Prayer: Lord Teach Me… – Luke 11:1-4 & 18:1-8
Would anyone like to come up and pray for us before we get started?
How did you know what to pray for? Where did the words come from? Were you thinking of the words as you came up? Were you hoping that you said the right things? You probably wouldn’t know it, but I bet a lot of people have these thoughts in their heads. As a pastor you think that I could just pray on the spot no matter what is going on. This is both true, but a little misleading. Sometimes when we pray in groups my mind will wonder toward the time that I will pray. I think of the wording and the intentions of my words. I think of what others have not said. I consider how my prayer will speak to others in the group. The problem with this is my mind is not completely focused on prayer. Now my heart is focused on prayer, but my mind isn’t. Now this does not happen all the time, but part of prayer is learning what to say.
If prayer is the heart language of our hearts then is there a correct way of praying? I mean it seems kinda individualistic in terms because my heart cries out to the Lord differently than others do. We are all created to pray and communion with God. Created in the image of God means we share with God His heart and mind. Prayer is our hearts connecting with the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Does it really matter how or what we pray for?
When I started this series I asked how we should pray and some of you said it does not matter. At least it doesn’t matter if we are sitting, standing, or lying down, but does it matter what we say? We might think no because God knows our intentions and our heart. This is true, but doesn’t the language out of heart mean something to us, others, and God?
Apparently the disciples thought how they pray was important. Here are the disciples who were devout in their belief of God and the ways of their people and yet as they grow closer to Jesus, as they yearn to be with Him and know Him better they recognize what is truly important for them to learn. “Lord, teach us to pray…” How simple yet how profound. It’s not like the disciples had never prayed before, in fact I am sure they had been praying their entire lives, and yet they ask Jesus to teach them. Have you ever asked God to teach you to pray? Maybe you have maybe you haven’t, but I believe that you need to. Who better to teach us the language of our hearts than the One who created them. Who better to help us communion with God than God. We must learn the language before our prayers can truly be an out pouring of our hearts and lives.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer a 20th century pastor and theologian during WWII thought learning how to pray was vitally important. Bonhoeffer writes, “To learn to pray sounds contradictory to us. Either the heart is so overflowing that it begins to pray by itself, we say, or it will never learn to pray. But this is a dangerous error, which is certainly very widespread among Christians today, to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray. We then confuse wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting, rejoicing – all of which the heart can certainly do on its own – with praying. But in doing so we confuse earth and heaven, human beings and God. Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ.”
As Bonhoeffer points out, prayer is something learned, not just a pouring out our hearts. Prayer is not wishing, or hoping, or crying, or picking up the phone, or just talking to God. Prayer is something much more deeper. Remember God created us which makes us different from God. Last week I spoke of our relationship with God. We relate to God because God made it possible in Jesus Christ. God established our relationship first. We could not establish it because we are the creation. Sin further widened the gap between the divine and creation. Prayer is the bridging of that gap. Prayer is how our hearts can cross the divide between humanity and God. So to pray must be something that is established in our hearts by Jesus first. Which brings us back to the disciples.
The disciples knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior, the One who would bridge the gap with God. By knowing this they went to the source of our relationship with God and asked, “Teach us communion with God.” Now Jesus didn’t say that it was whatever your heart wanted to say. No, Jesus told them a very specific prayer. Jesus gave us the prayer that would be the plumb line of prayers. We call it the Lord’s Prayer. Of course Luke’s Gospel and Matthew’s Gospel give us two variations on this prayer, but they stand in agreement with each other. Luke’s version is: “Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.” Matthews version is: “Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heave. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wrong us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” Of course the Church adopted the version given to us in Matthew’s Gospel, but each one has the same connection to God. We could spend a year with this prayer and only scratch the surface of the depth of this prayer. But the point is, how we pray and what we say is important. The one thing I want you to recognize at this point is that we need to be taught how to pray by Jesus, who is the Great Teacher.
When we learn to pray the first thing that needs to be brought out is that prayer must be genuine and persistent. When Jesus teaches us how to pray it is very genuine. He truly calls God Father. He wants God’s kingdom on earth. He needs God’s provision. Out of God’s forgiveness comes forgiveness. And temptation needs to be avoided. These are not just any old words, but the words that defeat the powers of evil and sin. They are genuine because Jesus communicates the desire and will of God’s heart in them. (Repeat…) This is what God wants for us and what our hearts truly desire when they are connected to God’s heart. In our prayers we must be genuine. Our prayers must communicate the heart of God so that sin and evil are destroyed in our lives and the life of the world.
