Last week I touched briefly on three of the six marks of discipleship. Weekly worship. Pray daily. Read the Bible every day. Today I want to zero in on one of those marks – the one that invites us to pray daily.
I want to suggest that of all of the six marks of discipleship – and if you’re with us today for the first time, and have no clue what I’m talking about – let me direct you to page 2 of our Mission Minutes where we have all six marks of discipleship listed there for you. But of all of these six marks – the one that tells us that a disciple is one who prays daily – might just be the one mark out of the six that we are most likely to do every day.
It may even be the easiest for us to do. Why? Because you can pray anywhere – anytime – during any given day – about anything. Any yet – I also know that for some of you sitting in this room today – you may be thinking that it is one of the more difficult – one of the more challenging things you do as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Especially when someone asks you to pray out loud in front of a small group of others.
When it comes to prayer – I hear upon occasion, “Pastor – I just don’t know how to pray.” Well, guess what! You’re in good company. It might very well be that half the people in this room might be thinking the same thing. And certainly we know that the disciples felt the same way.
This is what they ask Jesus. “Lord, teach us to pray.” Lord, teach us to pray. That in and of itself is a prayer. And Jesus answers them by teaching them what we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer – or what some will call, “The Disciples’ Prayer.”
SO let’s talk about prayer today. And let me say at the start that I certainly do not consider myself to be an expert on prayer. Neither do I consider myself to be the professional prayer that some count on to do all the praying around here. “Pastor – they can’t start eating until you say the blessing.”
Look – whether you are comfortable praying – or whether you are not – let me tell you that you will never get good at doing anything unless you practice. So when it comes to prayer, simply practice. Practice in private. Find a quiet time – a quiet place – whenever – doesn’t matter. Pray out loud. Listen to the sound of your own voice. And just start talking to God. That’s what prayer is. Just having a conversation with God.
Listen to what Jesus tells his disciples. “When you pray, say, ‘Father.’” Let’s stop right there. Jesus says we are to address God as Father – our Father. In other places Jesus refers to God as Abba – which simply means “Daddy.” I know some people trip over calling God Father, because they don’t have a good relationship with their earthly father – or their father was abusive or absent – or perhaps have no idea who their father is. But when we understand that God is the perfect father – that even the best earthly father cannot measure up to who God is as our heavenly Father – perhaps we can begin to get a grasp on what it means to know God – and to trust God – as the loving Father that He truly is.
To call God Father points to relationship. Not some distant and far-off deity. Not some impersonal, generic god. But One who loves us with a love that is unconditional – with a love that says the Father cares about you – about who you are – about your situation – and your needs.
So we can be bold to call God Father. And that’s an important place to start – by acknowledging God and who God is.
You see – prayer is really all about God. And you thought it was all about you, right? Prayer is all about God. I came across a story this week. “A little boy was sitting next to a grizzled holy man seated beside a river. ‘Will you teach me to pray?’ the boy asked. ‘Are you sure that you want to learn?’ the holy man asked? ‘Yes, of course.’ With that the holy man grabbed the boy's neck and plunged his head into the water. He held him there while the boy kicked and screamed and tried to get away. Finally, after an interminable period the holy man let the boy out of the water. Gasping and sputtering for breath, the boy cries, ‘What was that?’
“‘That was your first lesson in prayer. When you long for God the way that you longed to breathe, then you will be able to pray.’”
Isn’t that what prayer is? Isn’t prayer really a longing for God? Wanting to get God’s attention? Prayer is all about God. It’s all about us going to God – calling on God by name – and wanting what God wants. Am I right? If I’m not right about that, then why do we pray, “THY kingdom come – THY will be done.”
Prayer – is a seeking after God. And Jesus encourages every one of us today to do just that. Listen to what he says, “Ask, and it shall be given you – seek and you will find – knock and the door will be open to you.”
