Welcome to week number three of our series called “Pray.” I’ve got to tell you that I’m so grateful for the gift of prayer. Prayer is a gift isn’t it? Prayer is a privilege, and some of you like me have been at that point in your life where you really discovered prayer, not just where you kinda pray, but where you really connected with God in prayer. For many of us it was in a crisis situation, where you had nowhere to look but up to heaven, and it was in that moment that you connected with God like you had never connected with him before. You understood the purpose and the value of prayer like you never understood it before, and you’re a different person today as a direct result of your prayer life with God.
And you know, in so many ways we exercise faith without even thinking about it. Many of us have flown on airplanes across great expanses of land and sea, yet never once did we consider questioning the ability of the man in the cockpit. Most likely, we never asked to see the maintenance records of the airplane or checked the latest government certifications to see if it was safe. Yet we trusted the pilot, the airline, and the airplane, because they’ve proven trustworthy in the past. And day by day in hundreds of similar situations we exercise faith without a second thought. We eat in restaurants trusting that the food has not been poisoned. We make deposits at the bank, inserting our hard earned money into that slot without ever seeing where the money goes. We get in elevators trusting that they will safely take us to a certain floor without stopping or falling and if we can have such unquestioning faith in others, how much more should we put our faith in God, in our Heavenly Father, whose character and abilities are beyond question?
The reality is that God welcomes us to seek him and to put our trust in him. He wants us to trust him even more than we would trust pilots, airplanes, or restaurants. Hebrews chapter 11 tells us to seek him and to trust him even though he is unseen. Verse six says, “Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). And so as we come to God, seeking him, he rewards us, and my hope is that as we leave here today that we would not just understand prayer more, but that we would leave here with a hunger to seek God and to spend time talking to him like we never have before.
This is pleasing to God and really it’s the presence of God that makes life so pleasant and heaven so wonderful. It’s what we long for, because we were created to have fellowship with God, and therefore we desire heaven because God is there. The psalmist said it this way in Psalm chapter 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalms 73:25-26). And so, God is our greatest desire, he’s the object of our affection, and we love him with our whole heart, soul, and mind. The attraction of heaven is that God is there, we’ll see him just as he is, no more veil, no more mystery, but oneness and complete revelation of God our Father. And so this morning we’re going to talk about seeking God through prayer.
The Bible tells us in Luke chapter 11 that, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray..." (Luke 11:1). Now at this point, the disciples had been with Jesus for quite some time, but when they saw him pray there was something that made them jump up and say, “Lord, teach us to pray!” Something they saw caused them to desire to connect with their Heavenly Father. I don’t know whether it was the intimacy they saw as he was praying, whether it was the holiness of that union, the fellowship, or what it was. But there was something they saw that created a hunger deep inside the disciples that caused them to long for what Jesus had. That caused them to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
This is really amazing considering all the stuff they’d seen Jesus do. You know, like taking a little bit of food and feeding 5000 people. Or spitting in the dust and making a little mud pie which he put in a man’s eyes so that he could see. The man’s vision was healed! And you know, I remember when I was younger slinging mud and having mud fights and getting it in my eyes. It didn’t help and it hurt. But you know, the disciples saw crazy things like that, that Jesus did, and never once did they say teach us how to do that. Never once did they pull him aside and say, “Jesus, you know that spitting in the mud thing, how in the world did you do that? You’ve gotta teach me how to do that.” Or, how about feeding all those people? “You’ve got to show me how to do that. Jesus, we’re going to solve the world hunger problem.” But they didn’t say that, instead they said, “Teach us to pray.” And Jesus did. It’s actually recorded in a couple different places, but I want to read from Matthew chapter 6, verses 9-13, in what’s called the Lord’s prayer, but it’s really the disciple’s prayer. The Lord’s prayer is found in John chapter 17, but here’s what Jesus said to his disciples.
In verse 9, Jesus said, "This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' NIV
Now what we’re going to do this morning is we’re going to look at this, considering what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples, so that we can learn what we should say and the things that we should do. And we want to know these things, because we know that “God rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). And if prayer is something we are to do constantly, continually, and without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), then it’s best that we know how to do it properly.
