Pray Like This...
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 23, 2007

 

Main Passage: Matthew 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-4 (NLT)


Have you ever heard somebody pray and found yourself thinking, “If only I could pray that like? If only I had that kind of passion, that kind of conviction, that kind of eloquence… If only I could pray like they pray, I could be so much more effective. If only I could pray like they pray, I’d feel like I was accomplishing something. If only I could pray like they pray, I know God would listen to me.”

I know I’ve thought like that. There was one preacher in particular that I remember when he would pray, he’d work up this big head of steam, and he’d get louder and louder, and more passionate and more powerful in how he was praying, and by the time he was done everyone would just be in awe. It was as if he was on a first-name basis with God. And he’d usher us all into His throne room. If only more people could pray like him.

But then, he ended up splitting his church and hurting a lot of people and even turning some people away from God. So much for him being a model of what it meant to really pray and be in communion with God.

Then there was a professor I knew… one of the best speakers I ever heard. And boy, did he ever seem to have it together when he prayed. If anybody had it all together… if anybody knew what it meant to really know God… this guy did. And then he left his wife and kids to run off with one of his students.

Powerful pray-ers… both of them. They could inspire you, they could amaze you, they could challenge you, they could convict you… all through their prayers. They seemed to have it all together, but then they fell… and the evidence pointed to the possibility that perhaps they didn’t know God quite as well as they appeared to. Perhaps when they were praying, they weren’t connecting with God quite so much as they were impressing me.

They seemed to have the mechanics of prayer down pat – the vocabulary, the passion, the eloquence – but they were missing the whole point. Prayer isn’t about saying all the right words, entering the right combination, using the right code, putting in the change in the right order, pushing the right buttons and getting what we want. Prayer is about knowing God… discovering who He is and what His will is… it’s about connecting with the God of the universe, and that’s done through a relationship and not through some secret formula or ritualistic process.

Jesus addressed all this in Matthew 6 (which we read earlier this morning) and in the parallel passage in Luke 11, which tells us how Jesus’ disciples actually came to Him and asked Him to teach them to pray. His disciples had been noticing how Jesus prayed and realized that He knew something that they didn’t. His prayers were real, they were genuine, they were personal. His prayers really mattered. And they observed that prayer was so important to Jesus that he would sneak off by Himself to a quiet place where He could be alone to talk with His Father.

And so they started to ask Jesus about it. “Why are your prayers so much more fulfilling? Why are your prayers so much more meaningful? Why are your prayers so much more intimate? What’s your secret, Jesus?”

So of course Jesus told them, “I don’t need to teach you nothin’! There’s nothing to it. It’s just talking to God… surely you don’t need someone to teach you how to do that.”

No, that’s not how Jesus responded at all, is it? Because Jesus understood that there is a right way to pray and a wrong way. And so Jesus set out to teach them about what it really meant to pray. And he started off by giving them a couple of conditions. He said, “Okay, I’m going to teach you. But before I do, I want you to understand these two things… First of all, when you pray, you’re not praying to show off.”


Conditions for Real Prayer:

A.    Do not pray for show.

Matthew 6:5-6 (NLT)
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Jesus said, “Look, I’ve seen what’s happened with these Pharisees… these religious leaders. They started to pray and it became a pride thing for them. Now they just pray to show off. They want everyone to see them praying and think, ‘Wow, how holy they must be! If only I could be like them! I’m not worthy to even be in their presence.’ They’re only praying so they can gain the applause and approval of others. So if I’m going to teach you to pray, I want you to understand that this isn’t the way to do it.”

Now wait a minute. Can’t you pray anywhere? Well, yeah. And there is a place for public prayers. Jesus Himself prayed in public. But when Jesus said if you want to pray pray… if you really want to get serious about prayer… instead of just showing off, how about getting away from the crowd? Go to a solitary place… maybe even a closet in your home. Someplace that’s quiet, free from distractions, and private. Jesus said if you would do this, you would be rewarded for it.

