Series: Growing Deeper- In Prayer : Conversations that change the world- Mathew 6:1-18
World over, but more so in Africa, there are certain times in the day when the country quiets down to listen. The 1 pm, 7pm and 9 Pm News have become a special highlight in many of our homes and offices. My dad passed it on to us, that when it was time for News, everyone would hush down and draw in. Nothing else seemed important until News is over. Think about those moments- when the results are about to be announced, whether political results, sports scores, or discussions on way forward- There is anxiety as we remain glued on our screens or if you come from the village, when we are radio to ear moments.
Journalists and reporters have become bolder, and courageous in their investigations, explored wide, researched and sometimes even digging up stories to capitalize on this moment. We pay special attention to News, because we believe somehow these are avenues to Conversations that Change the World.
We want to know who said what and how, where they met, why they said e.t.c. We believe these are conversations that changes the world.
Today we wind up on this first part of our series; Growing Deep in Prayer. More than the conversations among the politicians, the journalists and the celebrities, how can we begin to enjoy and practice prayer as a daily conversation that changes the world? How do we pray with a keener heart and attention and enjoy this most important conversation with our Father, Our maker? Because Prayer is truly the conversation that changes our world and ultimately the world.
In Acts 2:40. The first church committed itself to prayer, I’ve heard it said that the first church prayed ten days, preached ten minutes, and saw 3,000 come to Christ. The modern church prays ten minutes, preaches ten days, and sees a handful come to Christ. Prayer is not a corporate priority now as it was in the church’s early days (Hull 1990.
It has been said by those who have studied the matter, that the average American Christian spends a mere 63 seconds per day in prayer; the average preacher – 6 ½ minutes. In the book of Mark Jesus comes back from the mountains to pray and find the disciples asleep and asks them… Mark 14:37, “Could you not watch one hour?”
Is this our experience in prayer, short un – involved or disengaged? Draggy and Oh yes and it is very easy to sleep even.
How can we practice prayer not as a laborious task, but an enjoyable conversation with our Father that Changes the world?
Jesus was a gifted preacher, a powerful Person, a man who drew people to Himself, yet search as you will, His disciples never ask Jesus how to preach or how to become a magnetic person. But they do ask Him: Lord teach us to pray.” This then is our Prayer today? Lord Teach us to Pray?
Turn with me to our Key Text: What we commonly refer to us the Lord’s Prayer in Mathew 6:1-18, as we learn from the Lord Jesus Himself on how to have this important conversation that changes the world.
This section of scripture falls in the bigger discourse that Jesus gave on the mountain side, commonly referred to the sermon on the mountain. This sermon is said to be a parallel to when Moses also came from the mountains and gave the Laws to the Children of Israel. Indeed Jesus makes a great reference and contrasts sharply to some of the things they had practiced as they understood the Law of Moses.
So we have here Jesus handing down the new laws of the new Kingdom of God on especially how we commune with God and one another. Put yourself in the shoes of the typical Jew as you here this strange teaching. A devout Jew was confined to pray at specific times, there were experts in matters of worship and prayer, God was distant and unapproachable- He was the Lord. There were those who qualified and those who did not. There was a Law for pretty much everything.
Allow me to break our teaching in 3 Parts for ease of remembrance, The Attitude of Prayer, The Assurance of Prayer and Lastly the Application of Prayer. I pray these will get you excited to enjoy our conversation with God.
First the Attitude of Prayer
Jesus here refers to Prayer in the bigger contexts of those things called ‘Deeds of righteousness’ that included giving, prayer and fasting. The world of the law had created experts of the law who modelled devoutness to the people. They in turn would be the envy of many and be considered more ‘worthy’ before God and in the society.
Jesus here openly confronts this attitude of Prayer as hypocritical. The term hypocrite in classical Greek primarily refers to an actor, such as one sees on the stage, but it came to refer also to anyone who practices deceit. It is clear from the literary records that it was Jesus who brought this term and the corresponding character into the moral vocabulary of the Western world. He lays the principle that Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you?
I’ll be honest with you, this is perhaps one of the reasons we find prayer boring and disengaging. Hypocrisy dries out our prayers. Unfortunately our learning to pray has been cultured under this world of hypocrisy. In my early Christian life, learning to pray I was pressed to catch up with the fire brands. My 2 minute prayers did not seem as though they had reached God, especially when you heard another believer praying. For some reason I did not appear as fiery, engaged and wordy as they were. And so I knew this is the way to pray?
We have learnt to pray under these skewed hypocritical patterns- That prayer is a competitive expression of our spirituality- Usually characterized by vigor, wordiness, and quite honestly a good and public audience. The result is we have never really learnt to make prayer a private and personal affair. Because the more public it is, the more effective it is.
