Connect: Prayer

This morning, we continue our message series entitled ‘Connect’.  We’re going to learn a bit more about who God is, what He is like, and how we connect with Him.
We’re going to take a look this morning at one of the greatest privileges that we have and the most critical part of staying connected with God: Prayer.
Prayer is one of the foundations of our relationship with God.  In fact, it even starts our relationship with God.  However, even being as foundational and critical as it is, it is also very often misunderstood.
Prayer is just speaking with God.  It is really that simple.  There is no need to complicate what prayer in itself is.
Prayer is a powerful thing, though!  We have to understand, however, that it is not really our prayers themselves that are powerful, but that they are powerful because we are praying to a powerful God who hears our prayers and answers them!  Prayer is far less about us and far more about God.
From cover to cover of the Bible, we see how effective prayer is.  We see often when God would give people their heart’s desires that they prayed for, we see lives transformed because they prayed, we see people delivered from their bondage and from their enemies because of prayer, we see that even an entire nation that is destroyed and its people scattered abroad in exile being brought back together and restored because of prayer.
We see Jesus very often waking up early and even leaving crowds of thousands of people to go and spend time alone in prayer to His heavenly Father.  Prayer was a trademark of the life of Jesus and His ministry.  I believe that it was during those intimate times of prayer that the will of the Father was revealed to Him, the strength of the Father imparted to Him, and the courage provided to continue the work that He was sent for regardless of the continuous opposition that He faced.  It was because of prayer that His ministry was so effective.  In fact, in Mark 9, Jesus revealed that some demons can only be overcome by prayer.
God personally hears our prayers.  In fact, we see in Revelation 5 that the prayers of His people are even an incense before Him.
If you feel like you don’t really know how to pray, don’t feel bad.  Even the apostles themselves asked Jesus to teach them how to pray revealing that there was some uncertainty of how to do so.  This morning, we’re going to learn together how to pray.
We’re going to do some myth busting regarding the statement that there is no right or wrong way to pray.  Although, I’ve often heard this said, and even said it myself, we’ll bust this myth and find that scripture teaches us differently.  We’ll learn that there are wrong ways to pray and that our prayers can even be hindered or go unanswered in some cases.  This morning, we’re going to learn about these things so that God is attentive to our prayers and that they be answered.
Just like a deer out in the field that stops whatever it is doing and perks up its ears listening carefully and fully ready to respond to whatever it hears, so God wants to be when we pray.
First, let’s take a look at the practical side of prayer and explain some of the common things that we say or do when we pray.  We see throughout scripture that there are may different ways to pray.
You can pray silently in your head and heart like like Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 when she was asking God for a son.  God heard her prayer and answered it.
You can pray out loud like Solomon when he was dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6 or Jesus as He prayed in Matthew 17.
You can pray alone like Jesus did in Luke 6 and taught us to do in Matthew 6.
You can pray with other people as the believers were doing in Acts 1.  When two or more people are praying together the same prayer, we call this the prayer of agreement because we are all agreeing to pray the same prayer.
You can pray all night like Jesus did in Luke 6, you can pray early in the morning like Jesus did in Mark 1.  In fact, you can pray anytime at all as we’re urged to do in 1 Thessalonians 5.
You can pray with your head bowed and eyes closed, you can pray with your hands laid on someone, you can pray kneeling bowed before God, you can pray standing with your eyes and hands fixed on heaven.
God is one God who chose to reveal Himself as three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We see evidence of this most clearly at creation when we were created in His image and also how all three of these are present when Jesus was baptized by John.  So, regardless of whether you pray to God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, or the Heavenly Father, you’re still praying to the same one God.
Saying ‘Amen’ means that you agree and let it be!  When you say it after someone else prays, it basically means ‘yup, what they said!’ making their prayer your own.  It’s a word that has been transliterated from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to English and many other languages, so it is a very universally known word that carries the same meaning wherever you go.
We pray in Jesus’ name, well, because Jesus asked us to.  When Jesus was explaining to them that He would be leaving them, He said this.
John 16:22-24
22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
Now, when you initially read this, it makes praying in the name of Jesus some sort of formula to get whatever we want.  What Jesus really meant here is that we pray in His name, we pray as His representative; in His authority, in His power, for His glory, and most importantly in agreement with His will.  After all, it’s also only through Jesus that we can approach the throne of God to boldly present our requests.
It’s important in our prayers to acknowledge who we are praying to, though. Think of your prayer as a letter that you’ve sealed in an envelope.  If you just seal it and toss it up in the air, no one knows where it is supposed to go.  In the same way that you provide an address on an envelope, or say someone’s name to get their attention before speaking to them, we say who we are praying to when we pray.
So far, it’s beginning to look like the myth that there is no right or wrong way to pray has been confirmed.  On the practical side of prayer, this seems to be the case.  You can speak with God in the same way that you would speak with anyone else.  There isn’t a set time to pray, a set way in which to pray, or set words that you have to say when you are praying.  The important things is that we are praying and praying often.  Speaking with God is just as important in keeping a healthy relationship with Him as it is in keeping a healthy relationship with anyone else.
