LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY SERIES – Message #1 Introduction “What God Recognizes As Prayer” Ed Miller July 2023

Listen to the audio above while following along in the transcript below which is also available for download at www.biblestudyministriesinc.com

Welcome and Opening Prayer

As we come to look in the word of God, there’s a principle of Bible study that is absolutely indispensable, and that is total reliance on God’s Holy Spirit.  It’s His book, and only God can reveal God, and He desires so much to reveal Himself. 

I want to share a verse before we go to prayer in Proverbs 16:23. I don’t know how the other translations translate it, but this is from the New American Standard.  It says, “The heart of the wise teaches his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips.” The principle that I glean from that is that if I just study and present it to you, even the word of God, and I hadn’t seen the Day Star risen in my heart, it would be data, and would just be information and academics.  I’m sure you didn’t come here just to hear somebody’s view of this and that and the other thing.  The Bible says that the heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and I’ve heard from the Lord in my heart.  The Lord has put something in my heart to share with you, and that’s going to teach my mouth.  Then God says that if it comes from the heart and it goes through the mouth, it leads to persuasiveness.  That means that you’ll be persuaded if it comes from the heart.  So, with that in mind I’m going to ask you to join me in prayer.

Father, we thank You so much this evening that You’ve gathered us together, and we know that from Your mouth the word will not return void.  We pray, Lord, that You would speak.  I pray that You protect Your children from anything that I might say that is flesh and blood and just from man.  I pray, Lord, that we’d really hear from You.  I thank You in advance that You’re more anxious for that to take place than we are.  So, we just trust the Holy Spirit, the indwelling Holy Spirit to speak.  We thank you in advance that we can claim this in the matchless and all-prevailing name of our dear Lord Jesus.  Amen.

I’m going to send my own greetings.  My wife was not able to join us, but she asked me to assure you that she’s remembering all of us in prayer.  In fact, she’s with my daughter now, and the family is praying through this particular hour.  I’m sorry that she couldn’t come but she’s here in spirit.

 The Theme—Lord, Teach Us to Pray

I want to introduce to you what is on my heart, and I want to start by looking at the request that an unnamed disciple made to the Lord Jesus.  Luke 11:1,

“It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” 

We don’t want to just pass over that la, la, la.  We must really, actually, earnestly desire that the Lord teach us to pray.  This idea of prayer and communication between man and God, between earth and heaven, needs a name; it needs to be called something, when man reaches up and God responds.  God called that prayer.  It’s a marvelous provision.  The possibility of sinful and redeemed man being able to touch God is an amazing thing.  It’s that vital truth that I want to share.  I have prayed that prayer, and have asked the Lord, finally—it took me a long time.  I got a lot out of books to learn how to pray, but I finally asked the Lord to teach me to pray, and I want to share just a couple of principles that He’s beginning to teach me.  I’m not suggesting that I’ve arrived; I’m just saying that with the light I have, I’d like to pass that on.

Because I’ll be sharing a few thoughts about prayer, I recently shared some of these principles in Maryland.  We had a men’s gathering, a men’s retreat, and I understand that perhaps that some here have listened to those tapes.  I’m not going to apologize for repeating these precious principles.  In Matthew 5:1 our Lord Jesus went up on a mountain and we have that great Sermon on the Mount.  In Luke 6:17, the Bible says, that He went into the valley, and He preached the same sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.  They were at different times; once He did it on the mountain, and once He did it in the valley.  So, in light of 2 Peter 3:1, if I may be stirring up some sincere minds by way of remembrance, it’s not a word in vain.

The Foundation—Christ-Centered Prayer

Having said that, there’s much that has been written about prayer.  Much of it I’ve read, not everything, of course, a lot of it is prayer-centered rather than God-centered.  I’m not saying that what I’ve read is wrong, and I’m not saying that it’s false teaching, and I’m not saying that it’s heresy or that it’s error, but what I have studied was very much off-centered.  To be honest with you, it messed me up quite a bit.  I’m not going to qualm with anything that I’ve read.  I thank God for the brothers and sisters who have had insight on prayer, but perhaps in these days, the Lord will allow us to take some of that superstructural truth, and jack it up, and put a foundation under it.  I’m not going to destroy what’s been said, but I’d like to put a foundation under it.  What we’re going to look at is so very basic and so very, very precious.  I’m not going to blast a lot of those things that I’ve studied about prayer, but if we can have a foundation under it, I think that will be a blessing.  So, that’s my burden; I’d like to take these several opportunities that I have to share on the foundation of real prayer, and I mean bedrock; we’re talking about the bottom.

