What is Prayer?

One day (in Luke 11) Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him a question. These were, essentially, Jewish boys who had grown up learning the Torah, reciting the Shema, and all their lives they had been taught to pray certain prayers, specifically three times a day. On this day, they heard Jesus pray and simply hearing Him pray prompted them to then ask the question: “Can you teach us how to do that!?” Clearly He was praying in a way that they were not. What they heard from Him was something new, something different. This is significant- as they followed Jesus every day, they saw something in His life- and they knew it was driven by prayer. They heard Him pray to a God that He called “Father”- with such intimacy, such humility, such confidence and power- that they asked Him to teach them how to pray just like that.

Maybe you’ve never asked Jesus to teach you how to pray. Maybe you have never asked anyone to teach you how to pray. How do we learn how to pray? We learn from others around us and, primarily, we have learned to pray (or not pray) from our parents.

Read Matthew 6:5-13 What is it that keeps us from praying as we should? We don’t feel that we need to pray, we feel that we should pray. Is it a lack of knowledge or we don’t know how to pray? Is it a lack of faith- or belief – that God actually answers prayer- that prayer really does change things? I think that’s the problem for many of us. Have we become so distracted by technology- focused on our televisions, our smart phones, tablets, and computers that we can’t even focus enough to get quiet before the Lord? I think for some that is the case. Years ago I was challenged as a young minister, from a pastor who said, “the one thing you must do is this: You must ruthlessly eliminate noise/hurry from your life- spend time daily, with God in prayer.”

What is prayer?

Jesus said that God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). So this begs a huge question, doesn’t it? Why pray at all? If you have come to the point where you’re asking that question, then you are on the verge of a great breakthrough in your life regarding prayer! Perhaps after all, prayer is not first and foremost about asking God for things. For many of us, prayer has been one big adventure in missing the point. What if prayer has little to do with me and is actually all about God? This is what Jesus taught us.

Prayer is communion with God, adoring Him for who He is and imploring Him for what He gives.

Prayer is paying attention to God- to Who He is, what He’s done, and what He wants to do through me. Now, we’ve intentionally chosen words here that we don’t use- powerful words that get to the heart of prayer:

  • Adore – to love, honor, and respect (someone) deeply; to worship, venerate; to take great pleasure in (something or someone).
  • Implore – to ask or beg for (something) in a very serious or emotional way; to beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something. 

Jesus says, when you come before God, don’t forget you come before a loving Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” 1 John 3:1

Prayer is communion with God, adoring Him for who He is. The first part of The Lord’s prayer is all about adoring Him for who He is. Like everything else in life, it’s all about God’s glory.

Three petitions

  • His name – the name (in Hebrew) encompasses the complete person. “Hallowed”- HOLY, treated with the highest honor. He’s set apart. Do you struggle to adore God? Then meditate on Jesus- who HE is and all that He has done for you.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:3

  • His kingdom The presence of God’s kingdom refers to the reign of Christ in our hearts and lives as believers, and to the reigning presence of Christ in His Body, the Church. Disciples who follow Jesus every day, will increasingly reflect Christ’s love, obey His commands, honor Him and proclaim the Gospel- the Good News of the kingdom. Part of adoring Him for who He is leads us to cry out for Him to come reign on earth as He does in heaven. This is in line with the promise in John 15 to give us whatever we ask in the context of spiritual fruit.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:7-8 As you Adore God for His glory, ask, plead, implore Him to bring His kingdom to His church, in His city and in His world. Ask in the name of Jesus for Him to bear fruit through you- advancing His kingdom on earth.