Our prayers are to be persistent. For early Christians the Lord’s prayer was prayed at least 3 times a day. This was the common practice of the Church. The reason for persistence, I believe, is because God truly wants to know if this is what we truly desire. The parable that Jesus spoke about the persistent widow shines light on the importance of prayer. She went every day to ask for justice to a judge who did not fear God nor respected people. The widow wanted justice so much that it did not matter if the answer was no, nor did she have false hopes about the matter. She knew the judge. She knew he did not fear God nor respect people, but that did not stop her from going. She went every day because it was that important. A lot of times when we pray we think that offering up one prayer is good enough. In fact we might think that the more people involved in the prayer will get the job done. No! Our prayers must be a consistent thing in our lives. Our transformation into the image of God hinges on the persistence of our prayers.
People tell me a lot that they cannot forgive someone who has wronged them. I usually ask if you have prayed about it. They say of course, but praying for something once is not prayer. If you truly wanted to forgive someone it would be a constant prayer in your daily lives. If you want to change, you must pray for change every chance you get. I would not be at the spiritual maturity I am now, if I was not in constant prayer about it. Everyday I must be willing to admit that I am not where God wants me to be and pray for God to change me. We think that our transformation will come naturally if we just believe. Out of our belief comes the transformation because our hearts cry out to be transformed.
People say they cannot live like Jesus, why? Maybe it is because they do not want to live like Jesus. If they wanted to be live like Jesus it would be a constant prayer in their lives. If an unjust judge, who does not fear God and respect people, gives justice to a widow who consistently and genuinely asks for justice then God who loves us will also do the same and God will probably be quicker than the judge. God will not be slow to answer your prayer, but you must be genuine and persistent.
So how do we learn how to pray. God showed me how to pray through my family. This was my first experience of prayer. They taught me the function of prayer, but I had to ask God to teach me the heart of prayer. I also needed the language of prayer. Some I picked up from my dad. As a preacher I heard him pray all the time, especially in church and at meals. So how I pray during church and at meals probably sounds just like my dad. The problem we face is a culture that does not have this experience of prayer growing up. Most people today are not raised being taught how to pray. Because of this we all need to be able to give the language of prayer to people.
John Wesley believed there were two types of prayer that we as Christians need to incorporate in our lives. The first is extemporaneous prayer. We need to be willing to pray at any moment of our day. Both in our closet and in public. This is hard because a lot of people are embarrassed because they do not want to speak in public or they are embarrassed because they do not want to mess up. Like all things this must be learned. We must begin to practice. One of great things about the Church is that it is a place to practice our faith without judgment. Well, it should be like that. What better place to practice praying in public than at Church.
We also must be bold in our prayers. God wants to hear you. Every single one of you, God wants to hear. Extemporaneous prayer is being ready to lift up ourselves and others to God at any moment when the Spirit moves you to pray. How would people react if when they asked you to pray for them that you stopped and actually prayed for them on the spot? You never know how the Spirit is going to work if you never step outside of your bubble and allow God to use you at any moment. Extemporaneous prayer is one way that God uses us to bring His Kingdom to Earth. If you are weak in this area, then maybe the next area will help.
The second type of prayer is “written prayers.” I believe these are important to our lives. We must never neglect prayers that have been written and given to us. The first place to look for these prayers are in Scripture. What better way to learn the language of prayer then by the “Prayerbook of the Bible”; Psalms. Each one of the Psalms are prayers given to us by God. When you read the Psalms, say them out loud. Pray them. Let the words and language become a part of you. Another place to look is prayers written and handed down by the Saints. Each week during this series I have given you a different prayer written by someone in the family of faith. Learn those. Pray them when your heart is weak or you mind is distracted. Get on your computer and Google prayers. Find one that speaks to you and say it out loud.
A third type of written prayers are music. Our hymns that we sing are not just catchy tunes. They are prayers given to us. Today we sang some of my favorite prayers in the whole hymnal. My favorite is “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” given to us by Charles Wesley. Listen to it as I read and tell me it is not a prayer that comes from the heart of God,
“Love divine, all love excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down; fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown! Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art; visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.”
“Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast! Let us all in thee inherit; let us find that second rest. Take away our bent to sinning Alpha and Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.”
“Come, Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive; suddenly return and never, never more thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above, pray and praise thee without ceasing, glory in thy perfect love.”
“Finish, then thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be. Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee; changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
Both extemporaneous and written prayers are needed in our daily lives. They teach us how to pray and give us the language of our hearts. But none of this matters if we have not asked Jesus to “Teach us how to pray.” If you truly desire to be the image of God in the world, then prayer must be a persistent and genuine practice in your life. Our hearts cry out to God when we pray, but our hearts need to be taught how to cry. Because of sin we have been divided and fallen away from God. Being in constant communion with God takes time and practice and is something to be learned. Will you say with me, “Lord Teach Me.”
References and quotes are from these sources:
Henry H. Knight III. The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace. (Scarecrow Press)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Prayerbook of the Bible. (Fortress Press)