Good morning! Today we begin a ten week sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. But we’re not looking at that prayer today. Instead, we’re going to simply introduce the topic of prayer.
There is nothing magical about prayer. Prayer is communication, it’s a gift from God who created us, provides for us, protects us and a bunch of other stuff we either take for granted or are oblivious to. God desires communion, communication, relationship with us.
Healthy relationships require Emotional bonding, honesty, trust. Without these 3 virtues relationships quickly become stuck and dysfunctional. Addiction specialists tell us that people learn 3 rules for surviving in a dysfunctional relationships, “Don’t feel, don’t tell the truth, don’t trust.” These same things can interfere with our relationship with God.
Imagine yourself in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Satan has been harassing you. What are you going to do? Resist him in your own strength? Satan tempts us all every day! Being tempted isn’t the problem. Jesus was tempted far beyond our imagination.
Too often our problem is that when we are tempted, we are too proud to ask for the Lord’s help. Or maybe we are too ashamed to admit we’ve been tempted and failed – maybe again and again. In either case, instead of calling out for help, we’ve try to go it alone and we’re toast! Can anyone else identify with this or am I here by myself?
Prayer is the first place Jesus went when he was tempted. The real problem behind most of our problems is that we try to solve them on our own without the Lord’s help. It’s called prayerlessness. “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me.” Psalm 50:15
What if Adam and Eve had prayed when they were tempted? Might that have changed things in the Garden of Eden? Maybe prayerlessness is a bigger problem than we thought!
As I studied for this message I ran across a sermon by Pastor Stephen Cole. He puts it this way. “Why should we pray? We should pray because we have great needs. And God is the only one who is great enough to deliver us!” Pastor Stephen Cole
Pastor Cole goes on to quote John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. See if you can sort out his words. “You can do more than pray after you have prayed. But you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” Prayer should always be our first resort, not our last!
The widow in Jesus’ parable was powerless against a guy who was taking advantage of her. So she went to the judge in town whose job it was to protect her, but he was a crook and too lazy to help her. Nevertheless, she refused to let him off the hook. She hounded him day and night until finally he said - “I’m not helping her because I care about her or God. I’m helping her but because if I don’t she’s going to drive me crazy!”
Jesus said, “If the wicked judge helped this woman because of her persistence, shouldn’t we be persistent in our prayers to our good and righteous God? He’ll help us because he wants to!”
Then Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” In other words, when he returns will he find his people faithfully praying, looking to him for help, or will we have given up on prayer. Will we be trying to solve our problems by our own wisdom and effort? If that’s our choice we’ll be powerless against Satan’s deceptions and temptations.
So why are God’s people so reluctant to pray? Why is it so hard? It should be so natural. It should be our delight. It should be the first place we go to share our joys and sorrows. Let me suggest three reasons. The first is pride, the second is shame, and the third is because we don’t really know who God is.
People have said to me, “I didn’t pray because it seemed silly to bother God with it.” What’s silly isn’t that your prayer bothers God, but that you think you can do anything without God! We allow our pride to push God away. “I’m fine. I can handle it. I’ll let you know when I need you.”
People say, “What right have I to ask God for help me after the mistakes I’ve made.” That’s shame and it comes from hell. We don’t have any right to ask God for help, but that’s exactly why Jesus came. We need him. He’s the only one who can help us! And he promises to be there for us when we call on him David writes in Psalm 86, “There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours… You alone are God.” Psalm 86:8
The widow went to the unrighteous judge because he had the authority to help her. He didn’t help her because he wanted to, but because he had to. Our God has far greater authority and he wants to help us.
He told Moses “I am the Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin…” Exodus 34:6ff
Will we humble ourselves enough to believe that? Will we come to him and let him wash away our guilt, and heal our shame? No one else can do that for us!
How do we get to know him? He tells us that if we will seek him with all our heart, he will allow us to find him. Why is that important? Let me say again, I believe if we knew who our God really is; we’d be online with him 24/7 - like two love sick kids on the phone.
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thess 5:18
We serve a very relational God who wants us to share our lives with him. He already knows everything, but he wants us to open up – to trust him enough to tell him the truth about what’s going on with us. If we’ve been spiritually and emotionally shut down, it may take a while, but if we are willing God can heal our fearful hearts transform our prayer life.
So here are 5 keys that can help you learn to pray:
1. The first key is to pray honestly and earnestly. Jesus tells the story of two men praying in the market place. One was real good at praying in public, he knew the words to use to impress those who were listening to him. But he was only showing off. His prayer was a waste of breath. At the same time, not praying because we are afraid of what others will think of us is just as vain. True prayer focuses on God and forgets about ourselves.
The other man prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said, “God heard this man’s prayer for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk 18
2. The second key is to pray continually. David wrote in Psalm 86 “I cry out to you all day long” Some have called this practicing the presence of God. If you are a believer the Holy Spirit dwells within you. Practice a running conversation with the Lord about everything throughout the day and the night. But don’t hog the conversation, take time to listen.
3. The third key is to pray thankfully. Practice giving thanks even in the midst of difficulty. Learn to pray the promises of Scripture. “Thank you Lord that all the promises of God have their yes in Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor 1:20 “Thank you that nothing can separate us from your love.” Rom 8:39
Use your computer to gather a list of the promises of God and then put those promises into prayer form as you pray over the difficult circumstances of your life.
4. The fourth key is to pray with humility. The purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we want done, but to get us in synch with his will. Are you willing for his will to be done even if you don’t agree with it or understand it? Job was able to pray; “Though he slay me, I will trust him” Job 13:15 because he believed ultimately that God knew what was best for him.
5. The fifth key is pray in faith. I believe God will answer my prayer in his way and in his time. I’m not just shooting off a prayer in the blind chance it might do some good. I believe God is listening, taking my prayer seriously, and responding, which takes me back to thanking him for the answer even before it comes.
One of the best ways to learn to pray is to begin with thanksgiving and praise. Start with thanking God for forgiving your sin and writing your name in his book of Life. Thank him for being willing to go to the cross to make that possible. Thank him for the trials that come your way because they teach you to trust him rather than yourself. Ask him for a teachable spirit. Thank him that he is God, supreme over all, and that he listens to our prayer.
Over the next 10 weeks we will be learning a lot more about prayer. Our text will be the Lord’s Prayer – the prayer Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray.
We live in a time of great confusion and depravity. But instead of falling into fear or withdrawing into a holy huddle, let’s ask the Lord to teach us to pray with power for the salvation of our friends and neighbors.
Don’t forget, we will never change the world by talking about prayer or hearing sermons about prayer, or doing Bible studies about prayer. We will only change the world by praying! So let’s get at it!