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Building God’s House
“Building a Prayer Life”
There was a little boy who was saying his prayers right before Christmas, and when he got to the end he yelled, “And give me a new bicycle.” When his father asked why he yelled, he said, “It’s because grandma is in the next room, and she’s hard of hearing.”
It is said that of all the responsibilities that we have as Christians, the most difficult and challenging is having a fervent and vibrant prayer life.
For the Christian, praying should be like breathing. Just as breathing is the response of physical life to the presence of air, so prayer should be the response of spiritual life to the presence of God. In other words, prayer is as important for our spiritual life as air is for our physical life.
Martin Luther said about his need of prayer, “I have so much to do that I must spend the first three hours of each day in prayer.” However, if he knew his day would be even more demanding than usual, he would make sure that he would spend more time in prayer before starting.
Prayer changes us. It changes our perspective and gives us a clearer picture of this world we live in, and that’s because God is the Creator, and knows a whole lot more about it than we do.
Further, it is said that if Christians spent as much time praying as they do grumbling, they would soon have nothing to grumble about.
Most of us, however, struggle with our prayer life. Sometimes our time in prayer is glorious like what happened to the woman who had the issue of blood and was able to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, that is, in our time of prayer we’re able to touch God.
Other times, more often than we would like to admit, we’re more like Zacchaeus, pushing and shoving through our crowded thoughts and the business of life, only to find out that our time with God has been crowded out by all the other stuff. And so we become discouraged with our prayer life, and it becomes more of an after thought than a necessity.
Pastor John Powell began his message on prayer with this disclaimer. “What I’m about to say to you represents my ideals.”
Maybe the reason we don’t take the time to pray as we should is because we either don’t see its use, because we haven’t received what we’ve prayed for, or we deny the power of prayer.
There is a story about a tavern that was being built in a small town. The Christians from the church opposed it and began an all night prayer meeting for God to intervene and stop the tavern from being built. That night lightening struck the tavern and it burned to the ground. The owner of the tavern sued the church claiming they were responsible. The Church hired a lawyer to claim that they were not responsible. After both sides presented the arguments the judge said, “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians don’t.”
What is prayer?
John Powell said, “They say that every relationship is as good as its communication. I think that’s true in our relationship with God too. Our relationship with God is about as good as our communication with God, and this communication is called prayer.”
Prayer is our line of communication with God, where we talk with God and God talks with us. You see, prayer is not a one sided communication that we have with God. It is listening more than it is talking.
The Bible says, “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2 NKJV)
Prayer, therefore, is something God expects from His people. Let’s say that Jesus personally appeared to us and said He wanted us to pray. Now, while I’m not a betting man, I will wager that we’d be more inclined and faithful in our prayer life!
But we don’t really need Jesus to come down and tell us, because He already has in His word. Throughout the gospels He says, “When you pray,” and in the disciples’ prayer, or what is more commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, He said, “This is how you are to pray.” Jesus also said to his disciples to always pray, and prayer was the subject of several the parables Jesus taught.
Jesus, therefore, has already requested our presence in prayer.
Elsewhere in the New Testament we are also commanded to pray.
“Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2 NKJV)
To continue earnestly means to be busily engaged in, to be devoted to, and to persevere. When we are devoted to something we make it a priority giving it the necessary time to see it accomplished. Therefore, Paul is saying that prayer is to be a priority in our lives, and as such, we are to give our all to prayer.
“Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV)
Paul says that praying without ceasing, along with always rejoicing and giving thanks in everything, is God’s will for our lives. We are therefore to pray continually, which is an expression of our unbroken relationship with God, and it’s never losing our awareness of God no matter what we’re doing, or what is going on in our lives.
And while these verses are commands in the Greek language, the writer of Hebrews makes our time in prayer into an invitation.
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV)
This word “boldly” in the Greek language means with all speech. And so, we are invited to the very throne room of God to talk directly with Him.
Donald Whitney, in his book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life,” said, “We can be prayer pessimists and see the expectation to pray merely as an obligation, or we can be optimists who view the command to pray as an opportunity to receive the mercy and grace of God.”