Confusion About Prayer

If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to give you a portion of my testimony first, which brought me to this particular series.  I had embraced everything I could find about prayer.  I gathered many books, and the reason was because my prayer life was anemic.  I did not know how to pray, and I wanted to know how to pray.  As I suggested, I didn’t even think to ask Jesus to teach me to pray.  I just gathered books.  Actually, I have perhaps fifty books just on prayer.  I’ve read them all, thank you. 

There’s no doubt that the men and women of God had called on the Lord, but the more I studied these books, the more burdened I became, and frustrated, and I felt guilty.  I became very discouraged.  It’s frustrating to know that you should pray, and then you read about others who claim that they do pray, and they know how to pray, and I try to follow their advice, especially since I was taking this very seriously and I don’t play with the Lord, and I seek the Lord, and I want His wisdom and light.  I thank God for some of these books.  I’ll mention a few names.  I’m not trying to impress you; I’m trying to convince you of my testimony.  I’ll name the names and you’ll probably connect with them:  Bounds, Hyde, George Mueller, Chambers, Ironside, McConkey, Andrew Murray, Robertson McQuilkin, Bickersteth, Stephen Kaung, A. T. Pearson, A. B. Simpson, Graham Scroggie,  Alexander Whyte, and Watchman Nee. You know some of those brothers. 

It wasn’t so much their council that bothered me, but it was some of their testimonies.  For example, Charles Simeon prayed four to eight hours a day, according to his testimony.  John Wesley prayed two hours a day.  Luther said he couldn’t get past a day without at least two or three hours of prayer.  Samuel Rutherford rose at three in the morning and prayed until the sun came up.  McShane prayed four to six hours a day.  John Welsh prayed six hours a day.  Adoniram Judson prayed seven times a day; every three hours he would pray to the Lord.  When I read those testimonies, I said, “Are you kidding me?  I feel like a hypocrite when I sing “Sweet Hour of Prayer”.  I tried.  I think of all my prayer meetings I went to, because I thought that was the way to go.  In my experience I prayed myself in prayer and out of prayer and in faith and out of faith, and it didn’t work.  A couple of times I fell asleep during those all-night prayer meetings. 

Something was wrong in my prayer life, and I knew that God wanted me to pray.  I still didn’t ask Jesus, but I decided that I’d study the Bible and I’d see what it says about prayer.  Well, that was worse.  That really got me.  So, I decided I would look at people who had prayed and the answer to their prayer was also recorded in the Bible.  I have a list of 185 prayers in the Bible with the answer.  Just for interest, in every case He over-answered what they requested.  He doesn’t answer prayer; He over-answers prayer. 

That didn’t help me too much, so I thought I’d study the prayers of Jesus, and then I said I’d study the prayers of the Apostle Paul, especially the prison prayers.  Then I saw a lot of warnings about prayer.  So, I studied the warnings.  Then I saw a lot of conditions to answered prayer.  So, I studied some of those conditions.  As I went through the Bible I saw there were prayers of worship and prayers of confession and prayers of intercession and what it means to pray and  fast and where did public prayer fit in and what are petitions and when should we pray specifically and when should it be general and what are the ejaculatory prayers and the imprecatory prayers and the Bible prayers and what does it mean to pray in the spirit and to pray in faith.  I tell you; I was wiped out.  I wanted to know how to pray. 

