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What’s So Great About Prayer?

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Real Prayer

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

Today I’d like to touch upon prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 talks about prayer, and it just says, “Pray constantly.”

What God brought home to me was this: that we think morning prayer is something that will help us be stronger in Jesus. We don’t see that it is a command from God to pray constantly, and that when you disobey that command, you sin. That suddenly came home to me — that a lot of us when we hear somebody talk about prayer, we think, “Well, yeah we can see the advantages of prayer and we can see that we ought to pray so that God can do things.” But loved ones, we should see that if you don’t pray in the morning or pray at a set time each day, you’re actually disobeying a command that is implicit in all of Jesus’ own life, and is explicit again and again throughout the Bible, and that you’re just downright sinning.

In other words, when you don’t pray every day, it’s like committing adultery every day. Really. Now do you see it? Because it came home to me very sharply that prayer is not a good thing to do. It’s not something that will enable you to be a mighty servant to God. Prayer is a direct command from God to you. And if you don’t pray every day you are sinning. You’re disobeying God. I think some of us need to see that. We need to stop playing around with each other, because I really think we’ve been playing with kid gloves with each other for some time over this subject of prayer.

We tend to be encouraging each other to pray, because it’s a great privilege, or it’s a special ministry of God, or if God is going to get things done we have to pray. Loved ones, if we’re going to go to heaven, you have to pray. You have to pray. And you have to pray because God told you to pray. Secondly, that’s what you’re going to be doing throughout eternity. If you can’t take him for five minutes each day now in this world, surely eternity for you is going to be hell, is it not?

Isn’t that the truth about heaven: that it will be heaven for some people and it will be hell for others? That’s at least part of the truth. So I began to see again that if you don’t pray, you’re sinning — that’s it. Now could I share with you just one truth about answers to prayer? John 15:6: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.” That’s a clear promise: “Ask whatever you want in prayer and it will be done for you, if you abide in me and my words abide in you.”

Rees Howells talked about this abiding place. He said, “There is an abiding place for every one of us.” It’s different for each one of us in this room tonight. But there’s an abiding place in Jesus that, if you’re in it, your prayers will be answered. That abiding place is different for Steve, and different for Sandy, and different for me, different for every one of us in this room — because we’re all being dealt with by God in different ways. Yet, if you’re in that abiding place, that place of complete oneness with God’s will for your life, then your prayers will be answered.

Rees Howells used a verse that is like that in 1 John 2:6: “He who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” So in each of us Jesus wants to walk in a certain way in us and we’ve to walk the same way. So you could be praying for a son or a daughter. You could be praying for a father or a mother. You could be praying for a colleague in school or in work. God can only answer that prayer if you’re in your abiding place. And your abiding place is walking as

Jesus walked in every area of your life. Jesus will show you that. It isn’t a mystery.

Jesus will show you where that abiding place is for you. And it may not be concerned with sinful things at all. You may be doing something that’s absolutely lawful. You may be doing something that is not wrong for anybody else — but Jesus has shown you again and again that for you it is not expedient. Now unless you move into that obedience you will not be in your abiding place and God is not able to answer your prayer. So I would challenge those of you who are praying. I know there are different ones of you here, just as I myself am, who are praying for different things for different people.

We’re not meant to go on forever and ever and ever, making excuses for God — because that’s what a lot of us do in our hearts. We make excuses for God. God doesn’t need any excuses made for him. God will answer our prayers by either showing us what is preventing him answering, or by changing our prayer to that that he can answer. But he will do one or the other. He will not keep us going on and on and on, praying the wrong prayer and not getting an answer at all. God will give you an answer. He will either explain to you why you’re not getting an answer, or he will show you what prayer you should be praying. So you need to begin to ask God about that.

Here’s just one last story. Rees Howells was spoken to by the Holy Spirit and told, “Jesus bore your sicknesses and carried your pains. He died in your place. Would you be prepared to die in someone’s place?” After much wrestling Rees Howells eventually said, “Yes, Lord I would. I would be prepared to die in someone’s place.” Not long after that a fellow called Joe Evans began to spit blood and began to hemorrhage in both lungs. He came to Rees Howells and said, “The doctor has told me that it was TB (tuberculosis).” TB was very prevalent in Britain, and I think I have marks on my lungs just from little touches of TB. I think most of us in Britain had those marks during those years.

But he had TB and it was a very serious disease at that time in Wales. He said, “The doctor has told me to go to a sanatorium. Now, should I go?” And Howells said, “Yes, yes, you should. God probably wants to show that medicine in this case can do nothing before he heals you.” So Joe Evans went to the sanatorium and stayed there for five months and was no better at all. He came out with a high temperature and with a bad cough. He went again to Rees Howells and said, “What should I do?” And Howells again said, “Go to the doctor and do what he tells you.” Because Howells made the point, “I was taught by God only to pray the prayers that the Holy Spirit told me to pray.”

