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Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! Isaiah 64:1 (NIV)

It is often said that the best way of learning prayer is to pray with other people. There is some truth in that, but there is also a limitation.  If you learn to pray only from other people, you will never pray better than the people from whom you learn.  Many Christians seem to reach a certain level in prayer and get stuck there. But when you hear or see someone who prays effectively, you will feel that you want to grow in prayer.

That’s what happened to the disciples of Jesus. These Jewish men had been praying all their lives, but when they heard Jesus pray they felt that His praying was at a different level. So they said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And Jesus taught them.  That tells us that prayer is something we can learn. Whatever your stage in the Christian life you can grow in your ability, your language, your faith, your passion, your confidence and your effectiveness in prayer.

We need to learn to pray. When folks write the history of the American church in the first part of the 21st century they will likely say that we were very organized. They will say that we excelled in programs, but I don’t think they will say that we excelled in prayer.

Faith leads to prayer

I have many hopes for our church in this coming year. There are great opportunities for us to seize, and many people for us to reach, but if I could settle for one goal this new year, it would be that we would grow in faith and in prayer.

That may sound like two goals, but it is really one. Where faith grows, prayer follows. The greater our confidence in God, the more we will ask of Him. I love the way John Newton pens this in a hymn he wrote about prayer:

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much;
None can ever ask too much.

Our prayers are the clearest indication of what we really think about God. If you don’t think your king is very great, you will not ask Him for very much. But as you come to know that you have a great king, you will begin to ask him for great things.

Looking at your prayers will tell you what you have grasped and what you have not yet grasped about God. Think about these friends:

Here’s Kathy: Kathy prays for all her family and all her friends. Kathy does this because she knows that God cares for the details of each individual person’s life. But she has not yet grasped that God cares for the world. When she does, her prayers will become broader.

Here’s John: John is a well-organized guy and he has applied his organizational skills to his prayer life. He even has a file for all his prayer requests. He brings many needs to God, and he even tracks the answers.

What can we learn from John’s prayers? John knows that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, but he has not yet grasped that God is the sovereign Lord who is to be worshipped. When he does, he will enter a deeper communion with God in prayer.

Ben is a Christian, but he doesn’t really pray much at all. Ben believes that God saves people through Jesus Christ, and then you’re pretty much on your own. He does not believe that God does anything much in people’s lives. But when he discovers the work of the Holy Spirit, he will begin to pray.

Wherever you are in this, I want to encourage you in prayer. I want to help you grow in your confidence and your ability to ask great things of God and expect great things from God.

What Should We Pray?

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you” (Isaiah 64:1).

Isaiah’s prayer flows out of two things—what he knows from the Bible and from his own experience. Isaiah knew from the Bible that God’s presence had come down to Mount Sinai. When that happened the whole mountain shook.

Prayer formed by the Bible and experience

“Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire… the whole mountain trembled violently…” (Exodus 19:17-18).

Imagine if God’s people today could see God’s presence moving with that kind of power. But this wasn’t just history to Isaiah. He had seen the earth-shaking glory of God Himself:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple… Above him were seraphs… and they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:1-4).

A longing for the presence of God

Isaiah has felt the weight of the glory of God. He has seen in Scripture, and He has experienced it in his own life. Now he is saying:

“Lord, I have seen Your power and glory. I know Your greatness from the Bible and I know it from my own experience. But I live among people who do not know You. Even the people who bear your name do not seem to feel the weight of your presence. They hardly seem to know You!”

“You can do far more than any of us have seen you do in our lifetime.  O, that you would rend the heavens and come down. O, that you would visit your people like you did at Mount Sinai. O, that You would give us a glimpse of Your glory.”

Isaiah’s prayer is a passionate longing for a felt sense of the presence of God that will change things among God’s own people:

“Come among us, Lord. You’re the God that shakes mountains. Why won’t you do that among us—like fire that sets twigs ablaze, and that causes water to boil?”

“Lord, come in a way that changes us, and makes us different. Come in a way that shakes us. Come in a way that ignites us. Come in a way that changes our lukewarm faith and makes us boil with a holy passion for your gospel.”

