“FUNDAMENTALS OF PRAYER” Matt. 6:5-15
INTRO – “God has strategically chosen to establish & utilize prayer as part of His sovereign plan for us. It is like oxygen to our spiritual lives. It provides the needed wind in our sails to propel everything we do as believers, & it’s the unseen key to the success of every ministry of the church” (Stephen & Alex Kendrick, The Battle Plan for Prayer, p. 21).
It’s not just something we are supposed to do before we eat. It’s not just something we are supposed to do before we go to bed. It’s not just something we are supposed to do to open up a church service or meeting. As the Kendricks said in the opening quote, prayer is “like oxygen to our spiritual lives.” In fact, Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian w/out prayer is no more possible than to be alive w/out breathing.”
When we go into a burning building to fight a fire, we absolutely have to have oxygen. Without it, we will quickly succumb to the noxious fumes & smoke & eventually lose our lives if someone doesn’t rescue us. This oxygen tank contains what we need to live & do our work as firefighters. It helps us to save a person’s home. But, even more importantly, it helps us to save a person’s life.
When you & I as Christ-followers pray, we are inhaling the strength & power we need to do our work in serving the Lord. Without prayer, we will find ourselves growing weaker & weaker as the poisonous elements in the world fill our lives. John 10:10 tells us that Satan’s desire is to steal, kill, & destroy. We know that IF we belong to Christ, Satan can’t steal our eternal life. We are safe in the grip of God! But, Satan can certainly steal the joy & fulfillment of our life as a child of God. He will definitely kill the intimacy of our walk w/ Christ. He will totally destroy our effectiveness as a witness of Christ. And one of the primary ways these things begin to happen in our lives is when we begin neglecting our prayer life. When we begin doing that, Satan begins moving in, sneaking in a toehold in our lives. That toehold moves to a foothold. That foothold becomes a stronghold. And that stronghold become a domineering base of operations in our lives as he gains more & more territory in our spiritual lives. Again, I’m not talking about losing our salvation or becoming demon-possessed. But, Satan will stop at nothing in his attempts to steal, kill, & destroy anything & everything he can in our lives. And many times, his schemes & operations begin when we simply begin neglecting & minimizing our prayer life. This is one of the main reasons we are emphasizing prayer as one the 2 essential spiritual disciplines that every Christ-follower needs to have in his/her life.
This neglect of our prayer life usually happens as a result of one or more of these 3 life circumstances:
Jesus had a whole lot to say about prayer. And He prayed a whole lot. He taught a lot about prayer both with this words & by His example. Look at these 4 clear instructions He gave about prayer:
JUST DO IT! – Nike didn’t come up w/ that slogan first – Jesus did! He said, “WHEN you pray…” (v. 5,6, &7) – in other words, just DO IT! If you’re a Christian, then PRAY! Pray a lot. Pray all the time. Pray everywhere you go. Pray alone. Pray w/ others. Pray w/ people you know, & pray w/ total strangers. Pray silently. Pray out loud. Pray when you feel like it, & pray when you don’t. Pray when you’ve got a lot of faith, & pray when you’ve only got faith as small as a mustard seed. Pray for saved people. Pray for saved people. Pray even if you don’t seem to be getting any answers.
I love what Richard Foster said about prayer: “In one sense, prayer is complicated. How can a finite human spirit be in communion w/ the Infinite Spirit of the Universe? It would burn out the circuits of our minds to understand it. But in another sense, prayer is incredibly simple. God answers prayer b/c His children ask.”
So, PRAY, children of God, PRAY! But pray the RIGHT WAY!
DON’T FAKE IT – “…you MUST not be like the hypocrites…” (v. 5). A hypocrite is a pretender, an actor, a faker. It’s someone who is wearing a mask to cover up who they really are. Jesus gave a indicting definition of a hypocrite when He said this in Matt. 15:8-9 – “These people honor me w/ their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me.” I like the way The Message puts it: “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.”
Jesus wasn’t condemning or forbidding public prayer. He was condemning the fake public display of false spirituality. He despised that kind of stuff. And when it comes to our prayer life, we don’t need to have a fake prayer life. Let it be real! Let it be genuine! Let it be sincere & honest! Don’t try to hide anything from Him. Pour out your heart to Him.
- When you’re mad – at others & at God (Rachel about Daddy)
- When you’re sad
- When you’re glad – Sometimes we forget to pray when things are going well in our lives. “Don’t really “need” God right now…I’ve got this.”
- When you’re bad – Confession of our sin is critical. Repentance from our sins is crucial. “Confession by itself is not repentance. Confession moves the lips; repentance moves the heart. Naming an act as evil before God is not the same as leaving it. Though your confession may be honest and emotional, it is not enough unless it expresses a true change of heart.” (Jim Elliff)
Gut-level, heart-rending, Spirit-filled prayer is what is needed in our lives & in our churches today! Don’t fake it!
DON’T JUST RUN YOUR MOUTH – “…do not heap up empty phrases…” – “…don’t babble on & on…” (NLT) – Don’t use a bunch of words to try & impress others, or even to impress God. That’s what the pagans felt they had to do to get their gods’ attention & to make sure their gods understood exactly what they were asking for. They also thought that certain words had more power than other words – kind of a magical formula they used in prayer.
Just saying, “Dear Lord,” & then running your mouth doesn’t mean that you’re praying. We aren’t informing God of anything when we are praying. He’s the all-knowing Sovereign God of the Universe. He already knows what you’re going to pray before you pray it. Our prayers are expressions of our deep need for Him to intervene in our lives & work for our good & His glory. We express our deep dependence upon Him for everything, & our understanding that, if He doesn’t work, then nothing is going to happen. Running our mouths & saying a lot of meaningless words is pointless, meaningless, & faithless, & God doesn’t answer these insincere prayers.
DON’T MISS THIS PATTERN FOR PRAYER – v. 9-13 – This isn’t to be a rote repetitious recitation of a set of words. That reverts us back to just running your mouth w/ empty words. I’ve often wondered why sports teams recite this prayer before games? What does this prayer have to do w/ winning a football game? It’s MUCH more important than that! Francis Chan: “[God is] longing to show off His power but maybe we haven’t seen His power because we haven’t been praying for the things that He wanted us to pray for.” If Christians began to pray for the things that God cared about, the church would begin to see the supernatural just like the apostles did. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/francis-chan-christians-not-praying-how-god-intended-64814/)
This pattern that Jesus gave us shows us the things that God wants us to pray for, shows us the things HE cares about.
- Intimacy of God – “Our Father” – pater – a child calling out to His daddy.
- Immenseness of God – “in heaven”
- His holiness & our holiness – “May your name be holy” – Let my life be a life that advertises the holiness of God!
- His K’dom & His will – Sometimes we are more concerned w/ OUR k’dom & OUR will! “I want things my way…want to live my life MY way…Don’t want to adjust anything in my life or change the way I’m living right now…I’m comfortable in my lifestyle, right or wrong, so don’t try to make me change.” That type of thinking & life guarantees unanswered prayers!
- Daily provision – enough for TODAY – takes FAITH to live that way. George Muller
- Forgiveness – Think about this: We are praying, “Lord, forgive me in the same way I have forgiven others.”
- Strength & deliverance in times of temptation