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The Invitation of Prayer

When I first decided that we would go through a sermon series on the spiritual disciplines, I had in mind a series of about six messages. One on the Bible, one on prayer, one on fasting, one one worship, and a couple other ones in there as well…. But it certainly seems that God had something more in mind.

As it is, this is now message #8 and we’ve really only talked so far primarily about the Bible and about prayer – just two of the many healthy habits that we want to look at. But I think it’s been good! At least, it has been for me anyway. Particularly when it comes to prayer. Prayer has never been something that I’ve felt has been one of my strong points. Of course, as Christians we know that prayer is important – and so I’ve certainly tried to integrate prayer into my personal life and my family’s life and our church life, but honestly, it’s never been something I just naturally do. I really have to make that effort.

And I think a big part of my struggle has come become of how I understood the purpose of prayer. I mentioned in last week’s message – why do we pray when God already knows what we need and has promised to provide it? Can’t we just trust Him? When you think about it that way, it almost seems like praying for three hours each day like Martin Luther is almost a lack of faith! Why must you pray so much – can’t you just trust God? And so for much of my life, I’ve convinced myself that I have more of an ‘attitude of prayer’. Maybe I don’t always put words to my prayers, but I have this attitude of just trusting God.

And it’s great to have that kind of trust in God, but I think that still misses the point of prayer! So these last few weeks have been really good for me as I’ve dug into the whole question of why do we pray? What’s the purpose of prayer?

And I know that I haven’t fully answered those questions yet in these messages, but I hope that as I’ve been sharing what I’ve been learning, I hope that God’s been stirring up a desire in you to learn more about the why and how of prayer in your own life.

So this morning, I want to share with you yet another aspect of prayer for you to think about this week. And for me, this is really what has helped me understand why God invites us to pray.

In any study of prayer, I think it’s probably pretty important to look and see what Jesus taught about prayer. Certainly we see him modelling a lifestyle of prayer for us – like what we talked about last week. We read frequently how Jesus would go away by himself to pray – even praying all through the night on occasion. So we know that Jesus certainly lived that lifestyle of prayer that we’ve been talking about. But He also gave us some very specific instructions regarding how we should pray. And we’ve looked a a few snippets of those teachings so far, but I want to focus today on the model of prayer that Jesus gave his disciples. This is of course, known as the “Lord’s Prayer” and most of us have probably memorized and recited this passage on numerous occasions. So it’s a familiar passage, but let’s see if we can gain some new insight from it today. And I’m actually going to read it for you from both Luke and from Matthew. Both authors record this event – this teaching – in slightly different detail – so it’s good to hear both. Let’s start with Luke. Luke 11, verse 1.

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2 Jesus said, “This is how you should pray:

“Father, may your name be kept holy.

    May your Kingdom come soon.

3 Give us each day the food we need,

4 and forgive us our sins,

    as we forgive those who sin against us.

And don’t let us yield to temptation.”

Luke 11:1-4

So that’s the more condensed version. From here Luke records how Jesus then goes on to talk about how we need to be persistent in prayer. Its in this next part that we read about how if we ask, we will receive. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, the door will be opened. But let’s flip over and look at Matthew’s account of this now. This is found in Matthew 6 – and we’ll actually start a bit before the actual “Lord’s Prayer” as Jesus gives us a few other instructions about prayer first. So we’ll start at verse 5.

5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

9 Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,

    may your name be kept holy.

10 May your Kingdom come soon.

May your will be done on earth,

    as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today the food we need,

12 and forgive us our sins,

    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

13 And don’t let us yield to temptation,

    but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:5-13

So those are our two passages. Now its possible that Jesus taught about prayer on two different occasions, but I imagine that Matthew and Luke are recording the same teaching – they’ve just included different details. Luke includes the part about being persistent in prayer, and Matthew includes the part about how not to pray. Remember, Jesus spent three years teaching his disciples and the people who came to him. So there is no way that the Gospels have recorded everything. The Gospels are taking just small snippets of Jesus’s teachings, so it should be no surprise that the different Gospels may include different details. But regardless, there was one main point that Jesus is trying to make here.

So first of all, notice that Jesus says “This is how you should pray” not “This is what you should pray.”

Jesus said, “This is how you should pray:” Luke 11:2

“Pray like this:” Matthew 6:9

Jesus is giving us a model to follow – not a specific prayer to recite. These are not some magic words that will grant us our wishes when we say it just right. In fact, if you compare the wording in Matthew with the wording in Luke, you’ll find that they are a little different from each other. So maybe that’s our first clue that Jesus was teaching us how to pray – not so much what to pray.

