Greg Laurie — How to (and How Not to) Pray
Look at Matthew 6 starting in verse 5. Our Lord says this. "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place: and your Father who sees you in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do". Or the nonbleievers. "For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him".
Notice Jesus did not say if you pray or if you have time in your busy schedule and pray. No. He says when you pray. He is assuming we understand the importance of prayer. Here is an insight that might surprise us that sin knows no boundaries. We think I can sin when I go to this place or hang out with these people. Who would ever think that one could sin when they are coming into God's presence to pray? But Jesus is showing you can be still be guilty of hypocrisy and self-centeredness. The primary problem of the pharisees, the religious elite. The leaders of the day is for them prayer was theater. It was a performance. They would stand on a street corner. Sometimes someone would sound a trumpet. They would pray their great beautiful eloquent prayers. Jesus said God doesn't care about stuff like that. You are putting on a show. You are praying to be seen by men. You are so worried about impressing people. God is not impressed.
Here was the problem with the pharisees. They had ritualized memorized prayers that they would pray over and over. I am not a big fan of memorized prayers. Sometimes parents will say to their children ok remember to say your prayers before you go to bed. Better yet teach them how to pray. It is possible to pray with no thought of God whatsoever. Jesus told the story of two men who went up to the temple to pray. One was a pharisee. He actually prayed this prayer. It is unbelievable. He said, "God I thank you I am not like other men". He said, "I don't commit adultery. I don't' cheat. I don't sin. I am not nearly as bad as that tax collector over there". Poor tax collector. Jesus said, "Do you want to know who God heard"? He heard that other guy who simply said, "God be merciful to me a sinner".
Listen. You can pray without thinking of God. You can worship without thinking of God. We have all done it. You have your hands lifted. You are worshipping. You are thinking, "Why would she wear that to church"? Lord you are so good. I am going to go to in-n-out burger after this. I am going to get a burger animal style with chopped jalapenos. See these are my thoughts more than yours. This is all you will remember from this sermon as well. Sometimes people use prayer as an opportunity to boast. You have seen it. You have a little group of people praying. They will pray, "Lord I thank you for all that I have been able to do for you as I was reading your word for two hours this morning on my knees. I just rejoice in the eight people I led to you". Stop it. You are just bragging in prayer.
Sometimes people will use prayer as an opportunity to gossip. Lord we pray for Jim who is having an affair on his wife. Lord I just realized his wife is here in the little prayer circle. Oh Lord comfort her". Yeah. Gossiping in prayer. Sometimes we pray to impress. You have heard of dressing to impress. You can pray to impress. We thank thee great and wonderful God for thou has blessed us. Why are you doing that? Are you trying to impress people? What about people pray when you are out in public. Someone says let's pray for the food. They have to make a show. It is a performance. They pray really loud and long. Stop with the long prayers when the food has come. Let's not pray for everybody everywhere. Let's just Lord thank you for the food. Let's eat our food.
Prayer can be a strange thing for a lot of people. Here is something you need to understand. Why do we pray? Jesus says in verse 8, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him". Oh. If that is the case then why pray. If I can't change his mind why pray. I have heard people say, "I have been wrestling with God in prayer". I hope you lost. I would hate to see what would happen if God did what you want him to do. Here is the thing we need to know about prayer. God knows what you need before you pray. The objective of prayer is not to change God. It is to change you. You are not telling God something he is not aware of. Prayer is not to inform God. Rather it is to invite God. I am inviting him into my life. I am inviting him into my challenges. I am inviting him into the things that I am dealing with. Think of prayer as a conversation between a Father and a child. The value of prayer is it keeps me in touch with God. Prayer is getting closer to God. That is why you should pray.
Coming back to the Lord's prayer. He says in verse 9, "Our Father in heaven, "Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread". We know this prayer can be divided into two sections I pointed out. The first three statements. Your kingdom come. Your will be done deal with the glory of God. The final statements deal with the need of man. That is what we are focusing on now. Our needs. We have already discovered that we should pray our Father who art in heaven. Jesus did not teach us to pray our deity who art in heaven or our God who art in heaven. Or our Creator who art in heaven. Though he is all of those things he is your Father. It speaks of intimacy. It speaks of closeness.
