A Community Who Prays
Big Idea: Prayer isn’t about getting its about relationship. In the book of Acts we see a church on mission. This isn’t a mission we engage in alone. Jesus promised that he would be with us even to the end of the age and has sent us the Holy Spirit as a guide as we engage in the mission of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
Me: I want to be completely honest with you in a moment of vulnerability so I actually really hope that it will be met with understanding and a reciprocated honesty on your part. I really struggle with prayer. Not just the subject of prayer (because I’ve got some serious hangups with that) but with actually engaging in it the way that I should and with the consistency that I should.
Now…one of two thoughts probably just ran through your mind as you heard me say that (and possibly both). Either “A” you thought: “but your a pastor…you aren’t supposed to have an issue with that…or at least you probably shouldn’t tell people that.” Or “B” you thought “phew I am glad I’m not alone in my struggle because even the pastor has a hard time with it.” Or maybe you took the third option and thought “well I’m glad I’m not alone but, dude, you are the pastor…you should really get that squared away.”
Now here is the deal…I said I would be honest and vulnerable with you if you would be honest as well; and since you can’t very well be honest with me since you are watching me on a TV screen, I just want you to be honest with you about this subject.
Every single one of us has issues with prayer. Maybe you have some philosophical or theological issues over the subject of prayer and your issues sound something like this:
If God knows everything and has already heard this prayer, why bother?
If God knows what I am going to ask why not just answer preemptively and save us both the time?…it seems a little capricious on His part to make me say it anyways.
Every time I do pray, it always seems like the answer is no or not yet? Are those God’s only answers to prayers? If so why bother bringing my concerns or petitions to Him? Better said: “Does prayer actually DO anything because if God doesn’t change His mind and isn’t swayed in His thinking by people then whats the point if He is going to do what He is going to do anyways?”
Maybe your issue with prayer is more about consistency or doing it the “right way,” and so your issues sound more like this:
I don’t ever seem to have the time to pray and before I know it, its the end of the day and I haven’t spoken to God all day. By that time it seems a little forced and I know God doesn’t want that so it seems better just to hold off to a time when I can come intentionally and focused and with time to devote to it.
Me and God aren’t in the best of places and I fear my prayer won’t reach any higher than the ceiling, or I just fear being alone that deep in my own thoughts (because of unoconfessed sin or doubts) and so we choose to avoid or drown out, or distract from being alone with our thoughts. Prayer is not the place you want to be if you are trying to avoid dealing with those issues.
All I seem to ever do is bring a laundry list of needs and complaints to God and I know that’s not how its supposed to work.
I just flat out don’t know how to pray. Maybe you fear that prayer is supposed to be an incredibly formal act and done a certain way with a certain posture or at certain times or how about this: with a certain level of sincerity that I just can’t seem to muster.
It has been so long since I have prayed that I feel embarrassed or ashamed. Its like that relative or friend that you never call but always seems to do a good job of keeping in contact with you and you actually feel really awkward reaching out. Maybe you feel like you need to be in a better place (reading my Bible, listening to Christian music again, or just living better) before I come to God in prayer again.
And finally, my prayers never seem to change anything and I’m just flat out tired of trying when God doesn’t seem to be listening or care. I feel like I’ve been burned by God in the past when I’ve put myself out there and got nothing in return.
Chances are you have struggled through at least one if not more of those issues at some point in your life in regards to prayer. I have literally struggled with all of those issues (how do you think I came up with that list). I still struggle with quite a few of those on an ongoing basis. Or perhaps you have some issues that aren’t even on that list.
So…what’s the answer? Do we just suck it up and do better? Just grit it out and pray even when you don’t feel like it or like you are in the right place?
Yes!…well, there you go. I’m going to turn you loose with that and just do better.
Well you guessed it: the good news is that’s where we are headed this morning.
In keeping with our series, I want to explore the question:
How does the Gospel shape us into a Community Who Prays?
Intro Acts 2:42 - This week marks the end of the series-within-a-series we have been working through where we have been looking at the rhythms the early church engaged in that led to healthy disciples being made.
So far we have seen that the early church was commited to being in the Word, and to fellowship, they were also commited to serving one another. Let’s finish out the rhythms with verse 42 of chapter 2.
The were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42
Different resources break the numbers down differently but a fairly accepted number is 132.
Prayer is mentioned or talked about around 132 in the New Testament and over 40 of those times are seen in the book of Acts.
The book of Acts falls into the historical category in our Bibles.
Talk about how you read historical books differently than discourse.
