PRAYER (LESSON 1)
The lesson this month is about something we've all done at one time or another. Some people do it before they go to bed. Others only do it before they eat. And some people only think to do it when they are in trouble. Any ideas of what I'm talking about? This month's lesson is on Prayer.
We all have questions about prayer: "Why don't I get the things that I pray for?" "If God already knows everything, why do I have to pray?" "Is there a right way and a wrong way to pray?" We will try to answer these questions and others. And, hopefully, by the end of these lessons, you will understand the importance of and power in prayer.
Let's start with what is prayer? Prayer is the way in which we communicate with God and He communicates with us. It is our connection to heaven. It is our opportunity to come before God to talk to Him about whatever is on our heart, and it is also our chance to open ourselves up to what He has to say to us. The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 to "Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." That means that we are to make prayer a consistent, daily part of our lives. And in 1 Timothy 2:8 we read, "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting."
Now, you might think, "If God knows everything, why do we have to pray?" God wants us to pray because He wants us to willingly share our life with him. He wants us to in faith seek His face. He wants us to experience the power of trusting and believing Him and coming to Him, and then seeing Him work in our lives. He wants a relationship with us. You shouldn't think, "Why do I have to pray." You should feel honored and humbled that God in heaven wants to talk to you, desires to talk to you. And the great thing about God is that He is truly interested in what we have to say to Him. He's never too busy for us. And we can talk to him anytime and anywhere. Isaiah 65:24 reads, "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." I bet if you called the President, you wouldn't get through. Or if you called your favorite celebrity, they wouldn't have time for you. Sometimes even your so-called friends aren't interested in what you have to say. But the Creator of the universe, my Heavenly Father, is always ready and willing to be there for you.
Philippians 4:6-7 tells us "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Prayer is one of the most important practices in the lives of Christians. The original disciples recognized the importance of prayer, and they asked Christ to personally teach them how to pray. That is where we get the prayer "Our Father" from (Luke 11:1-4), because that is the prayer that Christ taught the disciples to show them all of the different areas that you should remember to include in prayer. The disciples didn't ask Christ to teach them how to heal the sick or how to raise the dead or how to feed thousands, but they saw how beautifully He communicated with God, and they wanted to be able to do the same thing. And if Jesus Christ and the disciples thought it was important to pray, don't you think you should feel the same way?
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Unfortunately, a lot of us sometimes take praying for granted and don't really think twice about. How many people here pray every single day? What are some of the things that you pray about? How many people have the "rescue 911" style of praying, that is, you only think to pray when you are really in trouble? Maybe you've even prayed, "Lord, if you get me out of this, I'm going to change my ways." And at the time you said those words, you prayed and perhaps even made all sorts of promises to God. And then once the trouble was over, you forgot all about what you promised God you would do. Or maybe you only think to pray when you need or want something. Sometimes we treat God more like Santa Claus instead of God. We call on Him when we want something, but the rest of the time we forget all about Him. Well, let's clear up any wrong ideas you might have about prayer and tell you what prayer is not.
Prayer is not some magic process where you say a few chosen words and then everything you desire will come true. Sometimes we say our prayer and we end it with the words "In Jesus' name," and we think we can just kick back and wait for the blessings to come. It's almost as though we think saying "In Jesus' name" is like saying "abra-cadabra." But that's not what prayer is all about. We can't "name it and claim it," like some churches teach, or speak things into existence. If you have that idea, you will soon be disillusioned. Prayer is not getting God to do what we want. Prayer is a time of coming before God with our concerns and asking Him to show us what He wants for us, and then trusting in the way He responds even if it is different than what we asked for.
And when we say "In Jesus' name," we should really think about what that means. When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are then able to stand before God, not in our old sinful condition, but with Christ as our mediator. 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Does anyone know what a mediator is? A mediator is a go-between person, for example, like your defense attorney who stood before the judge and spoke on your behalf. Well, Jesus is our mediator, but He also paid our debt for us. That's why we say "In Jesus' name." Because of Christ's shed blood, we can boldly come before God. And since we are praying in Jesus' name, the things that we pray for should be in accordance to the will of Jesus.
Here is an example: What if someone hurt me? Would it make sense for me to pray, "Lord, get that person who hurt me, in Jesus' name"? No, that would make no sense at all. God wants me to forgive others. It would not be in His will for me to be praying for evil to befall someone. So the next time you pray, "In Jesus' name," really think about whether your prayers are in line with what Jesus wants!