So that’s important for you and me to begin to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us into that grace where we are independent enough of what people want us to do, and of our desire to please people, so that we will pray the prayers that the Holy Spirit tells us to pray. So Howells told him to go to the doctor and the doctor said, “Well, the only thing I can suggest is that you go up Black Mountain, buy a tent and spend the rest of your months there.” So that’s what this fellow did. The idea in those days in Britain was that you would get plenty of fresh air and that might help it in some way.

So he went up Black Mountain and was there on the top of the mountain for two months, and Rees Howells would go up and visit him. One day Joe Evans said, “Here am I preaching complete victory in Jesus, and you’re preaching that every prayer can be answered, and here the two of us are on top of Black Mountain, and I’m still spitting blood.” And they just carried on. His father meanwhile was getting more and more irritated because the doctor had told Joe Evans the only hope for him is to go to some more tropical climate, somewhere like Madeira. Joe Evan’s father who was a coalminer was

mad at this, because only a rich man’s son could go to that kind of place, and he had no money to send his son there.

That same week Howells received a gift of 320 pounds, which back in those days was probably more like $1,000. And Howells wondered what the money was for. Then he heard that the doctor had ordered Joe Evans to go to Madeira. He listened, and the Holy Spirit told him, “You send him to Madeira with the $320 pounds.” Then he said, “And you go yourself.” At that time TB was quite infectious and you could actually catch it from another person.

So for that reason alone there was cause for caution in Rees Howells. Yet he remembered the promise he had made to God, “Yes, I would be prepared to give my life even if it was necessary so that someone could live.” So he made the arrangements and they went off to Madeira together. They arrived there in Madeira and asked the local missionary where they ought to stay. There were only two choices. The Portuguese Hotel was the cheaper of the two, and there was the English Hotel. Rees Howells had always been taught by God to be careful of his money. So they both went to the Portuguese Hotel.

After about two weeks, Joe Evans was sick with the Portuguese food. They decided they had to move him to the English Hotel. For Rees Howells the only way he could manage that was he would find somewhere else to live. In fact, with the money he had, if he sent Joe Evans to the English Hotel, he had 5 cents a day left for himself to live on. And so he went to the local missionary and asked them where he might live. And the local missionary said, “Well, the only place you could live is the Sailors’ Rest.”

And there’s a funny piece in the book, Rees Howells: Intercessor, where he goes to the Sailors’ Rest, which is an old disused home that sailors used to stay in. He finds himself the only inhabitant besides millions of little inhabitants (insects). Each morning he would get up and eat his Quaker oats though he had to fight for them with the rest of the little inhabitants. Bit by bit, he began to wonder to himself, “Why did that missionary send me here to this place? Why did he send me to this place? Why didn’t he take me into his own home like any Christian would?”

The Holy Spirit allowed him to go on and get more and more bitter, until eventually the Holy Spirit said, “This is why I brought you to Madeira. You can love people who treat you reasonably. But you can’t love people who treat you unjustly and who are unfair to you. I want you to learn to love this missionary as if he has given you his own bedroom to sleep in.” So Rees Howells began to pray and began to deal with God about that. One day he was going down the street and the evangelist in Madeira was coming up the street and said, “Where are you living? I know your friend is living in the English Hotel.”

And Rees Howells said, “I could see the devil rising up before me.” And he said, “I’m living in the Sailors’ Rest.” And the evangelist said, “You’re living in the Sailors’ Rest? That place hasn’t been used in years. It’s full of bugs, full of lice. Well, what could the missionary have thought putting you there?” And Rees Howells said, “Do you pay for your electricity?” “Yes.” “Do you pay for your laundry?” “Yes.” “Do you pay for your light?” “Yes.” “I get all mine free.” So he came through on his attitude to the missionary.

Meanwhile, old Joe Evans was getting worse and worse. Eventually Evans decided, “Look, I might as well go back home. I’m no better. I’d rather die at home than here.” They got on the little train in Madeira to go down to the port where they could get the boat home. As they were getting into the

train the Holy Spirit spoke to Rees Howells and said, “Now you have come into your place of abiding. I will heal Joe Evans in a month.”

Now that was it. “Now you’ve come into your place of abiding,” which was not in connection with healing at all, but was in connection with his attitude to other people who treated him unjustly and unfairly, and prevented him having a clean heart that he could go before God with full faith. Immediately he came within his place of abiding, he didn’t have to struggle with God, “Heal Joe Evans. Heal Joe Evans.” The Holy Spirit said, “I will heal him in a month.”

Of course he told Joe Evans. They had a great time going down in that little train to the harbor and they stayed there back in the place they were before in the old hotel. They told all their friends that Joe Evans was going to be healed in a month. Nobody of course believed. They were all looking forward to the complete disappointment of what they predicted. They wrote home and said, “Joe will be healed in a month’s time.” Then Joe Evans said, “It’s a Saturday, a month from now is a Saturday and God has given me 3 AM or 6 AM. But I know it must be the devil who gave me 3AM because I’m never up at that time. So it must be 6AM. So 6AM on Saturday morning.”

