Questions and Answers About Prayer 1

Title: Questions and Answers About Prayer 1

Text: Luke 11:1

Time: February 7th, 2013

 

I’m going to get really practical today, and teach about prayer. We all know that we should pray because we’ve been taught in Sunday School as little kids and on Sunday morning in church as adults to pray. But for some reason, it goes against our natural inclination to actually pray; thus making it difficult to establish ourselves in the regular daily activity or discipline of prayer.  Of course, it doesn’t help that we live in an increasingly secular, materialistic society. We aren’t given any encouragement from our environment to pray. Instead, we are encouraged to just the opposite of prayer – that is, secular society encourages us not to pray but instead to trust our instincts and “go with our gut” on everything. Now that hasn’t always been the case, but it is now. There once was a time here in the United States, around a hundred years ago or earlier, that society in general encouraged prayer, especially during the special times that occurred once in a while in our country called “revival.” At those times you wouldn’t need to go to church in order to be encouraged to pray – you’d be encouraged simply by living in the local community, because nearly everyone was thinking along spiritual lines. Of course, not everyone even a hundred years ago was so positive towards prayer. Along with a general Christian consensus in our country during most of its history was another belief or philosophy, not nearly as popular but still influential, that discouraged prayer and encouraged only rational thought. It was called Enlightenment thinking. Today in America, this philosophy is also popular, in fact, it’s second only to consulting one’s subjective intuition as the chief means most Americans make decisions and run their lives. Prayer, sadly today, is far down the list as a method of handling life. There’s no doubt that we need another great revival in this country to bring people back to God, and back to prayer. But even among Christians, even among those who know they should turn to prayer in life, few do. Why is that? Isn’t it because prayer is a little difficult – or a lot difficult at times? It’s different from any other type of communication we participate in. It’s essentially talking to a spirit, God, who is invisible and doesn’t give us immediate feedback. It involves talking, by faith, and assuming, also by faith, that God has heard and is acting or reacting with some form of response. But even though prayer is difficult, it’s not impossible; in fact, it’s possible to develop our ability to pray. That’s what I’d like to explain this morning, that is, how to develop our prayer life to the point that prayer isn’t a bother, but instead it’s a joy, something we look forward to. Instead of saying, “I should pray, but I don’t want to,” we’ll say, “I want to pray, and so I will pray.” We’ll take Luke 11:1 as our verse, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’”

 

First, what is the best way to pray? Luke 11:1, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” We can imagine the disciples seeing Jesus praying and saying, “Look at him. It’s so easy for him to pray, while it’s so hard for us to do so. What’s his secret? How does he do it?” Remember, we know from the Gospel accounts that Jesus would sometimes, even often, go off and pray all night long. How did he do it? What was his method? I’m sure the disciples marveled at how effortlessly Jesus could continue in prayer for long periods of time without stopping, or falling asleep. We remember that the disciples’ had a problem of falling asleep or nodding off during prayer because recall that’s what they did in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Christ’s betrayal. And this was at the end of Jesus’ ministry, after he had supposedly taught them how to pray! The disciples mistakes and failures provide a measure of hope for all of us in prayer, because if they were still having trouble praying even at the end of their training time with Jesus, at least we aren’t so alone in our struggles with prayer either. I’m sure they would mature in their ministries and in their ability to pray during their years ahead as apostles in the early church. And that also gives us hope that it’s possible to improve and get better at prayer if we practice it correctly. So then what is the best way to pray? There are many ways to pray and they all have their place and time. For example, there are short prayers in church. There are prayers before meals or before bedtime. There are emergency prayers, like, “Lord Jesus help me!” like I’ve prayed on a few occasions driving in heavy traffic trying to avoid an accident. But let’s talk about regular, daily prayer. What’s the best way to develop a regular time of prayer? I know of no better way than to have a prayer outline before beginning to pray. In other words, there’s a time for spontaneous prayer, and I pray spontaneously during the day also, but there’s no substitute for using a prayer outline or form in our regular, daily prayer time. It’s pretty simple to explain. Whenever you decide to take time for prayer each day – and you should schedule a daily, regular prayer time for the sole purpose of prayer, whether in the morning, during the day, or before you go to sleep – have an outline of what topics you want to cover in your prayer to God. Here’s my rough outline: praise, confession, thanksgiving, petition for guidance, petition for love, petition for family and relatives, prayers for revival of nation and church, prayers for Christian leaders, prayers for missionaries, prayers for evangelism and disicpleship of souls, prayer for the Holy Spirit, and ending with more praise. I also throw in other prayers when they come to mind. This is of example of my prayer outline, but you can make up your own outline. But I highly recommend some kind of outline, or else it’s really hard not for the mind to wander in prayer without it.

