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 (Manna 96: Spiritual Nurture: Prayer)
Spiritual Power from Prayer (Part 1)
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Based on sermons by Timothy Yeung—Calgary, Canada


We pray for different reasons: to seek help in times of need, make requests, and intercede for others. On reflection, our prayers may become transactional—we petition God only when we need something from Him. Is this the sole purpose of prayer? If so, why is it necessary to pray in the Spirit, as the Bible implores (Jude 1:20)?

God wants us to pray in the Spirit not only to make requests but also to gain spiritual power.

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

This spiritual power can transform our lives, granting us the ability to make wise, life-enhancing choices, and the resolve to keep to those decisions. How does this spiritual empowerment occur, and how should we reset our view on prayer to enable this transformation?


Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (Jas 5:16, ESV)[1]

We use electricity to power our lights and heat our water. But electricity does not come from thin air—it must be generated by converting energy from various sources. Similarly, spiritual power is generated through prayer. Critically, according to Elder James,  it is the prayer of a righteous person that generates such great power. Imagine, then, how powerful the prayers of a church full of righteous members, praying with one accord, can be.

However, there are times when our prayers seem weak and ineffective—when we cannot even muster the strength to continue praying. Since God, our source of power, is perfect, the problem must lie with us. Elder James has also explained why our prayers—our power generator—have become defective.

For our prayers to be powerful, we must first confess our trespasses. Then when we pray for ourselves or others, great transformational power will come upon us. Unfortunately, our prayers are often so focused on changing a situation or solving a problem that we forget the most important part of prayer is our own change from within. When we are transformed, our problems often resolve themselves: God's work prospers, our relationships improve, and harmony comes to our family. Conversely, persistently asking for God’s help without the willingness to change is the reason our prayers often go unanswered. So it is crucial to pray for the power to transform ourselves.

Consider Your Ways

As long-time believers, how often do we truly reflect on ourselves and repent from the bottom of our hearts? A common "malady" afflicting those of us who faithfully attend services and participate in holy work is our sense of self-righteousness before God. We are ticking the right "faith action checklist" boxes and, hence, we neglect to look inward. Worse, some of us have stopped looking at Jesus and trying to be more like Him; instead our gaze is fixed on the glittering distractions of the world. This is similar to the attitude of God’s people in the time of Haggai:

"Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?" Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways!" (Hag 1:4–5)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This warning from God came more than ten years after the Israelites returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. After laying the foundation, they encountered challenges that brought the work to a standstill. As the years passed, instead of keeping the rebuilding work in their hearts, these Israelites channeled their energies into establishing their own lives—tending fields, doing business, and improving their homes—all while the temple lay in ruins. Their heart for God had grown cold. So God commanded them to consider their ways—to look beyond the surface and examine their current state.

"You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes." (Hag 1:6) ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Similarly, we must deeply consider our ways. We enjoy many material blessings but are we satisfied? We believe in God but do we have true joy in our hearts? We serve God but do we feel God drawing closer and working with us? If not, let us identify and overcome those weaknesses hindering us from a life of true faith.

God Reveals Our Shortcomings

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. (2 Cor 13:5)

Self-examination precipitates change, but we cannot rely on our own methods and reasoning during this process. Doing so often makes matters worse. Instead, we should come before God and ask, "Lord, in what ways am I lacking?" Such reflection invites God to act in our lives.

There was a sister who was blessed in many ways, but she was troubled by her relationship with her daughter-in-law. Though she loved her daughter-in-law very much, the latter seemed disrespectful and disobedient in return. During a church seminar, the sister prayed and poured out her troubles tearfully to God—how she was the most pitiful mother-in-law and how she had lost many nights of sleep. After praying in this way for a few days, her prayers changed. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she started to reflect on herself instead. Then she heard God's voice: "Your love is not enough." He said this three times. Puzzled by this message, she asked the Holy Spirit to reveal her weaknesses. Eventually, God helped her to understand that although she thought she was expressing her love for her daughter-in-law, she was in effect using her own thinking and force of will to compel her daughter-in-law. As a result, the latter did not feel loved and the distance between them grew. Introspecting in prayer, this sister recognized that she had to become more understanding, reasonable, and approachable. With this insight, the Holy Spirit filled her and gave her the power to transform herself.

Transformed by God's Grace

One of the greatest works of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit is to help us introspect and transform. Even when others tell us our shortcomings, we may not have the will or strength to change. But when we humble ourselves in prayer, our merciful Father lifts us and gives us grace to help us take the first steps towards transformation.

"And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Lk 18:13)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

In this parable, Jesus compared the prayers of the sinful tax collector and the self-righteous Pharisee. The Lord concluded that the tax collector was more justified than the Pharisee, who had proclaimed himself better than others.

It is discomfiting to think that our attitude may be like the Pharisee’s. But have we not occasionally comforted ourselves that our transgressions, if any, are minor; and that we are better than others? If we embark on genuine and deep reflection, we would unearth the weaknesses we have been unable to overcome even after believing for so long. We would feel as wretched as the tax collector, and realize how desperately we need God's mercy and power to change.


God created us as flesh and blood. Healthy organs are soft. If they harden, they lose their ability to function well. Blood circulation is impaired when the heart muscle calcifies through old age, disease, or trauma. These hardened arteries will then bring about coronary artery disease, angina, heart attack, or heart failure. Taking steps to prevent our hearts from hardening can help us live a long and healthy life.