What would this look like in a local church? Paul talks about an unbeliever coming into a worship service at a local church in Corinth. He hears the Word of God with such power and conviction that He encounters God. He sees his own sin. He begins to worship, and he cries out “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:25).

That’s what Isaiah is praying for, a felt sense of the presence of God that would make even an unbeliever know that God is here:

“Lord, come among your people in such a way that even those who don’t know you will know that you are here, and that this is not just a gathering, not just a routine. Make it obvious to everyone that you are here.”

Revival is an intensification of the presence of God among His people. “Oh, that you would rend the heaven and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1). I want us to make this our prayer for the coming year. Will you join me in this? Will you pray with me that when people talk about this church, the thing we become known for is not:

“That’s where they have great programs!” or

“That’s where they have good preaching or great music!” or

“That’s a good place to meet new friends!” but

“That’s where you can meet with God!”

That was so far from what was happening in the religious world of Isaiah’s time. Lord, make this a place of life-changing encounters with You for many in this new year. Rend the heavens and come down!

What kind of things could we expect to happen, if God’s presence came down like this among us? Problems with the foundations in our buildings? I don’t think so!

Make your name known

“Come down to make your name known… to your enemies” (Isaiah 64:2).

This is like the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be your name!” (Matthew 6:9). So many who gather for worship don’t really have a felt experience of You.

Notice Isaiah wants even God’s enemies to know Him. But God’s name becomes known to His enemies when it is known to His friends. That’s why revival is first and foremost an intensification of God’s presence among those who know Him and love Him and call upon His name.

God’s name speaks about His character. “Come down and make your name known” (v2), means “Let us know who you really are.”

Make your love known

We believe in God, and yet some of us do not feel that he loves us. You believe in Christ and yet somehow you assume God is frowning on you. You don’t feel secure in God’s love. So you do not find joy in Him.

Even in the early church Paul was praying that Christians would know the love of Christ: “I pray that you,[will] grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).

He is praying this for Christians because the reality is that there are many who call on God’s name, and yet His love seams cool to you. Paul was praying Isaiah’s prayer! “Lord, Come down and make your name known. Bring your people into a ‘felt’ experience of Your love.”

Make your power known

Many Christians are persuaded in their minds that God is able to raise them from the dead and bring them into heaven when they die. But they do not believe that God can give them victory over their besetting, habitual sins while they live.

We talk about our besetting sins—our pride, our laziness, our lack of discipline, our lust, our greed. We find a way of accommodating our sins, of living with them. We say “That’s just the way I am!” Over time we say “I can’t change,” and we lose hope.

When Isaiah prays “Come down and make your name known… as when fire sets twigs ablaze, and causes water to boil” (v2), he is asking God to make His power known in a way that changes us.

Paul prayed for Christians to know God’s power like that:

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you… his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:18-20).

Isaiah knew from his own experience that the vast majority of “believing” people do not have a sense of that kind of power in God. When a person encounters the God of the Bible like that, that person’s life is set on a different track forever.

“O, that you would rend the heavens and come down. Come down to make your name known!” I am asking you to pray like this yourself. Pray like this in your family. Pray like this in your LIFE groups. [2]

If you pray like that this year, you will be a different person at the end of 2009. If we pray like this as a church, we will be a different church by the end of 2009.

How Should We Pray?

If you’re saying to yourself “I want to pray like this, but how do I get started?” The place that you must start, if you want to pray more effectively, is to fill your heart and mind with the goodness of God. Effective prayer arises from confidence in the goodness of God and confidence in the relationship that we have with God

Fill your mind with the goodness of God

Reading the context of Isaiah 64 is like watching an athlete take a running approach to the long jump: He gathers speed and then he launches into the air.

The “run-up” to the great prayer of Isaiah 64 begins in Isaiah 63 where Isaiah fills his mind with the goodness of God: “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us—yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses” (v7).

He goes on to list the works for which God is to be praised. Isaiah is not yet praying at this point. He does not address God directly until several verses later: “This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name” (v14).

What is Isaiah doing in verses 7 to 13? He is preparing to pray. He prepares to pray by filling His mind with the goodness of God. Effective prayer arises from seeing how good God is.

