We have been looking at the things that Acts 2:42ff describes the first believers devoting themselves to. So se started by looking at what it means to be devoted, then we looked in turn at The Apsotle’s Teachin, Fellowship and Breaking of Bread. Last night we looked at Prayer. Next week we are inviting Jameson Titus, president of Christ for India to share with us some of the news and challenges facing CFI at the moment. We will then pick up again the following weeks and look at the results of the devotion we read about in Acts 2:43-47.
Below I have cut and pasted my notes from last night.
Acts 2:42 – and to prayer.
My experience in churches I have been in over the years is that the prayer meeting is generally one of the Church’s most poorly attended church meetings. This is usually because people find it difficult to know what to say and how to say it. We often find prayer meetings (dare I say it?) boring and irrelevant. Many Christians I know would admit that their personal devotions by and large are spasmodic at best and non-existent at worst. How can we pray? What do we say? How do we know God is listening? These are all questions many Christians ask themselves from time to time.
When you commit your life to Jesus, you enter a new relationship with God. Like all relationships, it develops when you spend time with the other person and talk to them.
In the Garden of Eden, God and Adam were in face to Face relationship, they walked together (Genesis 3:8) and talked together. When Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, there was no longer a face-to-face relationship between God and man. (Although we do read that Moses would meet with God as one who meets with a friend).
Prayer involves talking to and listening to God – in my experience, most people are very good at talking and not so good at listening. In many ways this is the most difficult but important aspect of prayer – if I was to try to develop my relationship with Wendy by doing all the talking and none of the listening, then she would know me very well, but I would not know her at all! So: When you pray how much do you listen?
How can I be sure that God will answer my prayers? The Bible says in James that: You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:2,3) but it also says that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
If then your payers are answered and mine are not, does that mean that you are more righteous than I am? I don’t believe that! Nor do I believe that it means your motives are pure and mine are not. nevertheless the passage in James 4 does say our motives play into our prayers and whether they are answered.
The Bible says no one is righteous – and that our righteousness is in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21), it also says that the human heart is deceitful beyond all reckoning (Jeremiah 17:9), so it isn’t as simple as our motives and righteousness.
There is an account in Daniel which tells us that as soon as Daniel prayed, that the answer was coming to him …
”fear not Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty- one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,” (Daniel 10:12,13). I am not exegeting these particular verses tonight, but just want to make the point that sometimes we don’t see immediate answers to our prayers and the reason is NOT just down to us or to our motives or purity. After all, Paul writes that our battle is “not against flesh and blood, but …” (Ephesians 6:12)
James 5:16 talks of our righteousness influencing the effectiveness of our prayers, AND 1 Corinthians declares our righteousness as being in Christ – then to pray as a righteous man means to pray in Christ.
AND – if we really are praying “in Christ” whatever that means; though I don’t think tacking “in Jesus’ name” as some kind of talisman at the back end of a prayer to twist God’s arm into doing what we ask for is what it means. Then we can be assured that God WILL answer our prayers. He just may not give us the answer we hope for!
So when we pray after a meeting for one another, or during a prayer meeting, it is not an empty hope that perhaps God might hear us, but it is in a sure and certain belief that He does hear us and He does answer – and we believe this because the Bible tells us so.
So HOW do we pray?
Very helpfully, the disciples asked Jesus this very thing! We read the account of this in Luke 11:1-12 and Matthew 6:5-14 (READ both accounts). The “Lord’s prayer” is probably the one prayer that pretty much every Christian throughout the ages has learned.
say the Lord’s prayer together…
We will look at the “elements” that make up the Lord’s prayer in a minute, but before this I just want look at the differences in the accounts of Matthew and Luke, the different slant and the extra understanding that this gives us, to try to gain some insight…
- “teach us to pray” v1. I believe the first requirement for successful prayer is a desire to pray. None of us does anything particularly well under duress or because we think we ought to. When we have a prayer meeting, I would prefer to have 2 who really WANT to be there than a roomful of “I’m only here because I think I ought to be” people.
- “Because you ask” vv5-10 – do we approach the throne with boldness? Our understanding of His love for us and the work of Jesus on the cross for us should really speak right into this. John 3:16 “God SO loved …”, Matthew 7:11“if you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” do we really believe it? If we did, wouldn’t we come with much more boldness?
