Allen Jackson - Prayer 201 - Part 2
Now I wanna give you some tools to help you walk this forward a little bit. Let's take this prayer 201 just a little bit further. And what I wanna suggest to you is that there is a workman-like quality to prayer. It's a very important piece of this equation, the workmanlike quality to prayer. What I mean by that, when I think of work, I think of it in these terms. I think work means that you show up whether you feel like it or not. You know, it's not about the weather or the snow or the lack thereof, a workman-like quality means you show up, you do the things that you know you can do, that you're assigned to do, that you're responsible to do. You kind of roll up your sleeves, you lean into what the assignment is, even though you understand sometimes that the larger outcomes are beyond you, but that if you don't show up and do your part, you have torpedoed those larger outcomes.
Well, there is a workman-like quality to prayer. You have to show up, engage, participate, be willing to make it a consistent part of your life response, even though we understand the outcome is beyond us. See, when you see someone who with some consistency, has outcomes to their prayers, what I want you to understand it isn't that they have found the secret sauce. They don't know, they don't have some special dust in their pocket, or a mystical verse of scripture that they have found. When you see someone, when there are consistent outcomes to their prayers, you can know for certain that they have invested time and effort in knowing God and in praying. There is a workman-like component to prayer.
I remember Lance Lambert saying in this place, that if someone has to tell you they're an intercessor, they're probably not. I'm not talking about being goofy, I'm not discussing weirdness. I'm suggesting that the cultivation of meaningful prayers in your life means you are willing to engage in a set of practices. Now I wanna give you a couple ideas to help build that out. And the first is, when we pray, it's very important that you understand exactly whom you are addressing. It makes a difference. In Luke chapter 11 and verse 1, it says, "One day Jesus was praying in a certain place". I would suggest to you that if Jesus took time and energy to pray, it might be a good idea for you and me. I'm just thinking. "One day Jesus was praying in a certain place and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'"
It's worth noting these are the disciples that Jesus had personally recruited. I think we could argue that Jesus was an effective leader, that his discernment, that his training skills were above average. Now, he's recruited Peter, James, and John and the rest of this crew. They've been with him a while now and they've observed Jesus praying and they say to him, "Lord, we don't know how to pray like you do. Teach us to pray". That's a very important observation to me because I feel that way a good bit of the time. Jesus didn't rebuke them, he didn't chastise them, he didn't do anything to diminish them, he began to help them. So when you say, I don't feel adequate, I don't know how to pray like I would like to pray, there's a deficit in me, it's not a point of shame or embarrassment or humiliation, it's not a threat of being rejected by God, we're standing shoulder to shoulder with Peter, James and John. "Lord teach us to pray".
Now, Jesus began his instructions immediately. "He said to them, 'When you pray,'" he assumes we're gonna pray. "When you pray, say, 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.'" Now, most of you know the balance of that prayer. It's the Lord's prayer, "The our Father". But Jesus said, the beginning of a meaningful prayer journey is this. When you pray, say, "Our Father". Our Father, whom was Jesus addressing? The creator of the universe, the creator of all things, the most high God. But he said, when you pray, pray this way, "Our Father". He didn't say, when you pray, you should start and say, "Oh, benevolent one who watches over the universe, the most omnipotent higher power". No, he said when you pray, he's your father in heaven.
Now, I understand that some of us may have not had great fathers, and that can impact how you understand the role of Father and how you see that but don't let that part of your life experience diminish this invitation. I'm not wanting to set that aside casually. I can imagine the challenges it presents, but there's an invitation in this beyond that. Jesus said when we pray, we can approach the creator of all things as if he were our father. Think of it in the reverse. He gave us permission to imagine ourselves part of the family. Now that changes everything. You go home from church today and you walk in the kitchen and you see your kids eating your food. Might be a little annoying, they got ahead of the curve, but beyond that it's probably somewhat under the realm of expectation. You go home today and you find your house filled with 40 people you don't know eating your food, you're gonna look for a weapon, a stick, and an officer, and the order may not be important.
When Jesus said, when you pray you can approach the creator of all things as if you're part of the family. The power in that is startling, the magnitude of that door of invitation. See, the disciples are not foreign to prayer. They pray in the synagogue, they pray at the temple, they pray on holidays, they're familiar with all sorts of expressions of prayer, but Jesus is repositioning their imagination. When you and I pray, we don't pray to some nameless unknown God, we're praying to the God of our Bible. And his son, Jesus, said we have permission to approach him as if we're part of the family. See, one of the great threats to our faith is if you'll believe the deception that God has many names and it doesn't matter how you approach him. That is in profound direct deviation from what we're taught in this book.
