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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30 am service, 2000-09-02

Text: Luke 11:1-4

Prayer is one of the most basic necessities in every believer's life. It is our lifeline to God, for it is the important channel of communication that links us with God, who is our life. But just as a child needs to learn about the proper way to communicate with people, we have to learn the proper way to communicate with God. Are you communicating well with God? How many times have you prayed, and then after that you felt, 'I don't think that was the best prayer. I don't think I prayed right. Something important was missing from my prayer. I wish I could learn how to prevail with God in prayer.'

And now while we are in this present time of economic gloom and facing uncertainty about the future, there is an even greater need for us to know how to pray. It is time for us to draw closer to Him at this time, to come boldly unto the throne of grace that we might obtain mercy and find grace to help in this time of need (Hebrew 4:16). To do that we must understand how to pray. You see, prayer is not just a matter of speaking some appropriate-sounding words and phrases to God.There are certain attitudes of our heart we must have when we pray. 

If we are not careful about our attitudes when we pray, our prayers will be made in vain and will avail nothing at all. According to Proverbs 28:9, our prayers can even become an abomination to God. It says, 'He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.' And according to King David in Psalm 109:7, it is even possible for a person's prayer to become sin! When the Lord Jesus lived among men, one of the things that He took special notice of how people prayed (Matthew 6:5-8). He disliked the long and elaborate hypocritical prayers that were made by some men. He also gave much teaching on the proper way to pray, and at least three of the many parables He told were meant as lessons on prayer. There is no doubt that our Lord wants us not only to pray, but to learn the right and proper manner of praying. 

It is therefore worthwhile for us to learn the proper way to pray from our Lord Jesus, and particularly about the right attitudes one should have in prayer: Can we regard ourselves as being on equal terms with God? Can we relate to Him on the same level, like the way a person puts his arm around the shoulders of a familiar friend and saying, 'Hey, I'm in trouble now. You must help me out of this.' This morning we want to understand that we must have a proper view of our standing before God when we pray. 

In recent years there is an idea, that has become very popular in some circles and churches, that God is just waiting for us to challenge His power when we pray and ask Him to bless us and enlarge our territory. According to this erroneous teaching He has obligated Himself to answer such prayers because He wants to demonstrate all the wonderful things He can do for us when we pray. And all we need to do is to say the right prayer, the prayer that will unlock all His blessings for us. E.g. the Prayer of Jabez, which is found in 1 Chronicles 4:10 'And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.' The name 'Jabez' means 'sorrow' and this reflects the difficult circumstances into which he was born. Hence Jabez is a good example of a man who looked to God for help because of the difficult circumstances he was born into. 

Now, this prayer that he made was popularised by Bruce Wilkinson head of Walk Through the Bible Ministries, in a small book which claims a total of 4 million copies in print, called 'The Prayer of Jabez'. It is is being embraced not only by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, but also by Catholics, and even non-Christians. 

In the book, Wilkinson turns the simple prayer of Jabez into a formula for obtaining blessing from God. He instructs his readers to pray the prayer of Jabez word-for-word, every day for four weeks, expecting special blessing from God. Wilkinson says: "I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you'll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit" There is nothing mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4 that Jabez prayed this prayer repeatedly for 30 days. So this is a man-made.

Wilkinson says the Prayer of Jabez is "a prayer that God always answers" and that "it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God." He mentions thousands of people who are praying the prayer of Jabez and thus are "seeing miracles happen on a regular basis." These are extravagant claims!

The subtitle of the book is: 'Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.' The publisher's back-cover reads: 'Do you want to be extravagantly blessed by God? Are you ready to reach for the extraordinary? To ask God for the abundant blessings He longs to give you? Join Bruce Wilkinson to discover how the remarkable prayer of a little-known Bible hero can release God's favor, power, and protection. You'll see how one daily prayer can help you leave the past behind-and break through to the life you were meant to live.' 