Don't base your view of God on your earthly father. You may have had an awesome dad or you still have one. You may have had the worst dad ever. Your Heavenly Father is different in every way. As Jesus pointed out in the story of the prodigal son he is a Father who misses us when we are gone. A Father who longs for communication with us. A Father who will throw his arms around us and kiss us even when we have gone astray. Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. What does that even mean? It means honored be your name. Set apart is your name. It is acknowledging the greatness of God. To pray hallowed be your name is to say Lord I want to set you apart in my life and character. I want to live a life that honors you.
Periodically I need to ask myself as I look at my interests, my ambitions, my pursuits is this for the glory of God. Can I write hallowed be your name over this? Over your career. Whatever it is you do. Can you write hallowed be his name over it? Maybe the friends you hang out with. Can you write hallowed be his name over your close circle of friends? How about the TV programs you watch or the movies you see. Or the music you listen to. Can you write hallowed be his name over it? Listen. If you can't ask the Lord to bless it, then don't do it. He says we should pray, "Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven".
This reminds us that the primary objective of prayer is to first line up my will with the will of God. True praying is not overcoming God's reluctance. It is taking hold of his willingness. Listen. Prayer is not about getting my will in heaven. It is about getting God's will on earth. If you want to see your prayers answered in the affirmative that is the secret. That is the key. Find out what the will of God is and start praying that way. You say how do you know the will of God. It is right here in this book. It is right here in the scripture. The more you read it the more you understand it. The more you will discover what God's will is for you.
Listen to this amazing promise of Jesus in John 15. He says, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done unto you". A better translation would put it this way. Jesus speaking. "If you maintain a living communion with me and my words are at home with you, you can ask at once for yourself whatever your heart desires and it is yours". Ooh. Whatever my heart desires. It sounds like one of those genie jokes. Oh master I will give you whatever you want. Yeah. That is what I want God to do. I want this. I want that. Hold on now. Go back to the conditions. Jesus says if you maintain a living communion with me and my word is at home in you. That is going to change the way that you pray.
God wants us to discover his will. It is sort of like if I am in a boat and I want to get to the dock and I throw my little boathook toward the dock. Am I pulling the dock toward me? Or am I pulling myself toward the dock? I am pulling myself toward the dock. In the same way in prayer am I pulling God my way. Here God do what I want you to do. No. I am pulling myself God's way. So we should pray, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". What does it mean when we pray your kingdom come? It is a multileveled request with different shades of meaning. First and foremost when I pray for the kingdom of God I am simply praying I want the rule and reign of Jesus Christ in my life.
What is the kingdom of God? It is a relationship with God. When Jesus walked this earth on one occasion he said, "The kingdom of God is in the midst of you". He was speaking of himself. He was there. This is also translated the kingdom of God is within you. Some have falsely understood it to say we all have God's kingdom living in us and we have the Christ consciousness inside. The kingdom of God is with you. Now let's go get loaded. No. That is not what it means. He was saying I am here and wherever I am that is where the kingdom is. The kingdom of God is here. So I am saying Lord I want this relationship with you. I want your kingdom. Jesus also says, "My kingdom is not of this world".
Sometimes we confuse man's kingdom with God's kingdom. When I pray thy kingdom come, thy will be done I am really praying for the immediate return of Jesus Christ. The word that Jesus uses here for kingdom does not primarily refer to a geographical territory but rather to sovereignty and dominion. Therefore when I pray your kingdom come I am praying for God's rule on earth. That day is coming. Revelation 11:15 says, "The seventh angel sounded: there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of the Messiah. He will reign forever and ever.'" That day is going to come. God is going to rule everything. Until that day we are saying Lord come soon. Come quickly. The word that is used for come speaks of a sudden instantaneous coming. Lord I am not just praying you come back. I am praying you come back soon.
This is a personal request. Thy kingdom come. I am praying for the kingdom of God and the rule of Christ in my own life. In effect I am saying Jesus I give you the master key to every door in my life. The point is you give it to him. Lord I want you to rule over this. I want you to rule over my social media. I want you to rule over my friendships. I want you to rule over my marriage. I want you to rule over my career. I want you to rule over my thought life. I want you to rule over everything. Your kingdom come. Your will be done. Shifting gears now here is a personal petition.