So Jesus said, “First of all, when you pray, don’t pray simply as a way to show off.” And then he added, “Another thing, these Pharisees… they just get into these rituals and they start repeating the same words over and over and over again and they think that’s going to get God’s attention. It’s as if they think God’s going to have an “A-ha!” moment and suddenly realize you’re talking to Him. And then He’ll understand that you have some needs and He’ll answer.” Jesus said, “That’s the way these Pharisees are praying. But I don’t want you to pray anything like that, because God already knows what you need before you even ask Him.” So that’s the second condition…


B.    Do not resort to formula prayers.

Matthew 6:7-8 (NLT)
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!”

You know, sometimes we treat prayer like a magic incantation. We feel like we have to say everything right to have a response from God. And if we DO say everything right, and if we say it enough times, then God has no choice but to answer. That’s the attraction of magic, isn’t it? We think that we can take a power stronger than ourselves and learn to control it to get what we want.

But that’s not what prayer is. It’s not a magic formula, it’s not a religious ritual, it’s not a secret password. You don’t need to go through any rituals or know any prescribed formulaic prayers.

I’m a fan of the old TV show M*A*S*H. And in particular, I really enjoy Father Mulcahy. I remember one episode where they build a new hospital building and laid a concrete floor. And when it was ready, Father Mulcahy prayed a blessing on it. Then when he was done, Colonel Potter turned to him and asked if it was a standard prayer. Father Mulcahy informed him it was a “golden oldie.”

I expect he learned all those “golden oldies” out of a book like this one. This is a prayer book. Filled with prayers written by… well… mostly dead Germans. You know, theologians, monks… the guys. And you can find a prayer for just about anything in one of these books.

And really, something like this can be wonderful to enhance your prayer life. But not if that’s where ALL your prayers come from. Not if you think you’re praying when you simply recite the prayers as some sort of religious ritual.

Here’s something else… prayer beads. Many denominations… not just Catholics… use prayer beads. In fact, they can be traced back to some Eastern religions. People use each bead to represent a prayer, and they’re not finished praying until they get all the way through. Problem is, your prayers can become very mechanical with very little meaning. Plus, you can go through all the beads and figure you’ve done your duty and get all puffed up about it. But that’s not what it’s all about.

Other people use candles. They light a candle, pray until the candle burns out, and think they’ve done something great. They don’t understand that it’s your heart of prayer, not your time of prayer, that really matters. And by the way, if you know anybody that uses candles, I think a great prank would be to go out and buy some super-long-lasting candles and slip them in with their regular candles.)

Let me ask you this: what was the very first prayer you learned? Was it, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”? Or maybe, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food”? Those were the first prayers I learned, and I think there’s some value to them. We’ll probably be teaching similar prayers to our kid.

But you know what will be even better? When they learn to pray on their own. When they don’t rely on formulaic prayers like that anymore. When they understand that prayer is a personal conversation with God, and that they don’t need to rely on the right combination of words to get God to listen to them.

“We must grow beyond rote and repetitive prayers such as ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ and ‘Bless this food.’ Our prayer life should become ever richer, fuller, and more joyful as we learn to talk with our heavenly Father.”
~ Mike McIntosh
from Falling In Love With Prayer

Jesus taught that what makes prayer powerful is not the combination of words or the number of times we repeat them; what makes prayer powerful is the One to whom our prayers are directed.


Okay, so Jesus laid out those two conditions: Don’t pray only to show off that you’re praying, and don’t let your prayers become routine, ritualistic, and repetitive. And then he set out to teach us what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Now, let me ask you this, right at the beginning of our Worship Celebration, I asked how many of you already knew the Lord’s Prayer? When you were able to raise your hand and say you knew it, how proud were you of that? And let me ask you this: How many times have you recited the Lord’s Prayer during your lifetime? A dozen times? A hundred times? A thousand times? Ten thousand times? Isn’t it interesting that we’ve taken the very prayer Jesus taught us and we’ve broken both His conditions?