Where do you pray?  Well, Peter prayed on a housetop, Jonah prayed on the sea and in the fish, Isaac prayed in a field, the disciples prayed in an upper room, Nehemiah prayed in a palace, Paul prayed in prison, Jesus prayed in the wilderness, and He prayed in a garden, and He prayed on a mountain, and He prayed at a funeral, and He prayed on the cross.  1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”  If you are ever an earnest student of the word of God, your heart might be crying out, “How can I pray, where should I pray?  Where is the simplicity?”  I hope you can see why I was frustrated when I went through this study, because I couldn’t do all of that. If ever someone could say, “I don’t have a clue; I’m in the dark and I don’t know anything about prayer,” that was me.

Then I’d read that we’re to pray for all men and to pray for the government and pray for those who despitefully use you and pray the Lord of the harvest to bring laborers into the harvest, and pray for Christians and pray for the sick, and on and on it went.   Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing; in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made to God.”  That’s my whole life—everything.  Philippians 1:3, “I thank God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in every prayer for you all.” 

I didn’t want to give up on this search on how to pray, but I was under a great cloud.  I came before the Lord and I said, “Lord, will you please teach me how to prayer?”  And when I studied, the more overwhelmed and frustrated I got; it was so far removed.  I know I desired to pray.  I read Psalm 32:6, “Let everyone who is Godly pray to You in a time when You may be found.”  Prayer is to be a great privilege, but I looked at it more as a duty, that I had to do it, and I didn’t know how to do it.  Should it be short, should it be long?  I know that Solomon prayed a long prayer, and Nehemiah and Ezra prayed long prayers, and Daniel prayed a long prayer, and Jesus prayed all night. 

They said, “Go into the closet.”  Well, what’s the closet?  Can that be a field, can a closet be a garden, can it be somewhere where there are no distractions and you’re not being observed to be proud and that kind of thing?  None of this quest seemed to bother my Lillian.  She just prayed and she didn’t care about all of this and all the verses that I shared with her and my struggles. We’re now expecting our thirteenth great-grandchild.  The other day Lillian was praying for the baby’s wife or husband, and he isn’t even born yet, and she’s praying already for their life partner.  I figure that she knows how to pray; I don’t know how to pray.  I don’t know to pray specifically or generally or anything.  That’s the long and short of my testimony, and it’s when I really became serious and I cried out to the Lord, “Lord, teach me to pray.”

Two Great Truths About Prayer

I’m going to continue some of my testimony with you and show you how the Lord delivered me from all of that bondage, not by destroying it, but by Him putting a foundation under it.  It’s still truth, it’s superstructural truth, but it needs a foundation.  He delivered me from that great bondage.  As I stand before you, I’m confessing that I don’t have all the light on prayer.  You can help me out if you have more light, but I have a glorious liberty in my heart, and I never had it before the Lord started to teach me.

I want to begin with the passage that transformed my prayer life.  It’s in Romans 8, and this will be the text pretty much for the entire series.  Romans 8:26&27,

“In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  He who searches the heart, knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” 

Every Bible verse has no bottom, but there are at least two wonderful truths in this passage.  The first truth is in verse 26, “We do not know how to pray as we should.”  That was a great relief; I already knew that, but to see it in the Bible was a great encouragement to me.  It not only confirmed that I did not know how to pray, but it convinced me that I would never know how to pray as I should.  Where did I get that?  If I ever knew how to pray as I should, I wouldn’t need that Bible verse anymore.  I could cut it out of my Bible and lose nothing, and I know that’s not the case.  That can’t be.  But it was such a blessing to hear God say, “You don’t know how to pray as you should.”

The second glorious truth is in the same passage, “In the same way the Spirit helps our weakness.  We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  That was the beginning of my liberty on this subject.   I don’t know how to pray; He does know how to pray, according to the will of God; He lives in my heart.  I don’t know how to pray, and you don’t know how to pray, and He does, and He lives in your heart.  Don’t be afraid, brothers and sisters, to pull out all the stops and believe that with all of your heart.  That was the beginning for me.

We don’t know how to pray, but as soon as a sinner gets saved, immediately he has an instinctive desire to pray.  For example, the number one enemy of Christ, Saul who became Paul.  God spoke to Ananias right after he got saved, Acts 9:11, “The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas, for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.’”  This is not the Jewish recital that he had learned as a rabbi, and all of that. 