I tend to cringe a little bit whenever the Lord’s prayer is recited. Not to say that it’s wrong to do that. Please don’t mis-hear what I’m saying. But it can be very easy for us to miss the point of prayer when we simply recite a set of memorized words. In fact, Jesus points that out, before He even gives them this model of prayer. He says first of all, in verse 5 of Matthew…

5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6

But let me ask you this: Where do we usually recite the Lord’s Prayer? Quite often it’s publicly in our churches (or back in the day they would recite it at school)… Places where everyone can see us. It almost seems like we’re doing the very thing Jesus told us not to do!

Now does that mean we should never pray in public? That’s not what I’m saying. Several of Jesus’ prayers were prayed in public. Many of the Old Testament prayers were prayed during national assemblies. So we can certainly pray in public, but Jesus is just warning us not to turn prayer into a public spectacle for the sake of boosting our egos. That’s not the point or the purpose of prayer.

And for those of us who pray in public… in church or prayer meetings or whatnot – we have to be really mindful of that. It’s easy to turn prayer into an opportunity to be eloquent and to say the right words – without actually talking to God from our heart. We have to be really careful of that.

The other warning that Jesus gives us is in verse 7.

7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” Matthew 6:7

At the Christian school where I worked, every morning the students and staff would all recite the Lord’s prayer – they repeated it every day. That’s roughly 200 times a year. Now again – I’m not saying that that’s wrong, but is that really the best way to teach these kids what prayer is all about? Is that the best way to show them how to make prayer a central part of their life?

Now, can we pray to God using the exact same words that Jesus used? Absolutely! Can we pray that same way every day? Yes, we can do that too, so long as we don’t turn prayer into merely a public spectacle or just a meaningless set of words that we repeat.

If we can pray the Lord’s prayer – actually understanding and meaning what we’re saying – awesome! That’s great! By all mean, go ahead and pray the Lord’s prayer. But if not, if it’s just a series of words that we’re reciting without putting any thought into it, we’re probably better not to pray it at all, because that totally misses the point of what prayer is all about. It’s not about eloquent words. It’s not about public recognition. It’s not about saying the right things.

So what is prayer all about? Well, to take us back to our John 15:5 passage – Prayer is about us (the branches) remaining in or staying connected to, God (the vine).

Perhaps a good way to think about prayer is as an invitation. This is really what has helped me understand prayer a little bit better. Prayer is an invitation.

Prayer invites God to present and active in every area of our lives. Prayer is where we invite God to have full reign in every situation – that His will would be done in His Kingdom here on earth – just like it already is in heaven.

Prayer is where we invite God to provide for us, to forgive us, to rescue us.

Take a look at the Lord’s prayer again with me. We’ll look at the Matthew version… See if you get a sense that this is an invitation to God… Jesus said:

9 Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,

    may your name be kept holy.

10 May your Kingdom come soon.

May your will be done on earth,

    as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today the food we need,

12 and forgive us our sins,

    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

13 And don’t let us yield to temptation,

    but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus isn’t instructing us to ask for anything that He hasn’t already promised to deliver. He’s already promised to provide for us with our daily bread. He’s promised to forgive our sins if we put our faith in Him. He’s promised to rescue us from sin and death and from the evil one Himself. We find all of these promises throughout the Scriptures.

So why are we praying for all these things? Well, by praying, we’re just simply inviting God to do all the things that He has already promised to do for us. We’re inviting God to be God.

Prayer is really an act of worship. Through prayer, we acknowledge who God is. We submit our lives and our situations under his care, under His will, under his wisdom.

And I think that’s why it’s so important that we don’t just have an ‘attitude of prayer’  – where we just trust God to provide for us and know that He is good. It’s an act of worship for us to pray and to verbalize that trust. It’s worship for us to take our concerns and our issues to God. It’s worship for us to invite Him to act as God. It’s worship for us to then thank Him for acting as God as he answers our prayers.

All those commands through the Scriptures for us to pray are really commands for us to worship the Lord our God.

And that’s really the heart of what Jesus is teaching us in the Lord’s prayer. This is a prayer of worship. It starts off:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.

We’re recognizing first of all, that God is God. He is our heavenly Father – He’s the King of Universe. And He is holy. His name is holy.

Every time we pray, we should be in awe that the Holy and Awesome King of the Universe is listening to us. He cares about us. He is our Heavenly Father! That’s incredible!

May your kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Again we recognize that God is the king and His kingdom is coming – and so we humbly submit to his kingship and invite his kingdom to come soon. We recognize that He is a good king. We long for his righteous rule over all the earth.