I want you to notice some very important words. When Jesus started into that prayer, He said…

Matthew 6:9 (NLT)
“Pray like this…”

“Pray like this.” He didn’t say, “Pray using these words.” He didn’t say, “Make sure you memorize this and repeat it regularly.” He said, “Pray like this.” “Pray in this way.”


In fact, if you think that Jesus was actually telling us to always pray using those words, they He broke His own rules. Because we know of several times when Jesus or His disciples prayed, and as far as we know they never again repeated these words.


Jesus said, “Pray like this… not with these words, but in this way.”

So let’s take a look at how Jesus said we should pray. He took the time to teach it to us, so there are some important things here for us to catch. Looking at the way Jesus taught us to pray, we notice first of all that He began by…


When You Pray…

1.    Begin by Declaring God’s Greatness

How did Jesus start out? He started out by saying. “Our Father, who art in Heaven. Hallowed be Thy name.” That means “honoured be Your name… great is Your name… to be praised is Your name…” In the New Living Translation, it puts it this way:

Matthew 6:9 (NLT)
“Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.”

Jesus says, “Yeah, I know you have this grocery list of things you need to ask God for. But before you get to the ‘give me, give me, give me, help me, protect me, help me, bless me, give me, bless me, give me’ part of your prayer, take the time to recognize who it is you’re talking to. Declare God’s greatness. Declare God’s glory.”

Why? What’s the point? I mean, is God really that insecure that He needs us to tell Him how great He is? No, of course not. So why did Jesus tell us to start with this? I think it’s because when we start by declaring God’s greatness, it help put everything else into perspective. It’s for our benefit, not God’s.

“The more time you spend recognizing who it is you’re talking to, the less concerned you will become about all those unresolved issues you can’t wait to ask Him to resolve.”
~ Andy Stanley
Permission to Speak Freely part 2

You come to God with financial problem, you come to God with health concerns, you come to God with a broken relationship, you come to God with your fears and disappointments, you come to God with whatever you need… and if you start off by declaring God’s greatness, all those things don’t seem to cast as great a shadow. Because you know the Master of the Cosmos. You know the Creator of all things. You know the One who is ultimately in control. And when you realize who He is and that He’s on your side, it puts everything else into perspective.

“Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.”
~ Phillip Yancey
Prayer, p. 29

And what happens is this: When you see life from God’s point of view, your problems don’t seem as big or insurmountable. As one old hymn says…

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
~ Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

When you pray, before you do anything else, take the time to recognize who it is you’re talking to. Take the time to declare God’s glory.

How can you do this? Well, you can talk about who He is to you. You can talk about how good He has been to you in the past and how He has blessed you. You can find a Psalm that describes the greatness of God and say, “God, this is who you are. This is all about you.” You can sing a worship song to Him. You can write a poem. You can express His greatness in a journal. However you do it, make sure you take the time to acknowledge who He is and get everything else into perspective. How long will it take? I don’t know. How long will it take you to settle down and recognize who He is?

When you pray, start out by declaring God’s greatness. Then Jesus went on to the next part… “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” What’s Jesus doing here? He’s saying that you need to…


2.    Align Your Will with the Will of God.

This is the part we want to skip over. We’d be quite happy to Declare God’s Greatness and then skip right to telling God what we want. I mean, two out of three ain’t bad, is it? Why do I have to align my will with the will of God? I’d rather tell Him what my will is, what I want, what I need. I’d rather this be all about me.

But Jesus says, “No! don’t skip this. This is crucial. When you pray, you need to get your will aligned with God’s will. So pray something like…

Matthew 6:10 (NLT)
“May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.”

In other words, “Before I get to my needs, wants and wishes, I want you to know that whatever the answer is… Your Kingdom not mine, Your will before mine. I’m surrendering to You. I want you to know, Your agenda for my family comes before my agenda. Your design for my future come before my design. Your goals for my career come before my goals. Your plans for my finances come before my plans. May Your Kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth—in my world—as it is in Heaven.”

