PRAYING FOR KEEPS
Prayer Conditioning – How to Pray
March 5, 1995
Lisa was preparing for church early one Sunday morning and LeeBeth, our daughter, who was three years of age at the time, was watching her favorite television show, Sesame Street. As she watched Sesame Street, Bert and Ernie and Oscar, the grouch, and Big Bird were talking about brothers and sisters. They were talking about families. LeeBeth was an only child at the time. She walked into the bathroom and said, “Mommy, I want a brother or a sister.” And Lisa smiled and she said, “LeeBeth, Daddy and I would like you to have a brother or a sister, too, in fact we are praying for one. Why don’t you pray for one also?” And LeeBeth said, “OK, Mommy.” So she toddled into her room.
Lisa peered around the corner and she watched LeeBeth walk up to her little Fischer Price kitchenette, take the plastic phone in her hand and heard her say the following words. “Hi, God, this is LeeBeth. I want a baby brother or sister. That will be great. I’ll see you in a few minutes in church. Bye.” And she hangs up the phone.
All you have to do is look at our family picture in the bulletin and see that God has definitely answered LeeBeth’s prayers. Wouldn’t it be great, though, if prayer was that easy? Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do was walk up to a little phone, pick it up and we could talk directly to God?
There are so many misconceptions about prayer circulating these days. Some were demonstrated in our drama. Some people have the view of God as an Aladdin-type figure. You pray, you rub the vase, a Robin Williams type character emerges and he says, “Your wish is my command.”
Others view prayer as a fast food type restaurant. We are in a hurry. We have all of these pressures in our lives so we drive through and we hear a voice and we think it is God’s voice.
It says, “Welcome to prayer. May I help you?” And we say, “Yes, God, I would like a McBlessing with an ice cold Coke.” And God says, “Would you like cheese on that?” And we say, “No, thank you God, I am in a hurry.” And we are gone.
Others of us see prayer like a 9-1-1 call, to be used only in emergency situations. If I am in a difficult situation or if I am in a relational problem or I am out in the deep weeds in some area, I’ll just pick up and call 9-1-1. “God, please answer my prayer. God if you get me out of this one, I’ll become a pastor, God.”
Still others view prayer and talk to God like He is some black-robed Lance Ito judge figure. And we think of ourselves as maybe either Marsha Clarke or Johnny Cochran and we have to convince God to give us some sort of guidance, to answer our prayer in one way or another. Those are misconceptions though. That is not the way the Bible says we should really pray.
Today I am beginning a five week series called “Praying for Keeps.” I want to challenge you to make every one of these sessions because prayer is the lifeline, it is the most important thing in the Christian life. And many people live their lives these days wondering why their lives are not really coming together. They don’t feel the peace that surpasses all understanding. They don’t feel like they have a purpose or real strength in a situation. They don’t know which way to turn.
The answer is prayer. You will never be the kind of person that you were meant to be until you really learn how to talk to God.
I did discover something, though, a long time ago and I bet you know the same thing. I discovered, if you want to know something, ask an expert. If you want to know how to throw a football, talk to Troy Aikman. If you want to know how to cook, speak to Julia Childs. If you want to know something about auto racing, pick up the phone and call A. J. Foyt. If you want to know about prayer, ask the expert. The expert is Jesus.
No one who ever lived believed in prayer like Christ or prayed like He did. In fact, one day the disciples stumbled across Jesus praying and they watched Him pray and after He had finished they said the following. “Jesus, teach us to pray.” They didn’t say, “Jesus teach us to heal.” They didn’t say, “Jesus teach us to preach.” “Jesus, teach us to pray.” You are talking about some power-packed, God-ordained words. You have got to tip your hat to the disciples in this situation. And Jesus taught the disciples how to pray.
This morning we are going to do precisely that. I want to show you—based on the authority of God’s Holy Word—how to pray. If you want to learn how to pray, and believe me you have to learn how to do this, you have got to meet some prayer conditions. Prayer conditions.
There are four basic prayer conditions every believer has to meet. Prayer condition number one: You have got to understand the purpose of prayer. You have got to understand the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not asking God to do my will, prayer is bringing ourselves into the conformity of God’s will. Prayer is how God shares His purposes and His direction for the world with believers. And God wants us to pray. He begs us to talk to Him. He is waiting for us. Jesus said these words in Matthew 6:9, “This is how you should pray. Our Father.” Our Father…and He began to go into the Lord’s prayer.