While there is some good in praying out loud, I do appreciate learning and reflecting on some words from some of my teachers, Prayer is not a public show. The need of creating a spectacle in prayer dries out our personal intimate conversations with God.
On the other side, this attitude has led to those who even never try to pray out loud, because they are not as eloquent, wordy or even spiritual enough. Because Men are not relational as women, we fall victim here, we struggle to demonstrate our relationship with God before people…. The result is Ladies and children do all the prayers at home e.t.c.
Men will also struggle with unsystematic conversations that characterize many of our prayers. Ladies maybe not as much because they relate in random words and disconnected stories. The result is we disengage.
But Jesus affirms the attitude of Privacy in Prayer. As Lee Carter puts it Secret Prayer is the secret of Prayer.
Matt. 6:6. When Jesus prayed in private, he prayed all night. When he prayed in public, he was very brief. We often reverse the order.
In privacy there is more authenticity, we are more aware of God alone as our primary and only audience. We are not distracted to create a show. It is in these private moments that I have heard God speak so clearly, that my heart is more refined and my mind is most alert. It is in these private moments that my tears have flowed before God and my heart has been filled. These conversations are the ones that do not end but are paused or interrupted …..Because time just passed by so quickly.
This is also true of fasting. Our attitude should reflect an enjoyment of intimacy with God not a frustration of trying to look righteous.
Are our times, spaces and disciplines of prayer shaped around the audience of man or the privacy of our privacy with God? It’s like going for special consultation to doctor on a personal problem, it is not the kind you tell the world, but the kind of doctor you would want the world to go to.
But secondly; The Assurance of Prayer- Vs 5-8
I made this point last week, but let me re-emphasize- Jesus warns against the hypocritical acts with this further principle that your heavenly father knows what you need before you ask him.
It is common that our prayers sound like trying hard to get God’s attention. Prayer is not getting the attention of God. We always have that. It is the turning of our attention to him. Prayer is believing that He is there, and He has the plan.
We need to look at prayer as taking hold of God’s eagerness, not overcoming God’s reluctance. Throughout the Scriptures we are challenged to boldly claim victory through prayer: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jer.33:3). “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and thy shall he granted you” (Mark 11:24). (Maxwell 1987, 2004:70)
When we don’t have the assurance of God’s eagerness to listening to us, When we don’t have the assurance of God’s willingness and ability, When we don’t have the assurance that God already knows what we need before we ask,
The result is the human techniques of manipulation. Prayer can become a mystical or esoteric or obscure piece of spirituality. Prayer is not a technique you can learn from a motivational expert on winning friends and influencing people. Prayer is not something to be used in emergencies and crises, like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. . It is as simple as an act of friendship. It is ordinary. It is as common-place as asking for and receiving bread in acts of everyday hospitality. (Peterson)
This leads to babbling. We think our many words, will get God’s attention.
I remember learning to pray, as honestly as I can be ‘It was a babbly affair’ And you cannot be babbly all the time. Babbling takes a lot of energy. Our words lose coherence, and meaning. We become repetitive, we are in a monologue and we forget, A conversation with God is tell and listen affair. Sometimes we miss the opportunity to be honest with God in the midst of our babbling.
An alcoholic who was fighting to stay away from drink made a daily visit to church. “Jesus, this is Jim,” he’d say, as he fixed his eyes on the cross.
A poor peasant, seen going into the cathedral day after day, was asked what happened when he went there. “Oh,” he said, “I just look up at Him and He looks down at me.”
These may seem almost childish prayers in their simplicity and scarcity of words. But any of us who has learned even a little of prayer knows that we are “not heard for our much speaking.” There is great power in utterly simple words said from the heart with faith. (Samuel Shoemaker)
A visiting Pastor was attending a men’s breakfast in Farm County. He asked one of the impressive older farmers in attendance to say grace that morning. After all were seated, the older farmer began——
Lord, I hate buttermilk.
The Pastor opened one eye and wondered to himself where this was going. Then the farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate margarine.”
Now the Pastor was worried. However without missing a beat, the farmer prayed on, “And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour.”
Just as the Pastor was ready to stand and stop everything, the farmer continued:
“But Lord, when you mix ’em all together and bake ’em up, I do love fresh biscuits. “So Lord, when things come up we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we just don’t understand what you are sayin’ to us, please help us relax and wait ’till You are done mixin’, and probably it’ll be somethin’ even better than biscuits.”
But Lastly, The Application of Prayer
After laying the attitude and assurance of prayer- Jesus now teaches them how to pray. There is a lot of rich teaching in this prayer that we may not fully cover here. Every word and line of this prayer can consume us in thought and reflection.
