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Doing Prayer, God Style
Matthew 6:5-15

            Last week, I asked you to write down what you thought it would take to make First Baptist Church a Christ centered church.  There were some that listed one thing, and others that listed several things.  The top three were prayer, learning to evangelize and speak to others, and leadership.  Out of the top three, prayer was listed on over two thirds of those that turned something in.  So let’s talk about prayer.

When you were a child did you ever talk to your parent? Of course you did.  Some of us parents wish that maybe our kids wouldn’t talk to us sometimes, but that’s a whole topic in its self.  But for those of us who are parents, when your child was young and could not talk to you, wasn’t the first “mom” or “dad” that came from that sweet child’s mouth enough to make you melt into a puddle?  I remember my son’s first words.  Mom of course.  I couldn’t wait for him to say dad.  Well, just as a child speaks to his parents, God, our Father in heaven, wants to hear from His children; He wants to hear of the good and the trials in our lives.  He already knows what they are, but He wants to hear them from our perspective. 

When we think of prayer, we often either do the traditional, “Dear God thank you for the this and that, I want, I want, I want;” or we don’t pray at all because we think that God is too busy to hear about “little ole me”.  We end up making God the giver of trinkets and man’s desires instead of the giver of life and salvation.  We fashion Him so that He wants what we want and end up making a god that is after our own image.  But that is not who or what God is.  It is just the opposite; we are made after His image.  So when we pray, how do we pray?  Does God want some formal liturgy like we are reading stereo instructions?  God wants us to do prayer “God style”.

            When Jesus was walking the earth, the disciples asked Him how they should pray.  See, in the years between the Old Testament writings and New Testament writings, the Israelites tried desperately to make things right with God.  But they couldn’t do it.  Unfortunately, man corrupted even the positive things that they had discovered.  Take the Pharisees.  The Pharisees actually were formed to remove the very the worldly and pagan influences from Judaism.  They wanted to be literal to the Scriptures.  What happened though is that this was man formed and became man centered.  They began to add to and take away from the Scriptures.  They took the passages in the Psalms that said to pray once, twice, three times daily and made that so you were only praying at those times.  Then they said that you are to publically pray.  They would pray loud and boisterously so that all could hear them. “LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, MOST HONORED AND REVERED GOD, GOD OF GRACE AND GOD OF WRATH, PRAISE BE TO THE ONE AND ALMIGHTY GOD. THE GOD OF ISRAEL, GOD OF JACOB…” They did this so that everyone could see that they were being holy. This reminds me of Islam in that they pray five times per day, on their faces for all to see.  Well, the disciples knew that this method of the Pharisees couldn’t be what God wanted, so they asked Jesus in Matthew 6:5-15 how to pray.  Jesus would know!  Please turn with me to Matthew 6:5-15:

And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.  Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hollowed by Thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Now this is a very structured prayer that Jesus gave us to follow.  Does it mean that if you pray other words, God doesn’t hear you?  There are some so-called Christian groups that believe if you don’t pray a formalized prayer, God won’t hear you.  This is not true!  Let’s look at how Jesus broke this prayer down for us.

            First, we are to honor God.  Jesus says, “Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed by Thy name” or “Holy is Your name.” He gives much deserved reverence to God.  Does that mean that if we say, “Dad” like a new Christian might, or just simply “God” that we are disrespecting God? No.  When we call our father by dad, it is still a name or title of respect.  My dad’s name is Loren.  I couldn’t imagine calling him “Loren” when I called him.  I respect and love my dad, and so to call God “Dad” would be a name of respect and love.  We shouldn’t hinder a person’s prayer by formalities.  That is what the Pharisees did.  However we call on God’s name in prayer, the key is that it is to be in respect, in reverence, and in love.  That is how Jesus tells us to call upon God.

            Next, Jesus tells us that we are to respect and acknowledge the authority of God.  “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  There are so many people in this world today that know these words, but don’t understand their meaning.  When you say “Thy kingdom come” or “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” you are acknowledging that God has the full authority over every single aspect in life.  From the vastness of space, to the smallest cell, God is in control of it all. God created time and space.  He created every animal, every plant, and every person.  We need to acknowledge His total authority.

