Summary: Jesus taught us not only the words to say in prayer, but the manner in which to approach God so that prayer becomes effectual in changing not only our lives but enables Christ through the church to change the world around us.
Matthew 6__5-18 THE WAY TO PRAY
In my youth, I was very active in a Church that practiced only extempore prayer. On rare occasion someone might bring a written prayer to a Bible study, but other than the Lord’s Prayer, there was no prayer routinely used in worship, and no one who was a prayer leader or preacher would use a prayer book.
In fact, on occasion there were comments by some of our leaders that prayer books led to vain repeitition; that written prayers were not heartfelt, or sincere. Some of our leaders appreciated the value of the treasury of prayers the church had preserved from ancient times. A seminary professor commented that written prayers could be and should be heartfelt. He said if one could not find the exact words to express himself, perhaps written prayers would be helpful.
Jesus apparently thought that his followers needed help with prayer since he provided us with a model. He said, “When you pray, pray this way.”
I noticed, as a child, that I could predict what our elders would say in their prayers as they took their turns leading the communion service. Each one had his own litany of petitions and thanksgivings. I found that my personal remembrance of Christ was laced with their communion meditations, some of which seemed in appropriate.
Somewhere in my late teens or early twenties, I found a prayer book and discovered ancient prayers that could help shape my prayer life.
I learned that there was a vast treasury of prayers, both ancient and modern that added depth and eloquence to our prayers.
1) What is prayer? 2) Where or with whom we should we pray? 3) And why should we pray?
We will focus on Jesus’ concerns in order to give will give unity and depth to our efforts in prayer.
1) What Is Prayer?
I heard some psychobabble in the 1950’s in which a man said prayer was our higher selves talking to our lower selves, rather like giving oneself a pep-talk. Sometimes our minds know a course of action is right but our lower selves aren’t motivated enough to get off the couch. Praying that one would have moral strength to overcome inertia is hardly prayer.
Talking to oneself is not prayer. Shakespeare knew that hundreds of years ago. In Hamlet, the King of Denmark, who had been complicit in his brother’s death, knelt in his chapel, trying to pray. His higher self spoke to his lower nature, and he knew that he was not praying, because he wasn’t willing to talk to God, fess up, and clear the corruption out of the his administration of government which was the basis of the immortal words: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."
As long as a person denies any guilt whether he be peasant or king, the results will be the same as for the King of Denmark who gave up praying and said, "My prayers go up, but my thoughts remain below. Prayers without thoughts, never to heaven go."
So prayer is not talking to oneself. One must be engaged, as best he can with all of his faculties, but he does not pray alone. He prays in and with the Holy Spirit’s aid. That is why we pray together. When two or three are gathered together, the gathering becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit. When I ask you to pray with me, I’m not mouthing words, I really mean it. I don’t come here simply for the purpose of delivering messages. Virginia and I made this move to assist in prayer and to share a prayer life with you.
What is prayer then?
Prayer is intentionally conveying a message to God.
Why say "intentionally conveying a message to God? Why not just say that prayer is talking to God? Because Romans 8:26 says, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."
There are Spirit inspired groans of our hearts that are wordless. Though prayer is sometimes talking to God, there are times when you can’t talk and can still pray, still convey a message or intention to God.
Or why didn’t I just say, that prayer is communicating with God? I don’t say prayer is communicating with God because that sounds as if I’m talking to him and he is talking to me. But that is not what prayer is. God talking to me is never called prayer in the Bible. When God communicates something to us, we call it revelation or illumination. It is not prayer. For clarity, we don’t use the word prayer for when God speaks to us.
Why then don’t I just say that prayer is conveying a message to God? Well, because people are conveying messages to God all day long, but we don’t call it prayer. People are conveying messages like, God is not important to me. Or, God is irrelevant to this situation. Or, God doesn’t exist. But these messages are not intentionally sent to God. They are clear, and God always discerns them, but they are not prayer.