Verse 3. "Give us this day our daily bread". It is an amazing thing but God Almighty the Creator of heaven and earth cares about you and he cares about me. Job writes in Job 7:17, "Why do you make so much of man and give him so much attention". Why would God care about me? I don't know but he does. He loves me. He loves you. So when you come to him with a need he is interested. Even earthly parents do that. Jesus said, "You parents if your child would ask for a loaf of bread you don't give them a stone instead. If they ask for a piece of fish you don't give them a snake. If you sinful parents know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him".
So this prayer not only tells us to ask God for our daily needs. But is an affirmation that everything I have ultimately comes from him. Listen to this. God promises to provide your needs not necessarily your greeds. It is not give us this day our daily pie or cake or whatever it is. Just Lord give me what I need. God often gives us above and beyond that which we could ask or think. He is very generous your Father in heaven. My point is we need to ask him. That doesn't mean you sit around like a lazy bum and say Lord provide. Lord I am just going to sit down in my big fat lazy boy on my big fat cushion. What did you think I was going to say? You are in church. Please.
I just pray you will provide for me. Lord I just read the story of Elijah and the ravens and how they brought food to him. Lord just have the ravens cruise through in-n-out burger. Give me that burger Greg was talking about animal style with chopped jalapenos. If they have time if they could go through krispy kreme that would be nice too. Make sure the sign is on. I like them hot. Make the birds hurry please. I will just be waiting here. You can wait all you want. No birds are coming buddy. You need to get up and go get a job. That is very insensitive. It is actually biblical. The Bible says if a man doesn't work, he shouldn't eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10. If you are able to work go work. It is not the job I want. Do something else until you find the job that you want? Be responsible. Be resourceful. Don't be lazy. That doesn't honor the Lord.
Then be a good steward. That means take the resources God has given you and invest them back into his kingdom for his use, for his glory so more people can hear the Gospel. Notice it says give me this day my daily bread. He didn't teach us to pray give me this year my yearly bread. Or give me this month my monthly bread. Or even give me this week my weekly bread. Give me this day my daily bread.
Do you know why? If God provided everything you need all in one fell swoop once a year, guess how often you would pray? Yearly. It was all just sitting in a room all of the food you would need. All of the money you would need. All of the everything you would need. Just walk in and get it. Would you thank the Lord every time? I doubt it. He keeps us dependent upon him. He gives us what we need when we need it. Not usually before, never after. But he provides grace to help in time of need. So give me this day my daily bread.
You know some of you may say well I don't know God this way. I do say my prayers but I don't really feel that God is listening. Well listen. He is listening. But if you want God to answer your prayer you need to get rid of a problem that is hanging things up. That problem is called sin. We are all born with it. We all do it. Some more than others granted. But one sin is enough to keep you out of heaven. This big giant wall that I cannot scale called sin. S-I-N. I am a good person Greg. I am sure you are. But you know what? You actually are not good enough to get to heaven. All of have sinned, the Bible says and fallen short of the glory of God.
That is where Jesus comes in because there was no way to get rid of this barrier that separates me from God. Jesus came and died on the cross for our sin. The Bible says it is not that God's ear is heavy where he can't hear you or his arm is too short where he cannot save you. But your sins have separated you from him. But because Jesus died and paid the price for my sin, if I will turn from that sin and believe in Jesus communication is open to your Father in heaven. Only the Christian can call him Father. A nonbeliever can call him that but he is not their Father. You say how does God become your Father? When you become his son or daughter. How does that happen? You have to be born again.
I talked about those two guys who went to pray. One guy had all of his eloquence and all of his boasting and talked about how wonderful he was. Jesus said, God didn't hear his prayer. The other guy wouldn't even lift his eyes to heaven. He was so embarrassed by the wrongs he had done. He just prayed this. "God be merciful to me a sinner". Jesus said God heard that prayer. If you will just come and say God I am sorry. I have no excuses. Have mercy on me. Forgive me. A sinner. God will hear that prayer. You could go from being a sinner to being a saint.