And this can be tough. It can be difficult for you to tame your own desires and your own will and submit it to the will of God. Our prayers are more apt to go something like…

“My kingdom come, my will be done on earth, who give a rip about Heaven.
Give me this day everything I want and everything I can stick in my bank account and everything I can consume and everything I can pursue.
And lead me not into temptation, because I can find it all by myself. Amen.”

And you know, all through the Bible people struggled with this. The Jews wrestled with this throughout their history. In fact, the very name “Israel” means “God-wrestler.” And that’s what prayer can be like… like wrestling with God. You come to God with your own agenda, and toughest thing you can do is set it aside and let your will become aligned to God’s will.

“Prayer in its highest form and grandest success assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God.”
~ E.M. Bounds

And this isn’t a bad thing. It’s a necessary thing. We’ve turned prayer into a polite monologue. But real prayer is wrestling with God and haggling with Him and crying out to Him. Phillip Yancey in his book on prayer wrote…

“Not communicating is worse than fighting. In a wrestling match, at least both parties stay engaged.”
~ Phillip Yancey
Prayer, p. 98

It’s through this part of prayer that you are change. It’s where you declare, “Your Kingdom, not mine. Your will before mine.” This is where your faith intersects with His faithfulness. It’s where your prayer becomes more than just a shopping list… it’s where your prayer become intimate and relational and real.

So how long should you take here? Well, remember, there is no formula. This will be different for everyone and it will be different every time you pray. Because the length of this prayer does not depend on God; it depends on you and the condition of your heart. Are you aligned with His will? Maybe you’re already there and so this will take no time at all. Or maybe it’s something that you’ll really wrestle with.

One day Jesus got some bad news. One of His friends… one of His best friends… Lazarus… had died. Jesus had known Lazarus was sick… people had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was dying and asking Jesus to come heal him… but he had delayed in going to see him. And He did it on purpose, so we know that sometimes God does that: He delays on purpose because He has grander plans.

So when Jesus finally showed up at the tomb where Lazarus was buried, He found that the tomb had already been sealed with a stone. So Jesus asked the people who were there to roll the stone away. Well, the people weren’t really anxious to do this. If you want to understand why, go smell your compost bin. Lazarus had been dead for four days! But Jesus insisted, they rolled the stone away, and then Jesus began to pray.

John 11:41-43 (NLT)
Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”

There. How long did that prayer take? 10 seconds? In that time, Jesus declared God’s great faithfulness, He knew that His will was aligned with the will of the Father, and He called for Lazarus to come forth. And that’s exactly what happened. Lazarus came back to life, walked out of the tomb, and went and took a bath (I hope).

A ten second prayer. Then there was the time Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was right before Jesus was to be arrested and eventually crucified, He knew what was about to happen, and He wasn’t too eager to go through it. So He really wrestled with the Father. All night long He prayed and He prayed and He prayed. He prayed until He was sweating drops of blood. That’s how intense His prayer became.

And do you remember what He was praying? He was praying to God the Father, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go through it. I know You sent me here for this very purpose, but I don’t want to go along with it. Why would I submit myself to that torture? Why would I willingly lay down my life? I don’t have to do this, you know. I could decide to call down angels to protect me from the soldiers coming to arrest me. This isn’t my will.”

That’s what Jesus was praying, and He prayed like that all night long. But do you remember how He finished?

Luke 22:42 (NLT)
“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

He prayed and prayed and prayed, and He wrestled and He fought and He begged, until His will was aligned with the will of the Father.

A ten second prayer. A prayer that took Him all night. I can’t tell you how long your prayers should be. How long will it take for your will to be aligned with His will… for your heart to reflect His heart?



3.    Present Your Requests to God.

Why? So you can acknowledge your dependence upon God. Because everything you are and everything you have… great or small… comes from Him. So come to Him with your needs in order to acknowledge that it all comes from Him.

