God's Lightning: A Seminar on Prayer

Session Five


Lev. 6:1-5, Acts 16:25-34; Is. 59:1-2; Ps. 66:18


The Crisis

As we were standing on the steps of the school talking with Jim and Leola Ragland, we heard the firing of a cannon in the distance followed quickly by the unmistakable whine of an incoming shell. Before we had time to turn away it landed on the edge of the roof of a building across the street from the school and exploded!

The background

It was one of those times when west Beirut was under heavy bombardment from Israeli/American jets. The square mile around the Baptist School in the Mousaitbeh area of West Beirut was especially hard hit because it included the headquarters of the PLO. It was impossible to hold classes so the school was used as a shelter for refugees. Dr. and Mrs. Ragland did all they could for the people, which, in some cases, meant simply listening to them grieve over the loss of loved ones and the loss of all their worldly possessions and the loss of all hope for the future.

Once, when an elderly man, seated on the steps leading down to the shelter area, complained that no one loved or cared for him, Jim sat down with him, reached out and wrapped his arms around him, hugged him and assured him that God loved him and that Jim loved him, too. Jim wept with him. What a testimony to the love of God and of the Raglands' commitment to serve Him in the midst of all that suffering. At any rate, they called us on the east side of Beirut (predominantly "Christian") and asked if we could get together a list of medical supplies, a small electric generator set, and some other needs. We promised to do our best.

After a few days we had the goods loaded in the back of the station wagon and one Sunday afternoon, when the shelling had almost stopped, we called to tell them that we would be coming soon. A British believer, a professor at the American University of Beirut, accompanied me on the trip. We went down the mountain toward the city with a home-made red cross flag attached to the car aerial; however the wind was too strong and the pillow case on which the red cross was drawn was too heavy and the aerial soon bent, so we took the flag off. It is probably better that we did anyway because it would have called more attention to us than we needed!

As we approached the "green line", the "no-man's land" between east and west Beirut, we saw that there was so much debris, including glass, chunks of concrete, pieces of twisted metal, and dangling electrical wires on the main road that we would have to go to the school by way of some of the narrow back roads instead of using the main highway. We threaded our way along the narrow streets between tall buildings on both sides without arousing any attention. If we had been noticed and our cargo discovered, it would no doubt have been confiscated and we ourselves might well have been taken prisoners, if not taken as hostages. We arrived at the school without incident and unloaded the supplies. We were standing on the steps of the school talking with Jim and Leola when the shell exploded on the edge of the roof of a building across the street. The explosion rocked the entire area sending up black smoke and scattering pieces of cement and shrapnel everywhere. One piece fell in the schoolyard and came skittering across the asphalt to within a few feet of where we were standing. My friend reached out to pick it up but found it too hot to handle and quickly put it down again!

Right then we decided that it was time to start our return trip. It was already about 4 P.M. If the shelling was starting again in earnest, we needed to get on up the hill before it really got serious. So, taking our leave of the Raglands, we left the school and started back down the narrow road toward the "green line." As we made our way slowly down the road, with high buildings on each side of us, no one was on the street. The people, too, had heard the exploding shell and had taken refuge in their shelters. But as we approached a bridge over the road we saw under it one lone armed gunman -- a Muslim militia-man by the looks of his uniform. We really did NOT want to stop for him to question us lest he take us in for further questioning and whatever might follow that! In situations like that we learned to "pray as we go!" We really didn't know what to do. We were still about three blocks away from him, but if we stopped and turned around, he could easily shoot us. There was no good place to turn right or left without risking running into other checkpoints. But as we continued we began to hear the whooshing sound of a large rocket coming from our right.

The teaching


Lev. 6:1-5, Acts 16:25-34; Is. 59:1-2; Ps. 66:18


When we pray it is important that we are prepared to pray -- that we are right with God and with others.

Perhaps the first step in preparation for prayer is the realization that confession of our sinfulness and of our sins is necessary for a right relationship with God. Do we sin because we are sinners, or are we sinners because we sin? Both are true, but the first is the basic truth. We all sin because we are sinners by nature. (Psalm 51:5 says, 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.

If anyone asks if we are a sinner, our tendency is to say, “Well, I’m no worse than others around me.” We seem to feel comfortable with that comparison.

Isaiah saw his true sinfulness only after he had seen God’s glory! He did not confess his individual sins but his collective sinfulness. 1  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3  And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!"
4  And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5  So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts." (Is. 6:1-6).

Most of us do not recognize our own sinfulness because we have not compared ourselves with the glory of God or the Word of God but perhaps only with other people. We think that sheep are white, but when you put a sheep in a snow-bank, it doesn’t seem white at all, but a dirty light-brown. If we would be clean and pure before God, it means that we need to compare ourselves with Jesus and then ask Him to cleanse and purify us as we accept His sacrifice for our sins. We cannot make ourselves pure even if we do many good things. No matter what we do, good or bad, purity of heart only comes when God Himself washes us clean.

Sin separates us from God and from His blessings. (Rom. 3:23 23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God , and 6:23 23  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ) This is the word of the Lord to us about us. We must agree with God about what He says.

Isaiah 59:1-3 adds 1  Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear 2  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 3  For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things.

Psalm 66:18 adds, 18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the LORD would not have listened.

On the other hand, Confession leads to repentance and forgiveness. In Leviticus 26:40-42 we read: 40  “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, 41  which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42  I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. Restoration to the land could not happen until the people confessed their sins and even the sins of their ancestors! Such confession, for them as for us, involves deep humility.