But first I want you to notice what he doesn’t teach us. Number one, he doesn’t teach us about the posture of prayer, because in the Bible we find people praying while standing, sitting, kneeling, bowing down, pounding on their chests, lifting their hands, facing the temple, and on and on. Number two, he doesn’t teach us about a specific place of prayer. We find people in the Bible praying on the battlefield, in caves, and in the street, People pray in their rooms, in gardens, on mountains, by the river, the sea, and in the Temple. Paul tells Timothy, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer” (1 Timothy 2:8). And so in the Bible people prayed in bed, in a house, on a house, in a fish, in prison, in the desert, on the cross, and so on. Number three he doesn’t tell us about times of prayer. As you examine the Bible you find people praying before dawn, in the morning, three times a day, before meals, after meals, at the ninth hour, in the evening, at bedtime, at midnight, day and night, today, often, when they’re young and when they’re old, every day and always. And so Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples a specific time, place, or posture to pray. Those are not the issues. Any posture, any place, any time, and under any circumstance is fitting, because prayer is a way of life. Prayer is communion with God that goes on all the time, it’s an awareness of the presence of God, and though sometimes it’s more concentrated and more intense than others, prayer is a way of life.
And therefore we need to understand how to pray and that’s exactly why Jesus teaches us here. In verse nine he says, “This then is how you should pray …” It’s not a prayer to be prayed so much as it is a model for all prayers. He is saying along these lines, or in this way, pray. He is not saying, “In these exact words pray” because when you recite it word by word it loses its meaning. And maybe you remember as a child the first time you prayed, maybe it was the Lord’s prayer, or some other child’s bed-time prayer. I remember saying grace before we ate. You know, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen.” And that was always one of my favorites, because I knew I was about to eat. But this prayer that Jesus gives us here, is not a prayer to be recited word for word, but a skeleton outline, a description of all prayer, and this morning we’re going to look at five things that Jesus teaches us to seek of God while we’re praying.
The first thing that Jesus teaches us is to seek God’s presence with an attitude of worship. Verse 9 says, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” And we should come with the attitude of worship because we’re petitioning the Creator of the universe, we’re seeking God, worshiping the one who is holy, all-powerful, in control and sovereign. So when we come seeking God in prayer we come with an attitude of worship, because he’s so big and we’re so small, yet we’re invited to intentionally seek his presence.
As I studied prayers in the Old Testament, I was amazed to find that even in the most dire of circumstances, even in the pit of despair, before they prayed, whether Jonah, Daniel, or whoever, they would worship God. For example, Jonah was in the belly of a great fish and you’d think he would pray, “Lord, get me out of here!” But instead he prays with this anthem of worship saying, "You hurled me into the deep…yet I will look again toward your holy temple... I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you… I with a song of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you” (Jonah 2:2-9).
In Daniel chapter 9, Daniel is faced with a life or death situation and as he bursts forth in prayer, he affirms the majesty, the glory, the holiness, and the character of his sovereign God. Listen as he begins in verse 4, "O Lord, the great and awesome God…” verse 7, "Lord, you are righteous…” verse 9, “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving…” and then all the way down in verse 17, "Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant” (Daniel 9:4-9, 17).
So we seek God with the attitude of worship remembering that God is holy, his name is holy, and therefore not only is he pure, but he is set apart. Yet Jesus invites us to call him our Father. Now that was something new, because this suggests a level of intimacy, approachability, and relationship. And so we’re invited to come, to call him our Father, but we do it with an attitude of worship, because his name is holy. Therefore the second thing is that we must seek God’s priorities over our own.
Verse 10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Now if you’re like me this is a tough one, because in my flesh it’s all about what I want and what I need. But when we come to God in prayer, it’s all about him, it’s not about us. It has nothing to do with us, because it is all about him, it’s about who he is and what he’s doing. It’s about what he wants to do with us, in us, and through us. And yet so many times we come to him as if he’s a cosmic Coke machine. But when we come in prayer, we have to come to him, with the realization that life is not all about us, but it’s all about him. So we come to that place where we seek his priorities, his plans over ours, and we get to that place in our lives where we’re seeking the giver and not the gifts that he gives. And number three we seek God’s provision for our daily needs.
Verse 11, “Give us today our daily bread.” When we come to God in prayer we come with the attitude that accepts and understands that God is our provider. His name is Jehovah-Jireh, he is our provider, and everything we have, everything we are, is because he has given us these gifts. It’s not our job, or even Walmart, or McDonald’s that provides. God has given, he has provided, and so when we’re praying we understand that and come to him for our daily needs.