Now, there's another component, as we pray to our Father in heaven. Look in John 16, Jesus is speaking again. He said, "Until now you've not asked for anything in my name". Why haven't they asked for anything in his name? Because he's been there. When Jesus is teaching to the multitude, and he says to the disciples, "You feed these people". And they said, "Lord, that's too expensive, and besides that, we don't have any food". And he said, "We'll, go find out how much you have". And they bring him back and they say, "Well, we have a boy with a happy meal," living Bible. It says that Jesus took the food, he blessed it, and then he gave it to the disciples and said, "Distribute it". When their friend Lazarus died and they went to the cemetery, they get to the cemetery and Jesus said, "Open the tomb". And then he stopped and he said, "Father, I thank you that you always hear my prayers". He didn't look at Peter and say, "Hey, Pete, you got this one, go".
So up until this point, they've been watching Jesus ministry, but Jesus is about done, his time on earth is coming to a conclusion. So he says to the disciples, "Until now, you haven't asked for anything in my name. Ask and you'll receive and your joy will be complete". He has given us permission to pray in his name. It's not just the mindless recitation of a formula. When we approach our heavenly Father, we are approaching him in the authority of his sinless, obedient Son. I'm not seamless, I'm frustratingly inconsistent, I struggle, but I'm not approaching Almighty God based on my goodness, or my integrity, or my great wisdom, or my great insight, Father, I'm coming to you to invite you into the midst of this, and the authority with which I'm making this petition is in Jesus' name, help me.
What a gift, what a gift. I may have a credit limit, Jesus doesn't. Woohoo! Let's pray, let's pray. If it's about me feeling a certain way, or achieving something, or accomplishing something, there is always this enormous deficit, but I'm coming in Jesus' name. Look at the Philippians passage you have chapter 2. It says, "God exalted him," it's Jesus "To the highest place, gave him the name that's above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father". Demons tremble at the name of Jesus.
In the book of James, it says, "You believe there's a God good for you. The demons believe that and shutter". I'm telling you, every expression of evil yields to the name of Jesus. In the book of Acts, we're told about an event in the city of Ephesus when the sons of a high priest were involved with a man who was demonized. And the demons said to them, "Paul we know and Jesus we know, but you, we don't know. What are you doing messing with us"? There is authority in the name of Jesus. Our prayers are not based on our goodness. And we got to be candid about this on our best day, we can't heal a gnats wing, but there's authority in Jesus' name and we can use it.
Now I wanna give you one more idea, and we're gonna wrap this up for this session. With God's help this year, I pray that we can expand our imagination about ways to pray. What I wanna suggest to you is that there are different differing types of prayer or different kinds of prayer. And to simply say, "I believe in prayer" is an incomplete response. Look with me in Matthew chapter 9. It says, "Jesus stepped into a boat and he crossed over and he came to his own town. And some men brought to him a paralytic lying on a mat. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Take heart son, your sins are forgiven.'"
Now let's pause a moment. These friends bring a man who is struggling with physical problems to Jesus because they have faith. And when Jesus sees that the paralyzed man, he says to him, "Your sins are forgiven". Do you think that's why the friends brought him to Jesus? It's not a trick question. I don't think so. I really don't think... there's nothing suggest in the text that that's what they were bringing him for. Jesus looked at him and said, "Your sins are forgiven". Now, which is more important? To have your sins forgiven before God and to be at peace with God or to be mobile? Well, I'm a big believer in the genius of both end, so I understand that's a hard question. But in truth, Jesus addressed the greatest need that man had, didn't he? If you're healthy and going to hell, that's not a great future.
And Jesus said to him, "Your sins are forgiven". He helped him with the kind of prayer they didn't even ask for. He gave them a greater gift than they imagined was even possible. But that's not the end of the story. Says, "At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, 'This fellow is blaspheming.' Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, 'Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? And to show you that I have the power on earth to forgive sins, get up and walk". He said, getting up and walk is a whole lot easier than the forgiving of sins. Two very different prayers. And the religious leaders, the experts in the law were offended at Jesus.
You see, words mean something. We live in an age of widespread deception. Truth is not held in high esteem. And in order for that to continue to escalate, one thing that's necessary is the use of words has to be muddied, become increasingly unclear, misused. We've redefined marriage. What does that mean? It's like redefining an elephant. Well, words carry with them, our words, some words are general and some words are more specific. I can give you an idea of some words that are general in nature. If we say food, you have no clue what's for lunch. Food is a general, surgery is a general word. You say, "I'm going for surgery tomorrow". You may be having a wart removed, or you may be having a heart transplant, two very different days.
