Problem, our relationship with God though he is a person, a divine person, and I relate to him in similar ways, it's vastly different the way I communicate with God primarily because he is invisible. I don't see him. I don't look eyeball to eyeball and he answers me back directly. I don't read his body language and it's different. I remember a time when I was on the phone with a guy and I didn't realize as I was just rambling on and on that we had been cut off. When it finally dawned on me that I'd just been talking into the air, I didn't know how much he had learned or how much of the conversation he had picked up on. It was frustrating, it was embarrassing. Tim Stafford wrote a book I have mentioned before and he said, "So I have a real problem with God, I have never had a conversation with him. I have never heard his audible voice, though sometimes I feel powerful religious emotions, I am cautious in interpreting my impulses and feelings as messages from God. I don't want to take the Lord's name in vain, I don't want to say, 'The Lord told me,' when in reality I heard a mental recording of my mother's voice. I have spent any number of hours talking with God and he has not yet answered back in a voice that was undeniably his. I do this because I've been told to pray, to make my requests known to God, to offer praise and worship to him but I have not been told why. If I must praise God, it is not for the same reason that I praise my friends, God does not need a lift. If I thank him, it's not because he needs encouragement or information. And why should I ask him for anything? He knows already what I need before I ask him." I bet most of us have had those thoughts but we've been afraid to voice them because after all, we shouldn't voice things that honest to other Christians about our prayer life. But we wonder now, if God knows my need before I ask him, what is this whole purpose of prayer?
So first of all I'd like you to look at verse 1 of Luke chapter 11 because it brings about the fundamental lesson of prayer and that is our need for it. It says, "It came to pass as he Jesus was praying in a certain place when he ceased that one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples.'" So he gives them the familiar what we call the Lord's Prayer which is really the disciple's prayer, in verses 5 through 8 he gives a parable, in verse 9through 13 he gives an application. It must have been an awesome thing to hang around Jesus, especially when you realized who this person was that you have been with for three and a half years. John wrote one of his letters, he said, "That which was from the beginning which our hands have handled." The very word of life, imagine coming to the realization, I've been hanging out with God, personally. I've had a relationship with this man called Jesus who was God in human flesh, to travel with him, to watch his power over disease. And as he would do something, they probably thought, "How'd he do that?" But it says, "After he was done praying one of the disciples said, 'Lord, teach us to pray.'" As they were observing Jesus it finally dawned on one of his disciples that somehow this release of power and this wisdom was linked to a dependence upon God, hence the question 'Lord teach us to pray.' And do you notice the request does not say, 'Lord, teach us how to pray.' They already knew how to pray, they were raised Jewish. Every morning they prayed the shamah, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one." Every morning a devout Jew would say the shomisray or the nineteen prayers of devotion to God. They grew up praying. It's not, "Lord, we don't know how to pray, you know John gave this nifty course on prayer, would you do the same?" The idea is, "Lord teach us to do it." See, there's a lot of people that know how to pray that don't pray. You know, it's interesting that not one man or woman in the Bible who was greatly used in prayer ever read one book on it or attended one seminar on prayer, they just did it. And the disciples saw the power and the wisdom and they saw that this Jesus was linked to his Father, leaning on his Father for dependence. "Lord teach us to pray." As the disciples watched Jesus they realized that he depended upon his Father. Even though Jesus was powerful, he demonstrated it, he was authoritative, he was God in the flesh, Jesus himself said, "The Son does nothing of himself but it's the Father who lives in me that does the work." And they realized that at this point.
In the gospel of Luke and it's something the disciples observed we read "very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went to a solitary place where he prayed." The Son of God with all of this power, God in human flesh, praying to his Father. At Jesus' baptism, it says, "And he prayed and when he did the heavens opened." At another place the scripture tells us, "One of those days Jesus went to a mountainside to pray and spent all night praying to God." The disciples knew that it wasn't just the theology that was impressive but the knee-ology that was impressive in Jesus' life. And so, "Lord teach us to pray," they were saying, "Lord, teach us to depend on the Father like you do. Show us our need, we want to depend."
