The Purpose of Prayer
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 16, 2007

 

Main Passage: Philippians 3:8-12 (NLT)


30% 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, http://www3.telus.net/st_simons/cr9208.htm)

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…

“If 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.)

Boy 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?


What is the Purpose of Prayer?

I 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?

Well, 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 foremost…

The purpose of prayer is to know God.

It’s 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 this way…

“In 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

What 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)
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.


The 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…


We should approach God in prayer…

1.    Quietly

I’m 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)
“Be 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.

That 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 know God.

“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)

But 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 Him.

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


2.    Humbly

Attitude 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)
“God opposes the proud but favours the humble.”

Now, 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 with humility.

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)
“Two 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.’
“But 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 be exalted.”

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 God.


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 heart.


3.    Constantly

Okay, 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 time.

That’s where you have the “getting to know You” kinds of prayers, where your relationship with God blossoms.

But 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 Bible says…

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)
Never stop praying.

You 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.”
~ Unknown

That 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.

Well, 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.

“We 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
http://www.ptm.org/98PT/SepOct/Heartbeat.htm


4.    Persistently

In 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 effectively.

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.

But 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)
“Suppose 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.”

Now, 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 possible.


5.    Honestly

Some 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
http://www.ptm.org/98PT/SepOct/Heartbeat.htm

If 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 Him.

“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

And 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 honest.

1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)
“People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”



Okay, 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.

 

 

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