Dearly beloved, perhaps you too have read this book and even tried out the programme. But do you know what such teaching on prayer does? It essentially reduces God to becoming merely a means to an end. It turns the sovereign almighty God into a servant that man can use to his own advantage. It makes God serve us, when we should be the ones serving Him. 

We must be discerning and caerful not to fall for this self-exalting and self-centered teaching on prayer! The same thing is being promoted by all the pagan religions where men believe that they can procure for themselves from their gods the prosperity, good fortune and favour they want by flattering their gods and lavishing them with joss sticks, fruits and candles, libations and offerings. These worshippers would gladly make these offerings to the gods which would give them the most impressive package deal in life, and they would readily give up worshipping one god for another if the latter is rumoured to give a better deal. This pragmatic approach to prayer is typical of unbelievers. 

A few weeks ago, I received a strange call in the church office. The caller asked me this question, 'Can you please tell me the name of the god or goddess who can give me the most money?' My reply to him was that it is we who must give ourselves to God rather than expect God to give things to us. I told him that he must come to worship God without any ulterior motive of expecting any gain or blessing from Him in return. The caller was not happy with my reply and put down the phone. 

Dearly beloved, if prayer to us, is a means to get the things we want from God, then we would be treating Him like a mere dispensing machine. And we come to expect that when we just put in the right amount of effort in prayer, we must receive what we want. We use prayer to extract all kinds of material, social and emotional blessings from Him by presumptuous petitioning. Just think of it: How can anyone dare to treat the Almighty sovereign God like this? 

Therefore, dearly beloved, when you come before God in prayer you must be careful how you regard Him. Your prayer would become an abomination to God if you treat Him as a means to an end. Has your praying become like that? Are you praying self-centered prayers? 

As we think about this, it will be good for us to study not the Prayer of Jabez, because that was only meant for Jabez alone to pray, not for anyone else. The Prayer we should study is the one which our Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray, found in the passage of Scripture which we read awhile ago. When you want to learn how to pray effectively, there is no better person that you can learn from than the Lord Jesus Himself. It is our privilege to ask Jesus now, just as the disciples asked Him before, 'Lord, teach us to pray.' 

Let us turn our Bibles back to Luke 11:2-4 to see how Jesus answered this request from His disciples. He taught them to pray by giving his disciples a model prayer. This prayer has become very well known to us as 'The Lord's Prayer.' This prayer is found twice in the New Testament - here in Luke 11 and also in Matthew 6:5-13. Jesus taught it on two separate occasions. 

Now this prayer is only meant to be a pattern for praying. It is not meant to be just a parroted formula prayer because Jesus Himself did not always use the same prayer when He prayed and even the Lord�s prayer itself is not exactly the same in Luke 11 and Matthew 6. This prayer is rather, a guide or a teaching model which contains the basic elements we should include in prayer. There are many things that we can learn from the Lord's Prayer, but this morning we just want to observe three important principles about prayer in relation to our position before God. The first is found in the fact that the Lord's prayer does not begin with a request for oneself. It begins: 'Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.' This teaches us that: 

I. Prayer must always be focused on God rather than on oneself. 

It is God whom we must seek in prayer. His purposes must be our concern even in our prayers, His exaltation must be our aim when we prayer. His glory must be our aspiration when we pray. And so our first thought in prayer should be nothing else but God Himself. 'Hallowed be Thy name.' Sometimes we approach God's throne with a shopping list or wish list. 

We pray like this. 'Dear God, I would like to have a good day, travelling mercies, good relationships with everyone I meet, good health, and a good night's rest. Thank you. Amen' Are your prayers like that? If your prayers tend to be like that, then there may be something wrong with your theology. Your theology may be egocentric (or self-centred) rather than theocentric (or God-centred). We should have a God-centred theology, seeing Him as the centre of all things - and if we have this correct theology it will be reflected in the way we pray. God becomes more important to us than our own needs and petitions. And our prayers will begin and end by focusing upon Him. 

