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 Prayer - Intro

John Hoole May 2, 2004



THE LORD'S PRAYER

This illustration is in two parts - the prayer (in blue type) and GOD (in red type) in response.

"Our Father Who Art In Heaven."

YES?

Don't interrupt me. I'm praying.

BUT -- YOU CALLED ME !!

Called you? No, I didn't call you. I'm praying. "Our Father who art in heaven."

THERE -- YOU DID IT AGAIN!

Did what?

CALLED ME. YOU SAID, "OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN." WELL HERE I AM. WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

But I didn't mean anything by it. I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day. I always say the Lord's Prayer. It makes me feel good, kind of like fulfilling a duty.

WELL, ALL RIGHT. GO ON.

Okay, "Hallowed be Thy name.."

HOLD IT RIGHT THERE. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

By what?

BY "HALLOWED BE THY NAME"?

It means, it means . good grief, I don't know what it means. How in the world should I know? It's just a part of the prayer. By the way, what does it mean?

IT MEANS HONORED, HOLY, WONDERFUL.

Hey, that makes sense. I never thought about what "hallowed" meant before. Thanks. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."

DO YOU REALLY MEAN THAT?

Sure, why not?

WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?

Doing? Why, nothing, I guess. I just think it would be kind of neat if you got control of everything down here like you have up there. We're kind of in a mess down here you know.

YES, I KNOW; BUT, HAVE I GOT CONTROL OF YOU?

Well, I go to church.

THAT ISN'T WHAT I ASKED YOU. WHAT ABOUT YOUR BAD TEMPER? YOU'VE REALLY GOT A PROBLEM THERE, YOU KNOW. AND THEN THERE'S THE WAY YOU SPEND YOUR MONEY --ALL ON YOURSELF. AND WHAT ABOUT THE KIND OF BOOKS YOU READ?

Now hold on just a minute! Stop picking on me! I'm just as good as some of the rest of those people at church!

EXCUSE ME. I THOUGHT YOU WERE PRAYING FOR "MY WILL TO BE DONE". IF THAT IS TO HAPPEN, IT WILL HAVE TO START WITH THE ONES WHO ARE PRAYING FOR IT. LIKE YOU -- FOR EXAMPLE.

Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups. Now that you mention it, I could probably name some others.

SO COULD I.

I haven't thought about it very much until now, but I really would like to cut out some of those things. I would like to, you know, be really free.

GOOD. NOW WE'RE GETTING SOMEWHERE. WE'LL WORK TOGETHER -- YOU AND ME. I'M PROUD OF YOU.

Look, Lord, if you don't mind, I need to finish my prayer. This is taking a lot longer than it usually does. "Give us this day, our daily bread."

YOU NEED TO CUT OUT THE BREAD. YOU'RE OVERWEIGHT AS IT IS.

Hey, wait a minute! What is this? Here I was doing my religious duty, and all of a sudden you break in and remind me of all my hang-ups.

PRAYING IS A DANGEROUS THING. YOU JUST MIGHT GET WHAT YOU ASK FOR. REMEMBER, YOU CALLED ME -- AND HERE I AM. IT'S TOO LATE TO STOP NOW. KEEP PRAYING.

..pause...

WELL, GO ON.

I'm scared to.

SCARED? OF WHAT?

I know what you'll say

TRY ME.

"Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."

WHAT ABOUT CAROL?

See? I knew it! I knew you would bring her up! Why, Lord, she's told lies about me, spread stories. She never paid back the money she owes me. I've sworn to get even with her!

BUT -- YOUR PRAYER -- WHAT ABOUT YOUR PRAYER?

I didn't -- mean it.

WELL, AT LEAST YOU'RE HONEST. BUT, IT'S QUITE A LOAD CARRYING AROUND ALL THAT BITTERNESS AND RESENTMENT ISN'T IT?

Yes, but I'll feel better as soon as I get even with her. Boy, have I got some plans for her. She'll wish she had never been born.

NO, YOU WON'T FEEL ANY BETTER. YOU'LL FEEL WORSE. REVENGE ISN'T SWEET. YOU KNOW HOW UNHAPPY YOU ARE -- WELL, I CAN CHANGE THAT.

