God Is Closer Than You Think #5 – What Is Prayer?

by JT Holderman

DOCTRINE

Illustration of Answered Prayer: Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Daniel is thrown into the pit with the lions and spends the night. But guess what, Daniel was found by King Darius the next morning, unharmed. Prayer is powerful. Both Daniel and King Darius prayed, and God delivered. He heard their prayers.

Definition: A theologian of our day gives a definition for prayer. He says “prayer is personal communication with God” (Wayne Grudem ST-377). I think he captures the essence of prayer, being in relationship, communication, being in conversation with God. Remember you and I were created to be in relationship with God, and relationships are defined by being in communication with one another.

Jesus Makes Prayer Possible: Do you know what gives us confidence in prayer? Jesus. His death on our behalf creates a way for us to know and be in relationship with God again. When you pray to Jesus, he hears you and whispers it into the Father’s ear. Jesus is our advocate.

Kinds of Prayer:

  • Petition: Asking God for…
  • Supplication: Asking God for something on behalf of someone else…
  • Praise: Lifting up God’s greatness
  • Thanksgiving: Thanking God
  • Confession: Asking for forgiveness
  • Sorrow: Prayers of tears and lament

Why do we pray? As Christians prayer is often a response to a need we have. We need help. And we pray because prayer has power. The prayer of Daniel and Darius had power to overcome the Lion’s hunger in the pit. But why does prayer have power? Prayer has power because we communicate with the living God.

Illustration of Answered Prayer #2: There’s a woman in 1st Samuel in the Old Testament. Her name is Hannah. She’s barren, she can’t have a child. She pours out her soul to the Lord. And you know what, God heard her prayer, just like he hears your prayer. He heard it, and he answered it. He gave her a son. His name was Samuel.

What about Unanswered Prayer: We have confidence when we know God has answered our prayer right? But is the same true when we don’t think God has answered our prayer? There is no such thing as unanswered prayer. There is simply prayer that isn’t answered in the manner you and I would like it to be answered. Our prayers are always subject to God’s will. And that’s where we find comfort in unanswered prayer, in the fact that God knows what is best for his children, even when we think he doesn’t.

EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 6:5-13:

Context: Matthew has recorded three chapters worth of His sermon and teachings to the people, we often refer to this portion of Scripture as the “Sermon on the Mount” because Jesus ascended a mountain, sat down, and preached to all those who followed him.

How Not to Pray vv. 5-8: So in v. 5 Jesus begins to instruct us how to pray. And what does he do first? He tells how NOT to pray. Don’t pray like this, and he gives two examples. Don’t pray like the hypocrites. Jesus explains that these people pray to be seen, they find fulfillment not in praying to God, but their motive is to be seen as pious, as holy people by others. Don’t pray like the hypocrites who pray to be seen, but instead Jesus says to pray in private, in secret where the motive is simply to be in conversation with God.

Jesus also says we are not to pray like the Gentiles, non-Jews in Jesus’ day, unclean people. Read vv. 7 and 8 with me. What is the Gentiles problem in prayer? They heap up empty phrases. They simply say things hoping they will be heard. They want to sound sophisticated and use lots of words to try to impress God and earn His favor. Their motive is to impress, to appear holy to God. The hypocrite wants to appear holy to the masses and the Gentile wants to appear holy to God. So we can see here from these first four verses that what is crucial to Jesus in prayer is MOTIVE. Why we pray is important.

How to Pray: So again knowing about prayer is of little value. Knowing HOW to pray is of infinite value. So in vv. 9-13 Jesus launches into “how” we are to pray, it’s commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer.

“Our Father…”: Jesus begins with addressing who He is praying to, God the Father. It’s crucial for us to see that He begins by pointing his conversation, his spoken prayer at God. And the word Father here is important. He doesn’t say Lord, even though He is, He doesn’t say God, he says father. And father implies a close relationship, a nearness to God.

“Hallowed be your name”: And after addressing God, Jesus hallows God’s name. Now what does that mean? A person who is hallowed is worthy of our praise. To hallow something or someone is to treat them as Holy, perfect, spotless. But to say that you hallow God’s name, that you revere Him, means also that your life will be such that it reflects that, that it continually brings glory to God as the Holy one.