Faith is the conviction that God is always up to something good. If you want to pray with faith, begin by filling your mind with the great truths of the Gospel. You are coming to the God who loves you:

He has already sent His Son for you (John 3:16). If He has already done this, why would He withhold any good thing from you? (Romans 8:32). He had your life and your eternity in view before you were ever born, and planned all your days in infinite love (Psalm 139:16).

Fill your mind with the goodness of God. It will launch you into prayer.

The problem of coming to a holy God

When you pray you will quickly feel your unworthiness. This is universal Christian experience. And that’s precisely where people give up and quit. Coming into a holy place makes you aware that you are an unholy person. Isaiah felt the same way:

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (v6).

Here’s what we’re like when we come before God. When I come before God I come like a leper: “All of us have become like one who is unclean.”  The leper was outside the camp of Israel.  He could not approach the presence of God. So Isaiah says “I come as someone who has no right to enter the presence of God.”

“All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Even the best things that we do, like ministry and service, are not as good as they seem because our hearts are mixed up in so many ways. Augustine said that he did not want to present the works of his hands to God for fear that God might find more sins in them than merits.

“We all shrivel up like a leaf.” I think that means Isaiah felt worn out when he came to God in prayer. He felt exhausted and said “I’m just like dry leaf. I feel drained of energy; lacking in life.  I feel as if I have nothing left to give.”

“Like the wind, our sins sweep us away.” That’s an awesome picture of the power of sin. It sweeps us away. Here we are struggling with the same sins and not gaining victory. We’re not prevailing over the world, the world is prevailing over us.

When Isaiah comes to God he feels unclean, unrighteous, dried out, and unstable. Why in all the world would Almighty God listen to an unclean, unrighteous, dried out, unstable person? Why would God ever listen to you or to me?

Plead the relationship you have with God

Notice how Isaiah appeals to the covenant relationship he has with God. “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father” (v8). That’s the relationship we have with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: He is our Father.

Lord, I come to you as an unclean, unrighteous, dried out, unstable person. But I ask you to hear me today. Here’s why: You’re my Father! In Christ you have adopted me as your son, your daughter.

Don’t let guilt kill your prayer life. The only prayers ever offered by a sinless person were the prayers of our Lord Jesus Christ. All our prayers hang on the mercy of God. The reason that I’m asking you to listen to my prayer is that in Jesus Christ you are my Father. If you come to Him like that, He will never turn you away.

Then Isaiah describes the relationship in another way: “We are the clay, you are the potter. We are all the work of your hand” (v8). Not only is God your Father, but He is the Potter and you are the clay. These two must always be kept together.

When Isaiah says “You are the potter,” he is inviting God to make whatever he wants of Isaiah’s life: “Here’s my life. You are absolutely free to make of me anything you choose. Lord, this is your church: As best we know how, we want to be wholly available for you to do whatever you want in us and through us. You are the sovereign Lord.”

Prayer that seeks the presence of God realizes that prayer is not about you getting God into line with what you want. It’s about us getting in line with what He wants: “You are the potter. I am the clay.” I want You to shape my life. Make of this life anything that you want. Do anything with me, through me and in me that pleases you, because I know that what you do is always good.

Are you ready?

Are you ready to pray Isaiah’s prayer? It is very simple, but it is earthshakingly profound. If you learn to pray like this, you’ll be a different person at the end of the year. If we start praying like that our church will never be the same.

Here’s an even bigger question: Do you think you’re ready for Isaiah’s prayer to be answered? Of course it was answered in the return of God’s people from exile. It was answered more fully when God “rent the heavens and came down” in the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are living in anticipation of the day when its ultimate fulfillment will be complete: The trumpet will sound and He will “rend the heavens and come down.” Every eye will behold Him. And on that day may it be that we are ready, prepared to meet Him with joy. We will see Him face-to-face, the One we have worshipped and loved and known.


[1] John Newton “Come My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare.”

[2] We call our small groups “LIFE” groups. LIFE is an acronym for: (L)eader—every group has a spiritual leader or shepherd who meets regularly with  church leadership for encouragement and direction, (I)ntercession—groups take the initiative to pray for one another and for the needs of the church, (F)ellowship around the Word—the study and application of God’s Word is central to the life of our groups, (E)ncouragement and care—groups are more than just bible studies, we also encourage and care for one another in tangible and appropriate ways.


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