This is the same as the books of Joshua or Judges where we see a narrative re-telling of events. This means we learn primarily through the examples we see set forth and how God responds to those in light of His explicit commands found in other parts of the Bible. In the book of Acts we see a few passages of discourse where there is teaching but that is almost always centered around the gospel. This means that we never get an outright teaching about the subject of prayer in Acts but simply see it observed. Just because there aren’t any discourses over the subject of prayer, however, does not mean we don’t stand to learn a lot about the subject.
I believe the best way to look at prayer in the book of Acts is as a whole. So what I want to do is go through and highlight a few of those mentions of prayer in Acts that we see and what they have to teach us about prayer.
Are you ready…?
Prayer is done continually. -Acts 1:14
Prayer is done to seek direction as a church. - Acts 1:24
Prayer is done together. -Acts 2:42
**This one is not in your notes but...Prayer was originally done following the Jewish traditional times of prayer. (I believe there is something to be learned here from this practice that would still be useful for us today) Acts 3:1 By the time of Jesus, the Rabbi’s had formalized the three daily prayer times into what they called the Amidah (the nineteen blessings, with a lengthy prayer before the final blessing, a concluding prayer at the end and then three separate prayers as you step away from your posture of prayer at the very end where you can add personal requests and prayers) All in all this practice takes several minutes to complete and is supposed to be done three times a day.***
Prayer is done to seek God’s presence and power for ministry. -Acts 4:31
Prayer is part of our ministry to others. -Acts 6:4
And is also something that church leaders are supposed to engage in on behalf of other believers in their care.
We should pray for those in positions of leadership. Acts 6:6
Paul goes on to expand this teaching to include anyone in authority and leadership…yes that means even the people you think may actively be seeking to destroy our wellbeing and way of life in our city, state, or nation. 1 Timothy 2:2
We repent before God in prayer. Acts 8:22-24
Healing is sought through prayer. Acts 9:34
Our prayers are heard (even when we are far from God spiritually). Acts 10:4 & Acts 10:31
Prayer is a private exercise as well as a community exercise. Acts 10:9
Pray for the persecuted and those in bad circumstances. Acts 12:5
Pray for those engaging in mission (everyone). Acts 13:3
Prayer is regularly linked with fasting. Acts 14:23
This is about putting our whole self into a state to commune with God. Acts 14:23
Prayer is a MAJOR aspect of worship. Acts 16:25
But we will talk about that more when we come to worship so none of that for now.
Prayer is done when we say goodbye. Acts 20:36
This is a realization that even though we are separated by space, we are still of one body engaged in the same mission and submission to the same God is needed for unity and strength when we can’t be together.
Phew! Alright…I know that was a lot. Are you guys with me? So I am just going to turn you all loose now and just go do all of that.
Right is that how it works… you just go off and implement all of those things this week and your prayer life will be fixed?
No… I don’t believe that’s how it works.
Since Acts gives us a good view of what prayer in the church looks like, let’s go to Jesus for a teaching on prayer.
In His Sermon On The Mount, Jesus talks about what it looks like to be one of his disciples. Its in this sermon that we get one of Jesus’ most famous teachings over the subject of prayer known as the Lord’s prayer, or some call it the model prayer.
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
-Do Facebook thing with first line
-Do (have a place you meet with God) AND (SPECOPS Quiet Professionals)
Whatever prayer is and however it works, one thing is explicitly certain from this passage here:
Prayer is incredibly personal and isn’t to be done out of pretense.
Instead, Jesus says, pray this way:
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
Pray, then, in this way: (this is not what we should pray but how we should pray. This is a model to follow.) There are whole protestant groups who have taken this and turned it into some sacred mantra that completely violates the command directly above this one. I think of the Lord’s prayer much like a blues riff.
Do you know what a blues riff is? Explain.
Our Father who is in heaven (this sets the tone for the entire passage) We are not coming before the white-haired robe-wearing king of the universe that many of us envision sitting on a throne of light. Jesus instantly gives us permission to come to a warm loving father. Not an earthly father who is flawed and self-serving at times but the Father of all creation who sits high above and capable of changing and doing anything He wills.
For some of you, you just need to hear this right here. You are coming before a warm, loving, and caring father. Now this may be hard because, perhaps you didn’t grow up with an example of that to look back on and if that is the case, then this is an invitation to extend some trust because it will be met with the gentle and loving embrace of a father.
Hallowed be Your name Although Jesus invites us to approach God as a loving Father, He is also Holy and set apart…Although this isn’t meant to set the tone for our prayer, it is a fact that we must respect and not attempt to change or leverage for our benefit.
