Prayer, Part 2
Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew
We want to continue our teaching on Christian prayer. Christian prayer is prayer offered to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that there are private prayers and public prayers. In Matthew 6:5 we read, "‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by men.’” These are hypocritical prayers, performed publicly so that people may notice your external "piety.” But here Jesus Christ says, "‘I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’” This is private prayer - each individual believer coming to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the energy and the illumination of the Holy Spirit to pray.
Now you see this private prayer throughout the Holy Scriptures. The Old and New Testaments tell us that individuals pray. But not only does the Bible teach us private prayer, it also teaches us about congregational prayer, or public prayer. In fact, Jesus Christ called the temple the house of prayer. People had made it a den of thieves, and Jesus reproved that type of commercialism and materialism. But the temple was called the house of prayer, where people can come and pray in a group. Look at Acts 4, beginning with verse 23, where you see the disciples praying as a group. "On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David…’” and so on.
So, then, there is private prayer, in which everyone must pray privately, on a regular, daily basis, and there is public prayer, in which people must pray as a congregation. This is what we do when we come to the house of God for worship. If you count prayers offered in our church in every service, you will find three, four, five or more times that we pray as a congregation. One person is praying but the others are agreeing with him, and believing God for the requests made to him.
What is the motivation when you pray? If we don’t have the right motivation, God refuses to hear our prayers, because they are not prayers according to his will. In James 4:3 we read: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…” And what are wrong motives? "that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” You see, there are evil motivations. Some people pray for a Mercedes Benzes - the E-class - a $100,000 Mercedes. Or they ask for designer clothes - not for the ordinary kind of clothes that you can buy off the rack, but for the designer clothes. Do you think God hears that type of prayers? The answer is "No.” That doesn’t mean you can’t buy an E-class Mercedes Benz. No. But if you pray with this type of motivation, then it is ungodliness. It is not prayer according to the will of God and he is not going to answer that type of prayer.
Prayer should be prayed according to the biblically-sanctioned motivation, which is the glory of God. You see, you should be able to answer these questions: Did you pray that prayer for the glory of God? Did you pray that prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, according to his authority? Can you give thanks to God for that prayer when it is heard? We need to learn how to pray with right motivation, which ought to be love for God and seeking the glory of God. Now, prayer also should be offered for practical needs. One part of prayer is petition, and we will cover that later on. We must pray for practical needs such as food. Food is not a luxury. We have to have food because God created us in a way that we must eat in order to live. We must pray for clothing. Since the Fall of man we need to have clothing and to cover up. We must pray for housing. We need to be protected from the elements. We need to pray for a job. Through our jobs God gives us food, clothing, housing, etc. We must pray that God will give you intelligence and wisdom to study so that you can qualify for a job. So it is proper to pray, "O God, give me understanding. Give me intelligence so that I could study hard and prepare myself for a job, so that I can have food and clothing, and be able to help other people who are in need.” We should pray that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis, so that we may be under his control as well as his guidance and his power. We should pray for victory over temptation. We are not saved from temptation. We will be tempted, and so we must pray, "O God, help me that I will not yield to temptation, but that this temptation will result in my growth in faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
We must pray for the salvation of our friends, our children, our spouses and our neighbors. These are all proper prayers, aren’t they? They are biblically-sanctioned. We must pray that God will increase our faith: "O God, increase my faith. I am a person of little faith and little faith people are anxious, troubled, fearful and confused. I am glad I am a person of little faith and not a person of no faith.No faith would make me a pagan, outside of the kingdom of God. But, O God, increase my faith so that I would trust you more, that I would say, ‘God said it, I believe it and that settles it.’” We must pray for all these practical needs. So we pray, "O God, fill my heart with love, first for you and then for people, that I may fulfill your great commandment, which is ‘Thou shalt love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.’”
How should we pray? First, prayer should be sincere. We should not come to God with a Pharisaical, external, legalistic, stupid, pretending piety, in which our inside is rotten but outside we pretend to be very pious and full of self-righteousness. In Luke 18 we are given the story of a Pharisee coming to the temple for prayer. He prayed to himself, and the content of his prayer was this: "I am a great person. You must be impressed with me.” But he was full of self-righteousness and pretension and God didn’t justify him. Another person, a publican, prayed in sincerity and said, "Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner,” and we are told that this publican, who prayed a sincere, honest prayer to God, went home justified. So prayer must be offered in sincerity, in honesty, and in integrity.
Secondly, when we pray, we should be reverential. We must have a sense of awe, because we have come into the presence of the infinite, personal, all-glorious, all-majestic, all-transcendent, all-holy God. As the Lord said to Moses, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” There ought to be a sense of awe filling our hearts, because we are not coming to a buddy. We are coming to the eternal, almighty God, who is also our heavenly Father. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. We need to recognize that.
Thirdly, when we pray, we must pray in humility, meaning we must be aware that we are finite beings and sinners saved by God’s grace. You see, we are nothing but for the mercy of God! So we must have this idea of reverence, and at the same time, we must have a profound consciousness of our own lowliness.
