Summary: Discover where prayer begins and how that can make a difference in where prayer can take you.
This morning, we begin a new series on the topic of prayer. Most people are fascinated with the topic of prayer. Religious people see prayer as a duty to their god or a privilege of their faith. Non-religious people may see prayer as helpful self-talk or a comforting mental exercise. Even the medical community has researched and found that prayer statistically makes a difference in the recovery of patients.
The dictionary defines prayer as a reverent petition made to a deity or god. The Bible often groups praise and thanksgiving along with prayer to God. Many Christians have broadened the definition of prayer to loving or reverent communication with God. For instance, the 17th century cleric and spiritual mentor, Fenelon, equates prayer with loving God.
Prayer in the Christian faith is like communication in the marriage. Prayer is a channel for growing and strengthening our relationship with God. And the absence of prayer in the life of believers often indicates a loss of love for God and an anemic spiritual life.
C.H. Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, noted, “We should pray when we are in a praying mood, for it would be sinful to neglect so fair an opportunity. We should pray when we are not in a proper mood, for it would be dangerous to remain in so unhealthy a condition.”
Between now and the end of May, we will learn a great deal about prayer. And those who will attend the Prayer Adventure this coming Saturday will learn by doing. We will experience quality time with God, listening to God and praying in groups.
This morning, we will look at the best thing about prayer. Many think that the best thing about prayer is getting what we ask for. Or the best thing about prayer is the way we feel after we’ve prayed. But Ben Patterson got it right, “The best thing about prayer is God.” All else are side benefits.
Our text is Matthew 6:5-10.
Before we dive into the best thing about prayer, let me make two notes that Jesus made. First, God hears our prayer (our words), but He knows what we really want. Jesus pointed out how certain people pray more in public than they pray in private. These people want to be known as spiritual. They want to be recognized as pious. There words are directed at God, but the response they seek is recognition from people.
Here’s a good question to ask: “What do I do more of, pray with people around me or pray privately?” If I am praying more with people than I pray privately, what I really want may not be what I am asking God for. Unless we pray in private regularly, our public prayers are rarely genuine.
Second, we pray because prayer strengthens our relationship with God. Jesus said that God knows what we need before we ask Him. When we pray, we are not informing and instructing God. We are sharing our hearts with Him as we do with a good friend.
George MacDonald answers the question: “Why pray, if God loves us and knows all we need before we pray?” He observed, “What if [God] knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? …What if the good of all our smaller and lower needs lies in this, that [these needs] drive us to God? Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other needs; prayer is the beginning of that communion.” In other words, God wants us to pray, even though he knows our needs, because prayer strengthens our relationship with God.
In the remainder of this message, we will look at how prayer enables communion with God. We will divide Jesus’ model of prayer into two messages. We will look at verses 9 and 10 in this message, and verses 11-13 in the next message. In verses 9-10, Jesus encourages us to get to know God, and he identifies four ways.
We get to know God by approaching God as our Heavenly Father.
Most people approach God like He is a cosmic security camera, where He doesn’t care about us until we do something wrong. Then He lays a guilt trip on us, gives us a flat tire or sends us to the hospital. This wrong picture of God prevents most people from coming to God and enjoying Him.
Matthew 7:9-11 tells us, "Which of you [fathers], if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Maybe you didn’t have a good or close relationship with your earthly father. Your earthly father may have been verbally and physically abusive. Maybe he was angry, absent, silent or emotionally detached. But Jesus assures us that God, our Heavenly Father, is good.