However, we also need to look at the spiritual side of prayer where we’ll bust this myth and find that we can be right or wrong in how we pray.  We can find our prayers to be either be powerful and answered or useless and ignored.
Jesus not only prayed frequently, but also taught us how to pray and how not to pray.  Both Matthew and Luke record the example that He gave us for how to pray.  This was Jesus’ response when the apostles asked Him to teach them how to pray.
Matthew 6:5-13
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
Prayer isn’t about us.  It isn’t a tool given to us to display to others how spiritual we are.  Prayer is about us connecting and communicating with God.  It’s about our personal and private relationship with Him.  When we make prayer about us and use it to look or sound spiritual, that’s the extent of the reward that we receive from the Lord and only serves to hinder our prayers.  After all, praying for others to see you is prideful and God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
It’s important for us to be intentional about our prayer time.  We are to pray without ceasing throughout our days, but there is something powerful that happens when we set apart that time away from the many distractions of life.  Jesus’ recommendation here is that we do so alone behind the closed door of a room or closet.  He set the example by often leaving His disciples and crowds of people to retreat to a solitary place and have this time of prayer.
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
It has to be kind of funny to God whenever we pray to God and use many words or choice vocabulary words as if though we can impress God by them.  He already knows what we need before we even ask, but is moved when we come to Him with simple, honest, and sincere prayer.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
Jesus didn’t give this prayer to us intended us to pray this prayer word for word from the time that He mentioned it until the day that He returns.  He gave it to us as an example of how to pray.  I see here in this example that essentially, Jesus asked that in our prayers, that we acknowledge:
1. His holiness, that He and His name have been set apart above all else
2. Who we are praying to and our relationship with Him; He’s our Father in Heaven
3. That His will would be done here on earth like it is in Heaven
4. That He is our provider and asking that He meets our needs
5. That we receive His forgiveness and equally as important; choose to extend His forgiveness
6. That we would walk in freedom from the bondage of sin and temptation that the enemy tries to ensnare us in
After all, we see throughout scripture that sin in our lives hinders our prayers.  God would often ignore the prayers and pleas of Israel because of their sin.  It’s not that God abandoned Israel, but that Israel abandoned God.  It’s important that we live our lives free from all sin and that we quickly ask forgiveness and repent of sin so that our prayers are not hindered.
After all, think about it from a natural sense.  As a loving parent, when your child does something wrong and then comes and asks you for something without apologizing for what they did wrong and fully intending to do the same wrong thing again in the near future, do you feel quick to reward their behavior with what they ask for or do you feel quick to discipline them for their behavior?  God wants only the best for us and wants us to stay walking in freedom away from the bondage and slavery of sin, which is why He lovingly disciplines us.
Jesus also instructed us to be persistent and faithful in prayer and not to allow discouragement to overwhelm us when it seems as if though our prayers are not being answered, but rather to never give up.
Luke 18:1-8
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Wow, what a challenging question that the Lord presents to us!  Will He find faith on earth?  Will He find those who are faithful and persistent in prayer, still believing and standing firm on His word and never giving up on Him?
Sometimes, we know that we need to pray, but we’re just not sure what to pray for or maybe how to pray for something.  Scripture also reveals for us how to pray in these cases.
Romans 8:24b-27
24b hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
When we pray in the Spirit, we don’t know what we’re praying.  To our ears and minds, it’s just a bunch of gibberish.  An amazing and miraculous this is happening, however!  The Holy Spirit is personally interceding for us.  He knows our hearts and knows the will of God and prays the perfect prayer for us through our wordless groans.  We call this praying in the Spirit, or praying in tongues.  Paul wrote to the Corinthian church a bit more about this.
1 Corinthians 14:13-17
13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say.
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.
When we pray in the Spirit, we are edified, or built up.  When in a private setting, this in itself is sufficient.  We are built up spiritually, the Holy Spirit has interceded for us, and God has heard our prayer.
However, in a corporate environment where we are praying together, we should also pray that God would give us an interpretation.  In this way, not only am I built up, but I can pray my prayer out loud in intelligible words so that others can agree with me, say their ‘Amen!’, and also be built up.
I believe that even when we are privately praying in the Spirit, that we should be in the habit of asking God to give us an interpretation of what we pray.  Not only is this good practice so that we will be comfortable in a corporate setting in doing so, but this also enables us to know what the Holy Spirit just prayed for us so that we can better learn how to pray and what we can do in response to our prayers.  Many times through this interpretation, God will speak to us and we will receive a new revelation about God or about ourselves.  We may even receive direction for our lives in what we can do to cooperate with God in having our prayers answered.
So we see that prayer is an awesome way to stay connected with God.  We can pray anytime, anywhere, about anything.  The way in which we pray is basically speaking with God in the same way that we speak with anyone else.    To keep our prayers from being hindered, we keep our lives free from sin and our heart condition humble and pure.  Even in times that we don’t know what to pray or how to pray, we still pray and allow the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf.