The Purpose of Prayer
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 16, 2007
Philippians 3:8-12 (NLT)
of Canadians say they do it every day. 75% of Canadians do it at least
once in a while. What am I talking about? They pray. (Reggie Bibby,
They pray. People in
our society pray. And we’re not must talking about the Christian faith.
Every faith has some form of prayer. Some means to talk to a Higher
Power about for everyday things such as health, food, safety, stronger
families, and victories in battle.
The Incas and the Aztecs
prayed… offering human sacrifices in order to get the attention of
their god. Muslims pray, five times a day. Wherever they are, whatever
they’re doing, they stop and pray at the appointed times every day.
Millions of people in Alcoholics Anonymous pray daily to a Higher
Power, begging for help in getting their addictions under control.
Let me read something for you…
you meet with difficulties in your work, or suddenly doubt your
abilities, think of him… and you will find the confidence you need. If
you feel tired in an hour when you should not, think of him… and your
work will go well. If you are seeking a correct decision, think of him…
and you will find that decision.”
(as found in Yancey’s book, Prayer, the “…” should be replaced with
“—of Stalin—”. I removed it for effect.)
that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? What’s it talking about there? It
sounds like it’s talking about prayer. Actually, it was printed in 1950
in a Soviet newspaper (Pravda) in reference to Joseph Stalin. “If you
have difficulties in your work, think of Stalin and he will help you.
If you’re looking for guidance, think of Stalin and he will direct
you.” Even atheists under a communist regime found ways to pray, even
if it was to a dictator.
Prayer is a universal activity. We feel an inner drive to pray.
But why? Why do we pray? Why is it important? Why did God place this
desire within us? What is the purpose of prayer?
is the Purpose of Prayer?
ask that question because I don’t think it means what most people think
it means. What if real prayer isn’t what you think it is? Most people
see prayer as a way to tell God what to do. If I pray, if I say all the
right words, if I enter the right combination, if I use the right code,
if I put the change in the machine in the right order… then God has to
do what I say, right? Some of us see prayer like that… like a vending
machine. As a way to tell God what to do.
Or maybe you see it as
a way to tap into God’s power supply. God’s a powerful God, and when
you pray you tap into that power, right?
Or maybe you see prayer
as just a way to get your needs met in life. You need this and this and
this, so if you ask God, He’s got to give it to you. Or does He?
it’s true that you can pray to ask God to meet your needs. He’s a
loving Father and He cares about you and He wants you to come to Him
and talk with Him about those kinds of things. But that’s not all
prayer is. There’s so much more to it than that. Because first and
purpose of prayer is to know God.
not about getting what you want or getting what you need, it’s not only
about seeking strength and guidance and encouragement. It’s about
knowing God. About knowing Jesus Christ. It’s about understanding who
He is, and what He’s like, and seeing things from His point of view.
Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline, explained it
prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after Him: to
desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves, to will the
things He wills.”
~ Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline p.33
That’s what prayer is all about… becoming intimately acquainted with
the God of the universe.
Let me ask you, what’s the most important thing in your life? Is it…
• Your schedule
• Your marriage
• Your children
• Your work
• Your finances
• Your ministry
• Your education
is it? The most important thing in your life is none of those. The most
important thing in your life is your own personal, intimate
relationship with Jesus Christ, because everything else flows out of
that. He brings meaning and purpose and joy and guidance and stability
to all the rest.
Philippians 3:8 (NLT)
everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of
knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
most important thing in your life is your own personal, intimate
relationship with Jesus Christ. And the way to grow and nurture that
relationship is through prayer.
So for the rest of our time this
morning, and overflowing to next Sunday, we going to be talking about
how to pray. We’re going to talk this morning about how to approach
prayer, and then next week we’re going to get into some of the nuts and
bolts of how to pray. Okay?
So how should I approach prayer?
Well, let me give you five words to describe the attitude or the
atmosphere in which you enter into prayer…
should approach God in prayer…
not just talking about the absence of noise… I’m talking about having a
quietness of heart… a quietness of spirit… a quietness that allows you
to hear God.
Psalm 46:10 (NLT)
still, and know that I am God!”