But first Jesus taught this prayer in response to the question ‘Jesus teach us how to pray, Not Jesus teach us a prayer?. The Lord’s Prayer is a powerful model that we can draw numerous kinds of prayers from. But primarily it highlights the order, relationship, the spirit, attitude and responsibility of prayer for both God and Us.
- First the order:
The Lord’s prayer divides up into two parts – the God/side and the man’/side: 1) “Our Father, Thy name, Thy Kingdom, Thy will.” 2) Give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us,” The first side is Realignment and the second side is result. In the first side we realign life to our Father, to His name, to His Kingdom, to His will, and in the second we get the result – He gives us, forgives us, lead us, delivers us.
In other words, you get as much result as you have Realignment, and only that much. The more you realign your purposes to God’s purposes, the more results you get. The emphasis then, should be on the realignment, and the result will take care of itself. If you are always looking at results, you are on the wrong side of things. (E. Stanley Jones, The Way, p.198). Start your prayers by thinking about God, not your problems.
- Secondly the relationship expressed
The Lord’s prayer “unfolds the relationship we sustain with the God to whom we prays.
Father and child – ‘Our Father’
Deity and Worshipper – ‘Hallowed be thy name’
Sovereign and subject – ‘Thy kingdom come’
Master and servant – ‘Thy will be done’
Benefactor and beneficiary – ‘Give us our daily bread’
Saviour and sinner – ‘Forgive us our trespasses’
Guide and pilgrim – ‘Lead us not into temptation’
In our prayers there can be a variety of approach to God as we consider him at different times as sustaining a differing relationship with us. Today we may pray to Him especially as our Father, tomorrow as our mighty God, the next day as our King, then as our Savior, etc.” How do you express your relationship with God in prayer.
- This prayer also) defines the spirit in which we should pray.
An unselfish spirit – ‘our’
A filial spirit – ‘Father’
A reverent spirit – ‘hallowed be thy name’
A loyal spirit – ‘Thy kingdom come’
A submissive spirit – ‘Thy will be done’
A dependent spirit – ‘Give us our daily bread’
A penitent spirit – ‘forgive us our trespasses’
A humble spirit – ‘Lead us not into temptation’
A confident spirit – ‘Thine is the Kingdom’
A triumphant spirit – ‘and the power’
An exultant spirit – ‘and the glory’
How do you express yourself in prayer – a complaining spirit or doubtful spirit, a fearful spirit or a demanding or commanding spirit?
But lastly the Responsibility and Totality of the prayer.
In this prayer we reengage in the eternal covenant where God commits to Hallow His Name, Bring His Kingdom, Do His will and Take the glory and we commit to walk in obedience in forgiving others, following him despite challenges and depending on him for our daily bread.
In this prayer we ask God to meet our present needs- Bread, forgive our sins- Past needs and Lead us not into temptation- our future needs.
Prayer involves us deeply and responsibility in all the operations of God. Prayer also involves God deeply and trans formatively in all the details of our lives. (Peterson 2008:182)
Consider how you can use these words in your prayers…
Your Name, Your Kingdom, Your will,…
Give us, Forgive us, Lead us…
In summary: How can we grow and enjoy prayer as a conversation that changes the world. Where do you begin you may ask?
- Find…the best possible hour for prayer. If necessary, experiment unto you find the best possible time for prayer – a time whom you are the most alert.
- Forget…all previous failures in prayer.- Nothing will hinder prayer more than a constant remembrance of past failures. If you have made a previous commitment for daily prayer and have struggled in that commitment, don’t give up.
- Fight…all prayer hindrances fiercely.- We must fight all possible hindrances to prayer with fierce determination. Of course, problems of weariness, a wandering mind and periodic boredom are to be expected. The important factor is that we never allow these difficulties to destroy our prayer effectiveness.
- Focus…on the Lord rather than on answers to prayer.- A major reason many give up in their praying is because they do not see immediate answers to their prayers. They have made “the answer” rather than “the Lord” their focus for prayer.
- Follow…a dynamic plan of action in prayer.- Write down and follow up on prayer. Do you have a definite plan of action for prayer If we wish to have an exciting time of prayer we should seek to develop a systematic plan for prayer.
- Feed…on God’s word to enhance your prayers
Study the lives of those noted historic figures most mightily used of God. You will discover that each spent much time in the Word of God as well as in prayer. Indeed, the Word of God must be our guide to all prayer.
- Fellowship…with those who are also growing in prayer- join a life-group- Commission Ombi.
Above all, enjoy this time.