Prayer is intuitive for every child of God.  Galatians 4:6, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba, Father.’”  If you are really a Christian, your heart beats this way; you have to pray, you desire to pray, and it’s intuitive.  It’s the pulse of your life; it’s what God has put in.  Every child of God cries out, “Abba, Father.”  He not only prays, but he must pray, but he doesn’t know how.  Jesus cautioned us not to pray as the Pharisees.  He said, “When you pray,” and most students say, “If you pray.”  He said, “When you pray,” you’re going to pray, and I’m going to pray, and every Christian is going to pray.  That’s inside of us; the Holy Spirit is in us and desires to pray.

It’s commonly accepted chronology that the Apostle Paul was saved around 36 A.D.  It’s also commonly accepted chronology that the Holy Spirit led the Apostle Paul to write the book of Romans about 58 or 59 A.D., in other words, twenty-two or twenty-three years after he got saved.  He’d already been caught up into the third heaven, and he had already gone on his three missionary journeys, and he already wrote the two letters to the Thessalonians, and he already wrote both Corinthian letters, and he already wrote the book of Galatians.  With all of that experience, and with all that walking with the Lord and experience of union with Jesus, he writes Romans, and he confesses, “We don’t know how to pray as we should.” Decades after he was saved, he still says that he did not know how to pray.  So, brothers and sisters in Christ, quite apart from your present prayer life, and how good it is or how bad it is, we’re not going to go there; you’ve got to see the Lord and to see these foundational principles.  This great truth, that you don’t know how to pray, and He does, and He’s in you, and He wants to pray, is awesome.  I pray the Lord would set us on this firm foundation.

God Has No Needs—Man is All Needs

I said this before in this introduction lesson; I’m going to set aside all of the superstructural things that I’ve read and heard about prayer.  I’m sure you know them all and have heard them all.  We’re not going to look at rules for praying, and how you should pray, or suggestions, and we’re not going to look at the conditions of answered prayer, and we’re not going to look at the negative and what prayer is not.  You know it’s not a means to strongarm God—if we can get enough people to pray, then God is going to have no choice—it’s not that.  We’re not going to look at all of that, although it’s instructive, and there’s a lot to be studied there.  I’m going to scan through the whole Bible, and mostly in the prayer book, the hymn book, the book of Psalms. 

Quite apart from giving a definition, what is prayer, I want to show you from the scriptures, that if man reaches and God responds, I’m going to call that prayer—man reaching to God and God responding.  Again, I’m not looking for a formula or a definition, but what does God see when He looks down at His needy, redeemed creatures, His creation made in His image?  We’re broken, groaning, empty, needy.  We’re going to get into this a little deeper, but I’m going to tell you now, we don’t know how needy we are, so a lot of what God is doing is leading us from need to need.  He takes us from one need, and then we cry out, and then He shows us another need, and we cry out.  I don’t want to abuse your patience, but I’m asking you to be a little patient, as I want to do a little donkey work before I get into the heart of this introduction.

To understand prayer in the seed, not fully developed (it’s not what we read all about prayer), but just as it begins, to understand that, we need to see God and His heart for fallen creatures.  I’ll only take a few moments here.  Acts 17:24-25,

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He’s the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives all people life and breath and all things.” 

I don’t think we’ll have a struggle if I were to suggest to you that God has no needs.  Can we all agree to that?  God has no needs.

I read one commentator who suggested that God created man in His image because He needed fellowship.  That’s nonsense.  He needed nothing.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are completely in fellowship with themselves; He was complete.  Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and all who dwell in it.”  Psalm 50:10, “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills; I know every bird in the mountain, and everything that moves in the field is mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, because the world is mine and all it contains.”  You know who He is; He’s God, He’s self-sufficient, He’s self-existent, He has no needs whatsoever, and He is perfectly satisfied in Himself.

On the other hand, what are you, what am I, what is man?  The answer is the exact opposite; we are ALL needs; everything about us is need.  If there’s a problem, prayer is going to come in because God, who has no needs, is looking down on man who is nothing but needs, and somehow there has got to be a connection.   Do you realize this, and I speak for myself, but it applies to you, I will never trust the Lord unless I must?  I’ll never trust Him unless I have to, but of course I always have to, but I don’t know that.  I always must and you always must, but you will not call on the Lord until you have to.  So, God is going to take you to a place where you have to, and when you’re at that place, it’s going to be amazing how spontaneous prayer becomes. 