You can? How?

FORGIVE CAROL. THEN, I'LL FORGIVE YOU; AND THE HATE AND SIN WILL BE CAROL'S PROBLEM -- NOT YOURS. YOU WILL HAVE SETTLED THE PROBLEM AS FAR AS YOU ARE CONCERNED.

Oh, you know, you're right. You always are. And more than I want revenge, I want to be right with You..., (sigh). All right...all right...I forgive her.

THERE NOW! WONDERFUL! HOW DO YOU FEEL?

Hmmmm. Well, not bad. Not bad at all! In fact, I feel pretty great! You know, I don't think I'll go to bed uptight tonight. I haven't been getting much rest, you know.

YEAH, I KNOW. BUT, YOU'RE NOT THROUGH WITH YOUR PRAYER ARE YOU? GO ON.

Oh, all right. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

GOOD! GOOD! I'LL DO THAT. JUST DON'T PUT YOURSELF IN A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN BE TEMPTED.

What do you mean by that?

YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.

Yeah. I know

OKAY. GO AHEAD. FINISH YOUR PRAYER.

"For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen."

DO YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD BRING ME GLORY -- WHAT WOULD REALLY MAKE ME HAPPY?

No, but I'd like to know. I want to please you now. I've really made a mess of things. I want to truly follow you. I can see now how great that would be. So, tell me .. how do I make you happy?

YOU JUST DID!

Today we take a break from our series in the Book of Proverbs, to address the subject of Prayer. We are joining many hundreds of others in our church in what we are calling "40 Days of Prayer." The textbook for most groups is the book written by Bill Hybels, called "Too Busy Not to Pray." Since many of you here today are also in other small groups which will be following this book, we will study about what the Bible says concerning prayer, but not using this textbook. The last time we had a series on Prayer in this class was about 5 years ago, during our series on "The Sermon on the Mount." We are going to use a passage from that sermon for our text today.

Matthew 6:1-18 NIV

1 "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 "This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'
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.
16 "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

In these 18 verses, Jesus cautions His followers on how to conduct themselves while observing three very important acts of righteousness. Nestled here in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount is a hard-hitting expose, of false piety from the lips of Jesus. And I find it most interesting that the 3 religious acts mentioned in Matthew 6, is included in nearly all religions of the world as acts of piety.

Perhaps these three are common among world religions because they cover the three directions of true piety.

1. Outward in love towards other human beings, particularly in giving to those in need.

2. Upward in prayer to God:

o 5 times a day for the Islamic

o 3 times a day for the Jews

o Often for Christians

3. and Inward in some form of self denial - specifically, fasting that demonstrates and stimulates and maybe proves one's devotion.

As we investigate the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, we will find that each of these are very important aspects of our Christian life. Such acts of piety and devotion can be good but, He teaches us that because they can be observed, they can also become public shows that counterfeit true spirituality.

Keep in mind that the original text in Greek had no chapter divisions, thus it is significant where Jesus ends Matthew 5 with "Be perfect" and commences chapter 6 with "Beware." Danger always lurks nearby for any religious person striving for perfection. Piety and acts of righteousness can easily deteriorate.

Religious practices are particularly prone to becoming fraudulent because a great temptation exists for religious people to parade their piety. And Jesus uses three primary practices of religious people - including Christians - to illustrate his point.

o Giving to the poor
o Praying
o Fasting

Today we turn our attention to the second illustration Jesus gives.

Matthew 6:5-8 (NAS)

5 "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
6 "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
7 "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
8 "Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him
.

The most common act of piety is prayer. Perhaps it can be said that prayer is the highest act of piety, for it puts one in touch with God Himself. Jesus assumed that people who are serious about their faith will pray. Three times in the verses we just read, Jesus said, "When you pray." And in the very next verse (vs. 9), He introduces the immortal Lord's Prayer with the words, "Pray then, in this way."

There are some Christians - I would call them hyper-Calvinists - you may know some who believe that it is hardly necessary to pray. These say that everything is in God's hands and that He does what he wants to do whether or not you ask for it. For them, prayer is nothing more that a Christian tuning in to what is already God's will.

