(Eric will continue with his series next Sunday)
The Discipline of Prayer
by Kerry Bauman
This morning I want to address the discipline of prayer. I doubt very much if I have to convince many of you of God’s eagerness to grant our requests when they are in keeping with His will (See 1 John 5:14-15). On the other hand, it probably won’t hurt as we all know that there are times when we wonder if God is listening when we pray. So here’s an encouraging story to add fuel to your prayer life. We are told in Ephesians 6:4 that parents are to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This is clearly God’s prescription for parenting throughout the ages. George McCluskey took this verse seriously. As soon as he and his wife started a family, he decided to invest one hour a day in prayer, because he wanted to raise his girls to follow Christ. After a time, he expanded his prayers to include his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every day between 11AM and noon, he prayed for the next three generations. As the years went by, his two daughters committed their lives to Christ and married men who went into vocational ministry. The two couples produced four girls and one boy. Each of the girls eventually married a pastor, and the boy became one! The first two children born to this generation, were boys. Upon graduation from graduation from high school, the two (cousins) chose the same college and became roommates. During their sophomore year, one boy decided to go into the ministry. The other didn’t. He undoubtedly felt some pressure to continue the family legacy, but chose instead to pursue his interest in psychology. He stayed in school, earned his doctorate and eventually wrote books for parents that became bestsellers. He started a radio program heard on more than a thousand stations each day. The man’s name, of course, is James Dobson. Oh, the power of prayer to influence the destiny of our lives!
There is great power in prayer. Few will deny it. But have you ever considered the purpose of prayer? Is it all about getting what we want when we want it? Is God kind of like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp that was compelled to grant him three wishes? I would like to propose to you this morning that the purpose of prayer is not so much about us getting what we desire as it is about God being glorified. Give me just a few moments to state my case. First of all I know this because the purpose of everything we do in life is to glorify God according to 1 Corinthians 10:31. As a matter of fact, the prophet Isaiah tells us that we were created for God’s glory (See Isaiah 43:7). Further, when we look at the four verses that precede the text we’re studying this morning we see further proof. Here Christ cautions us against using prayer to glorify ourselves. In Matthew 6:5 He says, “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.” Obviously Jesus is not prohibiting public prayer. He, Himself, prayed in public often (See Matthew 14:19 for an example). Rather, Jesus is opposed to the kind of public prayer that draws attention to the one who is praying. It is far better to pray in private than to pray in public for the purpose of seeking the praise of men.
He goes on to point out another form of malpractice when it comes to prayer in Matthew 6:7. “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…” One might ask, “How does repetitious prayer rob God of glory? Isn’t the widow in Luke 18 commended for persevering in her request for justice before an unrighteous judge?” Yes, this is true, however, here in Matthew 6, Jesus addresses the person who prays believing that God will be manipulated into answering based on the length of his prayers. This was a commonly held belief among pagans (See 1 Kings 18:26-29). Our Lord is opposed to this kind of prayer because it provides an opportunity for the individual to say to his friends, “If you knew how to pray like I do, you’d get answers too.” God is not interested in sharing His glory with another (See Isaiah 42:8) and His glory is fully on display as we draw near to Him in prayer and watch as He responds.
This brings us to the model prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples and to all believers throughout human history. Though it can and often is prayed verbatim, or word for word, more likely Christ gave it to us as an example of how we should approach God in prayer. This morning I’m going to attempt to convince you that in giving us this prayer, Jesus was once again doing what He always did…seeking to glorify His Father, this time through the prayers of His saints.
Prayer glorifies God by reminding us of our special relationship with Him (See Matthew 6:9). He is “our Father in heaven.” This is significant for at least two reasons. Permit me to take them in the opposite order in which they come in the text.
God is found in heaven. While He is God of heaven and earth (See Deuteronomy 4:39), Jesus refers to the Father as being found in heaven. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that the earth is but His footstool (See Isaiah 66:1). The Jews of that day tended to think of God. He was viewed as the “Holy Other,” who existence extends far beyond the universe as we know it. He is so unlike us that if we were to see Him for but a moment we would die (See Exodus 33:20). The thought that anyone could have a personal relationship with Him was almost impossible to imagine. This is the God of Heaven! Application: Perhaps we’ve lost a little bit of this today. We sometimes treat God as if He were a big wonderful teddy bear that we can hug when we need some encouragement. We might do well to recapture some of the majesty and grandeur of God that the Jews seem to appreciate so much.