2 Chron. 7:14 gives God’s recipe for revival: “If my people, who are called by my Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” There are four requirements for us to follow If we really want to be effective pray-ers:” We must humble ourselves, turn our hearts toward God and pray to Him, then seek His face (intimate fellowship with Him) and then turn away (repent) of our wicked ways. These are difficult requirements for people who think that they are good with God, but these are basic requirements as we prepare to pray.

God’s promise in 1 John 1:9 is very specific and clear: 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

To “confess” means to agree with God about a matter and to accept His judgment about it. Before you pray, ask the Lord to reveal to you any unconfessed sin which might hinder your relationship with the Lord. Such soul-searching takes time. In our modern haste to get things done, we don’t often take the time to wait on God to give Him the opportunity to bring conviction to our hearts. Each day we should be discovering new weaknesses and imperfections to confess to our Lord.

Confession is the first step to repentance and growth. There is no growth without a confessed need for growth, and the acknowledgment of our imperfections. We cannot move forward in our spiritual lives unless we acknowledge our need to grow. This requires a holy dissatisfaction with our current lives and an earnest search for improvement and change and a clear acknowledgement of our sins and our sinfulness.

Confession does not lead to growth, however, without repentance. John the Baptist emphasized the need for repentance: 2  . . . saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matt. 3:2). Jesus said: 15  “The time has come, . . . The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Acts 17:30 states, 30  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. Repentance means a forsaking of our sin/weakness/mistake so as to not return to it. It is similar to the military term, “About, face!” It means to stop going in one direction and to go in the opposite direction.

We usually think of repentance as a condition of salvation, and it is, but that is not all! It is also required for Christian growth and answered prayer. (See II Chron. 7:14 – above.)

Repentance toward God is necessary for us to experience His forgiveness and for our fellowship with Him to be unclouded and complete.

Perhaps the experience of Peter, recorded in Mark 14:72, will help to clarify this point: “72  Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Peter’s confession and sorrow for his sin evidently led to repentance which was necessary before the Lord could re-commission him! (John 21:15-19). It was also be necessary before he could once again become effective in prayer.

In addition to repentance, restitution must be made where possible. Ex. 22:3-15 says, If a thief is caught, he must make restitution. According to Lev. 6:1-5, if one is caught with property belonging to another, he is to pay back in full and add 20 % more. In a New Testament example, when Zacchaeus was saved, he promised to give half his goods to the poor and, if he had cheated anyone (and he had!) he would pay back four times the amount. In other words he would give four times the required restitution (Lk. 19: 1-10). In Acts 16:33 the Philippian jailer washed the wounds of Paul and Silas as restitution for having inflicted them in the first place.

Restitution is required for the sake of justice. When we become aware of our sins, we must be willing to confess our mistakes to those we may have wounded and ask for forgiveness.

Restitution is also required to restore relationships. If someone is mad at you, there must be a reason for that. We have to ask ourselves if we are the cause of the broken fellowship. If we become aware that there is a broken relationship, regardless of who is at fault, then our attempt to restore fellowship is more important than worship! Jesus tells us, 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24). “Leaving our gift at the altar” means that we are in the midst of an act of worship. Jesus is telling us that reconciliation with another person is more important than worship! This requires deep humility, the crucifixion of our pride and great love for the Lord and for the people to whom we must go and say, “Dear Brother (or Sister), I know that there has been a barrier between us for a time, but if I have offended you, I am truly sorry. Please forgive me and let’s be friends again.” The other person may not accept your offer, but you will have done what you could to restore the relationship and that is very important to the Lord.

In summary, many times our prayers are ineffective because we have not taken time to prepare ourselves to pray by confessing our sins up to date, repenting of them, making restitution, accepting the Father's forgiveness, and forgiving others completely to restore relationships (Matthew 5:23-26). Matthew 18:32-35 reminds us: 3“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive a brother or sister from your heart.” This sounds very harsh, but Jesus was emphasizing that forgiving others is the major way we show that we have experienced God’s forgiveness of us. Jesus said, 14  For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
And Mark 11:25 tells us: 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” He might have added: “And answer your prayers.”

The resolution

To conclude our story:

As the sound of the incoming rocket got louder and louder, the militia-man darted back into a building near the base of the bridge to find shelter from the explosion he was expecting any second. We kept going forward, expecting the rocket to explode just to our left but not daring to stop for fear the militia-man might quickly reappear and give us a hard time. So-o-o-o we just kept moving forward at our regular pace, braced for the explosion -- which never came! The noise just suddenly stopped! We will never know where it went, or if it was a dud, although we never heard any thud of impact either, or whether, as in Bible times, the Lord had simply protected us by sending the sound of a rocket just at the time we needed special help! Whatever the explanation, we were very grateful it came when it did! When we arrived at our house at the seminary our wives were greatly relieved to see us safe and sound. They were aware of the explosions in the city and had been praying for us constantly the whole time we were gone.

Yes, we were praying as we went but in such events as these it is best to be prayed up and walking in faith-fellowship with the Lord continually. We will explain more about what this means in a later chapter.


Why is heart-cleansing through confession, repentance, restitution and forgiveness necessary before we pray? Remember that these preparations may take longer than our requests do.

Write in your workbook any other issues or factors you think are important as we prepare to pray.