God is who He is…in fact that's the name He gave Himself to Moses. God called Himself ‘I am who I am’ but since He offered it to Moses as a proper name, we don’t call Him that we change it to ‘He is who He is’ (YHWH). God is unchanging and ‘He is who He is’ not who we define Him to be. This is incredibly important for us to recognize from the beginning and sets the tone for where the prayer goes next. Because if we miss this part, we are constantly trying to redefine who God is to benefit us best. We want to leverage the ‘god’ of our tribe, personal convictions, political persuasion, our personal values, our comfort and well-being, and etc. for our benefit. We do this all of the time! We will isolate some part of who God is and emphasize it to benefit us most. We take some part of who God is and leverage it to change our circumstances for the better. Do you know what that’s called?
Do Witchcraft/magic thing...
But, when we see God for who He really is and come to Him in submission to His own terms, what flows naturally from that is a request that:
‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
God’s kingdom is the place where His rule and reign are effected perfectly. A heart that has truly recognized God for who He is…for the good good father that is His nature, naturally desires to live in a place where that rule and reign is effected perfectly. One earth means in our cities, schools, in our government, and homes, but most importantly it is in our own heart. This is a prayer of submission to the Father that His will would ultimately be done in our own hearts and actions.
“The prayers that most often get answered are the ones that start in Heaven.” -J.D. Greear
The entire first part of the Model Prayer is all about centering ourselves with a right view of who God is and who we are in light of that. A right view of God realizes that we are completely dependent on Him for everything.
Do you know why the struggle with prayer is such a common one? Because, at it’s root, prayer is grounded in a realization of our deep dependence on God the Father and His rule and reign being lived out in our hearts and lives. The opposite of that is our human nature that wants to define good and evil for itself and live under our own rule and reign…but more on that in a minute...
‘Give us this day our daily bread.
Bread is the working class meal. People in Jesus’ day lived hand to mouth and didn’t necessarily know where their next meal was going to come from.
This is a prayer for provision for what is needed for today.
Jesus by giving us this pattern is promising this…and no more. We can’t miss this. How often do we look beyond this. We love to have enough for tomorrow and beyond so we don’t have to worry. It makes us feel secure. The problem with this view of our provision is that it gives us a false sense of security in things. We can think that its our job, our bank account, our own hard work that has ultimately provided for us.
Ultimately this is about finding our security in God as the giver of all things.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
This and Romans four are the only two places that the word for debts is used synonymously for sin. The idea is that sin costs somebody every single time. Sin creates a debt that has to be filled. I’ll give you an example. If we are at Walmart and you back into my truck and do some damage and I say… “oh don’t worry about it” I forgive you for what you have done...does that mean that that action doesn’t cost? No! Its going to cost me potentially thousands of dollars to fix it…you just have been absolved from cost of your actions. I have chosen to forgive you of the debt your actions have created.
If our relationship with the Father is correct, it immediately pushes us outwards to consider our relationship with our fellow man. If it doesn’t, then we are like the servant that Jesus talks about who was forgiven the equivalent of millions of dollars by the king only to go out and exact through force some pocket change from someone who owed him immediately after his debt was forgiven. Did this servant understand what had been done for him? Was he a friend to the king? Absolutely not. We have missed something about what it means to be forgiven if we fail to forgive others.
Here is the deal…I’m going to make a bit of a leap for just a second but if you stick with me I promise it’ll all tie together nicely as we finish up.
This entire prayer is meant to center us relationally.
First, it is meant to bring our hearts and minds back to the Father in relationship. We don’t have some cold transactional faith where God has saved us so now we have this obligatory job to be moral and look like a good christian. We don’t have a cold transactional faith where we view God as the cosmic vending machine in the sky either where if we manipulate Him the right way through prayer, we will get what we want.
We have a faith built on a deep relationship with a Father who loves us.
I am in a relationship with a woman named Danielle we’re married (lol). Now...I love my wife. I know I am supposed to talk with her. As much as it pains me I do sometimes speak to her just to let her know that I do love her. Sometimes we go entire days without speaking but I start to feel guilty so I will usually strike up some small talk around bedtime. Usually most of our conversation revolves around what I need from her. I will talk to her when I need something from the grocery store and if I am having some issue at work that’s just too big to handle on my own or if it’s something with the kids that I am not sure about what to do. If I am in a good mood, and only when I feel like it, I will sometimes strike up a friendly conversation with her. I tend to avoid any real weighty conversations as I find it kind of uncomfortable to involve her in the process (I don’t always like the point of view she brings to the table and I don’t always trust her judgement)…honestly its just easier most times to handle it on my own. You’ll be happy to know that we have made some progress in our communication though…as of recently I have found out how to send a recurring text message. I typed the sweetest message and it auto sends every single morning at 8:00 and again at 6:00 in the evening.
Do I love my wife?
I think the answer to that is a resounding no.