We also doubt prayer’s effectiveness. Often times we say, “All I can do is pray for you.” Prayer is not the least, but it is the greatest thing we can do for someone. But, that still doesn’t answer the question as to why people consider it to be ineffective.
The Bible, however, tells us that the main reason our prayers go unanswered is because of wrong motives on our part.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3 NKJV)
As a whole, the reason we feel like prayer is ineffective is because we have downgraded prayer to feelings and emotions. We just don’t feel like God is near when we pray.
Someone said it this way. “When our awareness of the greatness of God and the gospel is dim, our prayer lives will be small. The less we think of the nature and character of God, the less we are reminded of what Jesus Christ did for us on the Cross. The less we want to pray.”
This need for prayer, and to learn how to pray, was key on the minds of Jesus’ disciples when they asked Him, “Teach us to pray.”
Why would they ask Jesus that? I mean they saw Him walk on water, feeds tens of thousands of people with a couple loaves of bread and a few fish. They saw Him heal the blind, the mute, the lame, the leper, and the demon possessed. They saw His teachings captivate the crowds, and confound the religious leaders of that day. Yet, they never asked how to do miracles, or how to teach or preach, but rather how to pray.
Now, if we want to learn a trade, we don’t ask someone who doesn’t know anything about it; rather we ask the person who is the best at it. If we want to play basketball, we want to be taught by a basketball player, or coach. If we want to know about how to be a successful investor, we ask the most successful investor we know.
Prayer was a vital part of Jesus’ life, and if Jesus felt that prayer was so important that He spent hours praying, then his disciples knew that it was important for them as well.
Jesus, knowing the extreme importance of prayer, took the time to teach His disciples about prayer and how believers are to pray.
Let’s look at this together.
“In this manner, therefore, pray: 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 debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:9-15 NKJV)
Prior to giving them this prayer, Jesus knew of the possible misuse of his instructions, so He begins by giving several warnings concerning prayer life.
A. Prayer Should Not Be Hypocritical
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.” (Matthew 6:5 NKJV)
The word hypocrite in the Greek language was use to describe actors. They played a part, which was not who they were in reality. They were what we might call, “Pretenders.”
Jesus is saying that prayer is not something we do to impress others. Rather it is what comes from a humble heart as we approach the sovereign and almighty God. Now, Jesus was not against public prayer, just insincere prayer.
B. Prayer Should Not Be Repetitious
“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7 NKJV)
Vain repetition literally means to babble, that is, to talk without thought. It is a warning against meaningless repetitions thinking that the length of a prayer is more effective with God.
Jesus then gave them a model prayer, one by which they were to formulate their own prayers. Jesus said, “In this manner, therefore, pray.” He did not say, “Use these words.” Jesus is giving a pattern to be followed, not an inflexible form to be kept. It is an outline that we can model our prayer life after.
And what I find interesting is that when we take time to look at prayer this way, what we’ll find is that it is more about the spirit in which we are to pray than it is the words in which we use.
The spirit by which we are to pray with is an unselfish spirit, a loyal and submissive spirit, a spirit of reverence and awe, a humble spirit, and a spirit that is wholly and totally dependent upon God.
Now, in the prayer that Jesus taught, we see two distinct parts of prayer.
1. Acknowledgementof God’s Holiness and Sovereignty
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10 NKJV)
Using the term “Father” for God was not the normal way of addressing God. They would use the various names of God, but not one with of such intimacy. And maybe the reason was because they never knew God intimately as Father.
Jesus confirmed this when He told the religious leaders they were of their father, the devil. Not everyone can call upon God as their Father. For many, therefore, the use of Father is a title, and has nothing do do with a relationship.
Jesus goes on to say, “Hallowed be Your name.”
The word “hallowed” means to set apart. It means to make His name holy and sacred in our lives. What we’re praying for is for God to set apart Himself and His name in our lives.
The Last Psalms of David, Psalms 146-150, are Psalms of praise, as they all begin, “Praise the Lord.” And the key to our praise is that it should be in God alone, and not in anything else.
