Thursday, May 5, 2022

Learning How To Pray Like Jesus - A 2022 National Day Of Prayer Reflection


       I begin today’s post from A.W. Tozer’s classic book, “Knowledge of the Holy”. He writes, 

“The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” 

        This year's theme for the National Day of Prayer is "Exalt the Lord", taken from the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:6-7,

"Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude."

          As churches in our area will gather today to observe this important event, I got to thinking about how we can be more effective in our prayer lives as individuals and churches. There is no better Person to turn to than the LORD Jesus Himself. When Jesus’ disciples followed Him in His public ministry, the only subject they requested Him to teach concerned this: "How to pray". What Jesus did was provide a model prayer we call “The Lord’s Prayer” (found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11). I find in this prayer four principles on how to pray, following the acronym “P.R.A.Y”. Thus consider with me four truths on learning how to pray like Jesus. 

Praise God for being God.      Matthew 6:9

    Jesus begins His teaching on prayer with these words recorded by Matthew in Matthew 6:9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” The featured attribute or characteristic of God is His holiness. God’s holiness is that attribute that emphasizes the otherness, goodness, radiance, and perfection that He is as God. 

        I heard a speaker say years ago that the God of popular American religion is not a holy God, which explains why hunger for the things of God rarely characterizes so few churches today. Remember: wherever we begin in prayer is where we will end. The Psalmist writes this in Psalm 121:1-2, 

"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth." 

     The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:1-2, 

"Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." 

   So as we pray, we begin with praise to God for being God. Now let us notice secondly….

Recall His promises.                 Matthew 6:10

      Again we turn to Matthew's version of Jesus' famous model prayer, wherein He says next in Matthew 6:10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven." One writer estimated there are some 8,000 promises in God's Word to His people. The Apostle Peter records for us in 2 Peter 1:3-4,

"seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."

      As we rehearse the promises of God to ourselves from the Bible, we notice certain themes.  Two such motifs associated with God's promises pertain to His Second coming and His daily provisions for our lives. Do we give thought to the promise of His coming?  Paul writes this in Philippians 3:20-21 about the promise of Christ's soon return for every believer to recall, 

"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself."

      How about His provisions for us on a daily basis. We so often worry and fret about how to make ends meet that we get distracted from meeting with God in prayer. This, again, is where we turn to promises of His provision such as we meet in Philippians 4:6-7, 

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

      Recalling God's promises aids us in refocusing ourselves upon His glory and excellence as God, for which we praise Him. Let us notice a third truth on how to pray like Jesus….

Ask according to His will.       Matthew 6:11-13

       What is God’s will? That intention, rooted in God’s being, knowledge, wisdom, and decree that guarantees all He has ordained to come to pass, as revealed in His Word or unrevealed in His working.  Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us God makes known those things which we are to know, while concealing other matters known only to Himself. We read Jesus' next statement on prayer in Matthew 6:11-13 

‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘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 those believers aiming to live in God's revealed will (the Bible) as they live life before God, the need to pray according to His will is stated most clearly in 1 John 5:14-15 

"This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."

         Sometimes when I pray, I do so with my Bible open to a given passage of Scripture. Thankfully today, most Bibles have a topical index in the back to which one can turn whenever looking for a passage to match whatever they are praying about. Do you know there are those occassions where even when framing my prayers in such exercises, I still find myself at a loss as to know how to pray or what to pray. Admittedly, this can be discouraging and make any of us wonder how to find the will to pray whenever it seems God's will eludes us. This is why we have this promise of the Holy Spirit's help in our prayer-life in Romans 8:26-27

"In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

      So, in praising God for being God, recalling His promises, and asking according to His will, Jesus gives us three wonderful principles for moreeffective prayers. Let's consider one final thought....

Yearn for Christ.                    Matthew 6:14-15

     We read in Matthew 6:14-15 "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Paul writes in Colossians 3:12-13 

"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you."

      Yearning for Jesus is seen in how Christ Himself points us to the mercy the Father desires to bestow in forgiveness, for which Christ Himself came to pay for through His cross and resurrection (see Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). What practical steps can we take (if we are followers of Jesus) to stoke the fires of yearning for Jesus? It all begins by reviewing what He did for us on the cross. In most churches, periodic observance of the Lord's Table is designed to help Christians get refocused upon the cross of Christ. All that Jesus achieved on our behalf in His act of passive obedience as the subsitutionary atoning sacrifice for sins can disarm any resentment we may harbor against someone. To think of what I did as part of all Jesus bore on the cross to provide forgiveness of my sins can fight the tendency we all have to become bitter. Bitterness and anger can dry up desire for God. Only at the cross can we lay such things aside.

        As we review the cross (whether by partaking the Lord's supper or in our daily reflections through one of the final portions of the four Gospel accounts, Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19), we then mentally and prayerfully revisit the empty tomb of our Lord. As we strive to yearn for Jesus, we do not yearn for a dead Savior - but a living One! To know He lives gives me power to overcome those barriers that smother the flames of my devotion to Christ. We read in Romans 8 of how the power of the Holy Spirit in raising Christ from the dead is what initiates the new birth in the beginnings of our Christian walk. 

       Thirdly, as we yearn for Jesus by means of reviewing His cross and revisiting His empty tomb, we refocus by looking up. What do I mean "looking up"? I mean with reference to His ascension into Heaven 40 days following His resurrection, the angels words to the disciples in Acts 1:11 are apropos to us today,

"They also said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

       Yearning for Jesus means anticipating His soon return. As we focus on Christ's second coming, the way our prayers will change will show in how we come to focus on whatever we pray for in light of eternity and things to come. As anyone who desire to follow Jesus can attest, the need to pray more effectively is a constant need. May we take to heart the four above principles in learning to P.R.A.Y. like Jesus. 

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