            Then He asks God to provide for our needs; needs mind you, not necessarily all of our wants.  Our wants can lead us away from Him, but our needs will always bring us to Him.  Jesus says, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  I believe that Jesus meant two things in this sentence.  To give us this day and our daily bread is to mean to take care of our basic needs: food, water, shelter, and contact with people or fellowship.  But it also is a little deeper.  Jesus refers to Himself as the bread of life in John 6:22.  So when we ask for God to give us our daily bread, we not only ask for our basic needs to be fulfilled, but also that we are filled or anointed by the Spirit of God; the One Jesus promised would come.  That He would anoint us on this day that we may be fruitful to His commission for His children.  If we are anointed daily with His grace and mercy, imagine how much of an impact we can make for His kingdom. 

Now there is a difference between anointing and being filled by the Spirit.  When you accepted Jesus as your savior, you were immediately sealed by the Holy Spirit; making you a child of God.  Being anointed is asking and receiving God’s grace and asking that He can work through you.  When we ask for our daily bread, we are asking that we are anointed so that we may complete the work that God has for us in a way that is pleasing to Him.

            In our passage, Jesus continues by asking forgiveness of our debts, and of our trespasses against Him and others, as we have forgiven our debtors or those who have trespassed against us.  Now I want to jump down to the end of this passage just real quickly because it completes this thought. “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”  This creates the most problem areas for believers and has become a stumbling block to unbelievers when you are talking about prayer in relation to the nature of our salvation.  Remember the audience here, because this is key; Jesus was speaking to believers.  So as believers we are forgiven, but we must forgive.  If we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have been forgiven of everything; everything, that we have and will ever do.  Who are we to not forgive someone else for something that, in comparison to our rebellion against God, is so minor? 

When Jesus is talking here, I believe that He is referring to a fact that the apostle Paul later refers to and puts a great deal of emphasis on in Galatians 2:20.  Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”  What am I saying here?  If we have been crucified with Christ, that is, if we have been saved and our sins against God forgiven; we have died to sin and have come to life in Christ, then Christ living in us will produce forgiveness of others.  I believe that Jesus was having us do a gut check on our faith.  “It is not I who live, but Christ lives in me.”  If Jesus is living in you, then forgiveness will be offered by the prompting of the Spirit.  When Jesus says that those who don’t forgive won’t be forgiven; I take that as those who aren’t saved aren’t forgiving others because Christ does not live in them and the nature of the flesh is sin, which can only be forgiven through faith in Jesus.  Does that mean that if you have a hard time forgiving someone, you aren’t really saved?

Paul says under the God breathed writing in II Corinthians 13:5 to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test.” The answer is that we live in Christ through the flesh.  Our flesh is weak and is not willing to forgive, and sometimes we choose to ignore the Spirit; but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t saved, just that we need to repent and come back to God again because we probably have drifted.  But, I want to assure you that once you are saved, you are always saved.  When Jesus was telling us that we must forgive, He was telling us to make sure that we have made our election clear and have chosen Him.  When we chose Him, we were forgiven and have the ability for the first time in our lives to forgive others.

Once we have the ability to forgive others and are saved by the grace of God, why would Jesus tell us to ask God not to lead us into temptation?  Does God tempt us?  James 1:13-14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” The words used for tempt in the Greek means to try or prove, to put to the test; and comes from the root for the word experience.  So does God tempt us?  No He does not.  To quote Spiros Zodhiates,

When God is the One who leads His people into temptation even as the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted, it is for the purpose of proving to His child that when God leads to temptation, He does not abandon him, but He is with him to give him the victory and to make him more experienced in warfare against the devil.  The Lord never leads to temptation for the purpose of causing anyone to fall, but for the purpose of proving the sufficiency of His presence.  When, however, one allows Satan or his own lusts to tempt him, he should never say that he is tempted of God.

What is key to this part of the Lord’s prayer so that we may understand what Jesus is saying, is the second part of the sentence, “And deliver us from evil.” When we are led to through a trial, we must pray that God delivers us from that trial unscathed by evil.  We are to resist the evils, but cannot do it without the power of God working through us.  So we must ask for God to stand by us throughout the day. 