Tool, I need a tool to accomplish the task. One person may think of a feather duster and another thinks of a chainsaw. Very general terms. You need more information to understand what's next. Prayer is a general term, and we have allowed all of our insight and understanding about prayer for the most part, to dwell underneath that umbrella of that one general idea. "Oh, I believe in prayer". Well, if the task at hand needs a feather duster and the only tool you have is a chainsaw, it's gonna be an awkward encounter. And if the specifics of your understanding of prayer are incomplete, it creates some awkward encounters. So we can't do it in one session, but with God's help, we will build a portfolio of prayers. Prayers of forgiveness, prayers of repentance, healing prayers, prayers for deliverance, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of provision, prayers of blessing.
The Bible gives us many, many, many insights into these different expressions of prayer. So when we say, "Let's pray," with this initiative that we're launching, one of the reasons is we're limited to a sentence, is we understand it's not the full expression of what God could do or will do, but we wanna acknowledge there is a God and we wanna invite him into as many circumstances and relationships and places as we can. I don't wanna go to work without God, do you? I don't wanna go to school without God or court without God or to the hospital without God. You don't wanna go home without God, you don't wanna go to the store without God. You don't wanna compete in athletics with your kids without God. Let's pray and we will learn some different ways to pray to improve the effectiveness of our prayer life.
Now, one last component, and it has to do with the place of prayer in the broader context of our lives. We are a nation with a heritage of faith and prayer. From the earliest inception of this nation, the people who gathered here and have sacrificed to see this nation emerge, and in the generations that have followed that, one consistent theme has persisted that has been, we have been a people of faith and prayer. A people of faith and prayer that has emerged from this book. Now, why does that matter and why do we care? I would submit to you that the best things in our lives, the freedoms and the liberties and the abundance and all of the things that define us, have come to us from that heritage more than any other single thing. We are a nation of immigrants. We have come from the nations of the world, and for the most part, we immigrated because things weren't great where we were.
We didn't come here triumphantly, we came here for the most part, destitute and broken with a desire for something better, and that desire was expressed in our faith and our prayers. We are a nation with a Christian heritage. And because of that Christian heritage, we have been tolerant of many faiths. You don't have to be a Christian to live here, you don't have to pray to live here. But there has been enough people of faith and prayer that it has shaped the culture and the nation in which we live. That is our heritage. I tell you that because when I am inviting you to become a part of this, "Let's pray brigade," we're not trying to do something new, we're not lighting a fuse on some brand new idea, we're saying this is our heritage and we will not give it up because we understand how inappropriate it is to say to someone, "Your heritage doesn't matter". And that is our heritage as a nation.
Now, included in that is a tolerance and a diversity that had been strengths to us. I don't fail to recognize that, but the glue, the thing that has made all of that possible is our heritage of faith in prayer. We sat down as a team in the office several days ago and said, "What can we find to communicate this idea"? And we began talking around it around the table and there was some anxiety. They weren't sure that we'd find enough material and so we went away, and in a few days when we gathered back, the crew that had been working on that came back and said, "It's amazing". They said, "If we did this every week for a year, we wouldn't begin to cycle through the material that's available about faith and prayer in our history as a nation". It's an unmistakable overwhelming part of our story as a people.
The question is: what are we gonna do in this generation? Are we gonna be more concerned about our fantasy leagues, or our kids' intramurals, or the label in our clothes, or are we gonna be a people of faith and prayer? Now, I brought you a couple of quotes I just highlighted. One is from an individual that I suspect you don't think of as a prayer warrior. FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States. On D-Day, the day when the Allied invasion of Europe was launched, he set aside a national day to pray and he led the prayer. And I put just a portion of it in your notes. He said, "Almighty God, our sons pride of our nation this day have set up on a mighty endeavor. A struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization. Help us, Almighty God," sounds like a let's pray statement. "Help us Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in thee in this hour of great sacrifice".
That's our story. On Fellowship Square, there's a big screen set up, it's got a four or five minute loop of some little windows into faith and prayer in our nation. Some are prayers from our own kids here, some are prayers from significant figures in history, and it'll change through the weeks, but built time into your coming and going to watch that loop. We've got to be informed in some new ways. There's a prayer here from President Reagan or a statement from President Reagan. "America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under".
That's our heritage. We don't wanna rage against the darkness. We're gonna turn up the light. Let's Pray. We can do this. Now, I brought you a prayer this morning. To the very bottom of your outline. If you're a guest with us, we've been learning to pray together and one of the ways is sometimes we will read a prayer together before we leave. Let's stand, we'll say our prayer, okay? Have you found it? What are we gonna do this week? All right, let's read this one:
Our Father who's in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the glory and the power forever and ever, amen.