- the Holy Spirit vv11-13. We NEED the Spirit as we pray … Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God Romans 8:26,27
- vv5,6 (read) this is all about secrecy – or is it? Note that Daniel praying at his window was not secret prayer! I believe this is about the heart. What is my heart? When we pray is it to be seen by others? or is it to meet with God? – this fundamentally affects how we pray.
- vv7,8 (read) Ever heard someone else pray and thought “I wish I could pray like that”? This is a common response I’ve encountered in people I have pastored. They think they aren’t eloquent enough EVEN THOUGH we have this verse which reminds us that when we think like this we are in the same category as the pagans!
- v14,15 talks of forgiveness. It is also an integral part of the prayer itself. Note that in the body of the prayer forgiveness makes an appearance – so we will talk about it there
The prayer itself
By that I mean the verses which follow Jesus saying “when you pray, say …” There are lots of breakdowns of what each part of it means, books and books of the stuff. You can go onto Amazon, or into a bookshop and “spend spend SPEND!” on books devoted to the Lord’s prayer. I haven’t spent time reading what others think for tonight, what I’ve done is to spend some time reflecting and praying on the Lord’s prayer and tonight I’m speaking out what my reflections are, some of the stuff I believe the Lord has put on my heart …
The prayer “Tops and Tails” with Worship
“Our father in heaven – Hallowed be your name” to start the prayer, and to end it:
“for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever”
We should recognise our need and desire for his presence and rule:
Then the prayer follows this pattern Come / provide / forgive / lead
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
Why? Because we can’t go it alone, because we need fellowship with God more than anything else in our existence
Relevant texts: Where can I go from your presence? Psalm 139:7ff. Seek first the kingdom of God Matthew 6:33
our first desire is / should be to recognise that the presence of God in our lives is more important than stuff we can have or things God can do for us. More important than any “ministry” we might have
“Give us this day our daily bread”
Jesus said my food is … (John 4:34) He also said I am the Bread of life
Practical reliance on Him. Who or what do WE rely on for our daily needs? What do we look to? is it our family, our Job, the government – or even the church?
Matthew 6:31 tells us not to worry about the physical aspects of survival – but that God knows we need these things. Jesus talks about lilies and sparrows and tells us that if we seek first the kingdom of God then ….
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”
Only He can forgive us
We cannot underestimate the power to be found in forgiveness
Matthew 6:14,15 – 14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Fellowship doesn’t work properly without forgiveness
It’s all about dealing with sin in our lives – both that which we have committed and that which has been committed against us, and therefore breaking the hold the enemy has over us – on a regular basis.
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”
A realignment to His will and guidance.
// with the passage that talks about God not allowing us to be tempted beyond that which we can bear – and – resist the devil and he will flee from you
this is not about deliberately allowing ourselves to be in places where we know we are going to be under pressure. It is about recognising that when we are in those places (which actually should be only when we have not been able to avoid them), that we can resist only with the help of God
and then Back to worship
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever amen,
Revelation – human history will end in worship of the creator God.
Our world will end – even those who have no faith (or more accurately have faith in nothing) agree that one day this world will end. Christians believe that the end of the world is, however, NOT the end!
“heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33)
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1)
Conclusion / End
Some practical thoughts on our prayer lives …
When should we pray?
Luke 18:1 – always.
Matthew 6:5 – on your own.
Matthew 18:19 – with a friend.
Acts 12:12 – with the church.
How do we pray?
Luke 11:1 – Ask Jesus
Matthew 6:7 – simply
Luke 11:5 – with boldness
Romans 8:26 – with the Spirit’s Help
Luke 18 – with persistence
What can we pray for?
Ephesians. 6:18,19 – each other
1 Timothy 2:1,2 – those in authority
Genesis 18:16-33 – our community
2 Chronicles 20:5-12 – our nation
Philippians 4:6 – ourselves
We can thank and praise God
1 Samuel 2:1-10 – for answering prayer.
2 Samuel 7:18-29 – in response to a promise
1 Kings 8:22-23 – to dedicate something to God
How To develop a successful prayer life
Don’t get caught in a rut – vary
- the time of day,
- length of your prayer time,
do you have a “prayer disorder”? A few minutes every day is better than a spasmodic or infrequent prayer life
Making ourselves accountable to another is a great way of helping us to establish a lifestyle of prayer.