Now, some people see this as all prayer is. So this is all they do when they pray. The completely ignore what what’ve been taking about so far. This isn’t the only thing prayer is. It isn’t the main of prayer. But it is part of prayer. And Jesus told us to go ahead and present our request to God.

He told us to go ahead and pray…

•    For Provision to meet your needs

Matthew 6:11 (NLT)
“Give us today the food we need…”

You know it better as “Give us today our daily bread.” And for the disciples, this would have held tremendous meaning. When they heard Jesus say that, they would have thought way way way way back to the time their ancestors were wandering through the wilderness, and they didn’t have a source of food. They didn’t know what they were going eat. They didn’t know how they would survive. But that’s when God stepped in, and every morning when the people woke up, they would crawl out of their tents and discover that God had provided Manna… some kind of a food or bread that would crystallize on the ground overnight. God miraculously provided for them in their time of need.

So Jesus said, “Go ahead… ask God for what you need. He cares for you, He wants to give good gifts to His children, so go ahead and ask. God’s not going to resent you for asking, so go ahead and ask for His provision.”


And then Jesus went on and told us to pray…

•    For Pardon from your sinfulness

Matthew 6:12 (NLT)
“…and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”

Apologize for the times you’ve let God down… the times you’ve ignored Him, the times you’ve gone your own way and done your own thing… the times you’ve done things that you knew were wrong… apologize for those times and ask Him to forgive you.

And notice, too, how by the time you get to this stage in your prayer, your will is aligned with God’s will. Because you’re willing to forgive others who have wronged you, too.


And then Jesus said to pray…

•    For Protection from sin and evil

Matthew 6:13 (NLT)
“And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.”

You’ve already prayed for pardon for sins you’ve already committed; now you’re praying that God will protect you and will strengthen you so you don’t keep giving in to sin. And you’re also praying that He’ll protect you from any other attacks of Satan or any other calamities that may arise in your life.



And that’s how the model prayer that Jesus taught ends. And you say, “Now wait a minute. I know there’s more to it than that. What about that whole ‘For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever’ part? I know that’s part of it. Hey, we even sang it earlier!”

Well, that’s a nice bowtie to go on the end of the prayer, but the truth is that the oldest manuscripts we have of the New Testament, some dating back to the late first / early second century, don’t have that at the end. What happened was this: Some later manuscripts did have that tag at the end, which actually comes from a verse in the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles (29:11). And when the King James Version of the Bible was translated way back in 1611, those were the manuscripts that were available.

But since that time, older manuscripts have been discovered and we’ve learned that those words weren’t part of what Jesus originally taught.

So that’s where the prayer ends. “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation but deliver us from evil.”

Seems short, doesn’t it? But Jesus says, it’s not about the length. It’s about the priorities. It’s about your heart. It’s about your submission to God’s will. That’s what’s important.


Okay, so how about this afternoon you find someplace to get alone with God and start praying like Jesus taught?

Start out and declare His greatness. How long is it going to take? I don’t know, how long have you got?

And make sure not to skip over this part – get your will aligned with His. How long will that take? I don’t know, it depends on where you’re coming from and what’s going on in your life right now. But if He’s really as great as you’ve just declared, then certainly He deserves for us to submit our will to His.

And maybe you say, “I’ve never done this; it scares me.” That’s fine… God understands. Work it out with Him. But what if you wrestle with it as much as you can and you can only get to, like, 8 out of 10 today?” That’s fine, just agree with God that you’ll continue to wrestling over those other two. Let God know that’s your desire, and that you’re not going to be satisfied until you’re there.

And then go ahead and present your requests. How long will that take? Depends on how many things are on your list.

But you start with God and you end with you and in the middle is the issue: Whose agenda? Whose will? Who takes priority? This is how Jesus taught us to pray, and there’s no one more qualified than Him.

 

 

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