When we see and hear those two words, Our Father, they don’t really mean that much to us. We think about God being our father. However, when Jesus uttered those two words, it exploded all the stereotypes of Jewish tradition. Jesus gave us the permission to call God, Daddy. Because the term father is rendered daddy. It is an intimate term. And throughout the Lord’s prayer and throughout the New Testament, Jesus challenged His followers to call God, Daddy. Do you know God in an intimate way? Do you know God well enough to call Him Daddy? How many fathers do we have here this morning? OK, men. Men, one of the most thrilling things about being a father has to be when your children rush up to you with their arms outstretched and they say, “Daddy.” Don’t you love to hear that? That makes my day. I come home from the office, I have had a tough day at work and my children call, “Daddy, Daddy.” What if, though, my children came up to me and instead of saying Daddy they said, “Thou great creator, who doth escorteth me to basketball practice and ballet, oh mighty father.” What would you say, men? I would say, “EJ, LeeBeth what are you doing, I am your Daddy. Come on, I’m your Dad.”
In my office, where I do most of my work, I have a direct line. Only a couple of people have that number, my family and a few close friends here in this church. And these folks know that any time I am at the church, they can dial that number and get me directly. I have to be honest with you, though, I enjoy talking to my friends, but my favorite voices to hear on the line have to be the voices of my children. Why? Because they have family connections. That just means something to me. Do you realize God, I am talking about the Almighty God, is the God who wants you to call Him Daddy. Do you realize that God’s favorite voice to hear is your voice? It is my voice. And God is waiting to hear that. It is His favorite voice. He is just saying, “Oh, for my children to call Me Daddy.” Jesus said, pray like this. Our Father or Daddy.
Psalm 103:13 “The Lord has compassion on His children.” Many times this concept of the fatherhood of God is difficult for some people to grasp because they grew up, maybe, with an abusive father or a father who was really inconsistent or a father who was just so mild-mannered or so domineering you didn’t know what to do next. We subconsciously put our earthly father’s character qualities onto our Heavenly Father’s shoulders. And then we say, “Well if God is like my earthly father, I don’t want any part of Him. The word father brings up negative connotations to me.” Our Father. God, though, is this kind of father. In Psalm 103:13. He is a father who has compassion on his children. Do you know a father who hates for his kids to succeed. “Man, I hate for my daughter to get elected to student council. I hate for my son to score the game winning touchdown. I just don’t like for them to succeed.” God wants you and He wants me to succeed. That is what kind of father we have. Romans 8:16-17 says, “If we are His children, we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” That means we have access to the riches that are eternal. And, when we pray, if we know the Son and if we know the Son we know the Father, we can call God, Daddy. As we talk to Him, we can tap into those resources. Everything God has is ours, He shares it with you, and He shares it with me. He wants to give much to us.
My father is a very generous man. And I have vivid memories of Dad buying a new car. For example, when I was sixteen years of age, he drove home a new car and said, “Ed, here are the keys. Take Lisa out on a date. What is mine is yours as long as you are responsible enough to take care of it.” And I knew I could drive the car, and he was thrilled for me to drive it. You can multiply that exponentially and you don’t even have a sliver of how much God loves you and how much God wants you to tap into His resources. You have got to understand the purpose of prayer.
The second condition: You have got to make prayer a top drawer priority in your life. Make it a top drawer priority. It was a priority in the life of Jesus, it should be a priority in our lives. Any time you read through the Bible, you should say what is a priority to God? For example, people matter to God, thus people matter to us. Prayer matters to God, thus prayer should matter to us. How many of you work for someone? How many of you report to a supervisor, a boss, a president, a coach, or whatever? What if for the next month you made this choice. You know what, I am not going to talk to my superior for the next month. No E mail, no faxes, no cellular phone conversations, zero, zilch, I will have no contact whatsoever with this man or this woman. How many think you could function very well? We couldn’t, could we? We couldn’t at all. How, then, do people walk around and tell me, “You know I don’t know what to do. I have no direction. I don’t know what to do in this dating relationship.” “Well, have you talked to God about it?” “Well, yeah, a couple of weeks ago, I did.” Here is another question. How many of you have been stood up on a date before, or maybe an appointment. I don’t want to embarrass too many here. You feel hurt, don’t you? God does not hold a baseball bat and say, “Well, he or she stood Me up. You just wait, I am going to trip them up.” It hurts God. God so badly wants to talk to you. He wants to deal with you. And I believe one day when we get to heaven we will look back on all of our lives and God is going to say, “Ed, do you remember March the 17th, 1995? Do you remember that day, Ed. Instead of spending quality time with Me, Ed, you did something else, you were involved in church business or this or that and I wanted to lay something on your life that was phenomenal but you missed it. It wasn’t a priority to you and you blew it.” Your God is standing there wanting to give us things, things that we cannot even describe in words, yet we say, “Well, God, yeah, right, I’ll just do my own thing.” Making prayer a priority. Is prayer a priority in your life?