At our kids club we’ve been talking about the Kingdom of Heaven and how God is the king of the Kingdom of heaven. And last week we talked about how God is a good king. And we went through a few verses out of Psalm 145. This is a psalm or a prayer of David. And I’d actually like to read the whole psalm to you this morning. It’s a little bit longer, so I won’t put it on the screen, but I’d just like you to listen to it for now. This Psalm actually has many of the same themes that we find in the Lord’s prayer. It’s almost like the amplified version of the Lord’s prayer…. It goes like this:

I will exalt you, my God and King,

    and praise your name forever and ever.

2 I will praise you every day;

    yes, I will praise you forever.

3 Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!

    No one can measure his greatness.

4 Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;

    let them proclaim your power.

5 I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor

    and your wonderful miracles.

6 Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue;

    I will proclaim your greatness.

7 Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness;

    they will sing with joy about your righteousness.

8 The Lord is merciful and compassionate,

    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

9 The Lord is good to everyone.

    He showers compassion on all his creation.

10 All of your works will thank you, Lord,

    and your faithful followers will praise you.

11 They will speak of the glory of your kingdom;

    they will give examples of your power.

12 They will tell about your mighty deeds

    and about the majesty and glory of your reign.

13 For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.

    You rule throughout all generations.

The Lord always keeps his promises;

    he is gracious in all he does.

14 The Lord helps the fallen

    and lifts those bent beneath their loads.

15 The eyes of all look to you in hope;

    you give them their food as they need it.

16 When you open your hand,

    you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in everything he does;

    he is filled with kindness.

18 The Lord is close to all who call on him,

    yes, to all who call on him in truth.

19 He grants the desires of those who fear him;

    he hears their cries for help and rescues them.

20 The Lord protects all those who love him,

    but he destroys the wicked.

21 I will praise the Lord,

    and may everyone on earth bless his holy name

    forever and ever.

Psalm 145

Just out of curiosity – do your prayers sound like that? Mine sure don’t. To be honest, mine usually revolve around me asking God to do stuff for me – to provide stuff for me – to make me healthy and happy and successful. It sounds more like “May my kingdom come soon. May my will be done on earth, regardless of what you want in heaven.” I don’t say it like that, but often, that’s what I mean.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. I need to learn to pray “May your kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth – May your will be done in my life – May your will be done in this situation – just as it is in heaven. Because you are the King. You are my Heavenly Father. You are holy and righteous and good and all those other things that we just heard. You are God!

And because you are God, I can trust you to do all that you have promised. I can trust you to supply all my needs – my daily bread, forgiveness when I sin, enough love to forgive others when they sin against me, and protection from the evil one.

God, I invite you to be my God.”

That’s the heart of the Lord’s prayer. That’s the model that Jesus is teaching us to follow. He’s not teaching us to recite a certain set of words, He’s teaching us to acknowledge and to worship our heavenly Father as the King of Universe. That’s how we should pray!

John MacArthur writes:

Prayer begins and ends not with the indulgence of man, but with the glory of God, not with the building of my empire, but His kingdom, not with getting what I want, but doing His will, not with the elevation of my name but with the hallowing of His name.  Everything in prayer revolves around who God is and what God wants and how God is to be glorified.  And that is the sum and substance of proper praying.

I wonder how it would it would change us if we began to pray more like David in this Psalm? I wonder how it would change us if we began to pray, following the model of the Lord’s prayer?

Instead of our prayers revolving around “Give us this day our daily bread, and give us success and give us health and give us wealth….” what if, instead, we spent more of our time saying “Our Father in Heaven. May your name be kept holy. May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If you keep reading in Matthew 6, following the Lord’s prayer, you get down to verse 31. And this really summarizes everything that Jesus is teaching about prayer. He wraps it all about by saying…

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need”. Matthew 6:31-33

I think if that became the focus of our prayers, if our prayers revolved around seeking the Kingdom of God – inviting God to be our King in every situation, I think we would begin to see God answer our prayers in some amazing ways!

Not only would we continue to see God provide all the things that we need, but in addition to that, I think we would increasingly see the presence of the Kingdom of God in our lives, in our church, and in our community. As we invite God’s rule and reign in our lives, as we submit ourselves to his will being done – rather than ours, God responds to that invitation by working in us and through us to accomplish his will and bring glory and honour to Himself.

And that is the purpose and the point of prayer. It’s not a means of fulfilling our wishes, it’s an invitation to God to fulfill His.

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