  • His will You know how to get what you’re praying for? You determine what

God’s will is and then you ask for it! This is why the WORD of God is so important. This is why the community of faith is so important. If you pray “in His name”, according to His name, His character, His person- your prayers will be answered 100% of the time. This is why Oswald Chambers, wrote: “To say that, ‘prayer changes things’ is not as close to the truth as saying, ‘Prayer changes me…” and then, by His power He changes things thought me. Prayer changes the way you look at things, approach things, desire things. David Platt said, “It is true that the purposes of God are unchanging. It is also true that the plan of God is unfolding.” And He’s chosen us to accomplish His plans.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.” John 15:16

Think about how revolutionary Jesus’ teaching is here: If you first approach prayer with your mind and heart set on WHO God is, spend some time adoring Him, praising Him for the fact that He is hallowed, holy, He is God. Adore Him – now implore Him. You see how that changes everything? You’re now going to pray in accordance with His character and His will, “in His name”. This unlocks the power of extraordinary prayer – prayer as it is meant to be. Prayer as Jesus, our Savior, has taught us.

The Silence of God

“He put Jesus’ body in a new tomb that he had cut out of rock, and he rolled a very large stone to block the entrance of the tomb.” Matthew 27:60

How quiet it is on Saturday before Easter. How sad it is. How despairing it must have been for those who had seen their teacher, their friend, and their hope die right in front of them. All of creation held its breath to see what would happen next. All of heaven peered toward earth to see how we would respond. And God didn’t move. Not one word; not even a sign. Have you ever been there? You had great expectations that God was up to something big, something life changing, and then… nothing. Have you ever put all of your hopes in a person or in yourself, only to see them come crashing down before you? Then you know how the disciples must have felt. The silence of Saturday is deafening and when it comes in your life it can shake your faith. You wonder where God is. You start to doubt that He really is in control. You begin to doubt his love for you. Does He see you? Does He really know what’s going on? Is He there at all?

All of the disciples had run away scared. They couldn’t believe it. Their leader, their master was dead. He was really dead. It was all over. No hope, nowhere to turn, no plans. On Saturday all they could do was run for their lives and hide out hoping no one would find them. Do you ever think God is silent? Do you ever pray thinking your prayers don’t effect anything? Let Easter Saturday serve as a lesson for every day of the year. God may seem to be silent, but in reality, He’s about to bring about His greatest work. If you ever wonder if He’s at work on your behalf, when you can’t see Him, think about the difference between Saturday and Sunday. Remember, God may seem slow, but He’s never late. He is always at work.

Pray:  Lord, I confess I have not trusted You in Your silence. I want You to work in my time and in ways that don’t require a lot of waiting and wondering. Perhaps I’m not ready for what you truly want to give me that I can’t see yet. You want me to trust you more. I realize that when You are silent is when You will soon do your best work. And when You are silent, I can show my greatest faith and trust in You. I will do that now.

A Holy Separation Anxiety

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46

We call it “Good Friday”. But like everything else on the day of His death, it was good for us, but terrible for our Lord Jesus. As you go about your day today, consider these facts: Early on that Friday morning, after no sleep the night before, Jesus was taken to Pilate’s prison. He was beaten by professional torturers who knew their craft all too well. He was then presented to the crowd who chose a notorious prisoner over the very Son of God. Throughout the night Jesus was silent, ironically, directing the entire process that led to His death. He was taken into the courtyard (called the Praetorium) and the entire company of soldiers surrounded Him. They stripped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand, and knelt down before Him in mockery. They spat on Him and blind-folded Him, punching Him many times, as hard as they could. Later that morning, exhausted and famished, He carried His own cross, most of the way to Golgotha. At 9:00 am, the executioners impaled Him through His wrists and His feet, with long spikes, and fastened Him to the cross. Darkness came over the earth from noon until 3:00 pm.

At 3:00 pm, in anguish, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus was experiencing the wrath of the Father (His holy reaction to sin), as He “became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was abandoned by the Father, so that you and I would never be. Then Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”, and He died. At this final cry of victory, God’s inflexible holiness and His unconditional love collided as our redemption was made possible. Around 5:00 pm the women came to prepare His body for burial and at 6:00 pm they placed Him in the tomb. A massive stone was rolled into place as the sun set on the saddest day in history. And the angels were silent as all creation watched to see what would happen next.

As you go throughout this day, be in a constant state of remembrance, meditating on what happened to our Lord Jesus. Think about each event as if it was happening today. Consider the horrific emotional strain Jesus faced, knowing He was about to endure a slow, painful death, and greater still, the anticipation of the very wrath of God upon sin that would come upon Him. And remember, He did all of this for you and me. Remember also that it’s Friday, the saddest day in history, but Sunday’s coming. Praise Him.