 

Second, what should we pray about? Luke 11:1, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” Now it’s interesting that the disciple – and we don’t know exactly who it was that asked, although we can guess Peter because he was usually the one who asked what everyone else was thinking – this disciple asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It doesn’t actually say Peter, or whoever it was that asked said, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Instead, it simply says that he asked the Lord to teach them to pray. I don’t know if we should make a big deal about the way the request was asked, or the technical difference between “Teach us to pray” versus “Teach us how to pray.” There is no “how” in the original Greek of the New Testament in this verse. It really does just say, “Teach us to pray,” but whether that has any profound meaning or not, I don’t know. I guess if we wanted to get technical we could say that to teach someone “to” pray involves teaching them the importance of prayer or motivating them by example and word to pray on a regular basis, or showing how important prayer is, how essential it is for living. While to teach someone “how” to pray involves actually getting into the nitty-gritty details of the content of prayer, and so forth. Well, from the looks of things, it looks like Jesus got into the nitty-gritty details of prayer by giving them the example of the Lord’s Prayer, the famous, “Our Father . . .” that we are all familiar with from church. So let’s go that direction also today. What should the content of prayer be? In the first point I suggest having an outline before you begin to pray, and I gave an example of the outline I use every day in my daily prayer time with the Lord. I also gave the general content outline of what I pray about during my prayer time, which is about roughly an hour long every day. As you can see I’ve got different topics going during my prayer. So then praying would be moving through the different topics you’ve made in your prayer outline; going from topic to topic and dealing with the specifics as needed. Another thing I’ll mention about my prayer outline – I spend about five minutes on each prayer topic in my outline. So then, I’ve got praise and worship at the beginning and end of my prayer time. That means I spend about five minutes at the beginning and five minutes at the end of prayer in praise and worship to God. By the way, I learned this prayer outline from a book I once read many years ago by Dick Eastman entitled, The Hour That Changes The World. I’ve adapted it a little to fit my needs, but most of the outline is what I borrowed from him. But prayer consists of dwelling on different topics and asking God to help in these different areas.

 

Third, how long should prayer be? Luke 11:1, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” I also find it interesting that this unknown disciple, the one I think could have been Peter, brings in John the Baptist as an example of teaching on prayer. We don’t have the details of John the Baptist teaching his followers about prayer – that must be some of the information the New Testament leaves out for some reason – but from the disciple’s comment here we can assume that John the Baptist did instruct his followers about prayer. This disciple knew something about John’s prayer instructions so maybe he wanted to hear Jesus teach about prayer to see if he could learn something new about it. Or maybe he wanted to find out if Jesus had something else additional to teach that could help him and the other disciples do it better or more consistently. I think the disciples wanted to know if Jesus would be teaching anything different than John taught about prayer. Maybe they wanted to know how to pray all night long like Jesus did. Maybe they couldn’t possibly imagine how anyone could pray that long. If so, it’s like a lot of people today. Sometimes when I tell people that I try to pray for one hour every day they can’t imagine themselves praying that long. They might ask me how I do it. But if you’ve followed me so far in this message you’ll pretty much know how I do it – I have an outline of different prayer topics, and then I simply go through the list and pray through it. By the time I get through an hour’s gone by. Dick Eastman in the book I was telling you about, The Hour That Changes The World, recommends praying an hour every day. I picked that amount of time up from his him, so I pass it on to you. I recommend praying one hour daily. So in order to do that you have to schedule it into your life, either before noon or after noon or in the evening. I recommend not waiting too long into the day or else you might be tired and not get through the hour of prayer. Remember, praying isn’t easy spiritually, mentally or physically. Our bodies are programmed to sleep if they aren’t active. Our minds are programmed to take it easy too if they aren’t challenged. So I find it best to pray and walk – or prayer walk. I start out by heading in one direction from my house and walking for one-half hour, then heading back to the house for the last half hour. Once I get back to the house my hour of prayer is finished. I work my way through my prayer outline, including any other topics that I need to mention in prayer to God, and finish up after one hour. If you aren’t used to praying that long, then start with fifteen minutes, then work your way up to one-half hour, and then to one hour.

 

But someone might ask, “Why is it so important to pray so long?” My answer is that we need to pray that long in order to say everything we need to say to God, and also to listen to everything he needs to say to us as well. The key is that we need to take our time with prayer and not rush things. We live in a world of rush, rush, rush – but this attitude works against successful prayer. Besides, you can’t rush God anyway, so you may as well not rush yourself either. Take your time and pour out your heart to God in prayer, laying your requests and concerns before God. Then make sure you leave enough time for God to respond back to you in your heart and mind as well. That doesn’t mean we should expect God to reply during our prayer time all the time. He may speak to us spiritually or mentally at any time during the day, not just in our official prayer time. But if we slow down and listen during prayer, yes, he’ll speak to us during prayer also. “Why is it important to pray an hour, why so long?” There are a lot of things that go on in our life, and one hour to pour out our hearts to God isn’t really that long. In fact, one hour isn’t that long of time. There will be times in life that we’ll need to pray longer than one hour. I’m just giving you a general prayer outline for one hour a day as a regular habit, but I’m sure there will be times when one hour isn’t enough. I’ve spent entire nights in prayer before on some occasions. Somebody might ask, “How could you pray an entire night?” It’s the same way I pray for one hour at a time – I break up prayer into separate prayer topics and deal with each topic individually. Now when you pray for longer periods of time you can simply get more detailed in your prayers. Praying longer times simply means going into more detail on specific prayer topics than praying shorter periods of time. If I were to pray all night long using my basic prayer outline, for example, instead of spending five minutes on each prayer topic, I might spend one-half our on each item. You don’t get bored or tired if you have something to pray, so I’d break down each prayer topic in finer detail. People get bored with prayer when they run out of things to pray, but if they would only take the time to come up with a rough outline of what they want to say to God, they wouldn’t get bored. If you come into pray with just a blank mind, not knowing what at all you’ll be praying, then it’s easy to lose interest, get bored, or even fall asleep. But if we use such a simple thing as an outline in prayer, we can pray better and pray longer.

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