It's sad but true but it seems that mankind is almost incurable self-sufficient. That's part of the American culture by the way, we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, we make our own kind of pioneering adventures, we do it on our own, I don't need any help, that's what made us great. However, there are times when we come to an end of our self-sufficiency, like a catastrophe, something horrible happens in our lives, and the instinctive thing, even for people who say "I don't know if I believe in God" is to pray, because at that time there is an overwhelming sense of need. And unfortunately we see prayer in that category, it's like an emergency parachute, I don't need it until I'm falling and when I'm falling, whoosh pull n that baby and it'll work. I hear a lot of issue about prayer in school and people make a big issue about it. I love what one person wrote, he said, "As long as there are final exams to take, there will always be prayer in school." Unfortunately we see prayer like that. It's for the big problems, it's like a big aspirin pill, when it really hurts, that's when I see my need and so I'll take it. But Jesus always saw his need and there was a dependence upon the Father. One little kid was asked by a preacher, he said, "Do you say your prayers at night?" "Yes sir." "Well, do you say your prayers in the morning?" He said, "No sir, in the daytime I ain't scared." You see that kid saw prayer as something just when he was scared instead of a total dependence upon the Father.
I'd like you to turn back to Luke chapter 5 and let's look at an example which perhaps was one of the things that prompted Peter and the others to come to Jesus and say, "Lord, teach us to pray." Luke chapter 5 is a story of a fisherman and a preacher, Peter's the fisherman, Jesus of course is the preacher. "And so it ws," verse 1, "As the multitude pressed about him to hear the word of God that he stood by the lake of Galilee (or Genessaret) and saw two boats standing by the lake. But the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then he got into one of the boats which was Simon's and asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat." So far, no argument from Peter. "Peter, I'd like to borrow your boat for a pulpit."
"No problem, Lord, love to do it, you can use my boat any time you need it, as long as it's for preaching." Look at the next verse, "When he had stopped speaking he said, to Simon, 'Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.' (notice Peter's response now) But Simon answered and said to him, 'Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless at your word I will let down the net.'" I think personally that was a patronizing response. "Lord, look, you're a great preacher, you did a good today, you're a much better speaker than I am, but you're looking at an expert fisherman. I was raised on the lake, I get Field and Stream every month. Look at my little hat, it has hooks in it, I wear it every time I fish, I know what I'm doing. We've caught nothing and though we worked all night. And everybody knows the best time to go fishing in the Sea of Galilee is under the cover of darkness, there's no fish, it's daytime. Okay, but hey, you did a good job today, you want to do it? I'll humor you, I'll go fishing." So the lets down, look at the next verse, "When they had done this (verse 6) they caught a great number of fish and their net was breaking. Have you ever fished with a novice who caught the biggest fish the first try? Do you know how frustrating that is? Imagine what Peter felt. "So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came and they filled both the boats so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it he fell down at Jesus' knees saying, 'Depart from me, I'm a sinful man.'" He didn't say, "I'm an expert fisherman," now it's "I'm a sinful man, O Lord." For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish as they had taken." Peter fell down and it was as if to say, "now I see what you mean, what you are getting at, that even in those areas that I'm an expert, that I think I am self-sufficient, I really need you. You're right, without You we can do nothing." We need to depend completely upon the Lord in prayer.
So you remember when Peter tried to walk on the water? He got out and what happened to him? He started to drown. What did he do? He prayed, "Lord, help." It worked, but the point being is that Peter's view of prayer, it's one of the few times if the only time that we see Peter praying. Prayer is there when you drown, when you really need it. That dependence on the Father all of the time, not just during the catastrophes, had not at this point been developed in Peter's life. Before a person prays he must sense his need. Folks, you can hear seminar after seminar, read book after book on prayer; we can talk about the need for prayer (and we do have a need); we can talk about the sin of prayerlessness (and indeed it is); but it will avail nothing until a person sees his need. And when a person sees a constant need to be linked with the Father, you don't have to preach to him any more, they'll be doing it. The issue is we sense our need and we come to him in that need. Prayer will never be a joy until we do sense that need of dependence upon the Father.
If you left a restaurant after a full meal and I was out selling sandwiches in the parking lot, it would be hard for me to convince you that you have a need to eat that sandwich. Now I could try to make you feel guilty and use all of my powers of persuasion and say, "You need to eat this sandwich, look at all the poor people in the world who are dying and have no food," and you could feel so guilty that you'd take it. But if you were a hungry teenager and you came through that parking lot, you probably would take every sandwich I had because you would sense your need. And so the basic issue is first of all the need that we have, 'Lord, teach us now to pray.'
