PRAYER – PART 2
“LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY” (LUKE 11: 1)
PREFACE: THE BACKGROUND TO THIS SERIES
Let us begin by reminding ourselves of the wise words of Nicky Gumbel:
“Prayer is the most important activity of our lives: it is the way in which we develop a relationship with our Father in Heaven”.
Jesus has promised us that He will build His church and that the gates of hell will not prevail or stand against it. And over the time that I have been with you I have stood back in awe and acknowledge that the LORD is doing this very thing!
But, as always, it is a work “in partnership” – for this is how the LORD works. We have this year recognised that our enemy, the devil, is not happy at our moving forward, and that we are involved in a constant spiritual battle against him. We have been encouraged by a study, during the first half of this year, of the full armour of God by which we may withstand his attacks and concluded that the weapons that we “fight” with – the Word of God, the Power of the Holy Spirit, all under-pinned by Prayer – make us more than conquerors!
Prayer, is the great privilege that we have in all this – direct communication with God Almighty!
I was profoundly affected, therefore, when I went to “Spring Harvest” this year, to find that their theme was “Prayer”. It felt as if God was giving me – and us – great insights into how we can be mighty, but humble, communicators with God.
Knowing that it is foolish to “re-invent the wheel” I am therefore deeply indebted to the teaching of Pete Greig through the lectures that he gave at “Spring Harvest” this year, through his excellent book “How to Pray” (which I encourage you to buy), and through his “prayercourse.org” website which we are going to be basing our housegroup and personal study time on.
So…let us begin…
PRAYER IS RELATIONAL
“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)
And how did Jesus maintain His intimate relationship with His Father in Heaven while He walked this earth? Through prayer. Jesus constantly spent time in prayer with His Father – morning, noon and night. Immediately before the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray we are told:
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place” (Luke 11: 1)
Now, if Jesus, God made flesh, found it important to pray then how much more should we!
Prayer is relational, because at its most basic level it simply means the way that we effectively communicate with our Father God. Prayer can take many, many, forms: listening, talking, pleading, asking, worshipping, singing, dancing, doing, saying “sorry”, saying “please”, accepting, obeying, following.
This is why the Word of God encourages us to:
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5: 17) and
“Devote yourself to prayer” (Colossians 4: 2)
Over and over and over again we are encouraged to pray, pray and pray some more. For prayer is the heart and soul of a living relationship with both a wife or with God. If you don’t talk to your wife then there is something VERY wrong…it is the same with God!
There is something marvellous happening around the world at this time. The Holy Spirit is prompting churches, whole denominations, God’s people as a whole, to commit themselves more fully to prayer. Movements such as “24/7” are growing whereby groups are committing themselves to praying every hour of every day in order to build and maintain a really close relationship with Father God. Prayer is the powerhouse of knowing God and knowing how He wants us to live and what He wants us to do. And God knows – looking at the state of our nation (“Brexit”, chaos in Parliament etc) and the state of our church (compromise and collapse) – we need it!
And the reality – that we all know – is this: that EVERY major movement of God throughout the Christian era has begun with a movement of prayer.
I know that I need – and deeply want – a closer relationship with my Father in Heaven. Do you? If so, then I need (and you need) to pray more!
PRAYER IS POWERFUL
When we realise that we are talking to our Father God who loves us totally and has total power to do all things, then we realise just how powerful our prayers are!
When the early disciples of Jesus prayed the sick were healed (Acts 3: 1-10), the place of prayer was shaken by an earthquake (Acts 4: 31), prison doors were opened (Acts 12: 1-19; 16: 16-40), the dead were raised to life (Acts 20: 7-12), men were saved from shipwreck (Acts 27: 13-44), and the venom of deadly snakes was nullified (Acts 28: 1-6).
These are promises made not just to the early church but to us as well – their successors and in the same way filled with the Power of the Holy Spirit and with the same access to the Father through prayer.
We are told to pray in the Name of Jesus (John 14: 13-14) and know that there is Power in the Name of Jesus!
So many of us have testimonies of prayer releasing power that saves, heals, delivers and changes lives forever (look at the marvellous testimony recently of Diana being led by the Spirit to pray for her daughter at the very moment she was being savaged by a crazed dog – her life being miraculously saved!).
And so, because we want to know Father God better, and because we know there is power in prayer, so (like the disciples) we cry out for the knowledge of how to pray “better”.
SO WE CRY OUT “LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY”!
This was the cry of the disciples of Jesus (Luke 11: 1). And if it is a good cry for them – who were with Jesus every day – then it is a good cry from us!
Now, Jesus could have turned round on them and told them that they already KNEW how to pray – as good Jews they would have been praying to God from their earliest youth. He could have told them to therefore “just get on with it!” But, instead He looked on them with compassion and understood that this is a constant cry of God’s people – a cry to know how to communicate with Him better. And so, out of His love for them – and His love for us – He taught them and us how to pray through the form that we now know as “The Lord’s Prayer”.
There is NO better formula, NO better guide, to how to pray than this. And Pete Greig “unpicks” this Prayer and explains that it shows that the best way of praying is to:
“Keep it simple, keep it real, and keep it up”
As we begin our study of “The Lord’s Prayer” we explore how these three principles are implicit in all that Jesus taught.
- Keep it simple:
When Jesus was on the Cross He prayed for those who were doing this awful thing to Him. He did NOT say:
“Oh divine and almighty heavenly Lord and King, I beseech thee that thou show mercy unto these evil and wicked men who, led and inspired by the enemy of all men are guilty of committing this heinous crime against me and thus, implicitly against You”
No, He simply says:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23: 34)
In ALL His prayers to His Father there is this same beautiful wonderful simplicity. And in “The Lord’s Prayer” He explains why:
“when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6: 7-8)
So many of us are over-awed by the prayers of “mighty” men and women of God who seem to be so holy in their prayers and seem to have so swallowed a dictionary before they open their mouths that we consider we are not worthy, or able, or spiritual enough to pray to our Father in Heaven.