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Now, sometimes we feel as though our prayers go unanswered, but don't you know that God always answers prayers? Sometimes we don't get the answer we wanted, but God always answers us. You have to realize that God answers prayers in three ways. He either says "yes," "no," or "wait." That's where our faith comes in. We have to believe that God hears our prayers, and then we have to trust that He is working things out in a way that is best for us. Sometimes a good answer is not always "yes." And we have to realize that God doesn't give us everything that we want, but He will give us everything that we need.
Sometimes people take a few words from the Bible and twist them to mean something that they don't necessarily mean. There is a verse in Luke 11:9 where it says, "And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Some people read that and get happy because they think that that means that God will give them anything they pray for. But that verse is talking about us being able to ask for and receive something far more valuable than worldly things. Let's read the rest of that verse at Luke 11:13 to see what the verse was saying you would receive. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" This "ask, seek, knock" verse is God promising us that we will never be turned down when we request help from the Holy Spirit. It is not a promise for material wealth or health and strength or a new job or a husband or wife!
Unfortunately, a lot of us don't take God up on this offer. When is the last time that you prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Maybe you don't even know how the Holy Spirit can help you. Let me give you an example. Through the help of the Holy Spirit we are able to avoid temptations. We are able to read the Bible with clear understanding. We are able to obey God in times of weakness. We are given the words that we should pray, words that are pleasing to God. Our faith is strengthened. We can find peace when others around us are troubled. The list goes on and on. You can pray anytime you want and ask to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and you have God's promise that your prayer will be answered. That is a wonderful gift. Do not neglect to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
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No matter what your prayer requests are, you should never underestimate the importance of daily prayer. When we don't pray, it is as though we are telling God that we don't need Him in our lives, that we can handle everything on our own, that we don't need forgiveness or guidance, and that we're not interested in talking to Him. If someone said they loved you but they only called you once a month, how would it make you feel? You want to talk to that person who loves you every day, and God wants us to talk to Him every day.
Okay, maybe you're thinking that you want to pray, but you don't know how. Maybe you stumble over the words when you try to pray and you feel as though you're doing it wrong. Or maybe you've gotten into the habit of saying the same exact words, and they don't feel sincere. It's just repetition, and it is automatic. I've noticed that when we ask you guys if anyone wants to start off the lesson or end it with a prayer, usually not very many people raise their hand. I think that is because you are worried that you will not pray good enough or that you might sound silly. But you have to remember whom you are praying to. When you pray, whether it's in front of a crowd or by yourself, you are talking to God. God doesn't care if your prayer is long or short or poetic or grammatically correct. He just cares about what's in your heart. He just wants you to come before Him with honor and a humble spirit and faith. And He wants you to confess any sin in your life that you can think of so that He can forgive you and answer your prayer.
Now let's see what Jesus had to say about how to pray. There are some verses in Matthew that people sometimes get confused on. Let's read Matthew 6:5. "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." Here Jesus is talking about those people who are showy in their prayers, but insincere, looking only to impress men with their self-righteousness. We've all come across someone like this. But these people are not fooling God. God says they have their reward.
Then Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 6:6, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
Now, this verse is not saying that there is anything wrong with praying in a group. But it's again referring to the people previously mentioned who were looking for an ego reward by showing off in their public prayers. This verse is telling you that the time to really get down to business with praying those long prayers is when you are alone with God. Don't do it just to try to impress people around you by your prayer skills.
Then Jesus goes on in Matthew 6:7-8 to say, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him."
Here Jesus is saying that God does not want you just chanting some memorized words to Him. There is nothing wrong with praying for the same things if you are sincere, for example, praying that a loved one gives their life to Christ. As a matter of fact, in Matthew 26:39-44 we see that while in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed three times using the same words. So praying sincerely and using similar words is okay. But God does not want your prayer time to become a time of you just reciting some learned words over and over. God wants you to talk to Him, not mindlessly quote some childhood verse as though you are going to get points for saying it 20 times. Again, prayer is communicating with God, praising God, thanking God, beseeching God, and just sharing your love with God.
So, in closing, never neglect talking to God in prayer. The disciples realized how important prayer is, and hopefully now you do too! And the Bible doesn't teach us the place to pray or the time, because any time or place is fine. People in the Bible prayed early in the morning, mid-morning, before meals, after meals, at midnight, while they were in a closet, in a garden, during battle, in bed, even in the belly of a fish. You can and should pray everywhere and anywhere, by yourself or with others. Pray for guidance, victory over temptation and sin, salvation for your family, health, a safe journey, protection, a job, patience, for help with your temper, everything. Cast all of your cares upon the Lord because He cares for you.
(Here are a couple of nice poems about prayer.)