Fourthly, we must come to God in faith. "Be it done to you according to your faith.” Faith is trust - Fides est fiducia. Faith is confidence in our God. Faith means I entrust myself to this great, infinite, almighty God for everything. I rest in God, just like a little child completely confides and rests in his father. We must have faith in our God.
Look at what Jesus Christ said in Mark 11, beginning with verse 20: "In the morning as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’” Now, God used this withering of the fig tree to teach about the prayer of faith. Look at verse 22: "‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, "Go throw yourself into the sea” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.’”
Now, you don’t say to a mountain, "Go and get lost in the ocean” unless God gave you the confidence to say that for the furtherance of God’s glory. I have never yet seen people tell Mount Everest to get lost. If you really want to prove your great faith, then maybe you should try to do that. Don’t go around telling mountains to go away to demonstrate your great faith. But if God tells you to say that for the glory of God and for the expansion of God’s kingdom, then that’s a different story.
Then Jesus said, "‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’” Now, we made the point before that this "whatever” is limited by the word of God. For instance, when you pray, "O God, I am a student and I must study hard. I pray that you give me wisdom.” When you pray that way, you know it is according to the will of God and you know that prayer is heard. God is already granting you what you prayed for.
Prayer is knowing that my heavenly Father loves me, and that he is the one who commanded me to come to him and ask for all that the Bible says to ask for. For instance, we can pray, "Give us this day our daily bread.” That is a proper prayer, and God will give you your daily bread. So, we should pray in faith and in complete confidence that our God is true. Our God doesn’t just say things or double-talk like politicians. What do they say? Oh, that was just election year rhetoric. That means they are lying. We sanction that lying during election years and after election years say it’s okay. And eventually we get the idea that God himself speaks like this, in this duplicitous way. But the truth is, God alone is truth. "Thy word is truth.” So a truly born again Christian believes in God, in his integrity and truthfulness, and comes to God in faith and prays to him.
Fifthly, we must pray perseveringly. Read Luke 11, Luke 18 and Matthew 15, where we read stories designed to teach this idea that we must pray perseveringly. In Luke 11 we read how a man wanted some bread, so he went to his friend in the middle of the night. Remember that? And the friend would not get up and give him bread, but finally he did because the man persisted. In Luke 18 we are told about a poor widow. She had a case, but the judge was a false judge. But she showed up again and again and again and finally this unrighteous judge answered her prayer and brought her justice. In Matthew 15 we see a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, whose daughter was tormented by demons. Although she came to Jesus Christ, he did not answer her prayer right away. But she kept on praying. She acknowledged that she was a "dog,” that she was a Gentile, that she didn’t deserve anything, but asked that Jesus at least give her a crumb. Jesus said, "You have great faith!” and her request was granted. God delivered her daughter. So we should persevere in prayer. We shouldn’t go to God and pray, and then say, "Well, he didn’t answer right away, so I just went away. Too bad. I have other plans. I’ll try plan B.” We shouldn’t have a "plan B” if we are Christians. We have only one plan, which is seeking God our heavenly Father, our only source.
We need to persevere. In Matthew 7, where Jesus teaches us to pray, the word he uses is "ask” in the present active imperative form, which means "keep on asking.” In this persevering prayer we demonstrate that we don’t have a plan B. We only have one plan, and if God doesn’t help us, we are doomed and we die. And there are times that God may not answer our prayer right away. If so, we need to keep on praying, and if it is a prayer in accordance with the will of God, he will do it. So persevering prayer demonstrates that our faith is genuine.
Another part of persevering prayer is fasting. Now, fasting is a good thing to do, but we don’t like this business of fasting. We like to eat. We like to have all sorts of pleasures. We cannot say "No” to anything. But if the Holy Spirit guides us to fast, we are demonstrating our fervency in whatever we are praying about. We are saying, "O God, I am going to give up eating a meal, or a few meals. I am going to give up listening to the radio. I am going to give up watching television. Why? I am very earnest about this particular issue” - the salvation of my son or whatever the situation is. And so persevering prayer can include fasting.
Sixthly, we pray boldly. What does that mean? God is infinite. God is transcendent. God is all-majestic. God is all-holy. But in Jesus Christ he loves me and forgave all my sins, and now I can come to him with confidence and boldness. In Hebrews 4:16 we are told to come before God in this way: "Let us then approach the throne of grace boldly so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” This means we approach with great confidence, not in arrogance. We don’t want to come to God as slaves, in timidity. We are not slaves. We are made sons and daughters of God in Jesus Christ and therefore we can come to God with that filial confidence. That is how we should come.
Finally, we should come in to God in purity and holiness. That means you cannot come to God and pray when you have not forgiven other people. You cannot. You may not want to forgive your brother, but in Mark 11:25, we read this: "‘And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’” Psalm 66:18 tells us that if we keep iniquity in our hearts, God will not hear our prayers: "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” The psalmist is saying that he asked God to forgive his sin. So when we come to God, we must come to God in purity. If we cherish sin, we are instantly disqualified to pray. God will not hear the prayers that we offer in that fashion.
So, as we practice this great privilege of Christian prayer, may we come to God in sincerity, in reverence, in humility, in faith, with perseverance, with boldness, and in purity. May God hear and answer such prayers! Amen.
Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew
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