” No, you getting everything your way won’t actually make you happy anyway. LOTS of this stuff gets uncovered as you simply start to read and digest what the Bible has already said!]
But there’s a lot that Jesus does want to be involved in — and He’s eager for you to be a part of it through this power-sharing relationship called prayer. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. John 15:7-8
AUTHORITY OVER EVIL
For one, Jesus is still interested in and able to defeating the spiritual forces of evil that are actively at work in our world. In our 21st century, science-driven culture, I wouldn’t fault you for wondering: “Are you actually serious about the evil spirits thing?” But historically, recognition of the spiritual world has been almost universal across cultures; and it’s even making a comeback in ours. According to surveys, more and more Americans recognize themselves as “spiritual” — which often seems like an inherently good thing — but that’s not necessarily the case. All spiritualities are not created equal. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 – For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 Paul writes there are invisible realities that are at play among us. We cannot detect them with scientific instruments that probe the physical realm, but they exert influence nonetheless. It’s an interesting flip: for a long period of time, scientists urged a people to acknowledge the existence of invisible bacteria or viruses that could not be detected with the tools they had at the time. Spiritually, we are in the same position of urging people to acknowledge invisible realities that technology cannot detect.
So how do these unseen evil spirits work in our world? Not to lean too heavily on legal metaphors today, but primarily they operate as squatters. Are you familiar with Squatters Rights? These are state laws that allow for people to take ownership of land/property through possession not through payment. Meaning, they lived there long enough and no one kicked them out. Our Exec Pastor, Robb Overholt, has a horrifying story of what happened when squatters took possession of his home in Las Vegas after they had moved to Chicago — he basically lost all rights to his home because the laws protected the squatters!
When the Bible speaks of someone being “possessed” by a demon, lean away from The Exorcist and think “squatter”. This evil being is allowed access to a person through their allowance, toleration, or even ignorance. Sometimes they aren’t even aware of it, but a malicious force takes hold of that person — they become trapped by it, defined by it, characterized by this evil being. All because they are never confronted and kicked off the premises! Now, Paul says they are “spiritual authorities” meaning they have power — so it takes an encounter with a stronger power to get rid of these things. This is what you see happening throughout Jesus’ ministry and then conferred onto his disciples. It happened throughout the New Testament, so much so, that by the Book of Acts (which records the continuing experiences of Jesus’ followers), there is a recognized link between Jesus and the removal of these evil spirits.
Acts 19 tells a fantastic story of some people who saw the apostle Paul exercise authority over evil spirits, but when they tried it, it doesn’t go so well: A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered. Acts 19:13-16 NLT
Do you see clearly here how the relationship to authority matters? They use the words “In Jesus’ name” but they have no relationship with Jesus Himself. To use our traffic cop metaphor from earlier, they flash a fake badge. The evil spirit knows it and doesn’t buy it. Contrast that experience with Acts 16, when the apostle Paul is being followed around town and hounded by a young girl who is apparently possessed by a spirit that enables her to tell people’s fortunes. This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her. Acts 16:18 NLT This is the conferred authority of Jesus exercised through a man who is in sync with Jesus’ will — even when he’s slightly annoyed.
This is available to you. Some of you have had experiences with dark forces and you have been afraid. In a relationship with Jesus, you have authority. These spiritual powers may not know your name, but they know the name of Jesus — they will respond to his authority. Our role through prayer is to exercise the authority we have been given in Christ and command these dark powers to leave. They will respond to Jesus’ authority if you are in relationship with Him, you need not be harassed or dominated by them.
AUTHORITY TO HEAL
Jesus also gave his followers the authority to pray powerful prayers that bring healing. Now, again, you might find some resistance to that idea. You may have seen TV faith healings that just pushed way past weird into disturbing; you may wonder “why don’t we actually see more medically verifiable healings?”, or maybe you have prayed for healing — for yourself or for someone you love — and got nothing in response. This is loaded territory and I don’t have time to do it justice, but I do want to at least point to a few things about healing prayer that need to be said.
First, is healing something we should actually ask for? Jesus may have done it in the Bible, but is healing something that Jesus still wants to do? To answer that, I would simply point you to the heart of Jesus, which according to the Bible doesn’t really change. In Luke 5, a leper approaches him. Infectious skin disease had made him unclean — couldn’t touch anyone, couldn’t even be around others, had to announce himself “unclean!”. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Luke 5:12 NLT It would seem to me that the heart of Jesus is willing to heal. There is compassion in that touch. “I am willing” is the heart of Jesus when it comes to healing.
So why don’t see more of it? It’s complicated. And not just for Jesus’ followers, but even for Jesus himself. Verses like Matthew 9:35 — Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. Matthew 9:35 Live right alongside Mark 6:5 – And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Mark 6:5 Healing happens when we pray, but it doesn’t always happen. Jesus heart is to heal, but it doesn’t always happen. Perhaps our unbelief is in the way, perhaps there are greater purposes at work that we can’t understand. Not always the most satisfying answer — and I’m not here to dispel all the mysteries of this.
But here’s another corresponding truth that you can also glean from the pages of scripture: Jesus might not heal you if you ask, but he probably won’t if you don’t ask. Why the prayer? Why the ask? This is about developing a relationship. Making a request like that from your heart is about expressing trust. When we trust Jesus’ heart and authority enough to request healing, it strengthens our connection to him… it pulls us into sync with him. Doesn’t mean we always get what we ask for. The disciples often didn’t. But just like we don’t rejoice that demons submit to our name, it means we don’t lose heart because we don’t get the healing we ask for — our names are written in heaven. The relationship is the ultimate point!
But we are invited to come… to ask boldly of Jesus for healing. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. James 5:14-16
These powerful prayers of healing have been the experience of the church, the followers of Jesus, for over 2000 years. The authority of Jesus has been exercised over all kinds of maladies, diseases, illnesses, and injuries. But it’s not just history. These powerful prayers have been the experience of our church. In fact, if you were here last July, you were witness to one of the most powerful answered prayers for healing in our 20 year history. Watch this and be reminded that God really does hear our prayers for healing.
The God who did that invites you into a power-sharing relationship through prayer. But as we’ve said all along, it only happens when there is relationship. The reason that Tad Lincoln could march into the President’s office is because he was his child. Today, the offer is available to you become, through faith, a child of the King — the God who made the entire universe. Jesus invites you into that relationship. The Bible says that if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead [that Jesus is the one with all authority] and call out to him [expressing the desire for relationship], He will respond to you.
Jesus has defeated the darkest evil and has healed the deepest wounds — and He can do it for you. Today, you can be a son or daughter of the King — forgiven, washed clean, and alive by the authority of Jesus. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” — all you have to do is ask… it’s a simple prayer.