Here is the third prayer condition: Establish a place for prayer. Establish a place for prayer. Matthew 6:6, “Jesus said, 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.” There is a restaurant in Deep Ellum called East Wind. It is a special place for Lisa and I. We go there on special occasions and it is kind of like our place. Maybe some of you have a special family vacation spot. It could be that old beach house, or a cabin in Colorado. And once you walk into this place that is your special place, it has a feeling about it, doesn’t it? You think, man I’m at home, what memories. God wants us to have a place, like His Son did. Christ’s place was the Garden of Gethsemane.
And he wants you and me to have a place, it could be the closet, it could be sitting on a rock or a stump, it could be your office. Once you establish a place, though, it will become holy ground for you because God works in our lives there. In college, that place for me was kneeling and looking out of a window of my dorm room. That is where I prayed almost every night. Today it is in my office where I pray. And when I walk into my office in the morning, I know it is time to talk to God. It is time to connect with Him. It is a special place. Do you have that place though? Do you have it? God wants to meet you there. He is never going to be late, He is always going to be there waiting, waiting, waiting.
Some of you might be checking your watches saying, “My, this is a great sermon because we are almost through. You are at point three already and you have got only one other point. I can be out early.” Well, I hate to rain on your prayer parade, but it is time now to bring our sleeping bags and our tents, because on this fourth point, we are going to camp out for awhile. Bring out the Winnebagos for this one.
Here is the fourth prayer condition: You must have a plan. You must have a plan. The Bible says in I Corinthians that everything should be done in an orderly manner. If you met with the President of the United States this Wednesday morning, do you think you would think about what you are going to say to him prior to the conversation? I believe so. We would have it organized. We would have all of the Ts crossed and Is dotted and everything would kind of flow. It is amazing, though, most of us come into prayer and we kind of just throw these microwave prayers up here and there and kind of just casually talk to God. And we can pray like that. We can do the microwave thing and talk to Him anytime, but God is a God of order. God is a God who wants us to come to Him in a systemized fashion. That is what I want to challenge you on. And that is your application for today’s message. To pray, to really pray the way God wants you to pray.
Matthew 6:7 “And when you pray, Jesus said, do not keep on babbling like the pagans.” I have heard people pray before and I want to give them a round of applause after the prayer. Incredible verbage. Nice, amazing. “Don’t babble like the pagans for they will not be heard because of their many words.” You see these people think because they have used these nice theological terms that God will say, “Wow, I am so impressed by that believer. I am so flattered by what they are saying to me in their holy vernacular.” I see people pray incorrectly all the time. For example, they say this. “God, be with us as we travel.” God is omnipresent. You are asking God to do something He has already done. He is already doing. God, be with us? Or I hear people pray this prayer before a meal of chicken-fried steak and cream gravy. “God, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.” Instead of praying then, as I always say, pray before you order, “God, when I order may I put into my mouth something that honors you because my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” You see.
Where it really gets interesting, though, is to write your prayers out. You hear me say this time and time again. Put a pen behind your prayers. Put a pen or pencil behind your prayers. When you write your prayers out, two things will occur. Number one, your faith will be increased. If you keep a prayer journal and if you are kind of struggling with your faith in the early part of March, you can look back through your journal and see in February how God answered this prayer, how He cleansed you here, how He guided you over there. And that will strengthen your faith to face March. It also keeps you focused. If you are like me you might have a short attention span and it will keep your mind from kind of floating here and yonder.
I want you to adopt something today called the PRAY method. P-R-A-Y. And to explain that, I want you to take your bulletin, see your bulletin here, and open it and see the light blue insert that says “This Week At The Fellowship Of Las Colinas” Make sure you read that every week because this is the information about our church, what all is happening. Turn, however, to the last insert, a white sheet with lines on it. If you have found it, wave it in the air. It will kind of wake a few of you up. I want you to take a pen or pencil. Guys if you don’t have one I am sure a woman on your row can pull out many from her purse and give you one. Write vertically the letters P R A Y, because each letter represents an aspect of prayer I am going to talk about very quickly here.
P stands for praise. The first thing we should do when we talk to God is to praise Him. Praise is adoration to God. It is expressing our love to God. It is concentrating on His character or His attributes. People wonder, how do I praise God? Here is a good example of that. Maybe this week you have been impressed to praise God because of His power, of His omnipotence. Write the prayer and say, “God, thank you for the power you showed me in this particular situation.” That is what it means to praise God. Part of praise is also thanking Him. It is one thing to feel grateful. Remember when Jesus healed the lepers. All the lepers were grateful, “Wow, I’m healed, I am cured of this disease.” One, though, made a quick 180, he did the Sunday morning spin and he came all the way back to Jesus and he, the leper, expressed his thankfulness. So it is one thing to say, “Oh, God, I am grateful for all the blessings.” Jesus says that is fine and good but if you want to move His heart, you say, “God, I want to thank you for …one…two…three…four.” That is part of praise.