On the other side, there are those who are the ultra-Arminians, who make a great deal of man's part in the process of salvation. These believe that almost everything is contingent upon prayer, and that God will do very little unless we ask for it.

On the one hand, prayer is seen simply as a way of lining up with God regarding what He has already determined to do, and on the other prayer is beseeching God to do what He otherwise would not do. In between are most of us - some Calvinists and some Arminians who believe that God is indeed in charge of things and is accomplishing His own purposes, but who, nevertheless, also believe that God responds to our prayers and, in fact, even urges us to pray to Him. Unfortunately, we are often uncertain about prayer. We wonder how we should pray, what we should pray for, and sometimes whether we should even pray at all.

Some time ago I heard a story that illustrates how some of these questions trouble even very mature Christians. At one point in the course of their very influential ministries George Whitefield, the Calvinistic evangelist, and John Wesley, the Arminian evangelist, were preaching together in the daytime and rooming together in the same boarding house each night. One evening after a particularly strenuous day the two of them returned to the boarding house exhausted and prepared for bed. When they were ready, each knelt beside the bed to pray.

Whitefield, the Calvinist, prayed like this: "Lord, we thank Thee for all those with whom we spoke today, and we rejoice that their lives and destinies are entirely in Thy hand. Honor our efforts according to Thy perfect will. Amen." He rose from His knees and got into bed.

Wesley, who hardly got past the invocation of his prayer in this length of time, looked up from his side of the bed and said, "Mr. Whitefield, is this where your Calvinism leads you?" Then he put his head down and went on praying.

Whitefield stayed in bed and went to sleep. About two hours later Whitefield woke up, and there was Wesley still on his knees beside the bed. So Whitefield got up and went around the bed to where Wesley was kneeling. When he got there he found Wesley asleep. He shook him by the shoulder and said to him, "Mr. Wesley, is this where your Arminianism leads you?"

The story shows that we all have some things to learn about prayer, and it teaches that because no one understands the ways of God as perfectly as we ought to understand them, prayer is, therefore, at least partially confusing to us all. Actually, the Bible supports both of these views and holds them, as it were, in tension. The Bible in unequivocal about God's absolute sovereignty. But it is equally unequivocal in declaring that within His sovereignty God calls on His people to beseech Him in prayer - to implore His help in guidance, provision, protection, mercy, forgiveness, and countless other needs.

I am not sure that it is possible to fully fathom the divine working that makes prayer effective. But that is not required, for God simply commands you and me to obey the principles of prayer that His Word gives. There are only a few here today that are satisfied with their prayer life. We want to please our Lord, thus we want this to be an effective part of our life.

Please turn with me to the book of Philippians.

Philippians 4:4-13 NKJV

1 Be Anxious for Nothing; Think These Thoughts Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things.
9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will Be with you.
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.
11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

In this chapter, Paul mentions a whole series of things all of us want in our Christian life.

o We all want to stand firm in our faith, as mentioned in verse 1.

o We all want to have a joyful attitude throughout the day - like verse 4 depicts.

o We all want to have minds that dwell on wholesome and praiseworthy things -- as mentioned in verse 8.

o We all want to apply God's principles so completely that we are flooded with His peace -- as we read in verses 7 & 9.

o And for sure, we all want contentment and satisfaction - the way it is mentioned in verses 10-12.

There is probably not one here that doesn't want all of these things in our Christian life. And even though they are presented in a way that indicates we can have them, how many of us experience them on a regular basis. (And I ask myself the same question.)

During those times when we are honest with ourselves, we struggle with thoughts like:

o "Sometimes I sure don't act like a Christian."

o "I'm a poor example of a child of God."

o "Why is it that so often I don't feel very joyful?"

o "Too often I don't have thoughts that are wholesome and praiseworthy."

We are troubled with how easily we can blow it. So anxiety over our less than stellar Christian walk weighs heavily upon us. Sometimes we even become confused. The interesting thing is this: the first and only thing that will work is too often the last thing we try. We find it in verse 6. It's PRAYER!!

Philippians 4:6-7(NKJV)

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Most Christians are so familiar with those words, I fear they may have lost their punch. To guard against that, let me read them from another translation.

