If you have taken the time to read through the mission, vision and values of Christ Community Church, you will find 16 values: We will treasure Jesus Christ by preaching the Word, proclaiming Christ, pursuing communion with God, and living pervasively Christian lives. We will cultivate community by appoint biblically qualified officers, practicing biblical counseling, enlisting every member gospel ministry, embracing biblical gender roles, and encouraging family worship. We will love the world by employing ministries of mercy, seeking ethnic diversity and harmony, and deploying cross-cultural missionaries. And then we have two, what we have called, pervading values: prayer and worship. This is our statement of pervading value of prayer:
PRAYER. As a matter of faith and an expression of our absolute dependence upon our Sovereign God — who calls things into existence out of nothing (Rom 4.17) — and all confidence in our Mediator, Jesus Christ, for all fruitfulness in this mission, for all necessary help, grace, mercy, endurance, wisdom, and power, in all matters of growth in holiness and evangelical zeal, and for that consummate joy in Him, we will always pray and not lose heart (Lk 18.1-9).
We call prayer a pervading value because it touches every other thing we value. Like a lightning rod in a lightning storm, prayer connects with the person of God to infuse divine power into the life and ministry of Christ Community Church.
So as will become our custom, we are going to take the first two Sundays of each new year to emphasize the place of prayer and Word in the life and ministry of this body. Tonight, it is my joy to tackle the subject of prayer with you.
And I simply want us to ask, as the disciples in Luke’s Gospel (11.1), “Lord, teach us to pray.”
I believe there are five observations for us to see in this passage.
1. PRAYER IS ESSENTIAL AND NOT OPTIONAL TO THE CHRISTIAN LIFE (6.5, 6, 7).
Many have made this observation, but we must not assume it here. For the Christian, prayer is not a matter of “if” but “when”. When Jesus says “when”, He removes the option not to pray. Three times in our passage Jesus says, “when you pray.”
Verse 5, “And when you pray.”
Verse 6, “But when you pray.”
Verse 7, “And when you pray.”
Jesus teaches us in these passing words that prayer is essential to the Christian life. “If” communicates “non-essential.” But “when” communicates “essential.” To help understand the difference, an arm is non-essential to life. We can lose an arm and live. But we cannot lose the heart and live. Prayer is the heart of the Christian life. We cannot do without it.
And it is for this reason that the apostle Paul gives exhortations like these:
“(Pray) at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints . . .” (Eph 6.18).
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4.6).
Paul to the church at Colossae, “we have not ceased to pray for you” (Col 1.9), whom he later exhorts, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4.2).
1 Thes 5.17-18, “Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
So whether you are a Martin Luther, who said he gave his best four hours of every day to prayer, or a Susanna Wesley, with her 11 children, so short on time that she developed an apron rule, where when she put her apron over her head she was not to be disturbed, that was her time to be with God, you must make prayer a matter of “when” not “if.”
2. NOT EVERYONE WHO PRAYS PRAYS (SO THAT WE MUST DISTINGUISH BETWEEN TRUE AND FALSE PRAYER (6.5-8)).
In Jesus’ day, there were those who were, we might say, professionals at prayer. They stood before the religious in the synagogues and before sinners on the streets, and they prayed. They, so it seemed, lifted up prayers to God. And so the logic went, if you would be righteous, be like these.
But when Jesus says, in verses 5 and 8, “you must not be like them,” He is overturning the convention of His day. Those who seek to appear before others as righteous, may in fact be godless, and Jesus isn’t fooled. He calls them hypocrites! Now what is a hypocrite?
We get a good picture of hypocrisy in Matthew 22. Pharisees send their disciples (hypocrites breed hypocrites) to Jesus and say, “‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then , what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites’” (22.16-18)? You can say good things about Jesus with malice in your heart. That makes you a hypocrite. There is an outward show of righteousness that can be performed while the heart remains dead!
So the practice of true righteousness is a matter of the heart. “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’” (Mt 15.7-9a). So in our passage, Jesus is saying “there are those who pray but their hearts are far from God. Their prayers are just heartless and godless lip service. They have purpose in praying other than communion with God–you must not be like them!” And so Jesus makes a distinction between true and false prayer.
