Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Foundation for Prayer

When You Pray: Part 2

There is a right way and a wrong way to pray. Prayer shouldn’t be entirely focused on ourselves and our needs, but it should get us to focus on God and His will. Part of the reason we get frustrated with our prayer life and our prayers seem so ineffective is because we have been focused on the wrong thing.

When our prayers are ineffective the religious cover we give God is that we didn’t have enough faith. Somehow we are messing up and if we could just work up enough faith then God would do what we ask (do you see a problem there?). Yet Jesus told us that it wasn’t about having great faith, but having just a little faith. If we have faith the size of a mustard seed God said we would be able to do great things.

I want to let you know this that ineffective prayer isn’t a faith issue. The reason our prayers seem ineffective and why the answers seem so random is that we have focused on just one small aspect of what prayer is. We have made prayer about asking God for things, and in the process prayer has become us trying to get God to do things our way. God is not a good luck charm, He is not Santa Claus, and He is not our personal Genie. When we try to use prayer to get God to do our will we miss out on the power of prayer in our lives.

We can hardly be blamed for praying the way that we do. Too often the way we should pray that has been modeled for us has been all about bless us, bless this ministry, bless this program, watch over this person, heal that one, provide us with peace, give us the resources, bless, give, watch, strengthen, us, me, and mine. Now don’t misunderstand me. Our prayers need to include these sorts of things. It is an act of faith to give these things over to God, but they are not to make up the bulk of our prayers. Our prayers need to be focused on something very different.

What we need then is to be taught how to pray. I know that may seem to be silly, but if we find our prayers to be ineffective and frustrating then that has to be an indication that we are praying in a wrong way. The good news I have for you is that we have someone willing to teach us about prayer, and it isn’t me.

Matthew chapters 5-7 contain what we call The Sermon on the Mount. The culture Jesus lived in was a very religious culture. While it was no longer the theocratic society God planned Israel to be religion still dominated the way they lived. It would be very similar to what many Middle Eastern countries look like today with the dominance of Islam. What we find Jesus doing in this sermon is attacking the religion of the day. “You have heard it said…but I say…” Over and over again Jesus provides them with the best way to live and a new perspective on life.

Since it was a religious culture it was important to be thought as a religious person. People, especially the Pharisees, would make a great show of their “religious” deeds such as giving to the poor and praying so people would marvel at what marvelous men they were. This is what Jesus said about such deeds:
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people in order to be noticed by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give to the poor, don't blow a trumpet before you like the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they will be praised by people. Truly I tell you, they have their full reward! 3 But when you give to the poor, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be done in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4; ISV)

Our religion, our faith, isn’t about what we do for others to see, it is about what we do in secret. This teaching is Jesus’ lead into how we should pray.

Jesus is teaching people who were taught how to pray since they were very little. In fact there were formalized prayers that these ancient Jews were required to memorize and say every day. There were also the set times of prayer at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Prayer was a very important part of their life.

Yet we get to verse 5 of chapter 6 it almost seems that Jesus says: “I have been listening to you pray, and you are doing it wrong. Let me teach you to pray.” Jesus wanted to make sure that they, and us, understood how to pray.

  • Point to Ponder: When we try to use prayer to get God to do our will we miss out on the power of prayer in our lives.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:1-4
  • Question to Consider: How would you evaluate your prayer life?

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