            The conclusion of the Lord’s prayer is a similar acknowledgement as when we opened the prayer.  We acknowledge that the kingdom of the saved in Christ is His, not ours.  All of the power that has been given to us in forgiveness, spiritual gifts, and the ability to live, is His and not of our own making or doing.  We also acknowledge that He is eternal.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  He created all things and knows everything that will happen.

            It is not the recital of these particular words that is important, but that God is honored in the words you have spoken.  Paul tells us that there are times when we are so weary and broken that we cannot even speak in words; that they will come out as a mere groan, but the Spirit intercedes and knows the exact meaning of that groan.  Romans 8:26 says, “And in the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.”  I know an individual that can first hand explain the brokenness she felt and can say that there were times that only groans could come out in her prayers, but God was listening and answered.

            This person was a business woman who was married and had 3 young children.  Her youngest was a fairly fussy baby, and one night was taken to the hospital for an extremely high fever.  The next thing she knew, both she and her husband were being accused of abuse.  The youngest was taken away and placed into foster care, then moved to the custody of a family member.  The mother and her husband had but only 1 hour - 1 time per week that they could visit their now 2 month old under the supervision of child protective services.  What they had found in the hospital was that the baby had a cracked scull and a broken rib.  As she had been a fussy child since birth, the parents never thought of an injury when she fussed as there were no visible signs of an injury.  What had happened was that their 2 year old had fallen on top of the infant while playing about a week prior, and they were in a car accident that same week.  Since there was no bruising, the parents did not think any different of the situation. 

            One month goes by, then two.  Still waiting for the court date when they would find out if all of their children would be taken away or if they could have their daughter back; the parents became broken in heart and spirit.  Their attorney had missed their first court date due to cancer treatment, and on the day of their postponed hearing, he was once again unavailable.  The backup attorney was fairly young, but did have some experience in these cases.  The husband wanted to postpone the hearing once again until their attorney was available, but the mother, after deep prayer over the 2 ½ months that her child was not with her, felt that they should go ahead with the hearing.

            Court day came and the district attorney’s office was pulling out all of the stops.  The doctors, however, had many inconsistencies in their dates.  But the judge seemed to be over looking each of these inconsistencies.  Then came the social worker’s testimony.  She said that the infant should be taken out of the care of the family and that the case should be reviewed in a couple of years.  The child advocate assigned to the case stated that although the family doesn’t meet the typical criteria for an abusive family, the infant should be placed in state custody, but allowed to live with her parents.  What this would mean is that the family could not take a family vacation, move, or make any decisions about their child without the consent of the state.  The judge appeared to agree with this recommendation then asked if the defense had any final information before the decision.  The attorney stood up and said, “Judge, I think you should dismiss the case due to lack of evidence.”

            Shortly thereafter, the judge had made his decision.  With hearts pounding and tears already started, the family stood and waited to hear what the future of their daughter would be.  “Case dismissed due to lack of evidence,” the judge declared.  Now the tears of joy poured out and a great prayer of thanks was given right then and there.

            Later, she came to me and told me that there were times when she couldn’t even get the words out, but God heard her anyway and lifted her up.  He removed the anger from the family and the fear of what was to come.  He lifted them up in such a way that she felt a sense of peace, even in the midst of this trial.  And finally, that only by God’s grace did that judge declare that the case was dismissed as even she would have convicted based on how strong the district attorney presented the case.  She and her family are now stronger because through this terrible trial in their life, they came together and leaned on God.  They allowed Him to be in control, as they had no control over what was happening.

Years ago, someone at a church camp read this story, and for some reason, it stuck in my mind.

At first, I saw God as my observer, my judge,
keeping track of the things I did wrong,
so as to know whether I merited heaven of hell when I die.
He was out there sort of like a president.
I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I really didn’t know him

But later on when I met Christ,
it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride,
but it was a tandem bike,
and I noticed that Christ was in the back helping me pedal.

I don’t know just when it was that He suggested we change places,
but life has not been the same since.

