PRAYER IS PARTNERSHIP
THE PRAYER PARTNERSHIP
Last week we learned that prayer is relationship. It’s one of the most important ways we pursue God. But prayer is not just about relationship. Prayer is also partnership. It is where we roll up our sleeves and work with God to advance His Kingdom.
This became very clear the last night Jesus was with His men before He was arrested. He told them He was turning over His Movement to them. He promised they would do even greater things than He had done—simply by asking Him.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:12–13
Notice the connection between the “greater things” and asking. Three more times in this same conversation, Jesus will connect their future success with asking. For example, in the next chapter, He introduces His famous “vine-branch” illustration—which we covered in Week Two of this study. He is the Vine; they are the branches. The secret to their success is staying connected to the Vine. But once again, He connects their fruitfulness with asking—twice!
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. . . . If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:5, 7
I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you. John 15:16
Then, at the end of the conversation, Jesus returns to this important lesson one final time.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24
Up to this point, Jesus has been with them physically. Now that He’s leaving, they are entering a new phase of their relationship. In this phase, asking will play a critical role. Prayer is how their mission will advance. They will ask. He will answer. And together, they will unleash a Movement.
In that moment, Jesus was introducing a powerful new paradigm of partnership through prayer that has tremendous implications for our lives. God has called us to advance His Kingdom through asking. He designed prayer this way so we can share in the ministry and so our lives can make a difference. In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard writes,
Prayer as kingdom praying is an arrangement explicitly instituted by God in order that we as individuals may count, and count for much, as we learn step by step how to govern, to reign with Him in His Kingdom. To enter and to learn this reign is what gives the individual life its intended significance. Dallas Willard
Each of us occupies an important outpost for God’s kingdom. Our “outpost” takes in our sphere of influence. It includes our own lives, then it radiates out to our families, friends, neighborhood, Life Group, church, ministries, workplace, community, nation and the world. Our assignment from Jesus is to help advance the Kingdom of God in these areas—by asking God to release His power to save, deliver, protect, restore, and heal. This is why Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come, and His will to be done—on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10).
The implications of this are staggering. On the one hand, Jesus is giving us the authority to use His name to unleash the power of Heaven on earth. But, on the other hand, He is giving us a tremendous responsibility. When we don’t make use of this privilege, things that could have happened and should have happened, will not happen—simply because we didn’t take the time to ask.
As the Apostle James writes,
You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:2
One of the most important reasons for us to develop a regular rhythm of relationship with God is to create space in our lives to partner with Jesus in prayer—to ask Him for things. When we do this, anything is possible.
Prayer plays a vital role in our relationship with God, but it is also a partnership. Which of these two purposes for prayer has been most important to you in the past?
Jesus says asking plays a key role in unleashing His Movement. Here are three examples from the life of the early church: Acts 2:41-42, Acts 4:1-31, and Acts 13:1-4. Put on your detective hat. What do they teach about the priority of prayer and prayer as partnership?
Write a prayer asking God to teach you how to partner with Him in prayer to advance His Kingdom in your life.
One day Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. They had seen how important prayer was to Him—and He was their leader. Jesus responded by teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, not just as a prayer to recite—but as a model to follow. Here’s how Matthew’s version starts.
This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9–10
In this familiar passage, it’s easy to miss the obvious. Jesus tells His followers to pray for God’s will to be done. Doesn’t this strike you as odd? Isn’t God going to do what He wants? Jesus is clearly telling us the answer is—no.
Yesterday we learned that God calls us to partner with Him through prayer to bring His Kingdom to earth. He could have chosen to carry out His will without us. But out of His great love for us, He chose to exercise His rule on earth through us.
In Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly On Prayer, C.S. Lewis writes,
Creation seems to be delegation through and through. He will do nothing simply of Himself when He can do it through His creatures.
There is a great example of this in the life of Daniel (in the passage you read last week). Daniel was exiled to Babylon when he was young, but through a series of supernatural events, he rose to a place of high leadership in this pagan superpower.