Spiritually, it is no different. Our inner hearts must remain soft and sensitive to God's word. What could cause our hearts to harden?

[B]ut exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb 3:13)

There are sins we would never dream of committing, such as adultery, murder, and theft. But, living amidst a sinful generation, our hearts are easily influenced by the trends of the world. Unwittingly, our hearts become hardened over time, developing into a wicked heart of unbelief (Heb 3:12). Such a hardened heart has lost all feeling and is no longer touched by God's love. Our attitude toward God changes: we are indifferent and no longer care.

A Change of Heart

It is obvious when a person's heart changes within a relationship. For example, a once-devoted father can change completely under the influence of a gambling addiction. He no longer has patience with his children and avoids coming home so that he can spend time gambling. His heart has been captured by the addiction and no longer belongs to his family.

This is how sin can deceive and harden our hearts. When our heart changes, our attitude follows. This process can be seen even from the first sin. When God created Eve, Adam spoke most eloquently.

And Adam said:
"This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man." (Gen 2:23)

Men are stereotyped as inexpressive, but Adam spouted such romantic poetry! His first statement was an ode to his wife—expressed in a poetic structure using comparison and wordplay—conveying how precious she was and how intimate their relationship. And these were the first words Eve heard.

Today, the first words many husbands utter when they return home are, "Is dinner ready?"—much to their wives’ chagrin. However, man was once eloquent, speaking words pleasing to his wife. Man could do this because he was created with a soft heart. After he sinned, his attitude and tone changed.

Then the man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate." (Gen 3:12)

Adam's endearment for Eve as the "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh" was now an accusatory or defensive "the woman whom You gave me." His tone and demeanor changed from intimacy to disaffection as his heart was hardened by sin. From them on, not only would woman suffer in childbirth, but she would be dominated by her husband (Gen 3:16).

A similar thing can happen in our faith and relationship with God. When we first believed, every little thing touched our heart. We were motivated to attend every church service and activity, and singing hymns moved us to tears. Our tender hearts needed no material blessings or awesome miracles to feel the great love of Jesus.

But after some time, the busyness and stress of life calcify our hearts. Discontentment reigns; our desire to attend services and draw closer to God wanes. When we lose this loving feeling towards God, we must examine whether our heart has changed towards God. A proxy indicator of this is how we treat our family, because our relationship with God is the foundation of all our relationships. God is love (1 Jn 4:8). If we are close to God, our hearts will be filled with love. We will be more forgiving and patient with others; our family life will be loving and peaceful. But if our heart has hardened, we will become neglectful and uninvolved; we would care only about matters that directly impact us. If our hearts reach such a state, what should we do?

A New Heart

Just as a heart can harden, the inverse is also true. A truth-seeker can gradually go from disbelief to belief to accepting baptism because God's grace moves him. This is the softening process—receiving a heart of flesh.  

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezek 36:26)

This is the work the Lord will do in the New Testament era. The Israelites in the Old Testament often rebelled and murmured against God even though they had the law to follow. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to change or fully obey. Today, relying on our own willpower to change is also hopeless. Though we know we must love and forgive others, we cannot. We thus need to pray for the Holy Spirit to perform a heart transplant on us.

Receiving a physical heart transplant not only restores health to a once-critically ill patient, but often gives them a more positive outlook and a new lease of life. In recent decades, there have even been rare cases of heart transplants causing a complete personality change, where patients believe they have inherited characteristics and memories from their heart donor.

When our heart changes, our attitudes and thinking change. It is not difficult to modify our appearance cosmetically, or transform our physique through exercise. But changing our mindset is a Herculean task. We need God’s help and the willingness to undergo spiritual heart surgery.

There was a sister whose life was full of great hardships because of complicated family issues. She knew she should forgive but could not overcome the hurt she felt. Her pain was compounded because she knew the truth and could not live it out, despite her efforts. So, this sister fervently prayed for God’s help, telling Him she had no strength to move forward. In her prayer, she sensed God's hand reach into her, removing her heart like a stone and throwing it into a lake. The heart sank into the depths, leaving ripples on the surface. Then God's hand reached back in, placing a tender heart within her. From that moment on, she felt different. Her emotional pain had disappeared and she was released from the grip of her unpleasant memories. Even though she could still see the same problems, she no longer harbored hatred. Her changed heart was filled with God's love and strength. Our efforts cannot attain such a change; it is possible only through the power of Jesus Christ.

"I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them." (Ezek 36:27)

Those who believe in God’s word but cannot exercise it, struggling daily with their conscience, are the ones who suffer most pain. Unlike recalcitrant sinners, such believers are aware of God’s judgement but lack the strength to change. However, with a tender heart given by the Lord, we will no longer struggle to do as Jesus commands. We gain the power to soften our hearts through the Holy Spirit. So, we must pray in the Holy Spirit daily to remove our human will and replace it with God's.


In our lives of faith, we seek to be transformed by the Spirit and regain the image of God. Prayer gives us the spiritual power to undergo such a transformation, but we must first know where we fall short. We must humble ourselves before God and ask, "Lord, reveal my weaknesses. Please give me the power to change. Remove the hard spots in my heart, and give me a tender heart of flesh." Let us enter into deep prayer, sincerely reflect and repent, and open ourselves unreservedly to God. Then, God will raise us up and shower us with His grace and spiritual power, enabling us to submit to His will and change our lives for the better.

[1] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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Author: Timothy Yeung