But why should we pray? What is really the purpose of prayer? And now I'd like to give you three basic purposes of prayer and you can list them and then we'll go over them. First of all is communion and we'll read about that beginning in verse 11 of Luke chapter 11. Communion, cooperation, and calmness. Let's look at the first one. Back in Luke chapter 11, it says in verse 11, "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?" The analogy Jesus uses is of a dad and his kid who have a relationship with each other, they share concerns and interests and the son feels free to ask Dad for anything because there is a communion already. Well, if that's true of an earthly father and an earthly son, how much more, you've got a relationship with your dad and you can come to him any time because God's primary desire is to commune with you, to spend time with you. Folks, God does not need our input but he prefers it. And so often God will wait before he asks until we are concerned enough to talk it over with our heavenly Father because he desires our fellowship. You know when we come before the Lord in prayer, what's our first concern? Need usually, right? I have a need therefore I pray. You know that's not God's first concern. It's you, it's communion with you. You know we're thinking about stuff that needs to get done, man there's a problem there, a brother who's fallen here, this event needs to happen. But God's first concern is with us and the relationship that he has with us.
My wife was praying this week with a group of women and as they were bringing their needs before the Lord, in her mind she was thinking, "What about this need and that person and this event and what about this and what about that?" And a thought struck her as if the Lord could be asking at that point, "But what about me?" You're asking, "What about this? What about that need? But what about Me?"
Robert Boyd Munger writes a terrific booklet about a Christian who has a relationship with his heavenly Father but because things squeeze out that time of prayer and fellowship, it becomes an infrequent event. And anyway the guy comes home in the afternoon one day and there's Jesus sitting on the couch in the living room, and Jesus says, "The trouble with you is this, you have been thinking of the prayer time as a factor in your own spiritual progress but you have forgotten that this hour means something to me too. Remember, I love you. I've redeemed you at a great cost. Whatever else may be your desire, remember I want your fellowship."
In the Old Testament, God told the children of Israel to build an ark for a specific purpose (and it was not so Spielberg could make a film), it was so God could commune with them. God said, "Make that little box, cover it with gold, it's the ark of the covenant. There I will meet with you and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat between the two cherubim on the ark." Now does that blow your mind? That God wants your fellowship? God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the most powerful being, desires you and me to spend time with him? But it's true. I'm convinced that the Lord loves it when we just take the time to praise him, when we come into his presence with no great need, though those needs are valid and he asks you to bring them to him. But when you just recognize, "Hey, God's here. Lord praise you, you're so great."
I was driving to church last Thursday night and I was coming from the East going toward the West, I looked out toward the West, we've got beautiful sunsets here, don't we? It was one of those nights when God painted this awesome picture. Great colors he used, bright orange, purple clouds. I ws going, "God, you do good work. That's awesome. I praise your for that." How often God paints sunsets and sunrises, perhaps just to get our attention so we go, "My dad did that. Oh Lord, that's beautiful, I just praise you for it."
Chuck Smith wrote a great little book on prayer and one paragraph I'd like to read to you, he said, "One day I watched a little gnat flying around. I was amazed at how small he was and yet so intricately designed. He was able to defy the laws of gravity, suspending himself in midair and then darting around rapidly. And I thought, "God, you're so wise." And when I read that I laughed, because of most of us when there's a gnat around, we're irritated, we don't see God in it. "A gnat!" Smack! "get out of here." He said, "Oh God, you're so wise, look at this gnat, suspending itself, turning upside down." I'm sure God got a kick out of that.
The first of prayer, communion; the second cooperation. In other words, God has developed this avenue of communication with him so that you and I can share in the work that he wants to do. Look at verse 2. Jesus said, "When you pray, say, 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The kingdom of God is God's business. You are God's child, he wants you to be involved in family business. What is God up to? What is God's concern? When we pray about what God's concerns are, we're entering into a partnership doing the work with the Father. His desire is to spread the kingdom of God, it is going to come, he already said it would. But he said, when you pray, you pray that. 'Your kingdom come, your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.' Folks, the purpose of prayer is to not get our will done in heaven, it's to God's will done on the earth.