Now is this a necessary distinction? These are the kind of questions we need to ask and have an answer for because our culture rages against this kind of exclusivity. Why can’t Jesus just let things be? Can’t Jesus just let these people do what they do without condemning it and them as hypocritical and unrighteous? No! Why?
Because true prayer is related to a bigger issue, namely, are you a true disciple? Are you Peter, John, James, Matthew, Mary, Martha, or are you Judas? Jesus is always establishing distinguishing marks, marks that separate wheat from chaff, sheep from goats, true sheep from wolves in sheep’s clothing, good trees from bad ones, wise people from foolish people, because by these are His disciples known. Many take the privilege of Christ’s name who are not Christ’s people. Many think they are God’s people when they are not Christ’s people. And so God and Jesus, in both the Old and New Testaments, are about distinguishing the people of God. And true prayer is a distinguishing mark of true disciples, which is why He says, “you must not be like the hypocrites and the Gentiles when they pray.”
So we need to see what distinguishes true from false prayer.
First (6.5-6), true prayer seeks and is satisfied with God. The contrast in verses 5-6 is between the one who uses prayer to make much of himself (v. 5), and the one who finds prayer to be the means of seeking and being satisfied with God (v. 6). This is distinguishing! We are driven by what we desire most.
The hypocrite loves to pray! Why? To be seen and praised by others, “oh, he is very righteous!” But he does not seek God or righteousness, only that he may be held in high esteem by other people. He uses seeming prayer to God as a means of seeking his own self-exaltation. And we hear Paul in the background, “No one seeks for God” (Rom 3.11).
That is why Jesus distinguishes true prayer as a blood-earnest seeking after God and being satisfied with God. Only those born of God desire God and seek after God in secret and are satisfied. Christians love to pray!, but the purpose is fundamentally different than the hypocrite. The true disciple prays in order to commune with God; and, what is more distinguishing, the Christian is satisfied with God! The hypocrite seeks the crowd; the Christian doesn’t need the crowd! We run to the secret place where our only audience is God. Why? Because we are satisfied with God! True prayer seeks and is satisfied with God.
Secondly (6.7-8), true prayer acts upon the knowledge of who God is.
What are the Gentiles ignorant of that Jesus would have us know about God and act upon in prayer? That God as God is all-knowing, and not ignorant. Before we ask, He knows. And that God as Father is all-benevolent, not stingy. The good that we as His children need is His pleasure to provide.
Consider the difference between a mother and an first-time babysitter.
When an infant cries for milk, the first-time babysitter has to figure out, why is this baby crying? What does the baby need? And while the sitter figures it out, the baby cries more and more, louder and louder, until the sitter, now embittered, gets it right–aha, milk! The sitter doesn’t have the knowledge or the affection of the child’s mother. The nursing mother feels the dropping of milk in her breast, and the mother who cannot nurse knows her child’s eating patterns. Before the baby cries for milk, the mother knows the need. And because of her foreknowledge and motherly benevolence, she is spring-loaded to give to the baby what is good and nourishing. The baby need only whimper.
Jesus is saying that we must not forget that God, as our God and Father, is spring-loaded to give us whatever we ask, so long as it is most good for us. True prayer cleaves to this.
Now, how does that inform the way you pray? Three words. Faith. Confidence. Persistence.
Faith: If God is your Father, believe that you are freely heard. The Gentiles thought that by their many words they gained access to God. But if God is your Father, then you are in Christ, and if you are in Christ, then you have free and unlimited access to the throne of grace. True prayer believes in free access to God.
Confidence: And if your Father knows your need before you ask, you may have confidence that what you need is ready when you need and ask for it. If your Father foreknows your need, then the provision to meet your need is always prepared beforehand and only awaits your asking. True prayer is confident in God’s provision.
Persistence: And if you believe that your Father hears you at all times, and are confident that your need is met before you ask, you have all the information you need to be persistent in prayer. True prayer is persistent prayer.
Jesus distinguishes true prayer as that which seeks and is satisfied with God, marked by a faith, confidence and persistence that cleaves to the prepared goodness of our God and Father.
3. THE CONTENT OF TRUE PRAYER SHAPES US INTO GOD-EXALTING, MISSIONS-MINDED, DEEPLY-EARTHY, GRACE-ENRICHED, HOLINESS-DRIVEN, CHRIST-ADORING PEOPLE (6.9-13).