Mark 2:19, “Jesus said, ‘It’s not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Many are like the Laodiceans of the seven churches in Revelation,

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

They claimed to have everything.  The word came back, “Because you said, ‘I have no needs,’”  they thought they had everything, and they didn’t have needs.  To be hot is to see your need and run to Jesus.  To be cold is to see your need and run somewhere else.  To be lukewarm is to say, “I have no needs,” and that leaves Jesus outside the door knocking.  You’ve got to know your needs; I’ve got to know my needs.   Some people say, “Well, I know I’m needy and I’m a broken person, but I feel awkward because everybody else seems to have it altogether.”  Don’t believe that for a lonely moment; nobody has it together.  Brokenness is the norm; helplessness is the norm.  Some people are clever enough to hide it and disguise it, so you think they’re doing fine, and they don’t have needs.  But we’re all indigent and we’re all needy. 

Hold that idea, that God is all supply, and man is all need; somehow, we’ve got to get that connection, and that connection is prayer.  Now you’re going to say, “It’s not prayer that brings a holy God and sinful man together.  It’s the blood of Jesus that brings us together.  There’s no question about that, but once we heard about the blood of Jesus, He invites us to call on the name of the Lord, so that we can be saved. Romans 10:13, “Those that call upon the Lord shall be saved.”  He shows us our need, and invites us to call, and invites us to pray.

As I pointed out earlier, I said that when we got saved, our first impulse was to say, “Abba,” and to reach out and cry out to the Lord, even though we don’t know how.  In that moment it didn’t seem to matter, and we didn’t think about it, that God is so high and removed and distant; we just do it, “Thank You, Lord, thank You for cleansing me and washing me, and thank You for the reservation in heaven, and I’m not going to hell, and You’ve cleansed my sin and You’ve come into my life.”  We can’t stop praising Him, “In Him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 7:28.

What God Sees As Prayer

I’m just going to go through the Bible, and I think you’ll see very quickly where I’m going, and I hope God shows you why.  What I’m saying tonight is just the beginning.  We’re going to be looking at prayer and as it develops, but I want to start here.

This is a God who never knew a need, and He’s looking down.  Again, I’m going to look a lot in the book of Psalms.  The Book of Psalms covers a thousand years of human experience. There are more prayers in Psalm 119 than any other place in the Bible.  Again, just to set it up, I won’t quote the verse but will just tell you the story about how sensitive Jesus is.  Remember when that woman touched the hem of his garment, that He was that sensitive?  If somebody just touches you on the sleeve or the hem of your garment, you wouldn’t even feel it, but He’s so sensitive.  Psalm 139:17, “How precious are Your thoughts to me, oh God, how vast is the sum of them.  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.”  Is that hyperbole or is that real?  Do you think He thinks about you more than the sands that are on the earth?  That’s not just on the beaches; that’s also in the deserts. 

If I got a thimble and filled it with sand, and I asked for volunteers, and you came up and took one grain at a time, and just said something wonderful about yourself, you couldn’t even say a thimbleful of stuff about yourself, as proud as you are, and as proud as I am.  He thinks about you more than the sands that are on the earth.  It’s breathtaking; He’s so attentive.  Psalm 40:17, “Since I’m afflicted and needy, let the Lord be mindful of me.”  The King James Version says, “The Lord thinks upon me.”

Let me begin.  This is what is not always called prayer, but it’s God responding to that draw, that hunger.  I want to start here, Hosea 14:1&2, God is inviting man to return, “Return, oh Israel, to the Lord your God; you stumble because of your iniquities.  Take words with you and return to the Lord.”  Well, that sounds pretty simple.  Everybody has words.  Take words.  How am I going to come back to the Lord, how am I going to get right with Him?  Take words with you.  Is that prayer?  It’s not the foundation.  Matthew 7 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”  Words are important.  That’s part of it, but it doesn’t answer the question, “What is prayer?” 