Towards the end of his life, he was reading the scroll of Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah prophesied that Judah’s exile would last for seventy years—and then God would bring the nation back to Israel. Daniel knew the exile started in 605 B.C. when he was taken captive along with many other young men of royal and noble descent. The year was now 538 B.C.—sixty-seven years later. Daniel did the math and realized the time of fulfillment of the prophecy was getting very close. So, the question is, how did he respond?
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3
If you were in Daniel’s shoes and realized this prophecy was about to come to pass—what would you do? Share it with your friends and family? Post it on social media? Write a book on biblical prophecy? Daniel did none of these things. Instead, he dropped to his knees and began to fast and “plead” with God to fulfill His promise.
This is fascinating. Most people would assume if God promised something is going to happen, it will happen. We don’t need to pray about it! But Daniel responded differently. He immediately began to fast and pray to turn that prophecy into reality!
Sometimes it’s easy to assume God will to do whatever He wants to do—regardless of whether we pray or not. But Scripture paints a very different picture. God has designed the world so that we can participate in His rule over creation through prayer. Daniel’s response is a perfect example of what Jesus called us to do many years later—to pray for God’s will to be done.
God is still calling us to partner with Him today through Kingdom prayers. We need to be praying for God’s name to be honored in the lives of our friends and family who don’t know Jesus. We need to be praying for God’s Kingdom to come in our families, Life Groups, and church. We need to be praying for God’s will to be done in our community, our nation, and the world.
God is calling us to join with Him to bring His Kingdom to earth through prayer. The question is whether we will answer that call like Daniel—in our own day.
How do you think you would have responded if you had read Jeremiah’s prophecy?
What do you think would have happened if Daniel had not fasted and prayed? Do you think it would have made any difference?
Read I Kings 18-19. Due to Israel’s sin, God had not sent rain on Israel for three years. This led to a national crisis. Read the account and then answer the following questions:
God promised to send rain. How did He fulfill that promise?
What do you think would have happened if Elijah stopped praying after the sixth time?
What are the implications of this for our lives?
Think about your life. What people, ministries, or situations would you like to partner with God on to bring about His Kingdom in their lives?
Write a prayer based on today’s study asking God to stir your heart to partner with Him in prayer, and teach you how to do it.
This week we’ve explored how important it is to partner with God in prayer to advance His Kingdom. Today we will look at another reason why this partnership is so pivotal in our lives.
We need to pray because we are in a war.
From the moment you took your first step to accept Christ, you essentially switched “teams”—from the kingdom of Satan to the Kingdom of God (Col. 1:12). This means that from the time you became a Christ-follower, you got a new target on your back from the Enemy.
As Christ-followers, when we encounter conflict in the spiritual realm, it requires what we call “warfare prayer”. Warfare prayer is simply praying against the power of Satan in our lives and the world. The Bible is very clear that spiritual warfare is very real and intense, but it can be won, if we put on the “full armor” of God.
In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul writes,
Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:10–13
In the next few verses, Paul describes this armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the spiked sandals of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14-17).
The last weapon Paul mentions is prayer:
Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:18–20
In this passage, Paul is reminding us that we are in a war—and to win, we have to stay alert. Like soldiers in battle, we need to watch each other’s backs and pray against the Enemy’s attacks—at all times. These prayers are vital for our “survival” as Christ-followers.
Warfare prayer is a coordination of our efforts and the forces of heaven—working together to gain victory. In some ways, it mimics the war strategy used in the Gulf War in 1990, where “smart bombs” were used on a large scale for the first time. These bombs were directed with pinpoint accuracy and ultimately altered the course of the war. But to work, they required a partnership between the ground troops and the command center launching the bombs. The soldier’s job on the ground was to penetrate into enemy territory, locate the targets, “paint” them with lasers, and then call in air support. Once they did, the command center could deliver the bombs to the exact locations the soldiers had identified. It was a powerful partnership—one that played a major role in the victory.