R stands for repent. Repentance. Or you might want to call it confession. But to keep the acrostic going, call it repent for me please. You have to learn the art of confession. Because what we want to do is generalize when we pray. We want to pile all of our sins up in a giant heap and say, “Lord, there’s the garbage dump, forgive me of all of my sins and the trash in my life.” God says no. God says no, that is the easy way. He wants us to name the sins one by one and repent. Let’s say, for example, that your pastor was rude to his wife yesterday, you know it wouldn’t happen but let’s just say I was, OK? And I am writing out my journal and under the part for repentance I should not say, God forgive me for being short with Lisa. That doesn’t cut it. I need to say, God I willfully chose to be self-centered, I willfully chose to act like a jerk to my wife in this specific situation and I want to tell you I was self-centered. That is repentance. That is confession. Confessing, turning from the sin. And once you write your confessions out, take your pen and cross through them. That symbolizes that your sins are forgiven and forgotten. Be specific.
A stands for ask. Ask God. Ask God. I heard a guy say one time that when we get to heaven we will see all kinds of huge presents and gifts for all of us and they will have giant tags on them that say, “Never asked for.” And we will say, “God, what do You mean, You wanted to give me that? You wanted to bless me here?” And He will say, “Yes, Ed, I did but you never asked me.” Jesus said over twenty times in the New Testament to ask God. Ask, ask, ask, ask.
The Y in pray stands for yield. We need to yield ourselves daily to the Lord, yield in every area of our life. I think it is great when you pray to kneel, to close your eyes. Also, oftentimes I will lift my hands to God and say “God, I give you this situation, I want to worship You, I am Your child.”
That is the P R A Y method. Now here is the homework. We are going to do something we have never done before right in church. Stan Durham is going to play softly and I want you to use this sheet to do this P R A Y method. Write your prayers out. I have explained it. You write them out, P R A Y. Don’t look to your left, to your right, it is between you and God. I am going to give you three minutes to do this. Let’s begin praying right now as you write your prayers out.
I know many of you are still writing and you can finish up while I am talking. I want you to write out your prayers for the next seven days. You watch and see what God does in your life. The Bible says the church should be a house of prayer and prayer begins individually, and then we do it together as a Body of Christ. You begin to write your prayers out, I guarantee you things will happen like you have never seen before. But the evil one will not want you to pray. He is going to do everything possible to get your mind off of prayer, to get you away from your special place. He doesn’t want you to write your prayers out because he does not want you to know how God is going to bless your life and how God is going to deal with you.
Remember as I began this message I talked about the concept of calling God, Daddy? The concept that if you know Jesus Christ personally, that we can tap into His inheritance. Listen to this story carefully. A couple of years ago a multi-millionaire lived in New York City. And this man had one desire in his life and that was to have a son or daughter that he could leave his inheritance to. He and his wife tried for years and years to have a baby. Nothing worked. They went to all the top fertility specialists until finally, when she was forty years of age, she came home with the great news, “Honey, I am pregnant.” Nine months later, though, in childbirth, tragically, she died. And she gave birth to a son who was severely retarded. This multi-millionaire gave all of his companies to his employees and said, “I am going to spend the rest of my life taking care of my son.” And he did that.
The boy died when he was twelve years of age and a year later the multi-millionaire passed away of a broken heart. An auction date was set and Who’s Who from all across America flew in because this man had assets that you only read about and dream about, homes all over the world, cars worth millions of dollars, jewelry. And the auctioneer walked up behind the lectern and the first item he auctioned off was an 11 by 14 oil portrait of this severely retarded boy. He said, “Let’s start the bidding for this painting.” The room was silent. “Let’s start the bidding for this painting.” The room was silent, because people were waiting for the good stuff, the Bentleys, the Ferraris, the homes in Palm Beach and the Fiji Islands. Finally, though, a low voice from the back was heard to call out, “Five dollars, five dollars.” And the auctioneer said, “Five dollars, do I hear ten, do I hear ten? Five dollars going once, going twice, sold to the lady in the back.”
She walked up to receive her painting and the wealthy recognized her as one of the nurses who, together with father, took care of this retarded boy for twelve long years. When this lady took the painting, the auctioneer reached in the back of the painting and pulled out an envelope. He opened it up. It was notarized and written in the multi-millionaires handwriting and he read these words. “To whomever loved my son enough to buy this painting, I will give to that person my entire inheritance.” And with that the auctioneer took his gavel, hit it on the lectern and said “Auction over.”
If you know the Son, if you know the Son, you can tap into the inheritance that God wants you to tap into and the way to do that on this earth is through prayer.