If you could ask Jesus for anything, what would it be?
-God, let the Bengals have a winning season!
-Could you fix the eternal traffic jams in Cincinnati once and for all?
-Could you explain why the food that is the worst for me, tastes the best to me!
-Lord, could you please tell me when all this COVID crap will go away!
Well, of all the things the disciples could ask Jesus, (and they could have asked about a lot of things… how did you feed 5,000, heal the sick, and raise the dead…) theirs was, "Lord, teach us to pray." (Luke 11:1) They intuitively knew the secret to Jesus' power, joy and life was through his praying.
"Lord, teach us to pray." It is still a prudent request for disciples today, too! And so for the next four weeks, we’re going to learn how Jesus said to pray. New Christians who might have gone All-In last week want to know how to do this… and speaking of All-In folks, could I just say again how pumped I still am about last Sunday. Freddie (the cell phone man) went All-In. I was tempted to baptize his cell phone, too! A wonderful 72-year-old man went in. And Rashad, a strapping young man from our student ministry went All-In. (He saw me before 2nd service and asked if we’d have any trouble baptizing him. God has not made the man yet, we can’t baptize!) And one of my favorite memories of all time will be one of our elders, Bob Stoll, who was down there turning over baptism numbers in the middle of the student ministry mosh pit! So let’s all pray for these new brothers and sisters in Christ.
But baby Christians want to know how to pray and trust me, even people who have been following Jesus for years need and want to learn how to better pray. Andrew Murray said it well, "None of us graduate from the school of prayer!"
Heard about a Dad who had been going to church for years, who bet his teenage son $20 that he didn’t know The Lord’s Prayer. "Absolutely I do, Pop - Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…" The father said, "Congrats Son, I didn’t think you could do it, and gave him $20!"
Ya know, our world thinks of praying as just a word we use to give us fleeting hope in the moment. But there is huge power in prayer! Prayer is how we connect to God, the one who helps us, saves us, provides for us, and comforts us. So when it comes to our daily lives and relationships, there is actually a lot going on when we say "You are in my THOUGHTS & PRAYERS..."
Here’s a question to get us started today: Where do you go when you need big-time help? Where do you turn when life is caving in and there are no easy solutions? When the doctor says, "I’m sorry it’s malignant." When your teenage daughter says, " think I’m pregnant." When the voice on the phone says, "This is a hospital chaplain, there’s been an accident." Or when the policeman says, "We have your son in custody." When those things happen, where do you turn?
Some people look within. I’m a strong person I can get through this. I’ll just muscle through it. Some people look down. They become dejected - so they self-medicate with eating, alcohol, or drugs… Some cut or even contemplate suicide. Some people look around. Where are my friends - surely there’s somebody here on earth that can help me. Some look away just pretending it didn’t really happen and maybe if I just ignore it, it will all go away.
But a better and wiser approach would be to follow the path of a guy named David, who wrote the Psalms. He looked up! He wrote this in Psalms 121:1-2, "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth."
Effective prayer begins with a humble admission of inadequacy. Abraham Lincoln said, "I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go. My own resources and that of those about me seemed insufficient for the day."
Go to God. He has this. And because God is both sovereign and good, we can be confident this world isn’t totally spinning out of control. There is plenty of bad news in this world, but we don’t have to wring our hands because God is at work even when we can’t see it, bringing good out of evil.
That’s why our goal as a church is to be just like the very first church in Acts. We’re trying to restore that church in its purity, strategy, and simplicity. And the secret to that early church - actually a simple summary of the book of Acts is this - the prayers went up, the power came down and the people went out. As I look back, that is when God blesses His church (THIS church) the most.
And if ever the church needs to learn how to pray, it is right now! Because it seems to me, Satan has us fighting among ourselves as a country and a church. We’re battling each other. (I’m going to put a link in my Direct this week of a clip of a pastor’s message making the round on Facebook about this very thing!) And this is why one of Jesus' greatest prayers was for us to be one - to be unified. Because a divided church has no power!
I actually think Satan’s equally greatest work is to keep you and me out of reading the Bible and praying. And that’s why Jesus gave us some golden, valuable truth in Matthew chapter 6 in what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer - a better descriptor is the Model Prayer. So let’s jump in right there, but let’s look first at what Jesus says we are NOT to do.
Matthew 6:5-8…“When you pray, do not be as those who pretend to be someone they are not. They love to stand and pray in the places of worship or in the streets so people can see them. For sure, I tell you, they have all the reward they are going to get. When you pray, go into a room by yourself. After you have shut the door, pray to your Father Who is in secret. Then your Father Who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, do not say the same thing over and over again making long prayers like the people who do not know God. They think they are heard because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
A little backdrop to this teaching here. The Jewish liturgy in their day had prayers for all occasions. They had set times for prayers each day and there was hardly any event or thing in life, which did not have a predetermined formula for prayer. There was a prayer before and after each meal, prayers for light, fire, lightning, the moon, rain, lakes, rivers, receiving good news, entering or leaving a city, and they even had one for using new furniture!
Clearly, there is something wonderful that everything happening should be brought before God. But because the prayers were prescribed, the whole system lent itself to formalism and the danger was for those prayers to slip off the tongue with very little meaning. They became perfunctory.
There was also a tendency to make them longgggg prayers. In their mind, the value of a prayer was determined by how hard, fluent, and lengthy it was. Their prayers were also very ostentatious. They loved praying, standing with hands stretched out and head bowed on busy street corners and crowded squares so all the world might see what devotion and piety they had.