In your notes, circle those words, “Be still.” You need to be still…
you need to have a quietness before Him.
word, “still”… in the Latin version of the Bible, the word that we
translate as “still” is “vacate”. Look familiar? It’s where we get the
word vacation! God is telling us to take a vacation from everything
that’s pressuring us and everything that’s occupying us and everything
that’s distracting us from Him…take a vacation—take a break—so you can
“God is inviting us to take a break, to play truant.
We can stop doing all those important things we have to do in our
capacity as God, and leave it to Him to be God.”
~ Simon Tugwell
(Yancey, Prayer p.26)
boy, that’s hard to do, isn’t it? I mean, we’re all busy. I’ve never
talked to anybody who complained about having to much time to get
everything done. We’re all busy. We all have demands on our time. And
personally, I find it very difficult to take that break… to get away…
to set aside my work… and to just be quiet before God. But it’s
essential that I do that. Otherwise, I’ll know all about God but I’ll
never know God. I don’t need to study more about Him, I need to know
So I’m not speaking to you this morning as someone who has
this all figured out. I’m on this journey with you. I’ve been a
follower of Jesus for almost 30 years, but I’m still discovering what
it means to know Him. What it means to be still and know that He is God.
“The quieter the mind, the more powerful, the worthier, the deeper, the
more telling and more perfect the prayer is.”
~ Meister Eckhart
Yancey, Prayer p. 54
matters. Pride does nothing but hinder your relationship with God.
Remember who’s in control. Be submissive to Him. Trust Him. Look to Him
for the answers. Stop looking to yourself. Be humble in His presence.
James 4:6 (NLT)
opposes the proud but favours the humble.”
humility is not a “Woe is me” outlook on life. It’s not a
self-deprecating thing. It’s just an honest acknowledgement of who you
are and who God is.
Remember, God doesn’t owe you anything. Even
if you serve in ministry, even if you devote three hours a day to
prayer, even if you give all your money to the poor… God doesn’t owe
you anything. He’s already given you all you could ever ask for.
God doesn’t owe you, so don’t approach Him as if He does. Approach Him
Just to give you a little context, let’s take a look at a story Jesus
told in Luke 18…
Luke 18:10-14 (NLT)
men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a
despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this
prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else.
For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m
certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give
you a tenth of my income.’
the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes
to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying,
‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner,
not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who
exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will
That Pharisee… a
religious person… a generous person… by all appearances a moral person…
was filled with pride. And it showed through when he prayed. What a
turnoff that is to God.
But that tax collector… a sinner… an
outcast… recognized who he was in the presence of a holy God… and his
humility opened the door for him to experience the grace and favour of
Now, if you’re not a humble person, does that mean you
shouldn’t pray? No, because if you pray and you don’t have the right
attitude and you’re not humble… you have a hard time looking to Him and
trusting Him and giving up control of your own… if you struggle with
that kind of pride but you want to be humble, then God will help you
with that. He will teach you what it means to be humble before Him. So
pray, all the while seeking and trusting God to form in you a humble
here’s where it seems I’m contradicting myself. Last week and earlier
today, I talked about making the time to get away, to take a break, to
get alone in a quiet place where you could hear from God. And yes,
that’s an important habit for you to get into… maybe everyday, maybe
once a week, maybe once a month… get alone with God for a period of
That’s where you have the “getting to know You” kinds of prayers, where
your relationship with God blossoms.
then there are the dealing with life kinds of prayers… the “help me”,
“give me”, “direct me”, “protect me” kinds of prayers. Or the quick
“Thanks, God” kinds of prayers. Those are important, too. In fact, the
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)
can get to the point in your relationship with God that praying is a
regular part of your day all day long. You’re going through life
together, so you talk with Him about the things that come up throughout
the day. You develop an attitude of prayer.
“To saints their very slumber is a prayer.”
~ Saint Jerome
“Prayer takes none of our time, but it occupies all of our time.”
sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But how do you get there? I mean, there
are days that will come and go and I’ll realize that I haven’t really
prayed today. And I’ll feel all guilty about that and wish I could do
better and just feel like I’m letting God down and letting myself down.
if that’s how you feel, let me encourage you to not get bogged down by
guilt. Just move forward, trusting God to help you do better tomorrow.
must never be discouraged by our lack of prayer. Even in our
prayerlessness we can hunger for God. If so, the hunger itself is
prayer… In time, the desire will lead to practice, and practice will
increase the desire.”
