Lord Teach Us To Pray!
Matthew 6: 5-15
I suspect that most preachers approach a lesson on prayer much as I do thinking, “I need to confess my personal neglect in prayer and be asking others to remember me in their prayers.” We would be in good company by asking for prayers of the church, because the Apostle Paul did the same, though not because of neglect.
Does it surprise you that Paul, with apostolic authority and power, would ask “ordinary Christians” to pray for him? But he did. For example: 1 Thess 3:1-3
1Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, just as it is with you, 2and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. 3But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.
As a praying person, if you research the place of prayer in a Christian’s life, you may be in for a surprise, by assuming that praying to God would be totally free of any disagreement among those who profess to be religious, Unlike baptism, church music, or the Lord’s Supper. Such is not the case.
You will find that professed atheists and other non-believers are not the only ones who hold prayer to be fruitless and unproductive. Some highly touted religious scholars downplay it and forthrightly say they have never prayed or no longer pray. There is a concept that among many that, “Thinking people don’t pray and praying people don’t think.”
Informed Bible students know, however, that disciples of Jesus viewed prayer differently. Every New Testament book either contains prayers or alludes to prayers by Jesus or his followers. Prayers were common practice in the early church, as the very first sentence of church history ever written declares:
41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Critics say that if God’s laws are immutable, then if God answered prayers, He would be contradicting His laws that are fixed . But sometimes, even humans can cause intervention of God’s laws. The law of gravity is bypassed by training capsules in the space program that cause weightlessness. God, who gave us His laws, can use providence and our overlapping lives within the framework of his laws to affect events
Can we know what the prayer emphasis of the first Christians was? Remember that in the Great Commission, Jesus commanded the apostles To teach all new disciples “to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20). Further, he said they would receive the Holy Spirit to “bring to your remembrance all things that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26).
Both of these occurring at Pentecost in Acts Chapter 2. The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, and they taught and baptized those who “gladly received His word,” (Acts 2:41). The very next verse declared that they “continued steadfastly…in prayers
If we want to know what the prayer life of the first disciples was, then we should learn what Jesus Himself exhibited and taught His disciples about prayer. That obviously is what he wanted them to remember and in turn teach new converts to observe. It seems logical at this point to review Luke 11:1.
1Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
The disciples had been patient observers while Jesus prayed. As soon as he had ended his prayer, they said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
Surely they knew something about praying already. They may well have known about some of those great prayers in the Old Testament, such as Hannah’s (1 Sam. 1), David’s (1 Chron. 29; Psa. 51); Elijah’s (1 Kings. 17, 18), or Daniel’s (Dan. 6). Hezekiah’s 2 Kings 19-20. They certainly knew that John had taught his disciples to pray.
Is it possible they did not want to be left out? Were they anxious to have a new, distinct prayer of their own? Is it possible they had heard some of the showy prayers that Jesus condemned in Matthew 6:5 and 7-8?
5“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. ........... 7“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8“Therefore do not be like them.
They may have wanted to be sure to avoid those syrupy, trite, hypocritical, repetitious prayers.
Be honest now for a minute: thinking of all the public prayers you have heard over many years, have you thought or ever said, “I wish brother So-And-So would come up with a new prayer?” Or have you said, “I wish Bro ?? would quit trying to ‘show off ’ to be ‘so different’ when he prays”?
It is always refreshing to see sincere, godly Christians plan their prayers and pray from the heart. At the same time, hearing public prolonged rooted in self-praise is a turn-off. Jesus must have felt the same way when he upbraided those hypocrites. They loved to pray while on display in public places that they might be seen of men, “do not be like them!” (Mt. 6:5-8).
If we applied what Jesus said about prayers, would they be shorter rather than tedious, wordy demands? Would they really be a “performance”? I recall once being part of a “normal length” service-until a brother was called on to lead a dismissal prayer. While everyone stood, he chased rabbits around “the great white throne” and a few other distracting locales for 17 minutes. It seemed to me that he passed up several exit ramps where an “Amen” would have been appropriate. But he apparently felt that there were several things about him it would be good for everybody besides the Lord to know.
I about a man who led a prayer so long his wife shouted in during the prayer “Shut up John!” My brother witnessed this, and spoke of the embarrassment of the moment .
Please understand that I do not want to convey any disrespect about prayer and genuine devotion—or to those who offer theirs from the heart however long. At the same time, Jesus sounded a warning to those “who think that they will be heard for their many words!” (Mt. 6:7).
I have seen those who parade words that I need a dictionary to look up their every word just to be able to say amen at the end.