“Thy Kingdom Come”: Now when you hear the word Kingdom, think of God’s reign, as a King over all the earth. Jesus is often referred to in three offices, prophet, priest and King. The Kingdom of God is the reign of Jesus over all the earth and that began with His earthly ministry. He teaches us here with the authority of a Lord, a King. So when we pray this, we are simply praying that God would reign over this world. We’re just saying, God be God here and now.

“Your will be done…”: This is a hard one to pray. Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? He prayed this, “not my will but yours.” And what happened? He died. To pray that God’s will be done is an absolute sacrifice. It is the ultimate bending of our knee and acknowledging that God knows what is best. It’s hard to pray this because we are inviting God to answer our prayer not in the manner we want, but he wants. Just like Jesus in the garden.

“Give us this day our daily bread”: It isn’t until half way through the prayer that Jesus ever asks for anything in His own life. Here Jesus asks for food, bread. Now this is an image for both physical nourishment that we need from God to live on, as well as spiritual nourishment for our walk with Him.

“Forgive…”: Jesus moves on and asks for forgiveness. Now it’s odd that Jesus asks for forgiveness. Why? Because Scripture tells us that Jesus was perfect, he did not sin, he was the only person who didn’t need forgiveness!!! This is why his death atones for our sins and brings us into relationship with God. So why does he include this. Remember, the whole point of this prayer is an example to you and I of how we should pray. We should pray like Jesus. And so confession, asking for forgiveness is a key part of prayer. Primarily because it forces us to be conscious of our sins, conscious of the ways in which we have turned from God, the ways in which our faith has faltered.

“And lead us not into temptation…”: Jesus ends his example of how we are to pray like Him by admitting that temptation and evil are a reality that we have to deal with, they are universal and inescapable for every human being. The devil is not off the leash. Temptation is essentially a test. When we are tempted our faith is tested. Praying this petition is about admitting that we need God’s help as we face temptation. We can’t do it alone.

Praise and Petition: Now we walked through those pretty quickly. But did you notice as we went through the whole prayer that it was really broken into two separate types of prayer? The first portion of the prayer is what? A prayer of praise. Jesus begins by praising God, by hallowing his name, by exclaiming the goodness of His will and the power of His kingdom. A whole half of this prayer is simply praising God! When you look at your prayer life, if you were to average how much of your prayer time is spent in praising God, hallowing His name, what do you think it would be? And so it isn’t until after Jesus has praised the Father that he moves into asking for things.

APPLICATION

Our Prayer Life: Let’s wind down and bring this home. I would contend the main reason we don’t pray is because God is not a priority in our lives. If God is really our priority in life, if knowing Him is the supreme good above all that we seek after during the hours of the day, then prayer will be as natural as breathing. Prayer is breathing in and out for a Christian. Without prayer we suffocate! And so I argue that the reason we don’t pray as much as we feel called to, or as much as Scripture urges us to, is because God really is not the priority He should be.

And when God becomes our priority, we pray. Not because we are supposed to and it’s what good Christians do, but because we want to! We want to be in relationship with Him who has lavished grace upon us. Prayer is simply communicating with God. What is the most essential thing for any relationship? Communication. If you’re married you know that communication can make a marriage wonderful, or it become a hindrance to loving one another. And so in the same way, our communication with God is of vital importance. Satan wants to thwart prayer more than anything else in our walk as Christians because the reality of our relationship with God is changed through prayer. Prayer is the most powerful action you can do as a Christian. Our call this morning is to take up the charge to be lovers of God, to be people who are characterized by having God as our priority in life.

Closing Prayer: And so where are you? Is God the priority in your life? Or is he simply a priority? Do you pray? Do you wonder what God’s will is for your life? Pray. Do you need help with a struggle you’re currently facing? Pray. Do you feel stuck? Pray. Do you feel lost? Pray. No matter what you are going through this morning, God knows and he wants you to talk to him about it.

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