How You Pray

March 12, 2017

If I was to ask for a show of hands as to
how many folks here pray I would suspect that virtually everyone would raise
their hands.   If I was to ask how many
folks believe their prayers would be answered hopefully the same number would
raise their hands.  I mean really, if we
don’t believe that our prayers will be answered then why pray? 
Some do it because it’s expected, others
because it gives them something to do, others are just hedging their bets.  I had a friend in high school who wore a
cross and a Star of David on a chain. He wasn’t a Christian or a Jew but he
said he was trying to cover all the bases.
The bible teaches that not only should we
pray but we should expect answers to our prayers, that is we should be
surprised when our prayers aren’t answered. 
Not when they are.   
Last week we looked at this same passage
from the book of Matthew and dug a little deeper into what Jesus meant when he
told the apostles “When you pray” and we discovered that he laid out some ways
for us not to pray and some ways for us to pray.
And we can boil it down to say that our
prayers are meant to be a conversation.  
A conversation between our heart and the heart of God.  And that won’t happen if we are just reciting
words without thinking about what we are saying, or if we are praying for the
benefit of human ears. 
And then Jesus said When you pray, pray
like this. . . and he gives us a template for our prayers.  And remember it is easy to fall into the trap
where the Lord’s prayer becomes the very thing that Jesus was warning us
about.  Just words, babbling and vain
repetition. 
So, let’s dig a little deeper into the
Lord’s prayer and see what it can teach us about prayer.
Last week I introduced you to a 14th
century preacher by the name of Meister Eckhart, a member of the Dominican
order who died while answering to the inquisition in Avignon France around 1328  after being accused of heresy by Pope John
XXII
And Eckhart
wrote “Good and earnest prayer is a golden ladder
which reaches up to heaven, and by which man ascends to God.”
 And that is where
Jesus begins by leading us up this golden ladder to heaven.
Matthew
6:9
 Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.   So, first of all Prayer Looks Upward    Jesus
begins by telling us who we are to pray to. 
And this establishes the premise of our relationship.  This concept of God being our personal father
wasn’t a common Jewish expression.  In
the Old Testament, we see the concept of Father used in reference to God and
the collective people of Israel, but here Jesus is telling us that God wants to
be our Father and he wants us to be his children.
And that might be tough for you to accept
if your experience with your father wasn’t a great one.  But, we can’t let our concept of our earthly
fathers colour the words of Christ. 
Because he was speaking from his concept of father, a loving, affirming,
protecting father.
And the Father’s name is to be seen as a
hallowed name, a holy name.  We can’t
blaspheme his name one minute and then call on his name in prayer the next
minute.   And I’ve spoken about this
before.  Keeping his name holy means that
we don’t trivialize it by using it as a curse or as an exclamation.  
Remember the name of God shouldn’t be used
unless you are talking about him or to him. 
And using the shortcut OMG is trivializing the name of a Holy God.
And after we establish who we are praying
to we need to establish where He is in our lives, Jesus continues:  Matthew 6:10  May
your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Prayer Looks Outward
The Kingdom of Heaven was very
much on the heart of Jesus.  And the
Kingdom exists where His will is done.  
The question is what are we
praying for?  The people that Jesus was
talking to would have had a very definite view of the Kingdom of God.  To them it was going to be an actual physical
place where the Roman oppressors were going to be overthrown and all good Jews
were going to live in some form of political Utopia.  This may not have been what Jesus had in mind
when he spoke of the Kingdom of God. 
Remember the very first line that
he spoke in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:3
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom
of Heaven is theirs. That wouldn’t seem to be indicative of a political
kingdom but the fact that Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God, or the
Kingdom of Heaven would indicate that it was something in the forefront of his
thoughts. 
The Gospel of Mark was said to be
the first written account of Christ’s ministry and the very first words that it
records of Jesus are found in Mark 1:15 “The time
promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near!
Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” 
And in Luke 4:43
But he (Jesus) replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in
other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” So it would appear
that the need to preach about the Kingdom of God was a priority for Jesus
almost to the point of being an obligation.
It’s always important to remember
that Jesus was a Jew.  And as a Jew he
thought like a Jew, he reasoned like a Jew and he taught like a Jew and in this
instance, he uses a very Jewish literary device called parallelism.  And what that does is to make a statement and
then it clarifies the statement by restating it.  That is, it repeats it a different way.  It would be like saying “It’s a great day out
there.  It’s hot and sunny.”  Two statements “It’s a great day out there”
is the first one, the second statement clarifies the first one “It’s hot and
sunny”
One of the most famous Psalms is
the 23rd Psalm, and it begins with a parallelism, Psalm 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd . . .  I shall
not want.  David actually uses
this device quite a few different times. 
Psalm
44:1
O God, we have heard it with our own
ears . . . our ancestors have told us of all you did in their day, in days long
ago:   Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength . . . always ready to
help in times of trouble.