God is our Father. The word is “Abba” and the closest word we have for it in English is “daddy.” It was used only on rare occasions by Jews in the 1st century. They preferred titles like “Sovereign Lord,” “King of the Universe,” and “Self-Existent One” when speaking of God. For Jesus to have used it in reference to the way that His disciples can approach God must have been shocking to them. He was in effect was saying that His followers are children of God. They share a special relationship with God that not all people were privileged to share (See John 1:11-12). Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that because of this special relationship, they had the same access to the Father that He had! Illustration: I’m a pretty nice guy when it comes to the children in our neighborhood. They like me. They laugh at my jokes and think I’m cool, but they all call me Mr. Bauman or Mr. Kerry. Only my children get to call me “Dad.” And while the other kids on the street have access to me when I’m outside or invite them into my home, my children have access to me 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. After all, I am their father. The same is every bit as true with our Heavenly Father.
Prayer glorifies God by reminding us of our unique calling in Him. International Bible Teacher Os Guinness defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with special devotion, dynamism and direction as a response to His summons and service.” In short, what he’s saying is that our calling, our very purpose for existence is to glorify God with everything we are or ever hope to be. Jesus breaks this down for us in the first three requests of His model prayer.
“Hallowed be Thy name…” The word “hallow” means to ‘make or consider something holy.’ In this case, it is the name of God which represents who He is and what He stands for. When we pray this we are asking the Lord to work in us in such a way that others will catch a glimpse of the holiness of God by watching those who lay claim to Him as our Father. So in a very real sense, to pray “hallowed be Thy name” is to pray “make me holy so that everyone will know you’re holy.”
“Thy kingdom come…” The kingdom of God has already come (See Matthew 12:28), but is not yet in its completed form (See Matthew 16:28). When we pray for God’s kingdom to come we are making two requests: (1) That His kingdom will be expanded as God draws men, women and children to Himself; and (2) That Christ will return and right the wrongs and establish a new heaven and new earth. In fact, the last book of the Bible concludes with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus” (See Revelation 22:20).
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God reigns in heaven absolutely. Everyone does his will there! This is not the case, however, on earth where people frequently live in disobedience to His will. So we join with our Lord in praying, “not my will, but thy will be done.” Application: Be careful when you praying that you don’t confuse God’s will and your own. We all possess the amazing capacity to rationalize anything so that it appears to us to be God’s will. In effect, we pray something like, “Not Thy will, but my will be done.” I’m reminded of an overweight man who decided it was time to shed some pounds. He informed his coworkers that he was going on a diet and would no longer be bringing donuts to the office. He knew it would be hard to resist stopping at the bakery on the way to work, but he committed himself to remaining strong and resisting temptation. His coworkers were surprised one morning to see him arrive at the office with a big box of donuts. When they reminded him of his diet, he just smiled. “These are very special donuts,” he explained. “When I left for the office this morning, I knew I was going to drive by the bakery, and I wondered if maybe the Lord might want me to have some donuts today. I wasn’t sure, so I prayed, ‘Lord, if you want me to stop and buy some donuts, let there be an open parking place directly in front of the bakery.’ As you know, parking places in front of that bakery are hard to get!” “So the parking place was there?” one of his coworkers asked. “It was a miracle,” the man replied. “After just the eighth time around the block, there it was!”
Prayer glorifies God by reminding us of our absolute dependence upon Him.
“Give us this day our daily bread…” In Jesus’ day laborers were paid each day for their work. It was frequently so low that it was almost impossible to save any. A day’s wage paid for a day’s amount of food. This request, then, became very important as they literally had to trust God for the next meal. Times are a little different for us, yet the point is still the same. In asking God for our daily bread we are acknowledging that He is the source of every material blessing, whether food, clothing or shelter. This is the reason why we give thanks when we sit down to eat! God has demonstrated His grace by answering our prayer.
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” Sin is pictured in this prayer as a debt. This verse goes hand in hand with verses 14 and 15. If we are unwilling to forgive the debt (sin) of others as it has affected our lives, then we cannot expect to experience forgiveness from God. For the Christian, this is absolutely unacceptable position to be in.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One…” Just as we depend upon God for our physical and relational needs, so we depend upon Him for our moral and spiritual victories. Application: The temptation here may very well related to the bitterness that we can harbor when we fail to forgive those who are our debtors. This can give the enemy an upper hand and begin a chain of events that will ultimately lead to great pain and misfortune.
Consider a little boy named Julian who fell down while chasing butterflies in a field of tall grass. Soon afterward, the boy’s left eye started hurting, so he was taken to a doctor. The doctor couldn’t find the source of the irritation, so he just gave the boy some ointment and sent him home. Eventually Julian’s eye problem went away. About a year later, though, the boy started complaining of cloudy vision. His parents took him to an eye specialist, who was stunned by what he discovered. Apparently when Julian had fallen a year earlier, a tiny grass seed had implanted itself in his cornea. Slowly the seed had grown and had actually sprouted two little leaves in Julian’s eye. The seed had to be removed immediately in order to save the boy’s vision. So it is with the sin of unforgiveness. It may seem to be a small thing at first, but left untreated, it can yield devastating results in our lives.
“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Let’s conclude by praying together the Lord’s Prayer.