The Amplified Bible

6. Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything by prayer and petition (specific, definite requests), with thanksgiving continue to make your wants known to God.
7. And God's peace (that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace) which transcends all understanding, shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Now that's a mouthful. If I understand this correctly, the anxiety that mounts up inside me, concerning my Christian walk, that growing irritation and the struggles that make me churn will be dissipated, and in fact, be replaced with inner peace. And, in addition, all those other qualities I want so much in my life will be mine, if I will simply talk to my God. Prayer is the single most significant thing that will help turn inner turmoil into peace. Prayer is the answer. And yet, if I were to ask each of you about your prayer life, most would indicate some dissatisfaction with that part of your Christianity -- myself included. But as soon as I admit that about my prayer life, I have a dilemma. These verses in Philippians 4 promise that peace will come to the person who prays. Why then is it a struggle? What is it about prayer that makes even the great and the godly (those we admire so much) feel so guilty? So dissatisfied? So unhappy with their own prayer life?

As most of you know, I like to study Church history. In looking at the last several hundred years to see what church leaders taught about prayer, and their attitudes toward their own participation in this activity, I found that many of them admitted to little joy or peace or satisfaction in their prayer life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, once admitted that his prayer experience was something to be ashamed of. Martin Luther, that great leader of the Reformation, anguished in prayer, saving of the best hours of the day to pray, and yet seldom seem satisfied.

Go down through church history and we will find one after another working hard on prayer. But frequently we will find them dissatisfied, some of them even woefully unhappy about their prayer life. E. M. Bound, who wrote a whole series of books on prayer, Alexander Maclaren, Samuel Rutherford, Hudson Taylor, John Henry Jowett, G. Campbell Morgan, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, F. B. Meyer, A. W. Tozer, H. A. Ironside, and on and on. These were great men - strong Christian examples - magnificent models of Christ, and yet you can hardly find one of that group who was satisfied with his prayer life.

Oh, they labored in prayer, they believed strongly in prayer, they taught and preached prayer. Then why the great dissatisfaction? Why the guilt? Or, for some, embarrassment? If we have the promise that peace would come to those who pray, why do we find this discrepancy?

Paul's perspective on prayer was this: It results in peace, it doesn't take it away. It alleviates anxiety, it isn't designed to create it. But we have been led to believe that in order for prayer to be effective, it must be arduous, sometimes lengthy, and maybe even painful. And we must stay at it, pleading, and longing, and waiting.

I do not seek to indicate that prayer does not at times take on these forms, but, in the Bible, except in very few and extreme cases, prayer is neither long nor hard to bear. And I cannot find a single biblical character who struggled with guilt because they didn't pray long enough or because they were not in enough pain or because they failed to plead and beg sufficiently. You can check it out for yourself. I am convinced it isn't there.

No one can read the Bible without being impressed with the large place given to prayer in its pages. The word "pray" occurs over 300 times in our Bible, and the words "prayer," "prayers," and "praying," appears an additional 280 times. Beginning with the conversation between God and Adam, all through the Old testament and the New, we have examples of men who prayed.

Ezra regarded prayer as more important than a band of soldiers and horsemen (Ezra 8:21-23)

Christ regarded is as more necessary than food and sleep (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12).

And the Apostles put it ahead of preaching (Acts 6:4).

Every writer in the New Testament extolled prayer as a vibrant part of a believer's contact with God.

In 1 Timothy 2:8 (NAS), Paul declares: "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension." On another occasion, Paul says "pray without ceasing." (1 Thess. 5:17)

God never commanded us to SING without ceasing.

God never commanded us to PREACH without ceasing.

God never commanded us to GIVE without ceasing.

God never commanded us to WORK without ceasing.

But he DID tell us to pray without ceasing.

1 Peter 3:12 (NAS) adds,

12 "For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer.

James 5:16 (KJV) says,

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

One of the real clear, concise commandments written repeatedly in God's Word is "Pray!" Mark 13:33 commands us to "watch and pray."

Again, I do believe prayer is the single most significant activity a believer can do. Prayer is the answer to life's situations and difficulties. It is the avenue for receiving wisdom and strength. And if prayer is that important, we need to know more about it.

   
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