Now, I only want to give us a bird’s eye view of these verses. Each verse could easily produce a sermon. I want us to get a feel for what Jesus taught ought to consume us and our prayers. So consider the following as samples that you are encouraged to take and turn into a endless buffet.
The first: God-exalting, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (6.9). The hypocrites use prayer to make much of themselves. Don’t be like them. When you pray, you address yourself to God and ask Him to work in you the hallowing of His name. Hallow is not a word we often use, but it gets at the idea of making holy, or consecrating God’s name. So preeminent upon the mind of Christ as He teaches us how to pray is the hallowing of God in our hearts. If I could put it in laymen’s terms, Jesus is concerned that we ask God to help us exalt God in our lives. God’s chief concern for His children is our whole-hearted adoration of Him above everything else in the world.
The second: missions-minded, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (6.10). I think that Jesus mainly means to point us to the hope of heaven in these words: the utter reign of our God. But the means to this end are surely included as well. The kingdom of God is advanced through preaching of the gospel, as you’ll remember, “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1.15). So I think that our prayers are to be especially concerned for the progress of God’s kingdom on earth; and that means that our prayers ought to frequently lay hold of the power of God for the transfer of souls from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
The third: deeply-earthy, “Give us this day our daily bread” (6.11). I did intend to say earthy as opposed to earthly, as in worldly or fleshly. What I mean by “earthy” is that Christ thinks it good for us to ask our Father for daily needs on earth. Now, for the majority of Americans, daily bread is not a felt need as it was for the majority of the Israelite community. But that is why I used the word “deeply” because there is a depth of need that we need stop to consider.
An example or two: the businessman is accustomed to planning, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.” To this James writes, “you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (Js 4.13-15). The life required to plan for tomorrow is dependent upon the Lord’s will that you should have it. “Give us this day life and breath and being.” Deeply-earthy.
Another: In Deuteronomy 8, we read of Israel’s survival in the wilderness. How did they survive? God fed them (8.3). His Word sustained them (8.3). Their clothing did not wear out (8.4). Their feet did not swell (8.4). And in that same chapter, God warns them against forgetting His meticulous preservation of their lives. Have you forgotten that God is preserving the soles of your shoes? That the life and energy by which you work and so earn a paycheck and provide for your families is upheld every second by the will of God? Let us be mindful in prayer.
The fourth: grace-enriching, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6.12). Gracious people are people who know their daily need of grace. Or, to use the words of the text, forgiving people are people who pray for personal forgiveness. Every day we sin so as to owe God what only Christ has paid, and so our prayers are to be consumed with the grace of God’s free forgiveness in Christ freshly applied. It is not a morbid thing to be mindful of our sin, so long as we then feed upon the exceeding greatness of grace.
The fifth: holiness-driven, “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (6.13). In v. 12, the plea is for the forgiveness of sin. In this verse, help to fight against it. To never have to pray for forgiveness because of universal holiness. That is what is here. Lead me away from temptation! When I’m attacked by evil, attack evil and deliver me from evil! Keep me from sinning! Help me to be holy! Our prayers are to be a striving with God for holiness of life.
One last thing before moving on: Christ-adoring. I hope you have felt it. This prayer is rich with the benefits of Christ. It preaches of the cross of Christ. Adoption, kingdom, missions, forgiveness, reconciliation, repentance, new spiritual inclinations, fighting to be holy, new creation — true prayer magnifies the person and work of Jesus Christ. And if we have ears to hear it, such prayer should quite naturally shift into the praise of Christ.
4. PERSISTENCE IN PRAYER DEPENDS UPON PERSEVERANCE IN THE GRACE OF FORGIVENESS (6.14-15).
We believe in God’s preservation of the saints, and that the call to persevere is one means of grace by which God does this. And we believe that we are justified by faith in Christ apart from any works of our own. And yet we want to deal honestly with verses like Matthew 6.14-15 on the lips of Jesus. So the first question we need to answer is what is Jesus teaching in vv. 14-15? And the second is how does Jesus’ teaching here relate to prayer? These are the kind of questions that keep me up at night.
A fruit of being forgiven is perseverance in being forgiving. What is Jesus teaching in 6.14-15? Is He teaching that forgiveness is conditional? Or is He saying that being forgiving is an evidence of true and saving faith in Christ, by which we have been freely and fully forgiven already? And the answer is “Yes.”