In some ways, this is how warfare prayer works too. Jesus deploys us like soldiers on the ground. He sends us into Enemy territory to identify His strongholds. Then we are called to request “air support”—help from Heaven—to neutralize these targets.
Jesus often models this warfare prayer in His life. For example, the last night He was with His men before He was arrested, He warned Peter that the Enemy had targeted him for a spiritual attack—and that Peter would lose this battle. He told Peter that he would deny Him three times—something that seemed impossible to Peter at the time. Even knowing this outcome, Jesus asked the Father to help Peter to survive this attack:
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:31–32
Later that night, Jesus prayed for all His men. He knew He was sending them into hostile Enemy territory and that the Enemy would do all he could to destroy them. So, Jesus prayed for them:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. John 17:15
This is exactly what warfare prayer looks like. We need to stay alert, listen to the Spirit, watch for danger (like Jesus did), and then call in “air support” to neutralize the Enemy’s attacks.
As we read earlier, we also see this call to warfare prayer in the life of Paul, where he asks the people of Ephesus to pray for him (Ephesians 6:19-20). He is on the front lines of this spiritual war. He is in prison for sharing the gospel. He has a tremendous opportunity to introduce Christ to the highest levels of Roman society through his upcoming trial, but he is also vulnerable. He can feel it. So, he asks them to pray that he will be strong and courageous—and fearlessly share the message of Christ.
This is a beautiful example of a leader asking his church to aid him with their prayers. This highlights an important point: we need to be praying for our spiritual leaders—for our pastors, our ministry leaders, our missionaries, our evangelists, and so on. It’s easy to forget it, but these leaders are on the front lines for Jesus and thus are prime targets for spiritual attack. As Christ-followers, it’s our duty and our joy to provide “air cover” for them—to ask God to send His protection and to intervene.
Warfare prayer is another reason why creating a regular rhythm of relationship is so vital in our lives. If we are in touch with God regularly, we will be more alert to the Enemy’s attacks and ready to call in divine air support to protect God’s troops on the ground and to demolish the Enemy’s strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Read Luke 11:14-22, Mark 9:14:29, Acts 10:36-38, Acts 26:13-18, and Colossians 1:13. These passages all describe the ministry of Jesus in terms of spiritual warfare—the clash of kingdoms. In light of what we learned today about spiritual warfare, what are some implications for the way you approach your prayer life?
Have you ever sensed the Holy Spirit prompting you to pray for someone who was under spiritual attack? If so, how did you approach that time of prayer?
Write a prayer asking God to teach you how to use prayer as a weapon to demolish Enemy strongholds and protect God’s people.
This week we are exploring different ways to partner with God in prayer to advance His Kingdom. Yesterday we focused on warfare prayer. Today we will introduce a new approach to prayer—one you may or may not have tried before. It is the practice of praying Scripture over your own life—or the lives of others. It is a powerful tool to use to advance God’s Kingdom.
In the Bible, we see this practice modeled in the life of Daniel, whom we studied earlier this week. When Daniel studied the words of Jeremiah, he fasted and prayed for the prophesy to come to pass. His prayer was a powerful plea for God to forgive and restore His people. Take a couple minutes and review his prayer in Daniel 9:1-19.
There are a couple important things to note about Daniel’s prayer. The first thing is that his prayer is inspired by reading Scripture (i.e. the words of Jeremiah). Secondly—and this is not as obvious—Daniel’s prayer is full of allusions to other passages in the Old Testament.
For instance, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses warned Israel that if they rebelled against God in the Promise Land, they would experience a wide variety of curses that could even lead to exile (Deuteronomy 28). That is exactly what happened in Daniel’s lifetime. But Moses also promised that if this happened, God would bring them back one day—if they humbled themselves and returned to Him with all their heart (Deuteronomy 30). This helps explain the content of Daniel’s prayer—both his confession of their sin and his request for their return. He was praying the Scriptures (Deuteronomy and other passages) over his nation.
