Why You Should Keep Praying

The ability to love those who insult us, to remain pure when our phones offer us a million pathways to pornography, and to refrain from being hyper-critical of that man’s vegan diet does not naturally reside within the Christian soul. To achieve the lifestyle that Jesus prescribes in his famous Sermon on the Mount, Christians must regularly ask God for help. They need it, and God promises to give it. In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus begins the conclusion of his sermon with a reflection upon prayer, saying,

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

No soul naturally loves its enemies or places its hope in God as opposed to riches and bank accounts. Were faith our natural condition, Jesus would not have had to recast the vision for the kingdom for us. Even those souls that have entered the narrow gate still cannot achieve the kingdom ethic in their own power. To overcome temptation and to develop a love for God and neighbor, the Christian must regularly and faithfully pray to Jesus who promises to give them what they ask for. 

Why We Don’t Pray

I suspect many Christians succumb to temptation and make peace with sin because they fail to grasp their persistent need to pray. Just as some people nominally concerned about their health diet for a day or two and then quit after seeing no meaningful results, many Christians pray for a day or two and then quit. They pray that God would give them a love for their coworker. But then Monday rolls around, their coworker makes another off-colored remark, and the hate of last week boils back up. They assume prayer failed and that God is at peace with their irritable nature. It is just who they are. They will call again if someone gets cancer or if a hurricane is headed their way. Otherwise, they are good.

Keep Praying

Essentially, they stop asking, they stop knocking, they stop seeking. Understandably the change they desire never comes. Yet, the fault lies not with little tried tool of prayer but with the practitioner of the prayer. Godly prayer requires perseverance. As the German Reformer Martin Luther noted,

“Since your need goes on knocking, therefore, you go right on knocking, too, and do not relent.”

Jesus clarifies the connection between perseverance and prayer in Luke 11: 5-8. In this passage that heavily resembles Matthew 7, Jesus tells the parable of a man who bangs on his friend’s door at midnight because another friend just popped in to spend the night. At first, the friend in bed tells the man to go away.  But the man keeps on knocking. Fearing the man will wake up the entire house (kids and all) the friend gets up and gives the man some food. Jesus says, “Because of his impudence, he will rise and him whatever he needs (8).”

The point of the parable is obvious. The soul that keeps on knocking will never leave empty handed. As Jesus says, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Mt 7:8). The teenager who longs for sexual purity will get it through fervent prayer. The tired wife that bangs on God’s door asking God to give her a love for her in-laws will receive it. The angry child that looks for freedom from her anger through prayer will find peace. Those who pray without ceasing will receive the gifts that they need.

Trust God’s Character

To drive the point home, Jesus compares his care for us to how our earthly father’s care for us. Just as children can trust earthly parents to give them bread and not rocks for dinner, Christians can ask God for their spiritual needs, trusting that he will neither manipulate them nor harm them. Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him (Mt 7:11)!” Jesus does not toss out the analogy to validate human goodness. Rather, he uses it to reveal that if we can trust our earthly fathers who are capable of great evil to do some basic good things, then we should trust God even more. God will not play games with us. Even if we ask God for a stone, he will still give us bread.

Why Didn’t God Heal Susie?

That very promise from God to answer our prayer can also cause us to doubt whether or not God truly is good. Many Christians have prayed for years for a new job, for Johnny’s salvation, and for Susie to recover from cancer. Yet no one calls you for interviews, Johnny still refuses to come to church, and you just learned that Susie died. In light of God’s promise that those who seek will find, many souls cannot help but openly question: “What happened?”

But such questions arise from a profound misunderstanding of the context in which Jesus promises to honor our prayers. As John Stott noted many years earlier, the promises made in Matthew 7 relate to God’s character as Father and not as creator. As creator, God bestows the earthly gifts of family, health, and financial success upon billions of people who never pray. In Matthew 5:45, Jesus credits God with sending rain, “on the just and the unjust.” While Christians should ask God for their daily bread as their heavenly Father is the author of all good gifts, the specify delivery of good gifts cannot be guaranteed through prayer. Moreover, our repeated and earnest asking of God for something does not obligate God to give us the earthly thing asked for. For example, I longed for a red convertible as a teenager and college student. I frequently prayer for such a good gift. To date, I have never owned a red convertible. We should ask him for health and a host of other earthly but should do so with the tagline from James, “if the Lord wills (Jm 4:15).”

But as Father, God answers all the spiritual things we ask of him. Salvation comes not by osmosis nor by splashing water on people’s foreheads. It comes through asking. Paul confirms the foundational role of prayer in the saving process, writing, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13).” Sanctification occurs in the same manner. Through asking, seeking, and knocking we grow in our ability to love others, to fulfill our marriage vows, and to promote peace. Spiritual gifts always come through prayer. If we will but ask, seek, and knock, God will give us the desires of our heart.

The old hymn correctly states: What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

Are you praying?

