Summary: What is it that keeps us from praying? What is it that has made prayer into a drudgery, a joyless discipline that fills us with guilt? It doesn’t have to be that way at all.
It’s strange that every time someone announces, like we have in the bulletin and up on the overhead and in the announcements, that we’re going to talk about prayer, we all get a little uncomfortable. You may notice in your bulletin that it says, "Leave your guilt bags at home." Because when we talk about prayer, typically people bring their ’guilt bags’ so we can all fill up our ’guilt bags’ together on how little we pray and how bad we are because we don’t.
Years ago, we were in a church service in Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton Free Church), the pastor Ivan York was preaching and he announced in the sermon, "I am going to tell you the secret of a successful Christian life." And in that group you could almost feel the anticipation build as this great announcement that was going to be made. And so we were all sitting on the edge of our seats and he said, "The secret to the Christian life is prayer." And you know what? It was almost like somebody had opened the back doors and everything just went whoosh. All the joy, all the anticipation, just went out the back door. "Oh, no. Prayer." When we talk about prayer, we all think in our minds, "Yeah. I don’t pray enough." So, let’s get that over with. On the count of three let’s say, "I don’t pray enough." One, two, three, "Yeah. I don’t pray enough." Doesn’t that feel good?
Now, let’s put that behind us, because we can explore some reasons for that sad fact and hopefully, get beyond this constant self-flagellation that we undergo when we talk about prayer. It’s my goal during this four weeks of talking about prayer, not to fill up anybody’s ’guilt bag’, including mine. Not to stand up here thundering back and forth across this platform, like I tend to do, getting in our faces about the fact that we should pray more. Okay. So, feel free to come, because it’s not going to happen. I almost feel like preaching this sermon sitting down on the front step like Chris did with the kids because the biblical picture of prayer is different than the one we have developed. We call prayer a discipline, and it may be, but I don’t find it listed as a discipline in the Word of God. Prayer could be a natural act of loving communication with a God who we know loves us and who is eager to hear what we have to ask Him. My goal is to free us, and myself included, to a life of confident, powerful, faithful prayer that is in agreement with the plan and purpose of God.
Prayer is a real mystery. When you think about the sovereign God who knows everything and who had ordained everything, what do our prayers matter? Have you ever wondered about that? Why should I even pray? The script has been written. I can’t change a thing. Yet, in the middle of that mystery, there’s this one large truth: God invites us, calls us, to pray. So, you’re not going to figure out this week (because I’m not going to figure out this week) how prayer works with the will of God. I think that’s a mystery that we will never understand. All I know is God has called us to pray.
So, let’s get started at one of the critical points. The thinking that we need to examine, to free us, to even consider coming to God in the first place. That’s why we’re starting here in Matthew 7. Here’s the first truth we need to realize about prayer, that prayer is at it’s foundation, a statement of neediness. Prayer is, at it’s foundation, a statement of neediness. If you do not feel needy, you’re not going to ask for anything.
I don’t know why eighth grade stands out in this particular memory, but it is. And a particular class in eighth grade, what we used to call core, which was English and Social Studies. It seemed like every day in that class, as I sat there about three or four seats from the front, the teacher would say something that made it clear that we needed to take out a piece of paper and a pencil. In fact, I think she said, "Take out a piece of paper and a pencil." That would be pretty obvious. And every day, like clockwork, I would turn to (I sat between two girls, fortunately, for me), and I would turn to one and say, "Can I borrow a pen?" And then to the other one and say, "Can I borrow a piece of paper?" Now, I didn’t give the paper back, but I think I did give the pencil back or the pen. I was needy in a lot of ways. Like, organizational skills would have been a good thing. God has graciously given me a wife who almost always has a piece of paper and a pencil for me. But, I was in need. And people who are in need ask for things. You drive down to Phoenix on any given day and stop at a light and you’ll see people who hold up a sign, "I need a job. I need food. I need money." Neediness is the foundation.