Before a football game, the two teams met on the field to pray together before the game. One of the fans saw this, was sitting next to a rabbi and said, "Rabbi, what do you think will happen if both of these teams pray with the same amount of faith and fervor?" The rabbi said, "Well I suppose God will just kick back and enjoy one fine game of football." You don't know what they might be praying, "Lord, we pray that we'll win." No, "Well we pray that we'll win." The purpose is not to get our will done but to get God's will done upon the earth. So as children of God we ought to be thinking, "What is God's business? Since I'm his kid, I want to know and be in on the family business."
Norman Grubb said that he would wake up every morning and say, "Good morning God, I love you, what are you up to today? I'd like to be a part of it." Isn't that great? What are you up to today, I'd like to be a part of it.
In Genesis chapter 18, there is an illustration of this that I'd like to relate to you because so many of us think that prayer is getting out on a limb and then saying, "God don't let anybody cut this limb down." But true prayer is based upon the character of God, who he is, what he wants to do and then we enter into a partnership. Example: Abraham. Abraham is looking down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, God is speaking with Abraham and God says, "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I am about to do, seeing that he's a mighty man and I'm going to bless him and make him a great nation?" And then God reveals his plan to Abraham. He says, "Abraham, I hear about Sodom and Gomorrah, wicked town, I'm going to judge them. I'm going to find out if they're really that wicked and I'm going to come down and I'm going to judge that city. At that point, Abraham's feathers get ruffled, he approaches God and he said, "Wait a minute, you're righteous, I know that about your character. Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked? What if you found fifty righteous people in that city? Would you spare the city for fifty?" God said, "You got it. You find fifty righteous, I'll spare the city." "Well that's neat God, since I've got you on the line, would you do it for forty-five?" "I'd do it for forty-five, Abe." "Listen, I don't want to be presumptuous but since we're having this conversation, what if we found forty righteous? Would you spare the city for foty?" "I'd do it for forty." "Thirty?" "Thirty." "Twenty?" "Twenty." "How about ten?" "Look, if you find ten righteous, I'll spare the city for ten." Now it sounds like Abraham is backing God into a corner and he's got him by the collar, and he's praying God down to where Abraham wants him. But the end verse of that chapter I believe says, "When God had finished speaking with Abraham, he went his way." It doesn't say, "When Abraham had finished getting God down to ten, but when God had finished speaking with Abraham, he dismissed him. What that implies is that God initiated the prayer, carried Abraham through it, until Abraham responded in the way God wanted to and then God was done with him, so that there would be a partnership. See, God wanted to be merciful to Sodom any way, it was his plan to spare the ten righteous in the city. But he wanted Abraham to care enough for it, to enter into the partnership of God's already determined will. So there was a revelation, a burden came upon his heart and he started praying for what burdened him but it was God's will to begin with. You see, God can get the job done without us, but he chooses to include us. He chooses to have us as his partners. And when we pray it's like we're standing with God viewing the things as God would view them. Remember when Jesus saw the crowds around Galilee? He was moved with compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. What did he do? He told his disciples, pray. "Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into the harvest. This is what I see needs to get done, you pray for it." Isn't that beautiful that we form a partnership with the Father? The Bible says in I Corinthians, "We are God's fellow workers." Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his second epistle, "We then as workers together with him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain."
Last year I was building a gate at my house, connected to a fence to keep the dog out of one part of the yard. And as I was building the fence, rainclouds started coming, I knew I didn't have much time, so I had to really get on it. And about that time my son came out and said, "Daddy, I've decided to help you build your fence." I thought, "Oh no." It would take me about an hour and a half to two hours to build it on my own, it would take me about four hours if he helps me. But what are you going to do? Are you going to turn him away, "No. You go watch TV." No, you want to help me, you help me, you hold this hammer, you hit this nail," even though it might take him thirty tries, he's helping me. When the fence was all built, he marched in proudly to the kitchen and said, "Mommy, I just built a fence." Even though he hammered all of two nails, held the saw, gave me a plank of wood, he felt we did it together.