Please remember this: God must be always sought for no other reason than the fact that He is God. He is worthy of our highest regard, worthy of our worship, and reverence. And so, when we pray, we ought to be seeking the Giver rather than the things that He gives. Whether He eventually gives and blesses us or not, is not important at all. What really matters most to us is that He is God, and that we earnestly seek Him for who He is, and not for what He does for us, or what He gives to us. Let us seek the Lord primarily because He is God. Then all our prayers will be God-centered and not self-centered.

One example of a person who sought the Lord with such pure motives is the Old Testament patriarch, Job. As you know, Job was severely tested because Satan wanted to prove that Job was seeking God purely for selfish reasons. Satan proposed that as long as God was blessing Job, his ardent devotion to Him would continue, but once God stopped blessing him, that devotion to Him would also stop. In the end, Satan failed to prove this, because in response to the severe trials that came upon him, Job said, 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him:' (Job 13:15) 

Dearly beloved, here is a very searching question, to ask yourself, and try to be honest in your answer. If the Lord does not bless you, and does not provide for your needs; if He does not grant you your prayer requests and does not help you in times of trial, will you still trust in Him, will you still seek Him in prayer, will you still honour Him and praise Him? Or will you stop praying because you think that it is an unprofitable and unproductive effort? What if you prayed for relief from your burdens, but instead of getting lighter, your burdens get heavier? What if you prayed for peace, but all that you receive is more trouble? Will you still thank God for answering your prayers? 

If your prayer life tends to slacken whenever your prayers are seemingly not answered, and you are disappointed, doubting God, could this not be an indication that you have been seeking self rather than seeking God in your prayer life? Please be completely honest with yourself in this important matter. What is your real motive for praying? Perhaps you need to ask the Lord to help you to seek Him and Him alone in prayer. And that is why the first petition in the Lord's teaching model of prayer is 'Hallowed be Thy name'. 

As we read on in the Lord's prayer we come now to the second and third petitions and we notice that these still have absolutely nothing to do with self: 'Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done as in heaven, so in earth.' These teach us the second thing that we need to observe about how to pray: 

II. Prayer must always be submitted to God's will and not to our own wills. 

Not only must prayer have God as its object, prayer must also have the will of God as its chief concern. 1 John 5:14 tells us 'And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us' We would be very mistaken to think that prayer is all about asking the Lord to do what we wish according to our own will. Here in the Lord's prayer the petition, 'Thy will be done' comes at the head of all the petitions we make for ourselves. This means that every request that comes after it has the implied condition that God wills it. In other words, the thought is: 'Thy will be done in giving us our daily bread.' 'Thy will be done in forgiving us our sins.' 'Thy will be done in leading us not into temptation.' And 'Thy will be done in delivering us from evil.' Everything we ask for in our prayers must be asked with the willingness to submit to the will of the Lord. 

But if you were to listen to the prayers that are being uttered most of the time, will you find submission to the will of God? Very often people actually pray in effect, 'not Thy will, but My will be done!' Instead of submitting to God's will, they impose their wills upon Him. They may even use scripture to justify doing this. They quote Matthew 21:22 out of context which says 'And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing ye shall receive.' Thinking that this verse provides a scriptural 'blank cheque' for them to claim anything under the sun that they wish from God, they pray for something they want, believing that they would receive it. 

Actually, the word 'believing' in this verse, is not at all to be understood as assuming that the things asked for are already given. This is what some have used this verse to teach and it is not right. Rather, it means believing that God has the full power and authority to grant all that has been asked for. The scriptures are firmly against this practice of imposing our selfish wills on God when we pray. As James wrote in James 4:3 'Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.'