Now let me get a little technical with you here. The verbs ask, seek and knock in the Greek – the original language in which our New Testament was written – puts these verbs in the present imperative tense. Now you don’t have to remember that. This isn’t English class. There’s not going to be a test. But when a verb is in the present imperative tense – what that simply means is this – it is an ongoing action. So what I want you to remember is this. Asking – seeking – knocking – these are not just one time things. It’s not a once and done kind of thing. Asking – seeking – knocking are an ongoing action – a habitual action – an ongoing way of life or lifestyle.
Jesus illustrates this with a parable about a man who has an unexpected guest drop in at midnight. The man has no bread to feed his guest – and hospitality is an important way of life in Jesus’ day. So the man goes to his neighbor – at midnight – and asks for bread to feed his guest. So what happens? The New International version of the Bible reads this way,
“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”
I like that phrase, “shameless audacity.” In other words – when you pray, don’t give up. Don’t stop. Follow the PUSH model for prayer. P-U-S-H. Pray Until Something Happens. Pray until something happens.
Maybe this is a good point to say something about answered prayer. Let me repeat –as I have said this numerous times before – God always answers prayer. But those answers are yes, no and maybe, or not yet.
Pastor Carveth Mitchell tells the following. “On a subway platform in one of our Eastern states there was a large printed sign that said "God Answers Prayer." Some experienced person had scrawled across the bottom underneath the printed letters these words: ‘Sometimes the answer is NO!’ This is what we have to deal with in any discussion of prayer.” Sometimes the answer is no.
We have a hard time accepting “no” answers to our prayers, don’t we! But let me tell this story from Robert Allen. “A mother sent her fifth grade boy up to bed. In a few minutes she went to make sure that he was getting in bed. When she stuck her head into his room, she saw that he was kneeling beside his bed in prayer. Pausing to listen to his prayers, she heard her son praying over and over again. ‘Let it be Tokyo! Please dear God, let it be Tokyo!’
“When he finished his prayers, she asked him, ‘What did you mean, ‘Let it be Tokyo’?’
“‘Oh,’ the boy said with embarrassment, ‘we had our geography exam today and I was praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of France.’
And then Robert Allen goes on to say, “Prayer is not a magical means by which we get God to do what we want. Prayer is an inner openness to God which allows his divine power to be released in us. Ultimately, the power of prayer is not that we succeed in changing God, but that God succeeds in changing us.”
You see folks, God doesn’t answer prayer just to give us what we want. No. And although you’re hearing me say today to pray until something happens – in other words – to pray with shameless audacity – God answers prayers NOT because of repeated requests. As Pastor Mark Batterson says, “Prayer is answered to preserve God’s good name. After all, it’s not our reputation that is on the line; it’s his reputation. So God doesn’t answer prayer just to give us what we want; God answers prayer to bring glory to His name.”
You see, prayer is all about God. The reason why Jesus encourages us to call God Father – to call upon God by name – is so that we realize that the focus of our prayer is on God – to earnestly desire what God wants for us and for others. And there is a trust issue here. Because we also pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And I want you to know that daily bread means everything – everything we need for daily living. Food and clothing. Home and family. Favorable weather and meaningful work. So God is not insensitive to your needs. It’s okay to pray for the things that you need – either for yourself or for someone else.
Let me share one more story. “A man once said that his life and faith were strengthened mightily one night when he opened his mother’s bedroom door and saw her on her knees in prayer. He said, ‘I heard her mentioning my name to the Lord, asking that he would guide me to be strong against temptation and to lead a life that was pleasing in his sight. I realized, then, that she had been doing this every night of my life. I have not been the same since that night.’”
Again, I am not an expert on prayer. But this much I can tell you. Whatever it is you’re praying for – whoever it is you’re praying for – don’t give up. Perhaps the Lordis saying, “Maybe,” or “Not yet.” But don’t give up. Pray with shameless audacity.
Because prayer is all about God. He is not a god who is distant and somewhere far away. He is with you in every joy and celebration. He knows your every heartache, every illness, every tragedy, every need. He knows. And He cares about you.
So keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. Pray with shameless audacity. The Father can be trusted to bring you through. Amen