As a young man I read with much delight the Memoirs of Alexander Campbell By: Robert Richardson
He portrayed Alexander Campbell as a man who loved to pray and even at the dinner table would sometimes pray long and hard. I laughed as Mr. Richardson spoke of an occasion where Alexander had been asked by his father Thomas Campbell to return thanks at the dinner table. Both men on their knees at the side of the table. Alexander prayed so long that Thomas hit him with his walking can for keeping him on his knees causing his arthritis to act up. The following words were written about prayer by Alexander Campbell...
“It is usually allowed that it is one of the greatest and best of blessings, that we should be admitted to lift up our voices to the throne of the Universe. But if ever there be a moment in a Christian’s live when humility and sincerity become him well...... This is the moment.... when he is speaking to that Glorious and Mighty One. before Whose Throne “Seraphs veil their face and angels prostrate fall’ Our words assuredly should be few and well ordered. no pomp of language... no vain parade of words.... no compliment to men... when we claim the audience of our Almighty Maker.”
The prayer that Jesus commended more than any other consisted of only 7 words! Notice the prayer recorded in Luke 18:9-14
9And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
In contrast to the boastful Pharisee who commended himself highly, the humble tax collector stood unpretentiously at a distance, and said, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
What was the difference in those two prayers other than length? The short one was acceptable and the other was not—reason enough for us to give some thought to prayer structure and length.
Two similar, effective prayers were uttered by Stephen. Acts 7:59-60
59And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (5 words) and “Lord, do not charge them with this sin,” (Acts 7:59, 60) (7 words). Prayers, as well as sermons, apparently do not have to be eternal to be immortal
Prayer is not to inform, instruct, or prod God. Neither rebuke Him. But prayer maintains communion with God as children so he will release blessings to those who are ready to receive them.
Since he knows our need before we ask — (Mt. 6:8), Why do we pray? Why do we ask? He is more willing to bless than we are willing to ask apparently, but not without request. He chooses the timing, the manner, and the place, but he sends them to willing recipients at the time he thinks best for their good.
Those most ready to receive them are most willing for his will to be done—and to let him know that. When we fret about unanswered prayers, remember that he may say, “Yes,” or “No,” or “You are not yet ready.” When we say, “Not my will, but thy will be done,” then God either changes his will or we have to change how can we say it was unanswered?
Jesus compared our relationship with God to a father and his children. Matthew 7:11
11If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
A wise earthly father knows in advance the needs of his children and may be more desirous than the child realizes to provide something the child needs. For example, a father wants his child to get a good education, or behave honorably, long before the child has a clue about their importance. The father looks anxiously for some indication of a child’s readiness so he can reward him, but rewards are delayed or denied to an irresponsible child.
Jesus said we would receive if we “Knock,” “Ask,” and “Seek.” Matt 7:7-8
7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: 8For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
He was not giving a blank check, assuring that every prayer would be answered as we think they should be answered. Jesus was offering help to his disciples to practice what he called on them to do. He itemized many things in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 he wanted his disciples to learn. They were to be meek and practice the Beatitudes, to conquer self, pride, lust, hate, greed, anxiety, worry, vengeful judging, and sloppy obedience. Now he was telling them that if they needed help to cope with those things, they should ask God for it.
What we call “The Lord’s Prayer” was a model Jesus taught his disciples to pray. This prayer reveals some great facts about the God we pray to.
God is holy, He is both a giver and a forgiver, He leads, and He is eternal. But the prayer also calls on us to look at ourselves. Are we grateful, are we sinful, needing forgiveness, and are we vulnerable to temptation?
There is also a sense in which it calls on us to think of our relationships to others. Do we forgive others who offend us? Do we do our part in avoiding temptation and not leading others into temptation? The prayer reminds us that Jesus’ disciples are not detached from the practical issues of life that confront us daily, so prayer is needed daily.
We are reminded that Jesus told us that the greatest of all commandments involved love for God and loving our neighbors as ourselves—a three-fold dimension of life that prayer helps us fulfill.
The model prayer blended the spiritual with the material (forgiveness and daily bread). Prayers we offer today need to include those same dimensions,. But we often include the physical more than the spiritual, don’t we? It would be a good research project to analyze prayers offered at worship over an extended period of time and categorize the things we include in our prayers.
Prayer intensifies humility and obedience to God’s authority. It is not just a privilege. It is a duty, as Samuel said, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you,” (1 Sam. 12:23).
A good evaluation in Psalms serves Christians today as well - Psalm 116:1-2
1I love the Lord, because He has heard My voice and my supplications. 2Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.
Prayer is a blessing of the righteous. 1 Pet 3:12
12For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
Righteousness is equated to justification and forgiveness.. Romans chapter three.
Ron Cope Minister churches of Christ