On the one hand, He is saying that the realization of forgiveness depends on our perseverance in being forgiving people. And, on the other, He is saying that true disciples are marked by this very thing: perseverance in being forgiving. So this is a dividing line between true and false disciples. A fruit of being forgiven by God is perseverance in being forgiving to others. I think Jesus explains these two verses with a parable:
In Matthew 18.21-35, Peter comes to Jesus and asks: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And Jesus replies: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven,” which means as many times as it takes. Persevere in forgiveness! And then He gives the parable about the one who does not persevere in forgiveness.
One servant owed his master a debt he could never pay. The master shows compassion on the servant and freely cancels the entirety of the debt. Now the parable turns. What’s expected to happen, doesn’t. The servant is supposed to forgive because he has been forgiven. What makes his gracelessness more shocking is that the fellow servant whom he beats owed a debt of about three months wage. This one who was relieved of a debt he could never pay, did not extend the same grace to one with a relatively insignificant debt owed to him. This is the one whose sins are forgiven by God, who will not forgive his brother or sister. Listen to the master’s final words: “‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all the debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (18.32-34).
The principle is clear: Those who receive the grace of God’s forgiveness, the full cancellation of all our debt in Christ, owe a great debt to our brothers and sisters, namely, ready and willing forgiveness from the heart. Jesus is teaching that we are to be a community that understands and practices, inhales and exhales the grace of forgiveness, and He is saying “this is important for prayer.”
How does this relate to prayer?
You will not pray for those whom you will not forgive. An unforgiving heart rots the oak of prayer. If, for example, your spouse has belittled or emasculated or been harsh with you, or a co-worker has slandered you, or a child has constantly rebelled against you, and you are not saturated in God’s immeasurable grace towards you, you will grow bitter in your heart and refuse to forgive them. And will not pray for those with whom you are bitter.
Prayer for one another is a posture of the heart. And Jesus wants us to pray for one another! But we are constantly putting up walls to prayer: slander, malice, envy, covetousness, gossip, violence, hurtful words, bitterness, pride. But the grace of forgiveness is like a ballast to break up these walls.
Listen to Paul, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4.31-32). The remedy to those things that would hinder our prayers is “in Christ, God forgave you.” That will make you a kind, tenderhearted and forgiving person, and Jesus is saying, that is what you must be if you would pray as you ought.
5. TRUE PRAYER IS MOTIVATED BY THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER’S REWARD (6.6).
There is a school of thought that an act is only virtuous if it is done for the sake of it’s own inherent goodness. So, prayer is a good act, commanded by Christ. If we are motivated to pray for any other reason than that prayer is good in itself and that Christ has commanded it, we rob prayer of it’s virtue. That is the death of prayer. And it is totally unbiblical. Such a school has not listened to or obeyed Jesus Christ! One only needs survey chapter 6 to discover as much (6.1, 4, 6, 18, 21). What does Jesus know that we must come to know? In God alone, there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.
So everything finds its virtue insofar as it is a means of being supremely satisfied in God. And Jesus is teaching us that if we pray with any motivation other than the experience of communion with God, prayer will die. If you pray simply to pray, prayer will die. If you pray because you are in pursuit of the acclaim of others, prayer will die. Why? Because the only unfathomable fuel for true prayer is the reward of God!
The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (11.6). The prerequisite of true prayer is faith that when you seek God, God is pleased to give you what you seek, God! It is this promise that Christ attaches to prayer. “Go into your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6.5). Him whom you seek, you will find in prayer. Jesus can give us no greater motivation to prayer.
Summary and Close
Let me summarize these observations and ask you to hear them as encouragements to becoming a people mighty in prayer this year.
1. Pray because prayer is as essential to the Christian life as the heart to the life of the body.
2. Be careful to pray truly because not everyone who prays prays. True disciples are marked by true prayer and true prayer is marked by a seeking and being satisfied with God, and a faith, confidence, and persistence that cleaves to the prepared goodness of the Father.
3. Pray because true prayer shapes us into a God-exalting, missions-minded, deeply-earthy, grace-enriched, holiness-driven, Christ-adoring people.
4. Pray because it is a good sign that your heart is full of the grace of forgiveness.
5. Pray vigorously because you believe that what Christ has promised is true: Him whom you seek and aim to be supremely satisfied in, you will find in prayer.