[trx_audio url=”https://media.blubrry.com/sonrisecafe/shepherdsheartmin.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/The-Nature-of-Prayer-More-Like-Jesus-4-Shepherds-Heart-Ministries.mp3″ image=”https://shepherdsheartmin.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/More-Like-Jesus-lower-3rd-logo.jpg” title=”More Like Jesus #4: The Nature of Prayer” author=”Cody Whittington” controls=”show” autoplay=”off”]
Hey, everyone, this is Cody with Shepherds Heart Ministry on our Sonrise café channel. Welcome to week 4 of our More Like Jesus series. This whole series has been about growing in our relationship and in our likeness of Christ by looking closely at the life of Jesus. And this week we are focusing on prayer. I was unable to attend this weeks gathering, but I heard some awesome things happened. I wanted to thank you all who have been praying for our family as we have been traveling to visit some family members who are walking through some medical challenges. So thank you again for your prayers. They are meaningful.
The two texts that were being discussed for the topic of prayer were Proverbs 15:9 and Luke 11:1-4. We will look at those texts, but not too deeply. Rather, we will engage the topic of prayer which is what those passages address.
We are going to look at three questions: What is prayer? Why is prayer important? Why don’t we pray? And then I will give some closing thoughts to try and bring it all together.
What is prayer?
Rooted in the human heart is a desire to communicate with the divine. To cry out when we are hurt, to confess that we wish things were not how they are within ourselves and with the world, and to appeal to something to someone outside of ourselves when we feel a need or desire arise in our lives.
Tim Keller in his book Prayer recalls a study in 2004 that revealed that 30% of atheist pray and 17% of non-believers pray regularly. A form prayer is something that is seen in and throughout history in every people group and culture. The question we need to ask ourselves is why? My answer is rather simple: the desire was put there by design.
Biblically speaking, prayer is the place where we commune with God; where we can connect with Him; where we confess our struggles and sin to him; and where we are conformed to the likeness of his Son Jesus.
I think Keller gives a simple and easy to capture definition of prayer. He says that prayer is the persona, communicative response to the knowledge of God. That is again from his book called Prayer.
Prayer is about deepening our relationship with God through calling out in our pain, confessing our sin, and praising God for who he is and all he has done, is doing, and will do.
Why is prayer important?
It’s an important part of our life and relationship with God.
God has created humanity in his image and part of being made in the image and likeness of God is that we are by our very nature relational creatures. We relate to God and to one another. And there is not one relationship that will truly flourish without closeness and communication. Though God doesn’t usually speak to us in an audible way, he does speak to our hearts in prayer through His Spirit and Word.[trx_quote title=”Martin Luther”]To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing. Prayer is life-giving and it strengthens our relationship with God.[/trx_quote]
It is an expectation.
The night Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested he had asked his disciples to pray over the coming situation. To pray for strength and resilience. Instead, they slept, and ultimately, they all fled the scene abandoning Jesus to his fate. Jesus expected his followers to pray, and when they didn’t it frustrated him. Probably because Jesus knew that by not praying the disciples were missing out on something that is so critical to faith and life. Again, in Mark 9, Jesus, Peter, James, and John came off of the mountain where they encountered Transfiguration (which is where they prayed and experienced a remarkable vision that is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke) they found a frustrated and desperate man whose son was oppressed by an unclean spirit that was literally robbing the child of his life. The disciples that didn’t go up the mountain with Jesus tried to help the boy but were unable. Jesus is visibly and verbally frustrated with his disciples. He seems to have expected them to know what to do. When asking Jesus why they were unable to help the boy, Jesus responds by saying…because you didn’t pray. He expected them to know this and apply it.
It reveals who we are.
A.W. Tozer once stated…
As a man prays so he is.
What he was saying is that who we are and what we care about is often revealed in and through our prayers. It reveals the priority we place on God in our lives, our desires, and even our perception of God. So prayer is a good place to ask God, as King David did, to search our hearts.