We had a man in my home church who prayed like this. When he presided over communion time at the communion table, his words were big, long, and formal. We were scared of him. He had a string of pins and medals he wore on his suit lapel for years of perfect attendance. My friends and I called him "The General."
So in this environment of his day (and ours), Jesus boldly says effective, powerful prayer is a conversation, not a repetition. It’s not showy, but secret. It’s not superficial, but significant. It’s not lengthy, but can be little. And after sharing what NOT to do, Jesus then teaches instead what we should do in Matthew 6:9-13, “Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name is holy. May Your holy nation come. What You want done, may it be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the bread we need today. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Do not let us be tempted, but keep us from sin. Your nation is holy. You have power and shining-greatness forever. Let it be so."
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed (holy) be your name." Prayer first of all is entering into the presence of God by being focused on Him, rather than upon ourselves. Revering and honoring what a BIG God He is! Part of our problem in humanity and society is we have no fear, reverence, and awe of an almighty God anymore and anywhere.
Does anybody here (or watching) think people are more reverent or respectful to God today? If we aren’t respectful to humans we can see, is it any wonder we don’t respect a God we can’t see. Yes, He’s our father (more about that in a minute), but make no mistake – he’s Good GOD Almighty. To quote The Chronicles of Narnia, "He’s safe, he’s Aslan, but he’s still a lion!"
The Bible says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. Isaiah 6:1-5 says, "In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and honored. His long clothing spread out and filled the house of God. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings. With two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. One called out to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of All. The whole earth is full of His shining-greatness.” And the base of the doorways shook at the voice of him who called out, while the house of God was filled with smoke. Then I said, “It is bad for me, for I am destroyed! Because I am a man whose lips are unclean. And I live among a people whose lips are unclean. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of All.” This is a little different than Ricky Bobby praying to Sweet Baby Jesus at the dinner table!
Humbling ourselves before God is essential to a right relationship and to revival. So the first part of this model prayer is to acknowledge He is so holy and admit and confess we are so NOT! Because it is hard to approach God with confidence when you are actively rebelling or sinning against Him.
The student who cheats on a test has forfeited the right to pray for additional information. A thief who is stealing has no real right to pray he doesn’t get caught by the police. I heard a great story about a Los Angeles man who recently learned it’s not wise to try to steal a minivan with a judo team inside.
According to the news story I read, the judo team from Florida International University was visiting LA to teach a self-defense course and was taking a tour of Hollywood before heading to the airport on a Sunday afternoon. They pulled into a gas station to fill up and that’s when it happened. The police said a carjacker approached one of the students, demanded money, and got into a scuffle with a judo student name Nester. The thief eventually wound up jumping into the van and tried to steal the car to find the other judo students waiting who then piled on and pummeled him. They subdued the suspect in a body-hold until police arrived! With God, you usually reap what you sow. That’s why you can’t sow your wild oats and then pray for crop failure!
King David, in the Old Testament (who had some experience with sinning by the way, but was still called a man after God’s own heart) said, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." Effective prayer is based on a brutally honest relationship with God. It’s not like He doesn’t already know what you’ve been up to! But if you want your prayers to be effective, right size His holiness and your sin. What’s amazing is he will forgive you and take you back because He is kind, compassionate, and slow to anger.
That means that in spite of him being high and lifted up, Jesus teaches us we can approach him by using the word Father. He says we approach him as a person, but also as a father. I spent some time doing a deep dive into Jesus' use of the word Father (Hebrew/Aramaic word is Abba). Most scholars said the word expresses affection and trust and signifies the close, intimate relationship of a father and his child. But it was always coupled with Father (Abba Father) to denote respect, too.
Now sometimes (like our earthy fathers), God says yes to our requests, sometimes no, sometimes wait. (Go, No, and Slow…) Abraham pleaded for the city of Sodom to be spared and it wasn’t. Moses asked God for permission to enter the promised land and he didn’t. King David prayed for his sick child to recover, but the boy died. And the Apostle Paul prayed for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, but God said no, my grace is sufficient for you. Because he knows something we don’t. If he granted that request it would cripple us… To quote the great theologian, Garth Brooks, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers."
But praying this model prayer will keep us connected to the Father and His purposes for us. It helps us keep Him (and others) in "our thoughts and prayers." At the end of the day, prevailing prayer is not about finding formulas for getting what we want from God, it is a way to connect and get more of God. And that is what we will explore more of the next four weeks.
As an application today, I’d like to walk you through a simple way to pray or talk to God using the Lord’s Prayer. We might call this a guided prayer. So put down your phone and shut your eyes. I’m going to say the phrases, line by line, of the Lord’s prayer and then prompt you to speak to God silently in a simple, practical way. If you’re looking for a way to deepen your prayer time or maybe you’ve never prayed before because you don’t feel qualified or afraid you’ll do it wrong, join in this (online too!).
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed (holy) be your name. Right now, thank Him for being your Father. Pick one quality you want to thank Him for. Thank you for being holy, kind, giving, …
Thy Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We want to pray for down here to start looking like up there. So pick one area where you’d like to see His church work right or better in you. God, move me this week to… Before you can pray thy kingdom come, you have to pray my kingdom go…
Give us today our daily bread. Ask Him to provide something you need – not just want. Maybe you need Abba Father to provide a miracle of some kind in a situation…
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. What do you need to be forgiven for… whom do you need to forgive?
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. What are you most tempted by right now… tell him
and for those who like to add the postscript – For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, amen. Tell Him again how awesome He is and has been to you.
And since we’re in this posture of praying and listening to God, let’s just move right into taking communion, too. We’ll tie that right into this time...
So this week your homework is to do this exercise again with The Lord’s Prayer. Do this once a day, each day this week.