How Should I Pray (Part 2)

Though Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer with an overarching concern for God’s glory, he remains deeply invested in the lives of his children. Through prayer, Jesus provides us with our daily needs, grants us forgiveness, and protects us from temptation and evil. Godly prayer is not devoid of personal concerns. It is filled with them. To pray well, we must take our troubles to God, beginning with our daily needs. 

Daily Bread

Though Christians sail through this world under the presumptuous banner of self-assurance, the world proves to be anything but certain. As James the brother of Jesus notes, “you do not know what tomorrow will bring (Jm 4:14).” The prayer for one’s daily bread captures this reality. Jesus’s original audience depended upon the daily production of bread which could be interrupted by floods, droughts, and bandits. They had ample reason to take their concerns about lunch to heaven’s throne.

Though we have pantries filled with five different kinds of bread and a few boxes of Lucky Charms, the fragileness of life remains. For example, the very technologies that make food so readily available such as gas-engines can be the source of our downfall as car crashes make clear. Moreover, finances can quickly crumble, jobs can disappear, and college plans can disintegrate overnight. Despite our perceptions of self-sufficiency, we cannot determine the destiny of our life. We cannot even guarantee that we will be on earth tomorrow much less five years from now.

Because our lives our fragile, Jesus tells us to take our needs to him. The wise soul will ask God for her daily bread for, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (Jm. 1:17).”. We should pray to God for our daily needs.

When we experience loneliness, we should pray for friends. When our bank account runs low, we should pray for the means to pay our electric bills. And when we need a new home to care for our family, we pray for the extra bedroom. We do not pray for the imaginary needs of next year. But we are to pray for the needs of today regardless of their size or importance. God cares for us and delights in providing us with good gifts.

Forgive us Our Debts

He also tells us to daily ask for our debts to be forgiven because he cares about our spiritual well-being. Though some branches of Christianity teach that Christians can achieve perfection this side of heaven, Jesus prepares us for the opposite reality. He teaches us to regularly pray for forgiveness because perfection comes only once we reach heaven and not before. According to Jesus, our spiritual life is fraught with peril and struggles. Instead of being surprised by our need to repent of the evil with have done today, we should make repentance a regular part of our prayer life.

Though the asking of forgiveness proves important, the Christian must also know that he has received forgiveness to rest easy at night. To experience the assurance of salvation, Christian’s must grant their enemies forgiveness. Jesus notes, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven others (Mt 6:11).” Jesus makes our forgiveness contingent upon our ability to forgive others not because Jesus wants us to earn our salvation. Rather, he is teaching us that all who have been forgiven will in-turn extend forgiveness to others. We ask for help to forgive others because this is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Those who can forgive have been forgiven. In other words, Jesus longs for his followers to rest in the knowledge that they have been forgiven.

Deliver us From Evil

Lastly, Jesus tells us to pray for deliverance from temptation and evil. Though we fashion ourselves as the devil’s equal, we are not. Satan is the lion, and we are the gazelles. If we hope to survive in the open, we must appeal to God for help, dwelling in the shadow of the all mighty.

When we ask God to lead us away from temptation, we are not insinuating that God tempts us. The Scriptures flatly deny this idea stating, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (Jm. 1:13).” Though God places us in situations that test the character of our faith, he never desires us to sin or to respond to our circumstances with anger. God may ordain that we get cancer, but he does not tempt us to respond to that diagnosis with a tirade of expletives. The temptation towards those thoughts of hate come from our flesh, the world, and even Satan. However, the ability to resists those urges towards sin come from the Lord. God promises to make a away of escape for those who ask. Those who struggle with alcohol, pornography, coveting clothes, or being lazy should ask God for help. Often we struggle with sins and are consumed by evil because we refuse to pray. We like the apostle Peter trust in our devotion and will power.  We promise that we will never let God down and wisely manage our money. Though everyone else my go into credit card debt at Christmas, I will not. We do everything but pray. Then the shoes we always wanted, the car we needed, or the dream vacation pops up within reach, and we buy it. The next morning, we awake to a world of debt and regrets. Like Peter, we fall because of our pride. To steer clear of sin, we must get on our knees.

Final Thoughts

Though we assume our heavenly Father is like some of those T.V. Dad’s who simply nod along without any awareness of the situation, Jesus presents his heavenly Father in a different light. According to Jesus, God is deeply interested in our well-being. He tells us to take our material and spiritual concerns to him in prayer. Through prayer, we find relief from the troubles of this world and the doubts and sins that plague our lives. Jesus is never too busy for our prayers. We should never be too busy to pray. When we bump into daily needs, questions of forgiveness, and to enticing temptations we heed the old hymn and “take it to the Lord in prayer.”

How Should I Pray? (Part 1)

If your prayer life became your Sunday school’s prayer list, what would people find? Would most of the content focus upon uncle Jimmy’s cancer, Aunt Susie’s arthritis, or cousin Sally’s job hunt? Would your classmates find pleas for Bobby’s salvation or for Lashanda to love her enemies at the office? What would comprise that list?

Our answer to this question proves insightful. As Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Seminary, noted, “If we really want to know what a person believes, we should listen to them pray.” In other words, our faith is only as deep as the prayers we pray.