Why don’t we pray?
Just like any other discipline, busyness is a huge factor. We don’t create the time and space for contemplative prayer. Ironically, there is a link between rest, meditation, and true productivity.
But at the root of that issue is really this: we don’t believe that prayer works. When we say “prayer doesn’t work” it automatically reveals our shortsightedness and our misunderstanding of the nature of prayer. Prayer is far more than about getting something out of God. And believe me, I can totally empathize with those who have prayed for a miracle and did not see it, or at least see in the way we would like to have seen it.
Prayer is theologically messy. It doesn’t fit nicely into a category of theological studies. For example, you often hear about categories of God’s Sovereignty over here and Human responsibility over here and here is how they can work together in tandem to bring about God’s glory and purposes and the for the good of humanity…..These conversations are important, but you simply cannot put God in nice and neat box when it comes to prayer. He moves, speaks, and works through prayer in different ways all throughout Scripture and in our lives today. Prayer is messy because we cannot simply nail it down and make sense of it.
But just because we cannot make sense of it, doesn’t mean that we should question and lose trust in God. We are a lower being than God. We can comprehend some, but not all of his ways. Just like my dog can somewhat know when I am upset or how to listen to commands…she can understand humanity in part, but she will never fully be able to understand why I take her to the vet to get shots that hurt…. I am a higher being than the dog, God is higher being than humanity…. Just as I know what is best for my dog even when she doesn’t, God knows what’s best for his children even when they don’t. In fact, God goes a step further in that he can fully identify with us in hardship because he too has experienced it on the cross in and through the person and work of Jesus.
Prayer is our way of engaging this tension and submitting to God, not simply get something to but get to know more deeply someone. That someone being God and ourselves. It is so important to know that God hears you. During Sonrise we looked at Proverbs 15:29 that states that God hears the prayers of his people, and this word hears means more than just listens. He responds. This word ‘hears’ involves a response.
I will say this in hopes to encourage you. The questions that we all have about the role of prayer and its effectiveness, especially in the context suffering, can be resolved in our hearts without having the problems solved in our heads
Some final thoughts
Prayer may be what will move God’s hand in and through a situation. Not because prayer is magical, but because God desires his people to be faithful and dependent on him, and prayer is one way of revealing our rejection of self-dependency. We just discussed the boy with an unclean spirit. Jesus told his disciples that “This kind is only driven out by prayer.” So, some things absolutely need and require our prayers. Because we are not all knowing, we can’t ever tell which situations require prayer, so we must, as Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing.”
Finally, the disciples were drawn to the prayer life of Jesus. It is interesting that the disciples never asked how to debate the religious leaders, or how to calm the waves, but they did rather straightforwardly request that Jesus teach them to pray. To which Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer, which is a framework for praying, not a prayer that is simply there to be repeated.
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
Luke 11:1-4 (ESV)
In that prayer, we see that God’s people should have a passion for seeing God’s kingdom, his rule, and reign, break through into our world as it is in heaven. So when we pray, we should pray specifically for people who could use the good news of the kingdom. Prayer should be kingdom-driven.
- He also makes mention that prayer begins with honoring God for who he is. Prayer should be reverent.
- He also says that we should seek forgiveness in prayer. So prayer involves confessing to God and seeking the strength to forgive others.
- Jesus also states that we should pray for provision, as we are fully dependent on God. So prayer should be practical in that way.
- And Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for God to lead them away from sin, which happens as we walk in tune with the Spirit.
There is certainly much more that we could say about prayer, and we would certainly love to hear your thoughts, questions, and even prayer requests if there is any way that we can be praying for you. Feel free to send us an email or leave a comment below. We would certainly love to connect with you.
Thanks for tuning in and I am looking forward to next week’s podcast on Worship.
With Christ in the School of Prayer A classic + free ebook and audiobook by Andrew Murray
40 Bible Verses on Prayer by Bible Study Tools
Prayer Resources by John Piper