What Prayer, Is Not
Last week we talked about prayer, with the main focus being on what prayer is. And of course, to put it very simply, prayer is talking to God. It’s talking to the Almighty God, the creator and sustainer of all things; And it’s talking to our Father in heaven, and it’s talking to the one who should be, our very closest friend.
And maybe the most important thing of all, is that prayer should be, us expressing our most heartfelt feelings. It’s not just talking, just to be saying something. But it is us expressing what we truly feel in our heart. Our prayers should be humble, and sincere, and sometimes painfully honest. In other words, we’ve got to be willing to express our faults, and our failures, and our anxieties, as well as our wants and desires, just as openly as we possibly can, knowing, that God already knows everything there is to know about us anyway. We’re just acknowledging what He already knows, and we’re telling Him how we feel about it.
But along with understanding what prayer is, we also need to understand, what prayer is not. And last week I mentioned briefly a couple of things that prayer is not. And one of those things, is that prayer, is not the “spare tire” of our faith. Prayer isn’t something that we pull out of the back, in case of emergency. But yet, that’s how a lot of people treat prayer. They think they don’t need prayer, unless their life is going flat. Or maybe their life has had a complete blow-out, then they dig out the spare.
But we know better than that don’t we? We know that we’re supposed to “pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks; For this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 & 18. We know, that we’re supposed to be con-sistent, and per-sistent, because that’s how the bible tells us to be.
Remember when Jesus was teaching about being persistent in prayer? In Luke chapter 18, and verse 1, the bible says; “And He spoke a parable to them, about how they should always pray, and not to faint.” In other words, don’t get tired of praying, but be persistent, and consistent.
Here’s the parable that He spoke, beginning in verse 2; “There was in a city, a judge, who feared not God, and regarded not man. And there was a widow in that city, and she came often unto him, saying; Vindicate me from my adversary.” She wanted justice done for her, and she wanted protection, from her adversary who wanted to harm her.
The word “adversary” is sometimes translated “opponent”, and it’s not a coincidence, that it’s the same word that the bible uses to describe satan. Satan is our adversary, and our opponent, and God’s opponent for that matter. And so when we read this parable, we can see that the meaning for us, is that we should be coming to God, often, and even with persistence, so that He will give us relief from satan, our adversary, in our Christian life.
The very spirit of opposition to God, and to God’s word, is all around us. It’s everywhere in this world, and we can’t overcome it all by ourselves. We need God, and we need prayer. And never forget who it is that gives you the privilege, of going to God in prayer; It’s Jesus Christ. that’s the meaning of praying, “in Jesus’ name”. When we pray to God, it’s because Christ has given us the authority to do so.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through Him.” Without Christ, you don’t even have the authority to approach God in prayer. And that’s exactly why the bible says, in John 9:31; “We know, that God heareth not, sinners..” Because someone who’s living n sin, doesn’t have the authority to approach God in prayer. The authority comes only form Christ, and in order to have that authority, you must be “in Christ”.
You must have your sins forgiven, by the blood of Christ, after repenting of those sins, and after having been buried with Christ in baptism, and after God has added you to His kingdom, the church that belongs to Christ. Then and only then, are you “in Christ”, and then you have authority to go to God, day and night, and know that He’ll not only hear your prayers, but that He’ll come to your aid.
Do you really need any other reason to be “in Christ”, other than the fact that that’s how we’re able to God in prayer? If you do, that’s fine, because the bible gives us two more reasons to be “in Christ”. And those two reasons are called heaven and hell.
But now, let’s go back to that little parable, and hear the rest of it; The widow pleaded; “Vindicate me from my adversary. And he would not for a while, but afterward he said to himself; Though I fear not God, nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me, I will vindicate her, lest she wear me out by her constant coming.”
So there’s the little parable, now listen to what Jesus said after He told the parable. In verses 6 thru 8, it says “And the Lord said; Hear what the unrighteous judge said.” He’s saying that even an unrighteous judge, will hear you if you’re persistent enough, and don’t give up.
Then Jesus said; “And will not God avenge His elect, that cry to Him day and night, and bear long with them with them? I say unto you, that He will avenge them speedily! Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?”
The unrighteous judge in the parable, was afraid that the woman might, “wear me out by her constant coming”. But not the Lord. We won’t ever “wear out” the Lord. God will bear with us forever, even if we come to Him “day and night” as Jesus says.
Our Father WANTS us to come to Him day and night, and every hour in between. And He’ll never get tired of our coming. He’ll bear with us because He loves us that much, and again, as the parable says; “He will vindicate us speedily!”
And in spite of all that, Jesus ends the parable with these words; “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?” For all that God promises us, with all His faithfulness toward us, we He find us faithful to Him, when Christ returns? That’s the question we’ve got to answer for ourselves. Will we be faithful to God, and remain faithful, until the end? He’s given us everything that we need. And He’s given us the opportunity to come to Him day and night.