In Genesis chapter 22, Abraham illustrates this for us, as he was commanded to take his son, his one and only son, to the mountain where he would offer him as a sacrifice to God. In obedience, he’d done just what the Lord had asked and as he was about to take his son’s life, his knife was in his hand, the Lord called and said “Do not lay a hand on the boy!” Now I know that you fear God, because you’ve not withheld from me your only son. You could just imagine the relief with which Abraham might’ve collapsed upon the altar, upon his son, holding him with tears. And the Bible says that “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram, sacrificing it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place, Jehovah-Jireh which means, “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:12-14).
Today, some of you have needs and you need to recognize that God is your provider. Some of you are struggling financially, some of you relationally, and some of you spiritually. Whatever it is that you need this morning; God is Jehovah-Jireh, he is our provider, it’s not us, it’s him, and I encourage you to come to him as part of your prayer recognizing that he is your Jehovah-Jireh. Paul tells us in Philippians chapter 4, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). That’s a promise that God will meet your needs, he’ll reprioritize your needs, and then he will meet needs you didn’t even know you had. Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “He’s able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
And number four, pray seeking God’s pardon. In verse 12, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Again, this should be a regular part of our prayers and it’s literally falling down before God, and asking for forgiveness for the sin in our lives. For some of you it’s a once a day prayer, but for others of you it might be like every five minutes because life is unmanageable, things are out of control right now. Jesus is not on the throne of your life, he’s not Lord, and so we need to ask for God’s forgiveness as part of our prayers. And for you maybe it’s lust, or adultery, or habits, or addictions, maybe it’s gossip. Some of you here have asked for forgiveness, but you haven’t forgiven yourself, and you’re still carrying it around and refusing to let it go. But here’s what the Bible says, first John chapter 1, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In other words, if we confess our sins to God he’ll forgive us, it’s done, it’s finished, and it’s gone. You’re washed clean, you’re purified, and so I encourage you, as you come to God in prayer, that on a regular basis you come to him and ask for forgiveness of the sin in your life. So the first thing we need to seek in prayer, is we need to seek God’s presence, we need to seek God’s priorities, we need to seek God’s provision, and we need to seek God’s pardon. Next, we need to seek God’s power to overcome temptation.
Jesus tells us in verse 13, pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Make no mistake about it, the evil one is real, and he’s not some cute little guy in a red suit with a pitchfork. He’s real and his goal is to destroy your family, to destroy you, and therefore he wants to get you addicted, get you distracted, get you depressed, and discouraged. He will move things, hide things, make things happen, and try to destroy you, and so we need to come to God and pray in the middle of those temptations.
You see, Satan lives to tempt us, and some of you are going to go home today and you’re going to turn on the TV, sit down to the computer, and there it is right before your eyes. You’d like to watch it, but you know you shouldn’t, and so you stop and pray, “God give me power, keep me from temptation.” Some of you are single and you’re going to find yourself in a compromising situation, a threat to your purity and your witness for Jesus. And so you stop and pray, “God give me power to stand strong against temptation.” Moms you’re at home and you’re cooking, the kids spilled their lemonade, their jumping from chair to chair, their screaming, and you’re going to be tempted to do more than just scream. You might even make the headlines, and so you’ve got to stop and ask God to give you power to overcome that temptation.
You know, if you haven’t heard anything in the past 30 minutes, this is the part where you should tune in. The Bible tells us in first Corinthians chapter 10, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you’re tempted, he’ll also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is our Jehovah-Jireh, he’s our provider, and so when you’re tempted, you come to God asking for power and strength, and he’ll give it to you, and not only that but he’ll give you a way out of your situation. It will be supernatural, at the right time, and at the right moment. God will provide you a way out.
I encourage you this morning to seek God in prayer, to hunger for him, to search for Him, to seek him and he’ll change you. Every point of this prayer, every power packed statement in this prayer, focuses on God who is our Father. It’s God’s program, God’s purpose, and so we seek God’s presence, God’s priorities, God’s provision, God’s pardon, and God’s power. Every phrase speaks of God in his infinite, sovereign, majestic place; for his is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
March 13, 2016