A Baptist missionary was walking in Africa when he heard the ominous padding of a lion behind him. “Oh Lord,” prayed the missionary, “Grant in Thy goodness that the lion walking behind me is a good Christian lion.” And then, in the silence that followed, the missionary heard the lion praying too: “Oh Lord,” he prayed, “I thank Thee for the food which I am about to receive.”
OK, it was nice to start with a joke, but prayer is a serious, important part of our christian life. “To be prayerless,” suggests Raymond Brown, “is to be guilty of the worst form of practical atheism. We are saying that we believe in God but we can do without him. It makes us careless about our former sins and heedless of our immediate needs.”
Phil 4:6-7 tells us that we are to make all our requests known to God, after which we are filled with the ‘peace that surpasses all understanding’. We are also told to pray without ceasing in 1 Thess 5:17. Jews would pray three times a day (sunrise, midday, sunset). Jesus also called the temple a house of prayer.
I think we all know that we should pray more often. We often don’t pray, because we feel like we don’t know what to say, we feel awkward praying in public, we get distracted by life (or chat!). So today isn’t going to be about whether or not we should pray more [we know we should!], but how we should pray effectively.
Let’s have a closer look at what Jesus taught His disciples about prayer, from Matthew 6. We can break it up into two parts.
Mat 6:5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward.
Mat 6:6 But you, when you pray, enter into your room. And shutting your door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.
Mat 6:7 But when you pray, do not babble vain words, as the nations. For they think that in their much speaking they shall be heard.
Mat 6:8 Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him.
In verses 5-8, we read about the hypocrites prayer. They loved to pray in public, in order to get attention for their prayers. They prayed long prayers, sometimes turning to babble. Here we also get a glimpse at what our prayer life should be like, praying to the Father in secret, not babbling long prayers.
Mat 6:9 Therefore pray in this way: Our Father, who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
Mat 6:10 Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Mat 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread;
Mat 6:12 and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.
Mat 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Verses 9-13 are the Lord’s prayer, something we have all probably memorised from when we were young. This prayer is directed to God the Father, it is short and humble, it asks for His will to be done in all things, it asks that our needs be met and sins forgiven, and it gives God glory.
There are three main things here that I want to discuss today, that can help us to have an effective prayer life:
1 We are to pray in the will of God.
2 We are to pray boldly but humbly.
3 Prayer is for the righteous by faith
The most important key to effective prayer is to pray in the will of God. Prayers outside of this will cannot be rewarded by Him. Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer, to pray “Your will be done”, and this was the same prayer prayed by Jesus in the garden just before His crucifixion, when He prayed “Take away this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will. “ (Mark 14:36).
There is something else very important in this verse. “Take this cup from me”. Jesus knew that He was going to drink from a very bitter cup, and that the will of God was going to send Him to a very painful death. We must be willing to pray for the will of God to be done, no matter what it is going to cost us!
If you forget everything else you learn today, remember this. We must pray in the will of God, which means denying our own will, and this is often costly and painful. This is the christian life! Of course, we don’t always know the will of God. But the more we read the bible and pray, the more we get to know God, and the more we can understand His will.
Jas 4:3 You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it upon your lusts.
I might take this opportunity to clear up a confusion some people have about prayer. Poeople often ask: Doesn’t it say that if I pray, God will give me the desires of my heart? [Psa 37:4 Delight yourself also in Jehovah, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. ] Yes, it is true, but have a look at the first part of the verse. We must first ‘delight ourselves in Jehovah’.
When we delight ourselves in Jehovah, we share in His will. We will get pleasure from seeing His will done, our desires and wishes will align with His. If God has not answered your prayer, its more likely that He has said no because it is not in His will.
There is a second thing I want to clear up before we move on. We are taught in John 14:13-14 to pray “in Jesus name”.
Most of us add these words to the end of our prayers out of habit but rarely do we understand what it means? Does adding these words magically mean your prayer will be answered the way you want? The short answer is no.
This idea is cleared up in 1 John 5:14, where we read that praying in the name of Jesus really means the same thing as praying in the will of God. [1Jn 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.]
