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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1306

June 11, 2017 Matthew 6:5-13

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Praying the Bible”

 

  • Prayer and the Bible

 

One of the most important disciplines of church life or the Christian life is prayer. We are well aware of that. But still, many people struggle with prayer. How to pray, what to pray, what is and is not prayer. We have learned to pray from many places, from public worship to grandma’s kitchen table. We have learned from Jesus teaching the disciples to pray. The Psalms are basically the prayers of God’s people that have become God’s word to us. There is no shortage of books on the topic of prayer. We ask one another to pray for us and for others. We profess to believe that prayer works and yet there is often a disconnect between what we say and what we actually do. We know that prayer is foundational to our Christian life but we sometimes still struggle with it. Sometimes prayer is the first thing we do but other times it might be the last.

Prayer is one of the few things the disciples asked Jesus to teach them. I think that suggests that prayer has been difficult for believers since the beginning of the church and even before the church existed, back to the Old Testament. Even the disciples, who walked with Jesus, observed his life and saw miracles, they saw him at prayer, and yet they were unsure how they should pray. So Jesus taught them this,

 

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:5-13)

 

A few simple conclusions: Prayer is not a show. Prayer need not be filled with words. Prayer can be simple yet profound. When we look at the Lord’s prayer, it is quite simple, very few words, just the basics. Things like addressing God, respecting His name, praying for the kingdom, daily needs, forgiveness, and protection. We pray those particular words each Sunday but we can also pray off the topics that the words provide. How do we show God respect in our prayers? How do we pray for our daily needs and the needs of others?

Today I want to focus our time on praying the Bible. You may not have thought about it directly, but you already know how to pray the Bible simply by praying the Lord’s prayer in worship. Yet we don’t seem to want to treat other prayers of the Bible in a similar manner. But let me also suggest that it is not just prayers of the Bible that we are to pray in using scripture to pray, but any texts of scripture that gives us voice in prayer.

 

  • What the Bible Offers

 

    • Direct Prayers

 

The Bible offers us direct prayers. The Psalms are our greatest source of prayers. We can pick up the book of Psalms and find our voice for most every consideration in our lives. Praise, thanksgiving, intercession, as well as lament and protest. There are many other prayers throughout the Old Testament, like from Jonah 2:2-9,

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ 5 The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head 6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. 7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. 8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. 9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

 

The general message of this prayer is to return to God. He says, “yet I shall again look upon your holy temple... I remembered the Lord.” And when we return to God in prayer we see it time and time again, Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

 

Paul does not give us a direct prayer, but he does give all the substance of his prayers. Ephesians 1:15-23,

 

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Paul’s words are easily formed into a prayer, “O Lord, I give thanks for… give them the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him… enlighten their hearts to know the hope to which they are called.” Easy! When we cannot find the words, God gives them to us through his Word. When we pray the words of scripture it will cover any given situation.

 

    • Teachings on Prayer

 

Jesus teaches us not only a prayer, but ways to pray.

Matthew 7:7-11 "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. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 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!”

 

Sometimes we fail to find what we desire simply because we fail to pray about it. The promise is that God will give good things to us if we ask, seek, and knock. Persistent prayer! Ask God. In the world today the response to a question is not about asking God but more like asking Google. Of course, I am not lifting Google anywhere close to God, but for information we can go to Google thanking God all the way, but for life and faith and love and all that really matters, we turn to God. Seek God. Knock on the heavenly gates to find what we truly need.

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

 

Let everything be offered to God in prayer. Prayer – supplication – thanksgiving. These are all offered to God and the result of prayer is God’s peace. That peace is given to guard our hearts and minds. We may not often consider the spiritual benefits of prayer for ourselves no matter what or for whom we are praying.

 

    • Topics for Prayer

 

We also find in the Bible topics for prayer. Praying for forgiveness, love, hope, for others, for nations, and the list is as expansive as the Bible itself. Let’s just look briefly at one Psalm, Psalm 103.

 

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

 

One topic – to bless the Lord in prayer. And why to we bless the Lord? For He has blessed us with great benefits, He forgives, He heals, He redeems, He crowns, He satisfies. We can pray for the ways He has already done all those things, offering our thanks, and we can for for these things for our future and for others.

 

6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

We pray that God will work His righteousness and justice for the oppressed, and in verse 8 are the great adjectives based off Exodus 34, mercy, grace, longsuffering, and steadfast love. You see, these prayers teach us so much about what to pray, how to pray, and when we are without words, here they are ready for our lips to utter back to God.

 

    • Commands to Pray

 

The Bible commands us to pray. We are commanded to pray for certain things, to pray one another, for Christ’s return, for faith, and more.

 

James 5:13-16 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

 

Five times in four verses, James mentions the word pray or prayer. Pray for the suffering, for the sick, and for one another. Offer the prayer of faith and the prayer of a righteous person.

 

We look to places like Psalm 122,

 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you! (Psalm 122:6)

 

The Bible teaches us to pray for specifics. Here we are told to pray for Jerusalem. We can take that to mean literally praying for Jerusalem, but we also might consider it a metaphor to pray for the peace of any place where the people who love God are living. In this case I take it more literal, but there is certainly the notion in other places of the Bible where we are told to pray for the peace of a city or that we all live in peace in any community.

 

 

    • Attitude for Prayer

 

Psalm 62:8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

 

Prayer involves trust. Prayer involves risking ourselves before God, thus, pouring out our hearts. But the promise is that God is our refuge. In him we are safe to trust and pour out our hearts. No need to fear, for in prayer we can let go – lose our life in God. God is trustworthy. What I think this means is that there is nothing we can bring before God that will be rejected or unheard; we need not fear God in prayer. Just the opposite, we trust God will take all our prayers, whether we ask rightly or wrongly, and He will still be our refuge.

 

Nehemiah 1:4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

 

Sometimes we might consider infusing our prayer with fasting. We abstain from food or TV or anything we might do regularly in order to focus more deeply in prayer. And remember that prayer does not have to be covered in words, sometimes just sitting quietly in the presence of God is all that is needed. There are events and concerns in our lives that may cause us to sit down and weep. Those are the things that touch us deeply. Those are the things for which we will pray most ardently.

 

Philippians 4:6 doubles up for us as it teaches a non-anxious presence for prayer. Do not be anxious, instead, pray! Sometimes that prayer might only consist of “O Lord”, as we struggle with our anxieties.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

 

It is not always easy for us, but, according to scripture, anxiety about things is never a good thing. Jesus tells us not to be anxious about our life and what we will eat or wear. In Philippians Paul encourages us not to be anxious about anything. The opposite of anxiety is prayer. We need not be anxious about our future but instead offer all our requests before God with thanksgiving. Give our context over to God and seek in prayer to discern how we move forward. I am suggesting that our first step moving forward is prayer, plain and simple, but persistent and intentional.

 

  • Praying the Bible

 

We turn to the Bible for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is for prayer. We turn there to learn the prayers of the Bible. We turn there to find our words, to find our hope in prayer, and to discover that in prayer we share a relationship with God Himself. We have only scratched the surface today, but we really spend our lives on a constant journey from birth to death learning about this discipline of prayer. So let us continue and perhaps learn more each day from our experiences in prayer, from teachers of prayer, from our worship, from the Holy Spirit who walks with us on this journey, and from our Bible. What a joy to know that when we read and study the Bible we are not only learning the words and what it teaches in living the Christian life, but we are also learning how and what to pray. Amen.