So of course they just went back to the hotel and they spent a beautiful month resting and just praising God. Eventually 6AM Saturday came, and old Joe Evans came out of his bedroom with the blanket over his head in complete misery. There was no healing at all, nothing, no movement at all. Immediately of course old Rees Howells wondered what to do, and the Holy Spirit said, “Send the cable. Send the cable home that he has been healed.” Howells said, “But he hasn’t been healed. What about all those people back there who have experienced healing when I’ve prayed for them? They’ll begin to doubt even their healing if I send this cable and he’s not healed.”

The Holy Spirit said, “You act in faith. I have told you. My word is good enough. You act in faith.” So he sent the one word cable, “Victory.” And then they went to bed that night and they got up on Sunday morning. And Joe Evans came out of his bedroom completely healed, completely whole. So they went home to Wales and the doctors examined him and could find no marks in the lungs at all. Evans lived to a ripe old age.

But that’s what praying is about. We are going to have a supernatural body of Jesus walking this world in all of us if you and I all get down to real prayer. That’s it. So all of you have some prayer that God has given you and you have a position of abiding that God wants you to come into. When those two come together the prayer will be answered. That’s it, really.

I know this is hard, but some of you even as you sit here probably are camp followers. I’d warn you now: don’t be a camp follower. Don’t sit there and say, “Well that’s a nice story and if I had the energy I’d get into that kind of thing.” If that’s your attitude, all you are is a camp follower, and at the end of this life you’ll just go nowhere where Jesus is.

So I ask you as you have heard this: will you take it to your own heart and begin to get involved in praying because beyond that you can’t do very much honestly, really, and truly. Could I just point this out to you? I think some of you still sit there and think, “If I could speak cleverly, or wisely, or interestingly, I could do a lot for God.” Not one thing could you do. Loved ones, nothing is done except through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the power of the Holy Spirit only is available to those who pray and ask God, because God will not share the glory with any man or with any woman. So all of us here are equally powerful before God, because nothing is done through us except through our prayers — and those have to be prayers that are prayed in an abiding place.

So if you want to know what I’m praying, I’m praying now in these days that Jesus will be fully formed in each of you. He’s showing me different ones of you at different times, because when you come into a fullness of Jesus and that kind of prayer life, this thing will just blast open — really. And to tell the truth, unless that happens, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have too much interest in carrying on. I mean, I don’t want another human organization, and I don’t think we’re all brought together for that. I think all of us have come together because we desperately want something real and something of God. Now loved ones, that’s the way to it.

I just point out to you that next Sunday we’ll have communion service and we’ll have a time of sharing. But after that we’ll be out on the steps of Northrop Auditorium {on the University of Minnesota campus}. You who have been there before know that there are hundreds of loved ones that saunter up and down that mall over those weeks in the summer. Maybe only two or three that you see every evening, but over a period of 12 weeks there are hundreds that pass by. There are hundreds of loved ones that can come to Jesus on that campus through the evening services on the Northrop steps, and through the picnic lunches on the fraternity row. You know that’s completely open. Everybody sees it. Everybody who is there during the summer quarter crowds the campus with people from all over the world.

Loved ones, it’s an open door effectual, and that prayer room is available at 6:15 every Sunday evening. Now, I would encourage you, you who listen to this word tonight and who believe it — will you act on it on Sunday evenings and will you go to that prayer room from 6:15 until 6:45 and then go over to the Northrop steps? And you know it’s up to somebody here to have the doors open. I opened it tonight. But it’s up to somebody to have the door open so that we can seek God, so that these Sunday evenings are real evangelistic opportunities and that there will be loved ones who will bless the day when we all decided here to have our summer evening services outside on Sundays.

So I do ask you, will you begin now, those of you who are praying for a son or daughter, a father, a mother, a brother, sister, a boss, a colleague at school or at work — will you now ask the Holy Spirit to show you your abiding place and will you come into it, whatever it is? It will be a different one for the next person you have to pray for, but give up those general prayers that you just throw up and you can’t tell if they’re answered or not, and get down to business. God is a prayer answering God. Let us pray.

Dear Lord, I pray — but I know, Lord, that my prayer will only count if it’s real in my life, and if it’s on my lips and in my heart day after day. But Lord, I do pray that you will be fully formed in each brother and sister here in this place. And Lord, that you’ll give me the burden for each of them individually as I meet them and come to know them. And Lord, that you will form yourself fully in all of us here so that you can pray and intercede before your Father with that effectual intercession that saved us.

Lord, I pray that you will bring us all into that kind of prevailing prayer that gets answers and that forwards your kingdom, Father. I ask this in Jesus’ name. And now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with each one of us now and throughout this summer. Amen.