These Psalms were making use of
parallelism to teach and that is what Jesus is doing in this verse, listen to
what he says, May your Kingdom come soon. That’s
the first statement the next statement then clarifies the first statement May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  When does God’s Kingdom come? When His
will is done on earth as it is in heaven. 
It’s interesting to note that in
different places in the New Testament Jesus uses the term Kingdom of Heaven in
the past, present and future tenses. Something that happened, was happening and
would happen.
The Kingdom of God comes when his
will is being done.  So, the very essence
of the Kingdom of God is to obey the will of God.  This Kingdom has nothing to do with nations
and countries instead it is something which happens in the heart of each one of
us.  That’s called Holiness.
You ever struggle with the term “holiness?”  The best definition of holiness that I ever
heard came from Mother Theresa.
Mother Theresa said, “Holiness can be summed up in one word, obedience.”  And let’s go back to Meister
Eckhart who wrote   “Love God, and do as you like, say the Free Spirits.
Yes; but as long as you like anything contrary to God’s will, you do not love
Him.”
The kingdom of God is a personal
responsibility because obedience happens with my heart and my will and my
thought life.  The most important thing
in the world is to obey God and the most important words that we can speak are,
“Your will be done”  But only if we mean them. 
Two things you can be assured of
as a Christian when you say “Your will be done”. 
1. You Can Be Sure God Knows What
He’s Doing 
Have you ever taken something to an expert?  You know to have it repaired or altered or
built?  What do you tell, “Do what you
have to do”, “Do whatever you think is best.” 
Why do you say those things? 
Because you know that supposedly they know more about the subject then
you do or you wouldn’t be using them.
Do you know what really
frustrates a professional or an expert? 
It’s when someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about tries to
tell the pro how to do it.  You know when
the guy takes his car to the garage and tells the mechanic what’s wrong and how
to fix it.  I’m sure more than one
mechanic has wanted to say, “Hey if you know so much why’d you bring it to
me?”  God knows what needs to be done and
he knows how it needs to be done.
2) You Can Be Sure God Loves You.
 As you
read through the Gospels you realize that Jesus was praying to a Father whom he
knew loved him, period.  There was no
doubt at all.  And God loves us   We don’t serve a cruel God who plays games
with us.  Thomas
Hardy finished his novel “Tess” with these words, “The President of the Immortal had finished his sport with
Tess.” That’s the way some people see God, some cosmic chess player who
gets his chuckles out of losing a pawn. 
We serve a God whose greatest
attribute is love.  John was one of Jesus’
closest friends and he wrote in 1 John 4:16 We know how
much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all
who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 
Next month is Easter and nobody
can look at the cross and see the sacrifice God made for us and not see his love. 
When we are sure of the love of
God then we can find it easier to say, “Your will be done”.  You notice that I said easier and not easy,
because by our very nature it’s difficult to give control to somebody
else.  And when we surrender that control,
we have the option of doing it begrudgingly or willingly.
And now Jesus goes
from the spiritual, the will of God to the physical.  Once we have
established who we are praying to, and align ourselves with His will, Jesus
reminds us that we are dependent on God for all that we have.
And it’s here we discover that Prayer Looks Inward  Contrary to popular opinion it’s not
selfish to pray for ourselves.  As a
matter of fact, the remainder of the Lord’s prayers deal with what we need.
And so Jesus tells us to pray,   Matthew 6:11  Give us
today the food we need
Prayer
Deals with Our Today
Now this would appear
to be the simplest part of the Lord’s prayer. 
Well, let me tell you that nothing is so simple that it can’t be
complicated by a theologian.  Someone
once said, “A theologian takes the simple things
and makes them difficult, it’s up to a preacher to take the difficult things
and make them simple again” 
1) Some say that bread
is to be identified with the last supper and so we are asking to be able to
celebrate the sacrament of communion on a daily basis.
2) Others say that
this actually refers to spiritual food, that is the word of God, the
Bible.  And so, these people would
maintain that this is actually a request for spiritual feeding.
3) Then there are
those who tell us that the bread is a reference back to Jesus who called
himself the bread of life in John 6:33-35. 
And so the prayer is “Lord let me feast on your presence daily.
Now in keeping with
all of those eminent scholar’s theories let me share with you my theory, now
hang on because it’s deep.  I think that
what Jesus meant by “Give us today the food we need” was “Give us today the food
we need”.  I think it was just a request
for God to provide the things that we need on a daily basis.  Deep, huh?
When I first went to West Africa in 2007 I
saw first-hand what is meant by subsistence farming.  The people in the villages grow and raise
what they need to survive, and it is a daily existence. 
And up until the last century subsistence
farming was a reality in most of the world, and for most of history the prayer
to provide daily bread was a meaningful prayer.   And it is still a reality in many parts of
rural Africa and Asia. 
Today perhaps we need
to change the wording, Presbyterian minister J. Vernon McGee
wrote
 “I don’t think that a
Sunday morning crowd should get up and pray, “Give us this day our daily
bread” when they have a roast in the oven at home — they already have
their meal. It is a very meaningful prayer for those who are hungry, but a
well-fed Sunday morning congregation ought not to pray this because for them it
is vain repetition.”


