Here are the notes from last Wednesday’s Bible study. One of a few recent lessons on prayer.
When You Pray
First of all, we must review and emphasize what we recently discussed about prayer: prayer must be done in the Spirit. This means several things:
Prayer in the Spirit must be done with an engaged human spirit. Our emotions must be opened in prayer. Tears and laughter must come easy in prayer. Prayer must be able to run the range of emotions from deep grief to exuberant joy.
Prayer in the Spirit must be powered by the Holy Spirit working through our human spirit enlightening and empowering the mind. This is “the flow” that comes in prayer.
Prayer in the Spirit must go beyond our mind until we pray in tongues by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14; Jude 18).
Prayer in the Spirit must go beyond tongues until we pray with “groaning that cannot be uttered” (Romans 8).
Then, we must consider Jesus’ teaching on prayer in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-15). There are three things we shall emphasize from this passage:
1. Public prayer must be conditioned by private, personal prayer.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Prayer in secret in “our room,” or “our closet” (KJV), assumes two things starting out: (1) you have a time to pray; and (2) you have a place to pray. Prayer cannot be haphazard and aimless. You must plan to pray!
We must quickly assert that Jesus’ teaching here does not condemn public, corporate prayer. The early church is seen offering corporate prayers often in the New Testament. But Jesus does condemn public prayer that is offered for show. And this has often been the case with public prayer—it is often done for public, sanctimonious show.
This is why is the prayers we pray privately in our “prayer closet” are the true measure of our prayer life. Public prayers have to be prayers that flow out of the prayer closet.
This is what the Holy Spirit is saying to us: we must go daily with Jesus into our prayer closet. This is where prayer truly becomes breakthrough prayer. Jesus is not interested in prayers that are offered only for show when the church gathers for public prayer. The heavenly Father is looking for those who will meet Him in a secret place. These are the prayer warriors whom God will reward openly.
2. Prayer must be done in faith without vain repetition.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Our prayers are not heard by God based on how much we harangue Him with incessant requests. Our prayers are heard based on faith, not repetition. Think about how much our emphasis on loud, “anointed” prayer has forced us into the habit of offering empty repetition. There is a time to pray loud and fast, but there is also a time to just have a conversation with God.
Prayer should be easy and cheerful unless the Holy Spirit presses us into an unusual burden and heaviness that can only be relieved with deep, mournful prayer. We should just simply talk to Jesus unless He urges us into a special time of travail and wrestling in the Spirit. No doubt, travail is necessary, but we do not pray that way every time we pray. We need to know how to pray in different ways depending on the pull of the Spirit. Relax. God will draw you into deep prayer when needed, if you are available to Him on a daily basis.
3. Prayers should be offered to God following the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer.
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.]”
It is important to have a pattern in prayer. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray as John had taught his disciples (Luke 11:1), they were asking for a pattern. They were Jews who had been raised on temple and synagogue liturgies that offered prayers built around the Psalms that were read at certain seasons. It was common for Rabbi’s to give their students patterns for prayer, and this is what they wanted. Jesus responded by giving them the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, in Luke 11:2 He taught them to “say” the words of the Lord’s Prayer when they prayed. So, not only was it a pattern to follow, but it was an actual text to be prayed.
This means that we should use the Lord’s Prayer as our daily pattern. How can we improve on the pattern Jesus gave us? We should actually pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer and use each section as a lead-in for various themes of prayer.
Also, we should pray the Lord’s Prayer from various angles
1. Pray it for ourselves
2. Pray it for our family
3. Pray it for the church
4. Pray it for the world
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Finally, Jesus taught us here that forgiveness is the central motive behind prayer. To be reconciled to God and to others and to mediate reconciliation to the world is the ultimate motive behind prayer.
Prayer is seen in scripture as a priestly task where we approach the God who dwells upon the Mercy Seat and seek forgiveness for sins. And this is much more than confessing sin and receiving mercy for specific deeds done wrong. Forgiveness also confers a status before God that allows us to mediate mercy to the world around this. Forgiveness qualifies us for priestly service. We receive forgiveness and intercede for others to be forgiven.
The forgiven soul can worship, praise and give thanks. But the forgiven soul must also testify to others of the mercy of God. When we pray and we are forgiven, we extend that forgiveness to others. This is why praying while refusing to forgive others is a mockery of what prayer is meant to do.
Prayer seeks forgiveness for us and for others—reconciliation with God for us and others. So, when we stand in the presence of God and refuse to extend mercy to others, we forfeit the power and purpose of prayer. We must seek to be forgiven so that we may forgive others. And when we seek forgiveness, we do so with the commitment that we will be the vessels of mercy that God called us to be. We are forgiven so we may forgive, so that we may model and mediate forgiveness to the world. This is what prayer is all about!
So, men and brothers—and sisters!—what must we do? We must enter into our closet this week to offer prayer in the Spirit. How many will commit to personal, daily prayer?