A sister from our church once shared at our Tuesday prayer meeting about a boy who asked her: 'When I am playing a computer game, can I ask God to help me to get to the next level?' A football fan may perhaps ask a similar question: 'When I watch the world cup series, can I pray that God will make my favourite team win the game?' And they might even try to justify it like this: 'Will this not glorify the Lord, when I can tell people that He answered my prayer: I prayed that He would make my team win the game, and my team really won the game - praise God!'

If this is the way you think, I have got news for you: This will not glorify God. It will only make people think that God can be used to make our dreams and wishes come true like a divine fairy godmother, and that it is to your advantage to get Him to be on your side. But how can we, who are mere creatures made by God, dictate to God what He should do? How can we, who are sinners saved by grace, issue orders to God and make Him work for us as if He is a waiter or office boy? 

So it is absurd that anyone should not pray in submission to God's will. Let us take great care not to be found guilty of this sinful attitude in prayer. Let our prayers always be made with the condition 'Not my will, o Lord but Thine be done.' We move on now to the last thing we want to observe today concerning the way we should regard ourselves in prayer, which is that: 

III. Prayer should be seen as our Privilege, and not our Right 

Prayer is a high privilege that God grants to every believer, where the great sovereign God of the universe condescends to listen and consider the insignificant pleas of mere mortal creatures like us. Like salvation, this privilege comes to us by God's grace alone. When we understand prayer as a privilege given to us, we can see that God does not owe us any answer to our prayers. It is, after all, His prerogative whether or not He wants to give attention to our prayer. 

This being the case, we should never think of prayer as our entitlement to make claims from God. When we come before God in prayer we have no entitlements at all to claim or to make demands from Him. We cannot say to God, 'If You don't answer my prayer I will not worship you and serve you.' 

Let us consider the petitions found in the Lord's prayer: 'Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.' (Luke 11:3,4) The tone in each of these petitions is more of pleading, begging, and asking. The verbs 'give', 'forgive', 'lead us not' and 'deliver' in this prayer are not demands at all. 

We know this by simply comparing the structure of these petitions with similar prayers of petition found in the Old Testament. In the Hebrew language there is a certain letter of the alphabet which when added to command, softens its force to that of a plea. This letter is called the Cohortative He and it is used in prayers of petition, like those made by Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, David and others. Thus the petition to God to forgive, could be translated 'please forgive us our sins' instead of just 'forgive us our sins.' The rest of the petitions could likewise be translated with the word 'please' before each of them. 

We can safely say therefore, that the petitions found in the Lord's prayer were meant to be pleas to God rather than commands. This is important for us to note. When we come before God we should never command, demand, or even claim; our attitude with regard to our requests should be one of pleading; pleading for things which are not ours to claim at all' 

Pleading on no other ground than God's mercy and grace alone; pleading with complete trust in God to deal with us in whatever way He wills. You know, those of us who are parents teach our children to say 'Please,' in order to teach them the proper attitude they should have towards us. And if a child does not say please but demanded things and said, 'I want' or 'Give me' we would remind them to ask politely. Please remember this. Sometimes we take for granted that God must be listening to our prayers and that He must grant them.

We forget that when we stand before the Almighty God, we are treading on holy ground, where angels fear to tread, and instead of pleading, the tone in which we make our requests becomes one of telling God what to do or even demanding Him to do them. Let us remember that prayer is really pleading before God in humble submission to His will. 

In Genesis 18 there is an account of how Abraham prayed before God to be merciful to the righteous minority who lived in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when He destroys the two cities. Gen 18:27 'And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes; And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there.' 

It is my hope that all of us will be careful from now on about how we pray. Let us not take too much upon ourself and end up making presumptuous prayers which are displeasing to God. Let us remember these three things about prayer; Firstly prayer must always focused on God rather than on oneself, Secondly, prayer must be submitted to God's will rather than to our own wills, Thirdly, prayer must be seen as our privilege and not as our right before God. May the Lord help each one of us to treasure the great privilege that we have, of being granted an audience with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That is what prayer is all about.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25