There’s a song in our hymn books that says; “O will He find you and me still watching, waiting, waiting when the Lord shall come?” (And maybe by sheer coincidence, that’s going to be our closing hymn today) He’s waiting on us, let’s make sure that we’re waiting on Him.
When we go to God our Father in prayer, we should be pretty much taking on the attitude of a child. That’s how humble and honest we need to be. Immediately after that last parable, Jesus told another parable, in Luke 18, verses 10 thru 14. And here’s what He said;
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.” (A publican was thought of by the Pharisees, to be, dirt) “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself..” I wonder if there’s some significance to the words, “prayed thus with himself”? We’re supposed to be humbly, talking to God, not to ourselves. But here’s what he prayed; “I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of men; Extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”
I guess he was thankful that he wasn’t just “dirt” like he thought the publican was. And then he felt like he had to tell God about how good he was. “I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes of all that I get.” Not exactly the picture of humility.
Verse 13 says; “But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast saying; God, be Thou merciful to me, a sinner.” He was ashamed of his sin wasn’t he? He wouldn’t even look toward heaven, I suppose he was too ashamed to look God in the eye. And his only request was, forgive me.
So Jesus says, in verse 14; “I say unto you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled. But he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Everyone sins, but not everyone humbles themselves, like a child, and bow their head, and admit their sin, and ask God for forgiveness.
Listen to verses 15 thru 17; “And they were bringing unto Him also, their babes (their innocent, humble, honest, gentle, pure children) that He should touch them. But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.” I wonder why the disciples rebuked them? Didn’t they think the little children mattered? Weren’t the children as “important” as the adults?
“But Jesus called them unto Him, (He called the children unto Himself) saying; Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not. For to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was saying that we adults, need to become as children, if we want to be a part of the kingdom of God. And if we need to become like children, then how do we approach God in prayer? We do it with humility, and with honesty, and with purity of heart, and with trust, and with faith. Just like a little child, would come to their parent. That’s how we come to God.
The other thing that I mentioned last week, that prayer is not, is that prayer, is not a recital. A recital might be good at school, or something like that. But it doesn’t work for prayer. How many people simply recite what they call “the Lord’s prayer”, and think that that’s a good thing to do? It’s not a good thing to do.
And why isn’t it a good thing to do, to simply recite a prayer that you’ve heard and memorized? It’s not good, because it’s not you. It’s not you, expressing the feeling of your heart. And so, it’s not honest. Does reciting a memorized prayer reflect your most personal feelings? Your personal desires? Your personal anxieties? How about the things that you personally have to be thankful for? Does a memorized prayer, simply repeated again and again, really express the thankfulness that you should have in your heart, for all the things that God has personally done for you?
Of course there are things that are common to all of us, that we need to be thankful for. And those things are great to express in a public prayer, when we’re praying in behalf of an assembly of Christians for instance. But what about the personal things, that apply to your life specifically. Sure God blesses us collectively, in many ways. But God blesses every Christian personally! God know what YOU need, and He knows what I need. And He blesses us individually, according to our individual needs.
Listen to Romans 8, verses 26 thru 28; “And in like manner, the Spirit also helps OUR infirmities..” Not someone else’s infirmities, but YOUR infirmities, YOUR weaknesses, and YOUR personal needs.
“For we do not know, what to pray for, as we should, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us, along with groanings which cannot be put into words.” What that verse is saying, is that since you and I, really don’t know what’s best for us; We don’t know what God desires for us personally, to be blessed with. And so the Spirit steps in, and makes intercession for us, by bringing to us, the blessings that we need, and the blessings that God wants us to have. Now let’s listen to the next two verses, verses 27 & 28;
“And He that searches the hearts, knows what is the mind of the spirit, because He makes intercession for the saints, according to the will of God. And we know, that to those who love God, all tings work together for good, even to them that are the called according to His purpose.” As the Spirit steps in, in our behalf, and brings us the blessings that we need, according to the will of God, that’s what CAUSES all things to work together for our good. That’s how God makes SURE that all things work together for our good. Because God uses the power of His Spirit, to MAKE SURE, that we are provided exactly what we need, to lead us to eternal life.
That’s a promise from God, to the faithful, and it’s personal. I may need something different from what you need, and you may need something different from me. But God knows what we each need, as individuals. And that’s how God blesses each one of us, as individuals, with individual needs.
And that’s one big reason why, our prayers need to be personal, and they need to express the feelings of OUR heart, not someone else’s heart. Prayer is not a recital of what someone else feels, but it’s a expression of our heart, to God.
In our next lesson I want to talk about prayer, in the worship assembly.