Praying the Scripture is a powerful way to partner with God to bring about His will in our lives. When we are studying the Word (like Daniel) and a passage speaks to us, it’s a beautiful thing to stop and pray that particular verse over our lives. In The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson writes,
We often view prayer and Scripture reading as two distinct spiritual disciplines without much overlap. But what if they were meant to be hyperlinked? What if reading became a form of praying and praying became a form of reading?
The paradigm shift happens when you realize that the Bible wasn’t meant to be read through, it was meant to be prayed through. Mark Batterson
Praying Scripture is also a powerful way to pray for others, because it reminds us to pray for the most important things in their lives. Often when we pray for others, we focus on their obvious physical needs or life circumstances—such as their health, a challenging project at work, or a financial need. These are all important requests. However, the most important things to pray for are their spiritual growth, their relationship with God, and their impact for His Kingdom.
We see this in the prayers of the Apostle Paul. When Paul prays for those he leads and loves, he focuses almost exclusively on spiritual priorities. For example, here’s his prayer for the Christians in Colossae:
Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and 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 giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9–12
Notice what Paul prays for:
Paul starts by asking God to fill the Colossians with the knowledge of God’s will and asks that they would receive wisdom and understanding from the Holy Spirit. This is Paul’s first request because he knows this spiritual insight will empower them to “please God in every way”. This is Paul’s top priority.
The second thing he prays for is for them to “bear fruit in every good work”. Paul wants these Christ-Followers to love people, serve others well, and make a difference.
Relationship With God
Next he prays they will “grow in the knowledge of God”. He deeply desires for them to know and experience God in deeper ways.
Endurance & Strength
Next he prays that God will strengthen them, so they have “great endurance and power”. Likely, this church was facing persecution, so Paul is asking God to give them the strength and courage to continue to follow Christ in spite of the cost.
Finally, he prays they will “give thanks”—because they realize what God has done for them and the amazing future He has planned for them in the next life—their “inheritance in the kingdom of light”.
Look back over that list. He is not praying for their physical needs or life circumstances—in spite of the fact they are facing persecution. He prays for spiritual priorities: spiritual wisdom, kingdom impact, and a deeper relationship with God. This is a great model to follow. When we pray Scripture, it helps us to focus on the most important things in life. Now it’s your turn to practice.
Is praying Scripture a new concept for you or is this something you already practice in your life? If so, how do you do it?
Let’s spend some time praying Scripture. Here’s a great quote from Hannah Hurnard’s God’s Transmitters that explains what we are doing when we “intercede” for others.
An Intercessor means one who is in such vital contact with God and with his fellow men that he is like a live wire closing the gap between the saving power of God and the sinful men who have been cut off from that power. An intercessor is the contacting link between the source of power (the life of the Lord Jesus Christ) and the objects needing that power and life. Hannah Hurnard
With this in mind, select someone to pray for from your life. It could be a friend, family member, or ministry leader—but pick someone who already knows Jesus. Bring them into the presence of God through prayer. Use Colossians 1:9-12 as a guide. Pray for them — one phrase, one sentence, or one topic at a time. Use this prayer as an outline (like with the Lord’s prayer). For each topic, feel free to expand your requests to cover anything that comes under that topic.
Now, let’s pray for one of your “One Lives”—someone you want to see come to Christ. Pray these three passages over his/her life: John 3:16-17, I Timothy 2:1-6, and II Peter 3:9. Don’t feel like you have to use the exact words, but use them as a guide.
Write your own prayer based on what the Lord is teaching you through this study today.
BARRIERS TO PRAYER
This week we’ve learned what a powerful force prayer can be to advance God’s Kingdom. We’ve learned that it’s the secret to accomplishing the “greater things” Jesus promised (John 14:12-13), the key that unlocks the promises of God (Daniel 9:1-4), and a mighty weapon in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:18). But the Bible is also clear that there are certain attitudes and actions that can undercut or even block our prayers. Today we will highlight three of the most important barriers to prayer: disobedience, wrong motives, and lack of persistence.