Pray:  Lord, today I will walk with You through Your sufferings. I will meditate on every phase of Your sacrifice for me and give thanks to You/ My heart breaks over my sin that put You on the cross. May I always remember what You have accomplished for me. And may Your love for me lead me to love You, to obey You, and bring glory to You Name.

The Life of a Servant

Thursday night before His death

“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”  John 13:5

On the night before His death, Jesus would teach one of the greatest lessons of His ministry to His disciples. The Master-Teacher would use object lessons, symbols, and hands-on teaching to make His point. The first lesson was on servanthood; the second was on sacrifice. The first involved the washing of His disciples’ dirty feet – an act performed only by a servant, not a master. When He finished, He didn’t say, “Now that I’ve washed your feet, you wash mine”, (as we would have done). Instead He said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). You see, the way we express love to Jesus is by expressing love to one another. The way we serve Him is by serving others.

The second lesson was around the table as He took the well-known elements of the Passover Meal and re-interpreted them as fulfilled by Him. The matzo bread – the “bread of affliction” – (which was always pierced and always striped), represented His body. The cup of redemption represented His blood shed for them. How unusual it must have been as Jesus brought new meaning to these ancient symbols; how amazing it must have been after His death and resurrection to understand with crystal clarity what He meant. And now we know as well.

“The Master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and He will serve them.”  Luke 12:37

Pray:  Lord, thank You for Your amazing act of servanthood and Your example of sacrifice for me. I want to live the life of a servant. I will love someone for free today and, in so doing, I will be expressing my love to You. Tonight, as I lay down my head for a night of peaceful sleep, I will remember the sleepless night You had as You were arrested, tried, and beaten on my behalf. Thank you, for the soulful rest you bring because of the peace you have brought to those who trust in You.

Jesus, the Incomparable Substitute

As Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism was dying, his devoted followers asked how they should keep his memory alive, propagate his greatness. He said, “Don’t bother. Tell them not to remember me, but adhere to my teachings. They can forget me, but let my teachings be propagated around the world.” This sounds like a very self-less, humble response. But Jesus would have never said anything like this. If He had it would validate what many people think: that Jesus was yet another religious leader whose primary message was, “work harder, get better”. It would confirm what a lot of Christians seem to believe today – that Jesus came to initiate a new and improved behavior modification project. As if Jesus came to help us get better. Clearly Jesus taught us much, but think about it, what was at the heart of His teaching?

The central focus of Jesus’ teaching was His identity, who He was and is. He would have never said, “Forget me, just follow my teachings.” He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” It may sound self-evident but at the heart of the Christian faith is Christ Himself, Who He is and what He has done. So, it’s paramount that we get our Christology right (who He is) above all else and then put everything else at it’s service. Here’s why:  Your view of Christ determines your response to Him. The Person of Jesus – His character, His identity, and the essence of His nature is clearly revealed in the Gospel accounts and is brought into undeniable focus and clarity the final week of His life.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem begins with a counter-procession, presenting a contrary way, a rival king, a contrasting social order, and an opposing theology, ushering in an alternative kingdom – the kingdom of God.

Jesus said His kingdom is “not of this world,” and it contrasts the kingdom of the world in every possible way. This is not a simple contrast between good and evil, but rather two fundamentally different ways of doing life, two fundamentally different belief systems- two fundamentally different loyalties. This King is ushering in a different kind of kingdom and it’s embodied in the King Himself.

This is why the angry pursuit of the religious leaders ramped up the final week of His life. In the end, He was not crucified because He talked about loving others or caring for the poor. He was crucified because of who He claimed to be. In the end, He lived the perfect life for us, suffered and died, taking on our shame and punishment, and He rose again, conquering death and hell- this is the Gospel, the Good News that has rescued us from death and hell. He is the King we worship, the One we proclaim, and the One we follow every day.

This Holy Week, let’s tell others who Jesus really is. Tell them He is not another good example, but our incomparable Substitute.