Jesus declares that the simple prayer is the one which is heard by our Father – who knows what we need even before we ask it – but just loves to have us ask as it shows our humble reliance on Him and our desire to be in intimate relationship with Him.
And like the “child” of our Father in Heave that we are, He loves us to speak to Him like a child. And we know that children are often inarticulate and stumble over their words, and don’t know what to say, and often say the wrong thing, or just grunt! It’s OK! God loves it! Simple usually means sincere, and desperate, and humble, and trusting.
So, just speak out – privately or publicly – with a genuine simplicity when you pray as a child to your Father in Heaven. For He is not remotely interested by the words we use or the way that we say them – He knows and understands. Paul articulates this when in Romans 8: 26 he says:
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans
Indeed the whole “Lord’s Prayer” is based on the principle of simplicity. The whole prayer is just (depending on the translation) 35 words long – it is so short that it can be memorised and yet so profound that it can never be fully explained. In its original Aramaic it actually rhymes! And we all know that if you want to remember something – learn it off-by-heart – that a rhyme helps us to do this more easily.
Here is the Lord’s Prayer sung in the original Aramaic – listen to it carefully, hear the beauty of it, sense the simplicity of it, recognise the rhyming in it, experience the holiness of it:
- Keep it real:
The first thing that Jesus said to His disciples when they asked Him to teach them how to pray was:
“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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 11: 5)
You “keep it real” when it is just between you and Father God.
Now, there IS a place for public (or corporate) prayer – Jesus prayed publicly on the Cross, the disciples prayed corporately on many occasions – but essentially, prayer is a private conversation between you and God. Then it is real – there is NO PLACE for insincerity. If we come humbly before the God who knows our hearts and who knows all things, then we might as well come before Him privately and always be real with Him – we can’t hide anything from Him in any case. And, like the Perfect Father that He is, He WANTS us to be real with Him.
So, to “keep it real”, start by finding your special place of prayer. Jesus went on to tell His disciples:
“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” (Matthew 11: 6)
What IS this “room” – this “inner room” that Jesus is referring to as the best place for you to go and be real with Father God? In the language of the day it was the most private, intimate, room in the house where no-one else could intrude and bother you.
What is this room to you? For Jesus it was a mountain top, or a garden, always somewhere private. For me it is going for a walk. For others it is a favourite room, or sitting on a favourite chair, or kneeling beside your bed. The bottom line is IT DOESN’T MATTER as long as it is YOUR special place. There is a clear suggestion in the Bible that your special place is important to God – the Holy Spirit fell on the “place” – the “Upper Room” BEFORE it fell upon the disciples! Find your “place of meeting” (for in the Old Testament it was the Tabernacle of the Temple where the priests went to pray) and then “turn up” there – whether or not you really feel like praying.
If the first point that I wish to make is to “keep it real” by finding a “secret place” for you to be alone with God, then the second point is to “keep it real” by being totally open and honest and “real” with God.
So often we pray things that we feel God WANTS us to pray….BAD idea! What He wants is for us to come to Him with our very real emotions being “worn on our sleeves”.
Jesus told the story of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector – the former was full of pride, the tax collector full of contrition. It was the real-ness of the Tax Collector that was praised by Jesus who was telling us to be real – to be honest – before God (Luke 18: 9-14).
Abraham challenged God’s decision (Genesis 18: 23-33), Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32: 22-32), Moses argued with God (Exodus 32: 11-14), Jeremiah disputed with God (Jeremiah 12). We too can be real with God – even challenging the things that He asks us to do or the things that seem to be about to happen. Peter Greig focuses on this to a great extent – telling the story of his wife being diagnosed with a brain tumour. Although he was advised to just accept the will of God he responded with brutal reality – telling God he was NOT going to accept this and that God had better change His mind!!! My goodness! How REAL is that! And what a challenge to us!
Let us be REAL (though always humble and reverential) when we pray.
- Keep it up:
In the version of “The Lord’s Prayer” given to us in the Gospel of Luke, we are told that at the end of the prayer Jesus teaches the disciples:
“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.” 7 And suppose the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[e] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 ‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11: 5-10)
Then, later on, Luke recounts this parable told by Jesus:
“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”
4 ‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’
6 And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” (Luke 18: 2-7)
In both these instances Jesus was teaching persistence in prayer. “Keep it up” – morning, noon and night. Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5: 17). You can never talk too much with the person that you love. You can never talk too much to God.
Our dear fellow elder, Jim, says that if we believe it right to pray to God for a certain thing, and we either get no answer immediately, or just a partial answer (such as a person with a bad stomach ache reports that after prayer it feels a “little better”), then we should ask God again – and again, and again and again – until we receive the full answer. Pete Greig recounts the story that to “keep it up” is like a man throwing rocks into a swamp – eventually, after much time and effort, the rocks will begin to show above the mire and a man will be able to walk across them.
When Jesus says “ask…seek…knock” He is using a tense which literally means “keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking” – our persistence in prayer is what shows our Father that we are REALLY serious about what we are asking.
So…prayer is SIMPLE isn’t it? The hard part is to just….DO IT!
FOR FURTHER STUDY IN HOUSEGROUP OR ON YOUR OWN
https://prayercourse.org/session/why-pray/ Part 1 of the 8 week Prayer Course….enjoy!