1. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In the message from God’s Word today we’re going to look at what our Lord says about prayer. How do we pray as Christians? Our Lord Jesus has taught us to pray with the Lord’s Prayer as our model. But, what does all this mean? We’ll answer these questions today. The message is entitled, “The Prayers We Offer,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. A frustrated young man tells of his mother who, though near blind, won’t admit it. One day as the son walked with her from the car to the door, he said, “Mom, the door’s straight ahead.” His mother turned to the right and smacked head on into the wall of the house. Again the young man said, “Mom, the door’s straight ahead.” Again the woman walked smack into the wall to the right of the door. There was a pause. Then came the question, “Son, where’s the door?” Again and again, all of us want to go our own way. Often only after we’ve smacked into failure time after time do we turn to our Heavenly Father for help.
3. Even when we do turn to God in prayer we may not know for sure what we can expect. Does prayer “really work?” Can we depend on prayer when we find ourselves slamming into life’s hard realities? As we begin to think about prayer, we need to realize first of all that we don’t depend on prayer. Rather, we depend on the one true God who’s promised to hear and answer our prayers. To pray, we need to know what God is like, and we need to understand by what right we approach Him. Psalm 24:3-5 says, “3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Those are some tough requirements! Clean hands and a pure heart. An absence of idolatry in our lives. Truthfulness in what we say. Who among us can “ascend the hill of the Lord” to speak to our heavenly King?
4. No one here. No one alive today and no one who’s ever lived--except for one thing: the cross of Jesus Christ. Because of what Jesus did on the cross 2000 years ago, all those who believe in Him have clean hands and a pure heart that God requires of those who seek Him. Because of the cross of Christ, you now, “receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God our Savior.” Now we dare to approach the holy and majestic God in prayer, confident that “we will receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb. 4:16).
5. How thankful we can be that we rely not on our own worthiness to earn for us the right to present our needs to God in prayer. How thankful we can be that we rely on God’s wisdom as we pray. Our sinful nature often blinds us to our real needs. Often we confuse what we want with what we need. We sometimes try to force our will on God. We try to substitute our selfish desires for God’s infallible, omniscient, gracious purposes for our lives. We need God’s wisdom to align our will with God’s. We need wisdom to ask for those blessings with which our Heavenly Father wants to flood our lives and wisdom to recognize those blessings when they come.
6. But, how can we know God’s will in any particular set of circumstances? We look first to His Word and what He’s revealed there about His will for us. We can pray for those things He’s promised without conditions, knowing He’ll do what He’s promised. And when we pray for those things He’s not promised, we ask that He would grant our petitions in the way and at the time best for us. God has promised in Phil 4:19, “to meet all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” We can ask Him to fulfill that promise and expect Him to do so. But, His way of doing it may differ from our expectations. He may see to it that we get Job X instead of Job Y. Our income may remain lower than we would like, but maybe our car needs fewer repairs or, for whatever reason, the utility bill goes down. We don’t speak to God the timing or method of His answer to our prayers. But, we can rest in His love toward us, remember the Apostle Paul’s powerful questions of faith in Romans 8:31-32, “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
7. In light of our limitations, how wonderful to remember two promises of Romans 8 in verses 26 & 34, “26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words… 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Did you catch that? God, the Holy Spirit, prays for us. Our brother, the Son of God in human flesh, the Lord Jesus, prays for us. How can we possibly fail to obtain our Heavenly Father’s good and gracious will, His best gifts, those things that will help us the very most regardless of how big our needs may seem?
8. Certainly we’re “to take everything to the Lord in prayer,” but we’re misguided when we use prayer only to update God about the events and needs of our lives. A pastor once prayed, “O Lord, the situation in this congregation is bad. We haven’t met our budget. We can’t get enough volunteers.” On and on he prayed, listing problems. After the service, a member came to him and asked, “What’s the matter Pastor? Don’t you think the Lord reads our church’s newsletter?” We can spend a lot of energy in prayer in an attempt to inform God, not only about things as they are, but as we think or wish them to be. Instead of informing Him, we need to let Him be transforming us--as we meditate on His love for us in Christ, as we remember His promises to us in His Word, as we allow Him to align our wishes with those He’s revealed to us in the Bible. Then our prayers won’t attempt to seize His power to further our own desires, but we’ll instead pray as our Lord has taught us, “Hallowed be Thy name. They kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
9. The myth that prayer involves simply informing God of our needs is bad in another way, too. It completely misses other reasons for which God’s people pray. Prayer includes confession of sins. It involves praise. It involves thanksgiving. When we pray we confess our sins, just as our Lord Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses.” When we pray we praise God for who He is. When we pray we thank God for all He’s done, especially what He’s done for us in Christ Jesus and His cross and empty tomb. And as we pray, we intercede for others. A balanced prayer life involves all these elements.
10. We do ask God for what we need in prayer, and we do rely on Him to hear and answer us. But, we can’t use prayer to excuse us from sitting back and letting God act in His own time. God tells us to pray for our daily bread, but He doesn’t just drop it into our laps. He provides the seed, sun, soil and rain. But, our hands must be on the plow. The Bible records many instances in which God disciplines His children for praying without taking action. In one instance, God spoke to Joshua after the defeat of the Israelites at the village of Ai. Because of this, Joshua tore his clothes and fell to his face on the ground dismayed. God told him to get up, to investigate the theft that had caused the problem, and then to go in to possess the land that the Lord had promised His people. Joshua sprawled on His face when He should’ve been standing on his feet! God doesn’t encourage laziness. Prayers are practiced as well as spoken.
11. Sometimes, as with Joshua, before God changes “things,” He must first change us, the ones who pray. Listen to Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Think of the promise here! God will give us “the desires of our hearts.” Some have taken this to mean that God will give us anything our hearts desire. But the promise means something far more than that. As we meditate on the Word of our Lord, on His grace, on His promises to us, and on His revealed will, our desires will become more and more His desires. We will see ourselves and our world in the light of eternity. By God’s grace, we will pray more passionately, “Hallowed be Thy name!” And “Thy kingdom come!” The Holy Spirit will use His Word to align our will with His own. Then we can truly pray rightly. Then we will see our Lord fulfill the promise He makes in 1 John 5:14-15, “14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”
12. God the Holy Spirit changes us, and then He uses us, His changed children, to change things. The Scriptures clearly teach this power of prayer, and they go further still in explaining the power that’s unleashed when God’s people pray. In urging us to pray for the sick, the Apostle James gives the example of God’s powerful response to the prayers of the prophet Elijah in James 5:16-18, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James makes it clear, “Elijah was a man just like us.” God didn’t answer Elijah on account of his personal “pull” in heaven’s throne room. No. Elijah was a person just like us. God’s person. God’s partner in prayer. Prayer doesn’t change things, but the God who promises to hear and answer prayer does change things! Remember what Jesus promised in Matthew 7:7-11, “7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
13. Who could believe it? God doesn’t need our prayers to accomplish His will here on earth. But, He’s chosen to involve you, to use your prayers. Prayer isn’t some kind of psychological trick we play on ourselves to help ourselves adjust to the inevitable. When we pray, we have the ear of our Heavenly Father, the Maker of heaven and earth, the one who “gives good gifts to those who ask Him” in the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.