Now we may be burdened for a concern and God wants us to be burdened with it, we enter into prayer, a partnership with God, we enter into his will. The thing happens and we go, "Wow, I prayed for that, it worked." Saying, "Yeah I did a really good job praying about that, boy you were really good." God did the work but he allowed us to enter into that partnership with him. When God was finished with Abraham, he let him go.
Now I'd like you to turn to Philippians chapter 4 for just a moment. Communion, cooperation, and another purpose of prayer calmness. Calmness. Prayer was designed by God to bring you peace. You would never know that by listening to some people speak about it, by hearing some seminars or reading some books, because so often prayer is associated with guilt, anxiety, and pain. But I'd like you to follow along with me, in verse 4, the apostle says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will sya rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to all men, the Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing. But in everything by prayer and supplication, by thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." If you've been a Christian very long, you've read that verse so often, it doesn't pack a punch. Let me read it to you in the Amplified Bible. It says that we should be anxious for nothing, of course. And it says that the peace of God which passes understanding, the Amplified says "that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ and so fearing nothing from God content with its earthly lot of whatsoever sort it is, that peace which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and over your minds." As I read that it tells me that if I pray, the result will be an alleviation of anxiety and will bring me peace. Why is it then that so many of the greats who write diligently about prayer, even after hours of laboring in prayer, feel unsatisfied with what they just did. "It wasn't enough." I believe it's because we have forced prayer into a role God never designed it to play. As I read it, it's meant to alleviate anxiety, not produce it. Do you ever read about a biblical character after a time in communion with God think, "It wasn't good enough, it wasn't long enough." We've associated prayer with pain instead of privilege. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying, "Great," that's a copout, "God ahead and shoot up any prayer if it's a second or two and say, "Ah no problem." No the Christian life is one of growth and discipline. And it would only make sense, the more we have a relationship with God, the more we love to spend time with him and probably our prayer times are going to be longer and more fruitful and more intense. But we've got to stop viewing God as a heavenly hit man. And always walking around with a guilt complex. We should view God as a loving heavenly Father who said, "Ask, that your joy may be full. Ask that you may receive that your joy may be full." And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus."
We need prayer. Jesus in his life needed prayer, how much more do we, at all times. The apostle said, "Pray without ceasing." When we believe that, we'll do it. The purpose: to commune with him, to cooperate with him, and calmness for our own hearts.
It should be said that there's going to come a day when you're not going to need prayer. You'll be face to face with Jesus. You won't need to say a prayer, there won't be any limit or boundary of time and space, you'll be right there in front of him, you'll see him to face to face, the Bible says, you'll know as you are known. And that's the goal of the Christian.
This lady handed me a great thing in the Agape box, even though the agape box is meant for other things, I did appreciate this one. She said, "Skip, on the way to church today my little girl, who is four, and I were running late. As we neared an intersection, the light turned red on us. My little girl said, "Just go for it, Mommy." I told her if we went on a red light we might have an accident. She said, "You mean we might crash and get dead and go to heaven and see Jesus?" I said, "Yes babe," with a smile on my face. Then she turned to me with an even bigger smile on her face and said, "Let's crash." I love it. Don't do it.
There will come a time when you'll be face to face with the Lord. Until that time you and I need a dependence upon the Father. You'll see him face to face but until that time he has established an avenue of communication, that we ought to see as a privilege, "I can talk to my Father." And if a son can talk to his father and his father will respond, how much more your heavenly Father (not your heavenly hit man, not someone who said, 'Excuse me, that was forty minutes not an hour, you're just not spiritual enough.') Again like that British preacher said, "True prayer is not measured by length but by weight." And would to God that as we go through this series the next few weeks, we would see the privilege of communication with our Father.
Let's pray. Father, thanks to you that though you are infinite, we are finite, we are humans, you are God. We can still have a relationship with you. It's amazing to think that you really want our fellowship but you do. And I pray Lord that we would live more and more in that conscious awareness of your presence and experience the tranquility and the peace that is spoken of in the Bible. As Isaiah said, "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is staid on thee." Lord, thank you that as you do your kingdom work, we can enter into a partnership, family business, as we pray for what you are doing. And there are so many times that we don't know how to pray as we ought and it's great to come before you and depend totally upon you knowing that Father knows best.