Don’t get me wrong, we have our communication issues just like the next couple does. But it doesn’t look anything like this or else you’d say not only do you not love her but you are like actively sabotaging your marriage.
I want you to look back over the lords prayer if you have your Bible in front of you. Did you notice how much of it centers around relationship?
100% of it centers around either our relationship with God or our relationship with our fellow man (which incidentally is a direct indicator of our relationship with God).
Here is where the Gospel comes into play and shapes us as a people who pray and as a community who prays.
If you have chosen to follow Jesus, then it means that you realize the inadequacy of you as the solution to the sin and brokenness that defines your life. Every step you take defining good and evil as you sit on the throne of your own heart calling the shots only takes you further down a broken road that ultimately leads to your death. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus came to restore the relationship with us that has been severed through our sin. The good news of the Gospel is not some formulaic approach to a better life but a relationship with the King of the Universe where you have a re-defined relationship with him where you get to look at Him as a good father who now defines good and evil and calls the shots in your life because He is a good father who loves you and has your best interest in mind.
It is as we continually die to ourselves and the propensity to be the god of our own life that we truly connect with the life giving love of Jesus.
Prayer is our chance to communicate with the one who gave up heaven to die on your behalf because you love Him.
It is as we grow in this affection for Christ and knowledge of our need for Him, His presence, His guidance, His provision, His continued forgiveness that we are naturally drawn into conversation with the one that we love above all else.
All of a sudden prayer doesn’t become some obligatory thing we have to maintain but a continual conversation with our loving Father that we get to engage in daily. Its where we go to spend time with the One who gave his life for us. Its where we draw direction as a church and as individuals. Its where we get our provision. It’s where we get prepared for mission and ministry.
It is when we lose sight of this that we begin falling away from prayer. It is when we begin stepping back into old patterns of calling the shots and forgetting our dependence on Him for all things that we fail to engage in conversation. As long as our souls realize their dependence on the Father as the only source of fulfilment and provision we will naturally return to the Father for prayer.
I want to tell you a brief story as we close of when things took a real shift in my prayer life. Now, I still have issues and have to constantly go back to the gospel to renew my affections for Christ but something fundamentally shifted for me in this story.
Tell story of driving home and praying.
Will you commit to a pattern of prayer?
What does prayer usually look like for you? Do you struggle with any of the things mentioned during the sermon? What about any other struggles not mentioned?
Just let people talk. Let them air out some of the issues they have with prayer. How can you point them back to the Gospel? Don’t try and solve every issue. Just try and find some common issues with people and their prayer life. What are the things your group struggles with? Here’s the radical solution…take some time to pray about this! Be as conversational with God as you can be in your prayer. Don’t use fancy language…just talk to God about the issues.
What is a time you saw direct answers from your prayers? Share a few examples around your group.
Let people take some time to do this. Encourage people to share some stories of their own. Ask some follow-up questions: How has this inspired worship in your heart? Have you ever looked back at these moments to strengthen your faith? How might journaling help this?
How does our view of God help us or hurt us as we approach prayer? Did your father lend to a healthy view of God or has it created barriers to seeing God as a good and loving father?
There is honestly no simple or short silver bullet answer here. The point is not to try and solve this issue but get people thinking about it and considering how this could shape the way they view God and then pray. I just want to open dialogue about this.
Will you share some things that we can be praying about together?
Make a list of these things and then be prepared to pray about them as a group. It would be really disingenuous to talk about prayer and just talk about it and not do it. Record your responses. We will categorize these later and pray over them.
We are going to spend some time praying together.
Here are the categories we are going to pray over. You can write these down in your group and break apart and have people lead in prayer over each of these areas or you can have people pray silently and you can close out each topic. Be creative and involve the group naturally in this.
From Vs. 9 - Pray over our view of God. That we would see God the way He is meant to be seen. Pray over the things that distort our view of God. Pray for a clear view of the Father that isn’t distorted by our own preconceived notions.
From Vs. 10 - Pray for submission to God’s will. Pray for individuals to submit to the Father and unity within our church as we all do this. Pray for our city, our government, our schools and any other areas you want to that need the kingdom of God to invade.
From Vs. 11 - Pray for satisfaction that is found rooted in God. Pray that God would realign our hearts with a satisfaction that only He can provide. Take this time to pray for any needs or requests the group may have.
From Vs’. 12-15 - Pray for forgiveness. Pray that God would forgive our pride, our selfishness, and the ways that we have held back forgiveness from others. Take some time to take private stock of the ways that you have kept back forgiveness from others, do that, and lay that before the father.
From Vs. 13 - Pray for deliverance from temptation this week as we engage in the mission of Jesus!