I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands
be like the evening sacrifice.
A few years ago, a friend opened a copy of Breakthrough Prayer: The Secret of Receiving What You Need from God and began reading aloud to from an arbitrary page. I’ve read and enjoyed other books penned by Jim Cymbala, longtime pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, but the selection read from this particular work at that particular week piqued my interest then – and piques it even moreso in 2020 – for more reasons than one.
The first and obvious reason: who doesn’t need every piece of grain she or he can glean for experiencing a more productive life when it comes to communicating with God? To that end, Cymbala plants and tends well a garden of easily-understood theology that produces a well-balanced crop that’s ripe for spiritual harvest. We’ll be dealing with Cymbala’s message itself in this week’s post.
The second reason: have you ever felt a spiritual nudge to do something you know needs doing, but would much rather the doing be done by someone other than yourself? In the case of this blog, the nudge I’d been ignoring for several months became more of a shove with the hearing of the excerpt of Breakthrough Prayer. These years later, that nudge has returned; we’ll be dealing with that aspect of the equation next week.
In the 13 chapters of his book, revised in 2011 for the Billy Graham Library Selection series, Cymbala dissects the needed heart-health for nurturing the close friendship that God desires each of His children experience with Him through prayer. With careful balance, he invites the reader to take a good look at habits that draw one closer to Christ through prayer as well habits that cause stagnation or even regression in that relationship. Having said that, some lessons of the book are more easily-learned than others.
One of the most impressive aspects of Breakthrough Prayer involves Cymbala’s careful use of Scripture as support for the points he makes. Since this post is not meant to read as a spoiler for the book itself, allow me to give you a very general example of the key to a topic of which most of us want to know more – the role that blessings play in our lives and how God goes about giving them.
It is absolutely true that God takes joy in blessing His children – He really does! – but as Cymbala explains through the context and application of the following passages, we as His children have a part to play in the process as well. We are called, he says, to:
- Petition God through sincere prayer (Hebrews 5:7);
- Read and take to heart God’s Word (Revelation 1:3);
- Deliberately and through faith pursue obedience to that Word (Psalm 5:12); and
- Express compassion and generosity through our giving (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).
I would like us to conclude Week 2 of this four-part series by leaving you with the excerpt that drew my attention so tightly to Breakthrough Prayer that I got a copy of the book and read it in three sittings.
First though, please allow me to insert a caveat before we begin. It bears repeating that some of Cymbala’s lessons are more easily-learned than others. He doesn’t sugar-coat his words as he explains the good and the bad when it comes to a healthy prayer life. At times – as he does in the following excerpt – he uses examples of specific righteousness and specific sins simply to illustrate a given point. Cymbala knows, just as you and I know, that sin is sin and we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
From Breakthrough Prayer, Jim Cymbala; Zondervan Publishing, 2011. pp. 85-86.
A clear conscience and a pure heart are absolute necessities for prevailing prayer. I cannot confidently ask God for answers when I cling to the sins that nailed His Son to the cross of Calvary. I cannot live in iniquity and enjoy the Lord’s favor simultaneously. These are impossibilities in God’s moral universe. This truth highlights the enormous fallacy of teaching that certain prayers brings success and blessing apart from the spiritual condition of the petitioner. Prayers taken from Scripture, even the Lord’s Prayer, will be null and void if people harbor hidden sin in their hearts. “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18 NASB). One Sunday morning, as people gathered to pray at the front of the church after service, I saw a man motioning me to come and pray for him. When I asked how I could help, he replied that he was requesting prayer for physical healing. But something about him troubled me. When I asked if he was a Christian, he said, “Yeah, of course, I’ve been in church almost all of my life.” “What church are you presently a member of?” I countered. “Oh, I kind of just move around as the Spirit leads. I haven’t been a member anywhere for years.” For some reason, I felt no peace about praying for him. Then I noticed a woman standing a few feet behind him. When I asked about her, he said, “Yeah, that’s my girlfriend.” I felt God leading me to ask another question, one that required some boldness. “Where does she live?” I asked. “What do you mean, where does she live? I came up for prayer for this problem, and you’re asking about my girlfriend?” I didn’t budge, feeling sure God was helping me. “You know exactly what I mean. Where does she live?” “Okay, we live together. But God knows I really love her, and we’re definitely gonna make it right one day. We have a special relationship the Lord understands. But forget that – are you gonna pray for my healing or not?” “Let me get this straight,” I answered. “You’re living in fornication with this lady and know that it’s wrong before God. And you now want me to ask that same God to heal you while you live in this mess. Sir, there’s not one chance in a billion that God will answer you or anyone else who prays about it. He would have to violate His Word to hear you. And if He answered you, He would be encouraging your horrible lifestyle.” I’m not sure he heard the last sentence because he walked out in a huff before I finished speaking. I regretted this, but it was better than carrying on a meaningless charade and failing to tell him the truth as it is in Jesus. No wonder so many prayers never make it past the ceiling! If we want our petitions to be heard and answered, we cannot violate God’s spiritual laws. This is the most difficult part about prayer by far. It’s easy to ask God for the things we want and need. But it’s not so simple to adjust our hearts and lives to His Word. Because Satan understands the potential of prayer far better than we, he has developed cunning strategies to clog the asking-receiving channel. An unforgiving spirit, bitterness, secret [or not-so-secret] sexual sins – the list [of transgressions] is endless – can stymie our praying. Every sin we hide and justify becomes a hindrance to bold, confident prayer to the Father.
Breakthrough Prayer is a great tool for spiritual growth regardless of where a believer stands in his or her walk commitment to stand with Christ. I encourage you to have a look at this book for yourself, and I hope you’ll join us next week for the Week 3 of this series.
– Copyright 2020, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.