I’m not going to do it now, but I could show many Bible illustrations of words and communication—a friend talking with a friend, a lover communicating with another lover, a child and a parent, a master and a slave, a subject to a king, guilty person to the judge— there’s many illustrations.  Pray with your words, but then God qualifies it; it’s not any words, Matthew 6:7, “When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition.”  Oh, so you’ve got to bring words, but not meaningless words.  Luke 18:11, “The Pharisees stood and prayed to themselves,” they didn’t even talk to God; they prayed with themselves.  Matthew 15:8, quoting from Isaiah 29, “This people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.”  Take words, not meaningless words; take words, not many words; take words, make sure there’s heart there.  James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive; you ask with the wrong motive.”  Take words; it’s not that simple.  It’s not just taking words to the Lord.

I heard a poem by John Burton, I don’t know anything about him, but I love poetry…

“I often say my prayers, but do I really pray?

And do the wishes of my heart go with the words I say?

I may as well kneel down and worship gods of stone,

That offer to the living God, a prayer of words alone.

For words without the heart, the Lord will never hear,

Nor will He to the lips attend when prayers are not sincere.”

So, prayer is deeper than words.  As God looks down on His creation, His needy people, we come to Asap, Psalm 77:4, “You’ve held my eyelids open, I’m so troubled I can not speak.”  Uh-oh.  He doesn’t have words, and He said, “Bring with you words.”  Asap said, “I’m so troubled I can’t speak.”  If you read the Psalm, you would see that he called it the day of his trouble, and he actually felt rejected by the Lord.  Well, does that mean that he can’t pray, because he doesn’t have words?  God is intimately acquainted with all of our ways.  Psalm 102:19, “He looked down from His holy height from heaven, and the Lord gazed on the earth to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to set free those who were doomed to death.”  He didn’t have words; he just groaned, the groaning of the prisoner. 

Our view of prayer is so anemic, and we try to get so theological and try to use certain formulas, and this is how you do it…  Every time you have a groan—God brings you to place where you groan—He’s responding.  In reality, a groan is a need; you wouldn’t groan if you didn’t have a need; God brought you to the need.  Right or wrong, often in those circumstances that cause you to groan, you feel disqualified to pray; you feel so gloomy and you’re just groaning, and you don’t have words to pray, and you don’t know how to pray, and you don’t know that your God who has no needs is looking down upon you and is responding to that groan.  He did the same thing in Exodus when they groaned, He said, “I will keep My promise.” 

God brings us to see our needs.  He says to come with words, but you don’t have words, but yet a groan will do.  Let me ask this question; what if you can’t groan?  Psalm 38:9, “Lord, my desire is not hidden from You, my sighing is not hidden from You.”  I don’t know how to pray, but I’m pretty good at sighing, and I’m pretty good at groaning, as well.  Friends in Christ, you might be nearer to real prayer when you groan than when you fold your hands and bow your head and say a bunch of words.  In this connection I love Lamentations 3:56, “Thou has heard my voice; hide not Thy ear at my breathing.  Your ear hears my breathing.  Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfall.”  I think you’ve all experienced one thing after another; when it rains, it pours.  So, you’ve got the kids and you’ve got the finances and you’ve got failing health and responsibilities coming your way, and it drains your energy, and it drains your resources and drains your patience, and there’s a closed door of ministry and things are just caving in, and you just go, “Oh, what’s next?”  That’s a prayer.  God hears your words, and if you don’t have words, He listens to your groan, and if you don’t have a groan, He listens to your sigh, and He hears your breathing.  It’s amazing how anxious God is.  We say that we don’t know how to pray.  God is more anxious to respond than you are to call upon Him or me.  I may struggle with words, but I sure know how to groan and how to sigh.

I’m glad that other things have a voice besides vocal cords, and besides the tongue, and God’s ears are open to my groans and my sighs.  Psalm 6:9, “The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.”  He heard it, and that’s called prayer.  God hears my tears; He hears my voice; they have a language, they have a vocabulary, they have a grammar.  It’s eloquent with the Lord. 