In Ivan endures all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One day he is praying with his eyes closed when a fellow prisoner notices him and says with ridicule, “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.” Opening his eyes, Ivan answers, “I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God while I am here.” Our Daily Bread, December 29, 1993
That was a long section! Let’s move onto the second key part of effective prayer, being bold but humble, Notice that the hypocrites prayers were the opposite of humble! Their prayers were proud, loud, in public, and long. We are told to submit to God’s will, pray in private, and not babble.
Jesus used a parable to compare a pharisee’s prayers with a tax collectors prayers (Luke 18:9-13). From this, we learn that the tax collector walked away justified, but the Pharisee didn’t.
One of the things that surprised me most about Jesus prayers, was their length. Most of them are no more than three sentences long. Even in serious situations, His prayers are simple and short.
At a meeting of the US Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bobby Richardson, former New York Yankee second baseman, prayed this: “Dear God, your will: nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Amen.” I love this prayer so much, it is my signature here on the forums. It is short, humble, and submits to the will of God.
Please don’t misunderstand me here… you do not have to pray short prayers, but you aren’t heard more because you pray long prayers. You also should feel free to repeat prayers as often as you like – God is not turned away by the fact that you ask for the same thing 10 or 100 times. There are many parables and verses in the bible that encourage us to pray repeatedly and constantly.
If your prayers are not answered as you want, it is probably not because you used the wrong words, or didn’t pray fancy enough, or didn’t pray long enough. Don’t be tricked into thinking that long prayers are better!
However, being humble doesn’t mean you can’t be bold. We can! Infact, the Apostle Paul tells us to be bold [Heb 4:16 Therefore let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ]
Two of my favourite bold prayers from the bible are: Abraham pleading to God to spare the righteous people in Sodom, and the prayer of Stephen the first martyr.
We are to recognise our position before Him, He is our Heavenly Father, the Holy One, He is God, and we are His children, loved and forgiven by Him. We are to approach Him with confidence, boldness, honesty and humility, without guilt, as His child.
It is because of Jesus, and what He did, that we can come into God’s presence, and ask for anything, with no shame, no guilt, and no fear. We are free to reveal our hearts desires to Him, since He knows anyway. When I became a christian I could finally enjoy God’s presence, and ask Him for things, with nothing holding me back!
The third point I wanted to make about prayer, is that we have to ask in faith, as righteous people. James 5:16 tells us that the prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5 also tells us about a man named Elijah, a righteous man whose prayer for drought [yes, a strange request!] was answered, and for 3.5 years it did not rain! Later he prayed for rain, and the drought broke.
We are also to pray in faith (James 1:6), knowing that faith pleases God (Heb 11:6). This doesn’t mean being convinced that we will get everything we pray for. It means believing that God has heard us, and that He will act accord to His perfect will, believing that He will remain true at all times to the promises in His Word [the bible].
However, there is a catch, and it is a big catch! Being one of His is a requirement for being righteous, and therefore having your prayers answered. We must be fully sold out to His will, not only asking for His will in things that benefit us (blessings, jobs) but also for things that are difficult and ‘cost’ us (repentance and holiness).
The ‘Baptist Challenge, December 1981′ says “It is strange that, while praying, we seldom ask for change of character, but always a change in circumstance. “ Sometimes, for our prayer to be effective, it is our attitude that must change first, in order to come into line with God’s will and God’s requirements for righteous living.
We cannot ask God to bless us, but to ignore the fact that our hearts are far away from Him. We cannot ask Him for a boyfriend, knowing that we have no intention of honouring Him in that relationship. We cannot ask Him for money that we intend to use for evil purposes.
We need to be righteous people. Being righteous essentially means being in right relationship before God, submitting to His will and being obedient to His commands.
If you want to pray, you better get yourself right with God first! This is a great place to finish this study, with a call for all of us to have right standing before God, and the only way to do that is to repent and place your faith in Jesus.
If you are not a christian, now is the time to repent and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let me tell you how you can become a Christian if you are not one already.
We have a sin Problem!
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,
Sin has a penalty Penalty!
Romans 5:12 Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed on all men inasmuch as all sinned:
God has made a Provision!
Romans 5:8 But God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
Through faith in Jesus, we have a Pardon!
Romans 10:9-10 Because if you confess the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation.