I am going to start a little differently today. I’m going to ask you three questions as we get started. Now, these three questions are personal, and I will admit, this may be a little intense for an introduction to a talk but your answers to these questions are so important and I will tell you why. It’s because how you answer these three questions determines so much about your life from how you process information, to how you view life, your relationship with people, and your relationship with God. How you answer these questions literally determines your own personal reality. I am also willing to go out on a limb and say that most of us will find these questions hitting us right in the areas we struggle with most.
Are you able to simply be yourself?
Can you just relax and be yourself with people? How about in your relationship with God? Are you able to just be you? Maybe you struggle to even know who the real you is.
How do you view yourself?
Do you see yourself as God sees you? Do you have an accurate view of who you are or has the world made it very difficult for you to be ok with the person you see in the mirror each day? Can you truly see your value? Or has this world done what it does so well, and beat your self-worth out of you?
Would you say your focus is on God or are you self-focused?
For so many of us, we can struggle to ever allow the focus to shift off ourselves and onto God, or frankly anyone else. Think about this one.
So, how is that for an introduction today? I know, a little intense, but how you answer those questions is such a big deal and will shape how you answer so many of these God Questions that we are answering which are all about our relationship with God, how we view Him, and what we believe. This stuff’s a big deal. Last week, Ken answered the question How can I have faith? In many ways that was the first of three of what I would call, “how to” questions that we all must answer when it comes to our Christian lives. Ken will be back next week to answer the question How and why do I read my Bible? And today I am thankful for the question I have because it’s such a big deal and this subject falling on a Better Together Sunday is perfect.
How and Why Do I Pray?
To answer this, I want to address the very heart of prayer through Jesus’ very intentional teaching on it, because if we don’t grasp the heart of what prayer is and should be, we will never be able to experience all that our prayer lives can be in our lives. Prayer is essential, it’s not a ritual. It’s not our way of bending this world and the people of it to our will, and it is not words to recite to make a distant God happy. Prayer is about taking requests to God, but it is also about so much more than just asking God for things, or what God can give us. Prayer is all about a pure, intimate relationship with Our Father, our dad. I am so thankful that we have this topic on a Better Together Sunday where the kids are in the service with us, with Kim sharing in a moment but before we do, can I ask you? How did that hit your heart when I said prayer is about an intimate relationship, using the imagery of us with our dad? Now for so many of us, when we think of a relationship between a dad and a son or daughter, it’s challenging because not all of us had a loving father or a healthy relationship with our Earthly fathers. I’m so sorry if that is you, it is so painful to have tension or hurt in those primary relationships like with your mom or dad. So, if that is you and the moment, I bring up the idea of your prayer life being like a relationship with, Our Father, we understand that isn’t easy for you to hear and, that, that hurt can lead to us struggling to understand this imagery. I do want you to understand that while we have an Earthly Father, we all also have a perfect Heavenly Father, who lavishes His love on you.
1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. NIV
You are a child of God and He lavishes His great love on you! His love is perfect. I wanted to address this tension point on the front end because I understand that the moment we bring up a relationship with God as a father, son, or daughter relationship, we tend to visualize that off our own earthly experience. I get it. But I want you to see that God’s perfect love is lavished on you, perfectly. You are His child, and He loves you.