~ Richard Foster
the Bible in Luke chapter 11, we find Jesus out by Himself prayer. And
this was a pretty common thing. He would often go off by Himself and
pray to His Father.
Well, His disciples were nearby, and they
were noticing that this was a regular thing for Him. They saw Jesus go
off to pray and they got to wondering, “Why does Jesus pray so much
better than we do?” Remember, these disciples had grown up Jewish. They
were familiar with all the prayers in the Old Testament. And they would
have had prayers that they would recite, too. But they noticed that
Jesus prayed differently. He prayed more intimately. He prayed more
And so they went to Him and asked Him to teach them
to pray, too. And Jesus agreed. And so He taught them what we commonly
refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. You know, “Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed be Your name…” We’re going to be talking about that next week.
when Jesus finished teaching them that model prayer, He continued and
He told them this story… remember He’s still talking about prayer…
Luke 11:5-8 (NLT)
you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three
loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for
a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out
from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night,
and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you
this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking
long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of
your shameless persistence.”
this is kind of a strange story. When you read one of Jesus’ stories…
on of His parables… you can usually assume that someone in the story is
you, and someone in the story is God. And I’m pretty sure I know which
one is supposed to be me in this story. I’m the one banging on the door
looking for the bread.
So who’s God? Apparently, God’s the one
inside the house who’s not so anxious to answer the door. That doesn’t
seem to be a very good picture of God, does it? That doesn’t seem very
loving, does it?
Well, let me ask you parents, when your child
comes to you on a Saturday afternoon and asks you to take them out for
ice cream, do you always take them? No, of course not. Sometimes you’re
busy, sometimes you’re relaxing… it’s not always convenient to go out.
But has there ever been a time when your child has asked repeatedly…
“Can we go, can we go, can we go.” Maybe asked you a few times over the
span of a couple hours, until finally you say, “Okay, let’s go.” Have
you ever done that?
Now, did that mean that you suddenly started
to love your kid and so you answered their request? Of course not, you
loved them all along. It may have just been an inconvenient time, or
not the right time, or maybe you just wanted to make sure that they
really wanted to go.
I don’t fully understand this myself, but
sometimes we have to pray persistently. When you pray about something
once or twice and you don’t see or hear an answer, keep on praying. And
trust that God will answer in the best way and at the best time
people are afraid to tell God when they’re angry, when they’re
disappointed, when they’re confused, when they’re disillusioned. But
there’s no reason to be afraid to too Him. It’s not as if that would be
news to God. He already knows everything about you, He knows what
you’re feeling, so just be honest with Him.
“Don’t be afraid to bring all that you are to God. We pray as we can,
not as we can’t.”
~ Richard Foster
you don’t believe me, just look at the book of Psalms. They’re packed
full of emotion. They’re whiny, they’re petty, they’re explosive,
they’re loud, irreverent, they’re angry… Or how about Jeremiah? He
wrote a whole book of laments or sorrow. Or how about Job asking what
good it is to pray? Or how about Habbakuk who accused God of being
deaf? The prayers you find in the Bible… they’re very honest, with
people just pouring out their hearts to God… expressing whatever they
might be feeling. God’s a big God. He can take it. So be honest with
“Prayer makes room for the unspeakable, those secret compartments of
shame and regret that we seal away from the outside world.”
~ Philip Yancey
Prayer, p. 41
“We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”
~ C.S. Lewis
the truth is, God already knows what’s in you. He knows if you’re
angry. He knows if you’re bitter. He knows if you’re disappointed. He
knows if you have doubts. He knows if you have trust issues. He knows
if you feel like a failure. He knows all of that crumby stuff. And he
also knows all the joys and all the achievements and all the excitement
and the victories you experience in life. So don’t try to hide it; be
1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)
judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
so now that we’ve laid some of the ground rules for how we should
approach God in prayer—quietly, humbly, constantly, persistently,
honestly—now that we’ve talked about all of that, we’re ready to get
into the nuts and bolts. So next week, we’re going to be talking a look
at the model prayer that Jesus Himself gave to us. We’re going to look
at how He said we should pray.