At this point, we should not all become self-conscience and begin praying in slow mumbles so that no one can hear us. According to Jesus, God hears in secret. Even if others do not hear us God does. He takes no delight in the mindless, repetitive prayers of unbelief. To pray well, we must pray as God would have us pray.

Our need for prayer help should not surprise us. According to the Scriptures, we do not naturally drift towards goodness. Jesus declared our hearts to be garbage dumps that produce among other things, “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” We come to faith because God mercifully reveals himself to us in his Word through his spirit. He accomplishes our spiritual growth and sanctification in the same manner. We grow in our ability to love God and others through the study of his word. We should not be surprised by our need for help in the spiritual disciplines.

What Do We Say?

When Jesus teaches us to pray, he does not begin with Aunt Judy’s broken leg. He begins with his glory. Jesus said, “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:7-10).” It is good an appropriate to ask God to provide us with our daily needs. But we must not do so to the exclusion of God’s glory. Our prayers should be filled with a concern for the glory of God.

Hallowed Be Your Name

To accomplish this goal, our prayers should focus on the Hallowing of God’s name. To hallow God is to honor him. The apostle Peter tosses out the term when he wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy (1 Peter 3:15).” To honor the name of God, we must know his name. In other words, we must hollow God as he reveals himself to us in the Scripture. Our salvation depends upon our ability to recognize the name of God. The apostle Peter reminds us, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven among men by which we must be saved.” The soul that prays to the great She God or to Mohamed does not know Jesus. To honor God, we must pray to the Father, Son, and Spirit as God commands. We cannot pray to the God of our imagination.

Practical prayers for honor should concern our hearts and the hearts of those around us. We should pray that God would teach us to revere and worship him with greater sincerity. We should pray that our quiet times and family devotions will make much of God. We should pray that our churches would hallow God’s name when they meet to pray, preach, give, and fellowship as the collected body of Christ.

Lastly, we should pray that God’s name will be glorified among the nations. When we enter this world, we arrive with no intention of honoring God. According to Psalm 53:1, we do not even acknowledge his existence. “The fool says in his heart, ‘“There is no God.”’ When we pray for God’s name to be glorified, we are praying that those at war with God would come to love him. As the retired pastor John Piper noted, “[Worship] is the goal and fuel of mission.” To pray for God’s honor is to pray for missions.

Your Kingdom Come

Next, Jesus instructs us to pray for the coming of his kingdom. As Saint Augustine noted long ago, two kingdoms exist: the kingdom of man whose dominate ethic is selfishness and the kingdom of God whose dominate ethic is love as defined in the beatitudes. When Christians pray for Jesus’s kingdom to come, they pray for Jesus to overthrow the kingdom of darkness with the kingdom of light.

This occurs in two ways. First, we pray for Jesus’s kingdom ethic to take root in our world. We pray for our hearts to become more meek, merciful, and sensitive to sin. We pray for our rules to be just and ask for help to pursue righteousness. And then we beseech Jesus to come back on his white horse. With this phrase, we affirm our desire to see Jesus overthrow the world of death and to fully establish his kingdom which will ensure that every fiber of abuse, sickness, and hatred is vanquished forever to the pits of hell. Our longings for eternity should find expressions in our prayers.

Such prayers of hope also reveal that we correctly understand that Jesus alone can establish perfect justice and mercy. When we pray for Jesus’s kingdom, we affirm that neither human charity nor human political parties can heal this broken world. Our hope is not the next benefit ball nor the next election. It is the coming kingdom of Jesus. For this we should pray.

Your Will Be Done

Lastly, we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven, God’s moral will is accomplished perfectly. Heaven is glorious because there neither angel nor saint questions the goodness of God. They know him, love him, and obey him. When we pray, we should pray for such perfect obedience to be found on this earth. When we struggle with pornography, greed, cursing, a biting tongue, or vengeful heart, we should ask God to bring our will into agreement with his. Our prayers should be filled with petitions that seek to unshackle our hearts from the pains of sin.

Similarly, we should pray that the same would be true of our spouses, kids, coworkers, and fellow church members. Instead of attempting to force them to change through the withholding of intimacy for example, we should pray that they will do God’s will do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. We should take our concerns about our husband, our wife, and that annoying guy on the third floor to Jesus, imploring him to do what we cannot. We should long for God’s will to be done in our life and the life of everyone on earth as it is done in heaven.

So You Struggle to Pray

A few weeks ago, I did an informal social media poll on prayer. The number one challenged faced by the respondents concerned a lack of focus. As they begin to pray, their minds begin to wonder. Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer in-part for this very reason. He provided us not with the ultimate prayer to pray but with a framework by which we can focus our prayers. The next time, we find our minds struggling to pray, we should begin with the glory of God. We should pray for his name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done. We should pray as Jesus taught us.

And now we have gotten back to those prayers lists. Does the prayer list of your life resemble the Lord’s prayer? If not, let’s begin today to pray for God’s glory today.