When I had control, I knew the way.
It was rather boring, but predictable…
It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead,
He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places at breakneck speeds,
it was all I could do to hang on!
Even though it looked like madness,
He said, “Pedal!”

I worried and was anxious and asked, “Where are you taking me?”
He laughed and didn’t answer,
and I started to learn to trust.

I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure.
And when I’d say, “I’m scared,”
He’d lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed,
gifts of healing, acceptance, and joy.
They gave me gifts to take on my journey, my Lord’s and mine.

And we were off again.
He said, “Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight.”
So I did, to the people we met, and I found that in giving I received,
and still our burden was light.

I did not trust Him, at first, in control of my life.
I thought He’d wreck it;
but He knows bike secrets,
knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.

And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places,
and I’m beginning to enjoy the view
and the cool breeze on my face
with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.

And when I’m sure I just can’t do anymore,
He just smiles and says….”Pedal.”[1]

We must make God the driver of our lives, and learn to follow.  When we are scared and in need of help we need just but to cry out “Help me!” and He will reach out His hands to comfort us.  When we put full trust in the Lord, it is then when we find that our prayers are answered.  The really neat thing about prayer is that we not only have the ability to pray and have direct contact with our Creator, but to know that God is listening and He is willing to answer.  Jesus gives us a promise relating to prayer.  In John 16:23 Jesus says, “In that day you will not question Me about anything; Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.”  The key to answered prayer is belief. 

Now, in my studies I have found a very interesting constant about prayer; God will answer those prayers of those who believe, but for the unbeliever, He only promises to hear the prayer of “I need you; save me.”  All other prayers of the unbeliever may be answered, but they also may not be answered.  Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” The Lord will not hear us if we regard iniquity, sin, in our hearts.  One who does not accept Christ is living in sin, and is not going to be heard until that rejecting spirit is changed.

We need to come to the Lord in prayer with a changed heart.  Without a relationship with Jesus, we cannot expect our prayers to be answered.  If a child that you had never met walked up to you, “Hey mister, I want a new…” and went on with a list, our response would be, “That’s nice, ask your parents.” Why should God answer the requests of those who deny Him and figuratively speaking, spit in His face?  Now, He might answer some to show His grace and righteousness, but He has made no promise, no covenant to do so with those who reject Him. 

We also need to take time out of our busy day and make time for prayer. Ulrich Schaffer wrote,

I need time
     uncluttered time
     to center myself
     to gather myself in-

I want to find the center again,
     that will keep my life together.

I want to look into my own eyes
      to be quiet in order to be able to love again.

God offers Himself as center
      as axis around which all revolves as the core of all things.

He is the circle in which we are all free-
      And in the circle – the cross onto which we fall
      And from which we rise again to a life of love.[2]

We need to make sure that we are making time to put God as the center of our life; the driver and not the passenger.  This is what brings us to real faith. If we pray and don’t believe that God will answer; that is not coming to Him in true faith.  The mother who had her child taken away for over half of that baby’s life came to the Father, broken hearted and knowing that only He could do something.  She had faith, and God answered.

            Lastly, we need to make sure that we aren’t so full of the “I wants” that we forget what Jesus tells us about prayer.  We are to give reverence to God, to thank Him, make our petitions and pleas known, acknowledge His ultimate authority, and to accept what He has put in front of us.  This is hard in our society when nothing is ever good enough, but this is how Jesus, God in the flesh, told us to pray. 

            Normally, I would ask Mark to come up and to lead us in a song of invitation, but today, I want to end on a slightly different note.  I’m going to be up here on the step in prayer.  We’re going to have some music playing, and I invite you to come forward to pray either with me, or on your own.  You are welcome to pray in the pews, but there is something to be said about getting down either on the step or on your knees to pray for one and other.  If you have not accepted Christ and now realize that without a relationship, that God may not hear your prayers, I encourage you to come and I will pray with you.  [AFTER A SONG OR SO, END IN PRAYER]


[1] Tim Hansel. Holy Sweat, Dallas: Word Publishing, 1987. 51-53

[2] Tim Hansel. Holy Sweat, Dallas: Word Publishing, 1987. 152-153

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