Harbor Lights Sermon  July 2011

Introduction to Prayer

I thought that today and perhaps for a number of sessions I might focus on an area of activity in which you may take the opportunity to serve God effectively in spite of the restrictions and limitations you face in your present circumstances. We learn in Luke chapter two that shortly after Jesus was born he was taken to the temple. "There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." So here was a woman, 84 years old, being commended for devoting herself to worship and prayer. Prayer is the subject I'll be focussing on.

The Bible has much to say of the benefits, virtues and effectiveness of prayer. And it says, "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." Is 55:6,7 For prayer is both how we enter the faith and it's an essential pratice of our faith.

 Prayer is seeking God, acknowledging God and making requests of God. He says, "I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jer 29:11-13

God listens to us if we listen to Him with the intention to obey. Jesus said, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you." John 15:7 And John writes, "we receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him." 1John 3:22 And so we seek God's will so to ask in accordance with His will, even if it may come down to praying as Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but yours be done." Luke 22:42 But, as John writes, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." 1John 5:14

And if we are not familiar with His will, through prayer He gives us understanding. He says, "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know." Jer 33:3 And James writes, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." Jas 1:5 And through prayer we experience God's deliverance. He says, "Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." Ps 50:14,15

Peter writes, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." 1Peter 5:7

Mt 7:7-11 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone. Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

But prayer incorporates not only asking, but also thanking God and acknowledging God for who He is. In fact our singing of Hymns is a form of prayer.

As a pattern of prayer I would like to elaborate upon the "Our Father" we find in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6.

Matthew 6:5-13

Hypocrites Pray to Impress Others

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Last time I had shared of Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector found in Luke chapter 18 where the Pharisee, for a show, prayed about himself, what a good person he thought himself to be. Jesus characterized the religious elite of his day in Mt 23 saying, "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi. "But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven." Mt 23:5-9 God is not impressed without outward religiousity, but with inward sincerity. like the tax collector who prayed, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Luke 18:13

Don't Treat God Like a Divine Vending Machine

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

God is not interested in mindless repetitious prayers, as if prayers are magical incantations. Don't treat God like a divine vending machine. God is not interested in the repetitious praying of the Our Father or the Hail Mary. In fact what Jesus is speaking to is the very thing that is practiced in the Catholic church were after confession your are told to say so many Our Fathers and so many Hail Mary's. Interesting that Jesus' introduction to the Our Father prayer warns us not to use this prayer the very way many commonly use it today.

"This, then, is how you should pray:

In saying this he is simply pointing to this prayer as a pattern, an example of prayer. He starts off with Praise.

"‘Our Father in heaven" It is a priviledge to call God our Father, for not everyone is a child of God. Paul writes in Gal 3:26, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" A person has to receive the right to become children of God. John writes, "to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." John 1:12,13

He goes on to acknowledge God's holiness, which is God's contempt for sin. He says, "hallowed be your name". God's name is His reputation. This "hallowed be your name" is a pledge to guard God's reputation as holy. And part of that is a pledge to behave in manner which reflects that holiness. Thus Paul writes of the religious, "You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: "God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." Rom 2:21b-24

Then he says, "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It's a Kingdom, not a democracy. And this is an acknowledgement of His Lordship over us. This is not a wish, but a pledge to do and to seek God's will as subjects of His kingdom.  Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Mt 7:21 And John writes, "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." 1John 2:17 Intentionally doing the will of God should be characteristic of the Christian life.

Next he speaks about supplication saying, "Give us today our daily bread." It's interesting that he's not asking for bread to store up for the next 10 years. He's asking for a bloated 401K so he won't have to ever ask for any material thing in the future. Rather he's asking only about today necessities. And I say necessities. There is often a great distinction between what people want and what people need. People tend to pray primarily about what they want rather than what they need. Consequently we should pray with an attitude of contentment with regards to material things. For Paul writes, "We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction." 1Tim 6:7-9

And so we find today that about 90% of the things Christians ask for are material things, while in the New Testament letters, about 90% of the requests regard not material things but spiritual things.

And finally Jesus deals with sin saying, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.‘

Here he's alluding to the parable of the unforgiving servant of Matthew 18 in which a servant didn't take to heart his Lord's forgiveness and so in turn refused to forgive a fellow servant. Consequently his Lord took back his forgiveness and he was thrown into a jail to be tortured until he paid back all he owed. Jesus ends the parable saying, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Mt 18:35

Leading us not into temptation and delivering us from evil is also alluded to in 1Cor 10:13 which says, "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 are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." But let's remember to pray to that end that we may all be delivered from times of testing.

Next time I'll show examples of prayer in the New Testament letters which you can incorporate in your prayer life. But right now let's end with the Lord's Prayer.


Hymns:

(17) Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
(38) What a Friend We Have in Jesus
(22) WE THANK YOU, LORD
Jul 29,2015