You know, I have four children. They are getting older now, and not to scare those of you with younger children, but the teenage years and young adulthood years are challenging for sure. Maybe more so for us parents than they are for our children! As a dad, it’s so hard to watch them go out into this world and just get beat up, struggle, and walk through so much. You see it happening, and it’s tough. You remember when they were little. They were so pure, so confident, so free, and then they headed off into this world, and it’s just so hard to watch the world just beat so much out of my children. I hurt when they hurt. I want so much for them, and I just want them to experience their best lives possible. I am just amazed and so proud of my kids. I love them so much and there isn’t anything they could do to change that. The problem is as their self-image changes, and they see less and less of their true self, they also seem to think I see them that way too. It’s so hard to watch them walk through life and get so beat up. I watch them struggle with the person they see in the mirror each day and it hurts. Sometimes they struggle to be honest with me, or they try to hide their struggles from me, or they just push me away. While this hurts me, none of that changes my love for them. I pray for them all the time. And I just wish that they could see themselves the way I see them. I hope and pray that when they look in the mirror someday, at some point regardless of all they walk through or how hard and painful this life can be, that they can see what I see in them because their dad loves them in a way that is so pure, so unconditional. I just wish and often pray that they could see themselves as I do. You know, as it is with a father and his children, so it is with our spiritual lives. If we could just see ourselves the way God (our father, our dad) sees us rather than how we humans view ourselves, life could be so different. How we view and value ourselves would be so different, but it’s tough to do isn’t it? It’s hard for us to see our value and self-worth in a world that seems to just beat that out of us, and for so many of us living in this fractured, difficult, and broken world the concept of a loving relationship that is pure and as close as a loving father/daughter or son relationship is not an easy thing to picture or understand because life keeps hitting and hurting and happening, and this fallen world and the humans in it aren’t always loving and kind to us. We lose sight of who we truly are, we lose sight of our value or how worthy we are of God’s love, and we lose sight of what it means to be His children. Remember those three questions I asked you? Well because of all of that, we struggle to see ourselves as our Heavenly Father sees us, and instead of pouring into Him, we hide, push Him away, and can’t simply be ourselves, or understand why He would ever love us the way He says He does. And as we talk about truly experiencing a prayer life, we need to break through all of that…and I can’t wait to dive into this.
You know, there are some things that I have always found fascinating when it comes to people.
First, (in general) we struggle to just be ourselves.
It just seems difficult for us to just be ourselves around other people, and we spend most of our lives trying to fit in, and just never feeling like we do fit in. We walk in insecurities and tend to want people to like us, and our experience with people is that no matter how hard we try…not everyone will like us, which only adds to our insecurities. Then we come to church, and we drag all of who we are into our Spiritual Families, and our Belief System, and who we are comes out in our spiritual lives making things like our prayer lives or reading God’s Word something they shouldn’t be.
Second, (in general) we tend to make things harder than they need to be.
I think about this a lot, and I think the first thing can tie into the second thing here. Because we struggle to be ourselves, and we can’t see our value or self-worth as we should, we go out trying to find it in ways we just should not. We want to appear impressive and important to people, and what do we do? We act super busy, super stressed out, and dive into unhealthy practices just to look a certain way to people, whom we have already established will never be impressed. We want to appear intelligent to people, so we overcomplicate everything to look smart or knowledgeable. We want to appear wealthy, so we overspend our income to have all the things that we hope make us look impressive…and on and on I could go. And then we come to church, and we drag all of who we are into our Spiritual Families, and our Belief System and who we are comes out in our spiritual lives making things like our prayer lives something they shouldn’t be.
Third, (in general) we struggle to see ourselves accurately.
You know, life just has an amazing way of beating the value and self-worth we may have had right out of us. This world and the people of it can hurt us in so many ways, making sure we know what we are not, what we don’t have, how we simply aren’t enough, and so many of us walk through life struggling to look in the mirror and see our value in any way. We certainly can’t see ourselves the way God sees us. I mean, to even picture how loved and valuable we are to God just seems outrageous because this world beats it out of us over time. We know all that we are not, and we have that reinforced every day by people and this world…And then we come to church, and we drag all of who we are into our Spiritual Families and our Belief System, and how we view ourselves comes out in how we relate to God, how we read and interpret His Truths, and what our prayer lives look like.
Fourth, (in general) we struggle to focus on anything but ourselves.
One of the most beautiful things to see is the love of Christ transforms a human being into a follower of Jesus, it is miraculous. Because something wild happens when Jesus transforms us, the focus of our lives shifts off of us and onto God, and we begin to sense His Grace! This changes everything in our lives from the choices we make, to the direction our lives take, to the motives behind how we truly live our lives but this shift in focus is so rare to see because of the hurts, challenges, and instincts we humans have…everything about this world seems to push or bully us into staying self-focused…then we come to church, and we drag this self-focused mindset with us into our Spiritual Families and our Belief System and who we are and our self-focused ways comes out in spiritual lives, and blocks us from ever experiencing all we could in Christ.
So, why would I start a talk on teaching you how to pray this way? Well, because those four things I just talked about, can really block us from ever engaging in prayer as purely and lovingly and authentically as we could. I also think that so many of us want the ‘how-to’s,’ we like talks on tips and techniques but aren’t willing to engage the very heart and depth of what is needed to experience more than just some religious exercises and I also want you to see that while Jesus took the time to literally show us how to pray before He did so, He addresses everything we have been talking about so far and I don’t think that is a coincidence at all. While it’s often overlooked, it is so important! I’m really looking forward to pulling this whole how-to talk on prayer down to what it must be, and that is an intimate relationship with Your Heavenly Father. Before we do that though, I would like to give you some practical “Sam” tips for reading your Bibles. I know Ken has this topic next week, but it leads us to where we are headed today.
Practical Tip #1 – When you see something repeating itself in Scripture, pay attention to it! I give you this one a lot, and it’s a big deal!
Practical Tip #2 – Any time Jesus says “This is why I have come…” PAY ATTENTION! This is God telling you why He came to this Earth and what He is up to! Just a few examples here…
John 10:10 “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV
Matthew 5:17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them. NLT
Jesus makes many of these types of statements and they are very important. We must focus on and wrap our hearts and minds around them because Jesus is telling us why He came, that’s a big deal! But it’s this last tip that helps us today as we ask the question How and Why Do I Pray?
Practical Tip #3 – Any time Jesus Christ says, “This, then, is how you should do something.” Well, this then is how you should do it! This is an absolute gift found in our Scriptures. I know this is complex theological stuff, isn’t it? This is important, and so good and it leads us into our study today on prayer, because Jesus taught His followers to pray and gave us the template on how to pray, and He started that prayer with that ‘this, then’ statement.
Matthew 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray….” NIV
Again, if Jesus says, “This, then is how we should do something, this then is how we should do that! How awesome is it that Jesus takes the time to walk us through how to pray? This moment leads us into what we famously call “The Lord’s Prayer” in Jesus’ Sermon on The Mount. So many studies and outlines and teachings are done on the Lord’s Prayer, and they should be. It’s so awesome that Jesus gives us this prayer. But before we dive into this, I just want to talk for a bit, because prayer is essential, it’s important, and often we struggle to truly enter prayer and experience what it can and should be. I just don’t want to move forward into another teaching on prayer, where we learn tips and techniques that could help us, that never will help us because we aren’t addressing the core issue or challenges, we face in experiencing prayer and I believe Jesus is pointing that all out as He moves into this awesome moment of how to pray. He doesn’t start by showing us how to pray, saying repeat after me…no! He starts to set up how to pray, by pointing to something we humans struggle with, and that is simply being ourselves with God. I don’t think it’s an accident that before Jesus says, “This, then, is how you should pray…” he starts by challenging us to just be ourselves. Starting with a warning to do good for the right reasons, and not to draw attention or win people over, we are supposed to be real, which we discussed earlier is very hard for us humans to do.
Matthew 6:1 “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 2 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure — ‘playactors’ I call them — treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. 3 When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. 4 Just do it — quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. MSG
Then Jesus moves right out of that to us being ourselves in prayer.
Matthew 6:5 “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” MSG
Jesus wants us to be real. He wants us to come before God and to simply be ourselves! If we do, we will experience our best lives possible, a life that we all want, but so few ever see.
Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” MSG
I want you to ask yourself, why would Jesus start a conversation by pointing to being ourselves? There must be a reason. Well, the reason is we struggle to simply be ourselves, and if we can’t be real, this prayer thing will always be a struggle, it will feel weird and complicated and even clunky for us to do, and God will always feel distant, and that just isn’t what prayer is supposed to be. Prayer is all about a true, pure loving connection to Your Heavenly Father that you can have now because of Jesus, yet so often, we drag all of our junk into it, just like we do with church and the rest of our belief system, and we never experience what prayer truly is and could be. Do you see it? There are people who love God, have accepted Jesus into their lives, and believe in God’s love who still can’t view themselves as God does, they can’t simply be themselves and their relationship with God stays as clunky and awkward as any relationship with someone is when we aren’t ourselves. This is why Jesus so intentionally starts with being yourself, not pretending, just being with God as simply and honestly as you can manage because when you do, the focus shifts from you to God and you experience God’s Grace….an amazing thing, but so rare for people today…and it’s because of all those struggles we talked about earlier.
Jesus doesn’t just dive into how we should pray, He knows us so well, and He knows how challenging it is for us to simply be ourselves, to relax, and just simply come before God as we are. You know these first few verses of this Chapter mean so much to me because Jesus is proving how much He understands us and is trying to help us here. He understands how hard it is for us to be ourselves and see ourselves accurately. He understands how hard it is for us to get the focus off ourselves and focus on God. He understands our struggle to simply be ourselves. He even understands how much more complicated we tend to make things than they need to be which we see in the very next two verses.
Matthew 6:7 “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. 8 Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. MSG
For so many of us, when we want to learn something, we should be doing in our Spiritual Lives, we ignore the heart and the relational part and want these formulas and pedaling techniques. We struggle to simply be ourselves, to see ourselves accurately, to get the focus off ourselves, and we tend to make things so much harder than they have to be. Jesus knows this and knows He had to start teaching us how to pray by addressing our issues. Because our prayer lives are so essential and so opposed. He’s trying to get us to relax, so that we can simply be ourselves and walk into prayer as it should be, as a pure, intimate, life-giving, free relationship with our Heavenly Father. In fact, in the NIV, He uses the term, “Your Father,” on repeat, and you know what I keep telling you about Scripture on repeat, it means it’s a really big deal. In the NIV just in these first 8 verses, He calls God, “your Father” 5 times in those first 8 verses.
Matthew 6:5 “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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. 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. NIV
This is profound. As Jesus teaches His followers (us) how to pray, He does something very intentional, and very important if we are to truly grasp and experience prayer as it is intended to be. Instead of walking us directly into tips and techniques, which he will get to. First, He takes the time to walk through those human struggles we all face. He wants us to be real and simply be ourselves with God. Jesus takes the time to build into us being real, but it doesn’t stop with us just relaxing enough to be real, Jesus keeps painting a picture of the relationship we should and could have with God, as a massive part of what prayer is. He doesn’t just want us to pray, recite words, stand a certain way praying at certain times. Prayer isn’t about asking a distant God to bend things to our will and desires, it’s so much more personal and profound. He doesn’t just want us to understand how essential prayer is, he is establishing how personal, pure, relational, and real prayer is and can be because of what He did for us. Can you feel it? It is refreshing and can bring life if you can slow yourself down enough to track with what He is doing here. When prayer is what it is intended to be, a pure relationship with Your Father, well we finally get to experience prayer as we could and should, and that is what Jesus is up to here.
You know, all through the Gospels we read of Jesus calling God His Father. This is part of what bothered the religious leaders so much about Jesus, that He dared call the Almighty God, His Father! The term Jesus often used was “Abba” which could almost be translated as “Daddy” because it’s how a child would address their dad. We can look at countless examples of Jesus, reaching out to His “Abba, Father.” It’s beautiful, and close that God’s one and only Son would refer to His Dad this way…while the religious of that time couldn’t see it, it’s so close, pure, and real. And while I could walk you through so much Scripture that points to what Jesus did for us, that would allow you and I to view our Heavenly Father this same way, Jesus then, after taking the time to refer to God as “your Father” 5 times, after trying to get us to this place where we can stop faking it and just be ourselves, and trying to help us see ourselves as we should see ourselves, and after He tries to help us shift the focus off of ourselves and onto God so we can begin to sense His Grace, and after He tries to help us keep it simple and not over complicate things as we often do, we finally get to it. After all of that, we get our ‘this, then’ statement on how to pray.