But this request doesn’t just deal with our
next meal, It’s About All of Our
Physical Needs.
  Jesus didn’t just come preaching, he came
healing as well.  And he took the time
out to feed people, and provide for their thirst.  Do you remember what the Bible said when
Jesus saw that the people he was teaching were hungry?  It said that he was filled with
compassion.  Why? Because they were
hungry.  Not only was Jesus concerned
about the hunger of the people he did something about it, he fed them.
But Jesus didn’t just
teach us to pray about our present needs, he also taught us to pray Matthew 6:12   Forgive us our
sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
It’s here we discover that Prayer Deals with Our Yesterdays What
we have done. What we did last week, last year and 30 seconds ago.  When I was in Bible College I heard a
preacher say that we need to keep short accounts, and that is still good
advice. 
When you blow it ask for forgiveness and
when somebody blows it with you forgive them. 
It is is just that simple.  We can
complicate it but saying “yeah but you don’t understand what I’ve done or you
don’t understand what they’ve done.”  
But Jesus was very plain here when he taught us to simply pray: Matthew 6:12  
Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.  And he finishes that
thought with a period and not a comma.  
If you’ve ever prayed this have you ever stopped to listen to what you
are saying?  You are asking God to
forgive you in exactly the same way that you forgive people who have done you
wrong, no more no less. 
Many people have the same concept of God as
the German poet Heinrich Heine.  Heine was on his death bed and his priest
told him that God could forgive his sins to which the poet responded “Of course God will forgive me; that’s His job.”  Well according to this particular portion of
scripture, he doesn’t have to.
This one concept was so important that
Christ not only mentioned it in the Lord’s prayer he went back to comment on
it.  He literally uses three times more
words to define what he said then he used to say it.
When you get to this part in the Lord’s
prayer you are in effect saying, “Lord if there is someone whom I haven’t
forgiven then don’t forgive me.” Ouch! 
Forgiveness is tough.  There is no
doubt about it and you may have been hurt by someone in ways that I can’t
comprehend, but if you want to be forgiven then you need to forgive.
 You’ll remember perhaps the Guptill principle
of spiritual growth that says that “Everyone grows
in their spiritual life to their own personal point of disobedience.” Well
the addendum is “You will never grow in your spiritual
walk beyond your unforgiveness.”
Let’s keep going with the personal
requests, Jesus teaches us to pray,  Matthew 6:13  And
don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.
You see where we are going right?  The first request dealt with our present, the
second dealt with our past, what we’ve done. 
Here Jesus tells us that Prayer
Deals with Our Tomorrows,
our future. 
We are asking for help in what we will do.   
Too often when we think of the
word temptation we think sin.  And if
that is reality then we are confronted with one of two problems.  The first being how can we come to grips with
a God who would lead us into sin.  You
say don’t be silly preacher, God wouldn’t lead you into sin.  Then that leaves the second problem if
temptation is sin and God wouldn’t lead us into sin why for would Jesus put
this request in the prayer.
The easiest way to clear this up
is to find a biblical definition of temptation. 
At the very beginning of Christ’s ministry an incident happened I’ll let
Matthew tell you about it, Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was
led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.  You see what happened here.  Jesus was tempted by the Devil but it was the
Spirit that led him to that point.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13 . . .  He will
not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted,
he will show you a way out so that you can endure. So now we have God
allowing temptation.  Now the problem
here is that the word temptation is being misused.  Somewhere along the line we have given the
word temptation an evil twist, we have taken temptation to the next step and
made it sin.
What it actually means is to be
tested, to be proved, to be strengthened. 
That’s why the very best steel is called tempered steel.  It’s the same root word.  And so what Jesus is teaching us to pray is
this, “Don’t let me be tested by more than I can endure.”
Matthew 6:13
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.  You notice
that the request is “not deliver us from evil”, but “deliver us from the evil
one.”  Evil
is not an impersonal force which surrounds the world, instead it emanates from
one person.  And that person is Satan.  his very name means the adversary, and in the
Greek that is the one who pleads
a case against someone.  He is in name and fact the
accuser. 
Satan is real he is not a joke, he’s not some dude in long red
underwear with a pitchfork and horns, he is real.  Satan
is personal and his weapon is temptation. 
And like all enemies he
won’t attack until he finds a niche in your armour.
And do you really want God to keep you from
temptation or is your prayer more like Augustine’s
was early in his life when he prayed “Make me good but
not yet”  
Maybe you’re not even in the place where
your prayers can be answered because you’ve never actually established a
relationship with God, He’s not your father. 
If that’s the case He’s only a prayer
away.  As the worship team comes to lead
us in one more song I would encourage you to take a good look at your spiritual
condition.  If you need to start that
relationship with God it’s as easy as praying Lord I’m sorry for all I’ve done
to displease you.  Please forgive me and
make me a new creation.  It’s that easy,
and if you do that this morning we’d love to know about it.