I think every mother must understand this.  We had six children.  When they were little babies, they would decide to cry, and I would jump up, and Lillian would say, “No, you don’t need to go to them; he’s just being fussy; leave him alone.”  Then they would cry again, and I’d say, “He’s hungry; I’ve got to go feed him.”  And then he’d cry again, and she’d say, “He needs to be changed.”  I’d say, “How in the world are you interpreting these kids; it sounds the same to me.”  Another time they’d cry, and she’d say, “Hurry, he’s hurt,” and it sounded the same to me.

God hears your tears.  2 Kings 20:5, “Turn again and tell Hezekiah, captain of my people, ‘Thus says the Lord the God of David, “I have heard thy prayer and have seen your tears.’”  Psalm 56:8, “Put my tears in Your bottle.”  You say, “What’s prayer?”  May I suggest that it’s not a theology, it’s not something we have to define and make into a creedal statement saying, “This is prayer,” and the other thing.  Every tear you’ve ever shed in the will of God has been responded to by the Lord.  It’s marvelous what God is doing; God who knows no needs, leads us step by step to see our needs.  Sometimes, it’s words that we bring, and sometimes we can only groan, and sometimes we can only sigh, and sometimes we can do nothing but cry.  Psalm 69:3, “I’m weary of my crying; my throat is dry, and my eyes fail while I wait for God.” 

What happens if you can’t cry?  I don’t know what to say and I’m weary and my eyes fail, and I can’t cry anymore, and I’ve cried my eyes out.  The Hebrew is, “My eyes failed from looking upward.”  God invites us to just look at Him.  Numbers 21 when they were snake bitten, they just had to look, and God responded to that look.  Maybe you’ve read or heard of Spurgeon’s testimony.  That’s how he got saved, Isaiah 45:22, “Look for Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.”  Let me ask this question; what if you can’t find the words, and what if you can’t groan, and what if you can’t sigh, and what if you cried your eyes out, and what if you can’t look?  Luke 18:13, “The tax collector standing some distance was unwilling to lift his eyes to heaven but was beating on his breast.”  He wouldn’t even look. 

What’s prayer?  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when God looks down and sees a needy person, and that need begins to express itself, and it may not even know that it’s calling on the Lord, God is responding to that.  Psalm 10:17, “Oh Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble.”  That’s not a groan, that’s not a sigh, that’s not a look, that’s not a tear; that’s just a wish, and it’s my heart as a desire.  “Oh, I wish I could have freedom over sin.”  That’s just a wish, and you don’t know that you’re praying.  You didn’t address the Lord.  “I wish I could have fellowship with God, and I wish I understood union with Christ, and I wish I could have some peace; I wish somebody would deal with these kids that are going crazy and they’re bothering me; I wish, I wish, I wish, I’ve been tired and I’m in agony and anxious, I’m fretting.”  That’s prayer.

So, let’s return to the question.  This is in the seed, and it’s just the beginning.  What is prayer?  Is it words, sincere words?  Is it just a groan, is that what it is?  Is it a sigh?  Is it weeping, a tear?  Is it just a look toward heaven?  Is it just a wish, a desire?  I want to look at another passage, and we’ll get ready to wrap this up, but I think this gets closer to God’s heart on prayer as an illustration than anything else.  Psalm 109:4, and if you’re turning to it in your Bibles, notice the part that’s in italics, because that means that it’s not in the original.  “In return for love,” this is the New American Standard Bible, “they act as my accusers, but I am in prayer.” And in the New International Version, “In return for My friendship, they accuse me, but I’m a man of prayer.”  King James Version, “For my love, they are adversaries, but I give myself to prayer.”  In the original, if you take out the italics, this Psalm says, “I am prayer.”  It’s not I’m groaning, and it’s not I’m sighing, it’s, “I am prayer.” 

I want you to know with a growing conviction, that every detail of your needy life is being watched by the Lord; He’s intimately acquainted with you and all your ways.  He hears every sigh and every time you groan and every time you cry.  You might think, “I don’t pray.”  You might be praying more than you think you’re praying, and I might be praying a lot more than I think I’m praying. 