One of the most important lessons we’ve learned in the last two weeks is that prayer is all about relationship. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that God will not respond to our requests when there is a major rift in our relationship. The nation of Israel often struggled to understand this. While living in sin and rebellion, they would still worship at the temple, offer sacrifices, and say their prayers. This is how God responded to their hypocrisy:
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening. Isaiah 1:15
When our relationship with God is broken, it needs to be restored before He will answer our prayers. This is a two-step process. The first step is confession—which is simply being honest about our failures without making any excuses. The second step is repentance. This requires us to turn away from our sin and rebellion. Once the relationship is restored, we can move forward with confidence that God will listen and respond to our requests.
When it comes to disobedience, we often tend to think first of some of the most obvious sins: sexual immorality, lying, stealing, drunkenness, murder, etc. One type of sin we often tend to overlook is relational sin—and yet Jesus specifically highlights how important this in when it comes to prayer:
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23–24
What Jesus is saying is that healthy relationships are so important, and we should not pursue our relationship with God until we have tried to resolve our broken relationships with others—at least to the extent it depends on us (Romans 12:18).
The Apostle Peter highlights how important this principle is for marriages too:
You husbands should live with your wives in an understanding way, since they are weaker than you. But show them respect, because God gives them the same blessing He gives you — the grace that gives true life.
Do this so that nothing will stop your prayers. 1 Peter 3:7 NCV
If we want God to answer our prayers, we need to be living right relationships with God and others.
This week we’ve seen that prayer is an important way to partner with God to accomplish His will. So, it just makes sense that if we ask for things that violate His will out of selfish motives, He will not answer us. As the Apostle James writes,
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
On the other hand, when we pray in alignment with God’s will, He will always listen and respond—one way or another. As the Apostle John writes,
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14
This is why Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to start by asking God for His name to be honored, His Kingdom to come and His will to be done. When we pray, our first priority should always be to seek God’s will for whatever situation we are facing.
LACK OF PERSISTENCE
The Bible is clear we need to be persistent in prayer if we want to receive consistent answers to prayer. At times this seems counterintuitive. After all, why should we ask God for the same thing over and over? We don’t want to nag Him—and it’s not as though He needs to be reminded. But the Bible is clear that persistence is essential for answered prayer. Jesus used this illustration to teach His disciples how to pray.
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:5–10
Jesus’ point is not that God is like an unresponsive neighbor we need to nag until He answers us. God is a generous Father who loves us and wants to bless us with good gifts (I Timothy 6:17; James 1:17). His point is that we need to approach prayer with the same tenacity as this neighbor asking for bread.
Although the Bible does not explicitly explain why persistence is so important, we can draw some inferences from the Word and our own experiences. For instance, persistence strengthens our faith over time and shapes our character. It teaches us to wait on God—and for His will and timing, not our own. Delays to prayer can help us distinguish our true desires from our superficial whims. And at times, persistence is required due to spiritual warfare (Daniel 10:1-14). But whatever the reason, Jesus teaches that persistence is vital for prayer (Luke 18:1).
The bottom line is when we are praying for something important, we need to keep on praying until God answers our prayer, denies our request, or changes our heart so we no longer want what once seemed so important.
As we come to the end of this second week’s study on prayer, the most important takeaway is that prayer is how we partner with God to advance His Kingdom. It’s how we roll up our sleeves and work with Him to get things done. If we don't spend time with Him on a regular basis, we will miss out on this incredible privilege of partnership—with all its epic eternal implications.
Have you ever experienced the pain of “unanswered prayer”? If so, how have you processed this? Did this discourage you from praying?
Have you ever gone through a time when you realized God was not answering your prayers due to disobedience, broken relationships, or wrong motives?
Is there anything you have stopped praying for because you didn’t see any results—that you need to start praying for again?
Have you ever prayed for something for a long time, and almost given up, only to see God answer it because you persevered?
Is there anything in your life right now that may be standing in the way of your relationship with God—and therefore hindering your requests?
Write a prayer to God based on today’s study.