Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How to pray

I think there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to pray... they are just not sure how. There are people who long to talk with God, but are concerned with the human talking with the holy. If we are all honest we would confess there is something about prayer that we are apprehensive in approaching.

Well, what if we were taught how to pray? What if there was a model that helped us learn how to pray?

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus gives us a great model for a thriving prayer life. We know it as the The Lord's Prayer. Many of you have probably memorized this prayer at some point in your life. This is one of the most famous prayers in all of history.

It is said at the end of every Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, it is recited in church services, and little kids are taught it at a young age. It’s a prayer that many people are familiar with but aren’t practicing what Jesus instructs on how to pray. The word we have to focus on here is “how.” This, then, is how you should pray.

The first half of the prayer focuses on God
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘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
The designation of Father implies an intimate relationship. It is a challenging word because we face the crisis and chaos of non-father fathers. We live in a world in which fathers don’t often act as fathers should act. Maybe your earthly father brings images of neglect, sorrow, and pain. Maybe you cringed a bit whenever someone describes God as “Father.” Maybe this is a hang-up in your prayer life and you've never made it further than that.

Jesus reminds us that God is in heaven and we are here on earth. This statement  requires us to think about the holiness of God and the position God holds. Recognize that God is in heaven and we are not. Jesus then talks about God’s name being hallowed. Hallowed comes from the Greek word- ἁγιάζω (hagiazō) meaning to sanctify or regard as holy. We live in a time where not much is holy any more. We’ve watered down marriage, we neglect commitments and we push God out of every sector we can. A thriving prayer life focuses on the holiness of God.

Jesus instructs us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come, but it seems too often we are more concerned with building our empires. We pray more for our will to be done than for God’s will to be done. God’s Kingdom is eternal and God’s will is perfect. Unfortunately we focus on a cheapened version of what God longs for us to have. We are a church who prays bold prayers. This prayer that Jesus models is a bold prayer. It’s uncommon and unconventional. It is a prayer that focuses on the holy nature of God before asking for a personal handout. We need to apply this part to our prayer lives; we need to focus more on God and less on ourselves.

The first part of Jesus’ instruction here focuses on God, while the second part focuses on the needs of a person:
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’
Matthew 6:11-13
Jesus begins by telling people to ask for their daily bread. I think one reason we don’t pray as much in America is because we have loaves of bread in our homes. My guess is that most of you have food in your fridge for the week. If you don’t have food in the fridge, you might have money to buy it. I can even remember using change to buy a burger at McDonald’s when they had 39 cent cheeseburgers! But the original audience didn’t have this luxury. Not everyone have been afflicted with wealth; people across the world are wondering their next meal will come from.

The forgiveness of debtors refers to forgiveness of sins and not a monetary debt. It’s interesting because Jesus talked briefly about this earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. He said (Matthew 5:23-24). Jesus is serious about being in right relationship with others. People have left churches because of un-forgiveness towards others. Wrong relationships don’t right our relationship with God. Wrong relationships mess with our relationship with God. We don’t always have to reconcile relationships but we do need to forgive others because God forgave us.

The last line of the prayer talks about being led away from temptation. This doesn’t mean we won’t be tempted. We are still going to face the temptations that every person faces. A literal translation of this verse would be, “don’t let us succumb to the temptation.”

Jesus was tempted! In Matthew 4, Jesus was fasting and praying for forty days in the wilderness. The devil came to tempt Him but He overcame that temptation. We too will be tempted, but we can overcome that temptation. We all succumb to periodic temptation, but we need to move on and move towards God. When we succumb to temptation, we can ask God to deliver us from the evil one and restore us back to His side.

Applying the Lord's Prayer

How do we take this model Jesus gave on prayer apply it to our prayer life? First, we know that God is looking for an unseen prayer life. Find a place where you can be alone with God and use the model Jesus gave. Give glory and honor to God. Praise God for the good things in your life. If you think you don’t have anything good going on, you need to think harder. Begin with praising God for your health. Thank God for the roof over your head. Thank God for the food you have in your fridge. Thank God for your church and what is happening there. Lift up the holiness of God because we live in a unholy time.

Pray for God’s Kingdom to come. If you don’t know what to pray, you can simply pray for God’s will to be done. When you pray for God’s will to be done, you begin to line up your heart with the heart of God. God will begin to speak His will to you. He will give you a deeper passion. Your prayer doesn’t have to be eloquent or pious; God is looking at your heart. When we start our prayer life focusing on God, it does something inside us. It centers us back on God. It helps our mind to think of all we have and not what we wish we had. It put us in a right place to move forward in our prayer life. If you start your prayer life focusing on God, it changes your heart and desires to those of God.

Praying for your needs

Let’s move on to the part about praying for ourselves. It is right for us to ask God to provide us our daily bread. Good fathers want to provide for their children. Fathers work hard to provide for their children. We all know that the fridge doesn’t fill itself; someone has to work for the food. I love that Jesus says to, “pray for daily bread.” Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray for a rack of ribs. Our prayer life needs to contain humility. Pray for God to meet your daily needs and I think that as your heart lines up with Him, you will also get what you want.

There is a practical part of our prayer life we can’t neglect here. We need to ask for forgiveness and give forgiveness. There are times we come to God asking for something while harboring bitterness in our hearts. Did you know that God forgives your sins? God will forgive you for all your sins if you just ask. Ask God to forgive you of the wrongs you’ve done. Jesus is going to talk more about forgiveness in a couple of verses so I’m going to spend less on it here.

Finally we need to pray against the temptation in our lives. The apostle Paul spent a lot of time in Corinth teaching people about the holy things of God. Listen to one thing he taught them
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
God knows what we can handle in temptation. We won’t be tempted beyond what we can handle, but at times the temptation will stretch our prayer life. This doesn’t mean we won’t be tested, we will be tested
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4
Temptations and testing will strengthen our faith. This is what we long for, to be stronger in faith.

Conversations with God

God wants to hear your voice. God longs to converse with you, and that is what prayer is.
Think about your best friend. How did you develop such a strong relationship? You spent time together. You had long conversations. You stayed up late talking about every topic on your mind. You cried together, laughed together and went through hills and valleys together. This is also what grows our prayer life with God. We honestly come to Him and have long conversations. Your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with Jesus.

Your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with God. It strengthens your faith and walk with Jesus.

Let me ask you an honest question: If God answered all your prayers for last week, how would the world be better? Would your neighbors’ lives be changed? Would you kids know God more? Would world hunger be abolished?

Take an active role in prayer. Make it a priority. Use this model that Jesus gives us to have a thriving prayer life. I think one reason that people don’t pray is because they don’t know how to pray. Now you know how to pray and you know that your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with Jesus.

Listen to what Paul E. Miller said, “Learning to pray doesn’t offer you a less busy life; it offers you a less busy heart.”

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