Spurgeon makes a comment on this verse in Psalm 109:4, “The psalmist not only prayed, not merely is now praying, but he claims that he IS prayer, and that he’s made up of prayer.”  What’s prayer?  Is it something you do, something that you say, something you feel?  May I suggest that it’s you.  He’s concerned about you.  He wants to meet all your needs, every one, and every time He’ll lead you to this or that, and you feel like, “Oh, I’m forsaken,” God is responding, and He’s trying to get man to reach up and to come and to call and to seek after Him.  He responds to who you are.  When you can’t call, and you have no words, and you can’t groan, and can’t sigh, and can’t cry, and you can’t lift up your eyes, and you can’t even desire, God leads you to another need, “Lord, teach me to pray.”  Begin with this; you ARE prayer.  That’s going to help you with praying without ceasing.  If you know that you ARE prayer, God is always waiting to respond to who you are.

I don’t think anything is more basic and more cardinal and more foundational about prayer than this, that the God who has no needs, desires to meet all of your needs and all of my needs.  That begins by Him revealing to us our needs; we’ve got to see our need first, and that direction, that longing, that pining, that crying out, that groaning, that sighing—you’ve got to call it something, and I’m suggesting that it’s prayer.

I’ll give this final illustration and then we’ll close.  I grew in a circle where people thought faith was heaven’s money, and if I had enough faith, I would be rich toward God, and I could buy all the blessings.  And if I couldn’t get the blessing, I can’t blame God; I didn’t have enough faith.  But if I had enough faith, then I could claim victory over my old sin nature, and if I had enough faith, I could claim deliverance from a particular temptation, or a healing from a certain disease, or I could claim peace.  If I didn’t have enough faith, well then, I couldn’t get those things.  May I suggest that faith is not heaven’s money?  I’ll tell you what’s heaven’s money.  Here is a poem based on Isaiah 55:1,

Thirst is the coin of God’s kingdom. 

Thirst is the key to the supply! 

Ho! Everyone who is thirsty,

Come to the water and buy,

Pray for a longing to know Him,

Hunger He will not deny!

Thirst is the coin of God’s kingdom,

Thirst is the key to supply!

I heard Him call out to the thirsty

To drink of the heavenly wine;

The hungry and poor that stood at the door

Were welcomed to banquet and dine!

No one was permitted to barter;

Nor could they contribute a thing,

The last came in first and He honored their thirst

With bounty fit for a king!

It’s that desire, it’s that longing, it’s that need that just says, “You’re all supply, and I’m nothing but need, and somehow I’ve got to touch Him, I’ve got to reach Him.”  He’s not just answering from a distance; He bows from heaven and comes down, and He comes down to meet you in your need.  You are invited to come to the throne of grace, so you can find help in a time of need.  It’s all about need reaching out to God.

I want to return to Romans 8:26,

“In the same way, the Spirit helps our weakness; we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.  He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

God accepts the slightest leaning toward Him as prayer.  Whatever else you learn, you’ll always find this is true, Psalm 62:8, “Trust Him at all times, oh people, and pour out your heart before Him.  God is a refuge to us.”  Pray without ceasing. 

When I studied, I thought that I had to know how to do it; it’s something I do.  I don’t know how to do it.  It’s not what I do; it’s who I am.  It’s not what you do; it’s who you are.  God loves you, and God longs to meet all of your needs.  You don’t even have to prove how many needs you have.  God in His faithfulness is going to take you by the hand and lead you to a place where you might cry out, and you salt your tears, stain your cheeks with tears, and you might groan and sigh and you might cry, and you might want to throw in the towel.  God wants to answer your prayers; He wants to meet you and He wants to meet me.  And when God puts His supply into you, you are going to know what prayer is, and you’re not going to need some theological discussion about it; you’re going to know, “I was needy, and He met my need.”  That’s prayer. 

There’s a lot more we want to look at, but that’s where I want to start.  Let’s pray together…

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your precious word.  Deliver us, I pray, from cold, academics, just doctrine about prayer.  Show us Your heart and show us how You long to communicate with us, and meet with us, and respond to our desperate needs.  Lord, take us forward in this whole idea of prayer.  Teach us to pray.  We ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.