Matthew 6:9 “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 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.’ NIV
So, Jesus says “This, then, is how you should pray…this is important, and means that this, then is how we should do it. But I think for so many of us, we skip over the most important thing in this prayer, the very heart of prayer, so that we recite or learn the technique of prayer…but more important than all the tips and techniques, more important than the how and the why, is the who…it’s the relationship. I didn’t see it this way for years, and I was always striving to do better and be better, but the two most important words in this whole teaching is…
All through His time on this Earth Jesus calls God His Abba, His dad. But as He teaches us, His followers how to pray, what does He say? We can’t lose sight of this, or prayer will always be something it should not be. He says, ‘this, then’ is how you should pray, and starts with the two biggest words of the prayer.
You know as a dad I told you; I am just amazed and so proud of my kids. I love them so much and am just so proud of them, and there isn’t anything they could do to change that. It’s so hard to watch them walk through life and get so beat up. I watch them struggle with the person they see in the mirror each day and it hurts. I just wish that they could see themselves the way I see them. Well, as it is with a father and his children, so it is with our spiritual lives. If we could just see ourselves the way God sees us rather than how we humans view ourselves, life could be so different. How do we do that? We do that by spending time with Our Father and allowing Him to breathe life, truth, and His love into our lives. And in so many ways, prayer is our lifeline to that truth, and at the very heart of prayer is this pure relationship, a relationship so pure that it’s foreign to us living in this broken, and painful world, but it doesn’t have to be…we can all experience this, as we do what Jesus says, and pray to our dad as Jesus instructs us. This, then, is how we should pray.
So instead of getting into Jesus’ beautiful prayer, which I would encourage you to read and pray for yourselves this week. I want to ask you a few questions. Can you do this? Can you come before God this way? As a child with their dad? Why or why not? When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Can you see yourself as your Heavenly Father does, or has the world beaten that out of you? When you think about your relationship with God, is it pure, and loving as a child with their daddy, or is it guilt-ridden, and you are unable to truly be yourself before God, always hiding, covering up, and pushing Your Dad away? Could YOUR FATHER love you? Have you ever thought about this? Please, slow down and think about it now, it’s that important. Do you struggle to see yourself accurately? Has the world taken that from you? Do you struggle to see your value and how lovable you are to God? Do you struggle to simply be yourself before God? Do you tend to look at all this God stuff and think it’s just way too complicated, and will never make sense to you? Do you see it? None of this is hard if we understand and truly settle into the power of those two words. OUR FATHER.
So, what does your prayer life look like? Is it some weird obligation? Is it clunky and awkward? Is it you constantly apologizing for what you are not? Is it you only coming to God when you need something? Is it completely non-existent until something bad happens? Is it you just constantly complaining, wondering when God will do what you want? Does it seem like God wouldn’t care for your prayers or that He wouldn’t want to hear from you? If that is you can I tell you something here today? You can never do anything to change how much God loves you. You can never do anything to change how God views you. Just as a loving father looks at His child, so proud, seeing everything the child struggles to see in themselves…so it is with OUR FATHER. No matter how long it’s been, or how often you have pushed Him away, or how badly you messed up…nothing changes the love a loving dad has for their child, and that is what Jesus is showing us here… when we get it, and approach OUR FATHER with this heart and mindset, our prayer lives become the life-giving experience that they should and could be.
Do you want to experience that kind of relationship with God? Well, this then is how you should pray.
Matthew 6:9 …”‘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 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.’ NIV