“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.” (Psalm 148:13)
Our praise should be in God alone, and nothing that man can devise. This is brought out earlier in Psalm 146:3-4. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
No matter what man devises, his sciences or his philosophies, they don’t last, and they don’t stand the test of time. Only in God is our salvation and eternity found.
Next, we acknowledge His sovereignty by asking God to help us align ourselves to His plan and purposes. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This was at the heart of Jesus’s prayer life. Even at the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that death upon the cross awaited Him, where He would take upon Himself our sins, Jesus prayed, “Not my will, but Your will be done” (Luke 22:42).
What we’re saying is that we want God’s purposes to be fulfilled in and through our lives. It is where we say to God, “Let my desire be in full agreement with Your word,” and not the other way around where His word fulfills our desire.
And so here is the question we need to ask. “If this is the heart of our prayer life, that God’s name, and thus, God Himself, be set apart in our lives, that the Father would be our Father, and that His will would be done in and through our lives, do our lives reflect that?”
Are we living our lives in such a way that God’s holy name is honored, and that we are moving forward in His will rather than in our own?
2. Bringing Our PetitionsBefore God
These petitions are in three parts.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11 NKJV)
Bread represents the necessities of life, that is, what we are to live on. Jesus said that man shall not live on bread alone, but rather upon every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
Now, this word “daily,” is an interesting word, because it is only used this one time in New Testament. It has, however, been used quite a lot outside the Bible in the everyday life of the people. It was actually found on an old grocery list during this time. The word was attached to perishable items. That is, get only enough for the day.
It reminds us of God’s provision back when Israel wandered 40 years in the wilderness. They were commanded by God to pick up enough manna to be used for that day and for that day only. When they took more, then what remained turned putrid and filled with maggots.
Jesus is telling us that when we pray, our prayers should be towards our needs, not our greeds.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12 NKJV)
“Debt” is a Jewish metaphor for sin. Jesus is saying that just as we are to ask for our daily necessities, we are likewise to ask God to daily forgive our sins. The Bible says that there is not a righteous person alive that hasn’t sinned and has fallen short of God’s glory, that is, short of His holy and righteous standards for life.
But what I would like for us to also see is that there is a link between the way we forgive others of their sins against us, and the Father’s forgiveness of our sins.
We are asking God to forgive us the same way we forgive others. Now, that’s a scary thought. Have we forgiven others of their sins against us? If we want God to forgive us of our sins against Him, then we have to forgive others of their sins against us.
This same thought is carried on in what Jesus goes on to say.
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV)
“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13a NKJV)
Here we are seeking God’s protection from Satan and his demonic forces in times of trials and temptation when we are the most susceptible, when we are at our weakest.
Now, many of us think that this is a no-brainer prayer. All of us want to be delivered from Satan’s clutches, but not so much from His temptations.
Why is praying not to be led into temptation hard for us? The reason is because we like to live on the edge where our hearts pound with both dread and excitement. We enjoy our fantasies, our “X” rated shows, or our Harliquin Romance Novels, which is the PG version of an “X” rated event.
Now, a temptation is not a sin, but that doesn’t mean we are safe. Look at what the Apostle James says about where temptation leads us.
“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” (James 1:14-16 NKJV)
And so we need to pray for God’s protection. I like the way Martin Luther said it.
“You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.”
And so, all of us can build our lives into lives of prayer, which is not so much of a nicety as it is a necessity, and as we have seen, this isn’t something that comes naturally, but it comes with practice.
When a child first begins to color, their coloring has much to be desired, in other words, it’s all over the place. Grass is blue and the sky is green, and they have a really hard time staying within the lines. But as they grow older, their color and hand coordination vastly improves.
This is like our prayer life. At the beginning we really don’t know what to pray for, and in reality we’re all over the place in our prayers. But, God doesn’t chastise us for it, the same way we don’t chastise our little ones when they scribble all over the paper.
Think about it, those drawings our children create are masterpieces we hang on our refrigerators for all to see. And that is how I believe God looks at our prayers.
But as we continue to pray, making prayer a discipline, then we will begin to know more about God, and we’ll know more about His way and will for our lives and for this world we live in.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study