Real Christians Really Pray

Original Date: 
Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Mighty, Mighty Man
My Freshman year of high school I went out for the school play. We were doing a comedy that year—more of a farce—that if I remember correctly was called Airline! It was sort of in the tradition of Leslie Nielson’s Airplane. A really dysfunctional airline with a very quirky assortment of passengers.

As a freshman, I didn’t get a terribly large part—but I felt like I ended up with the best role. I was one of the passengers, Mr. Mann. The play notes described him as “a young man with a dream.” I played him as a very timid, bashful, weakling. Which, considering I was 100 pounds nothing at the time, wasn’t that much of a stretch. The senior girls also convinced me to give him this prancing, mincing walk—sort of a cross between Mick Jagger and Pee Wee Herman. I was dressed in an old suit my Mom found at the goodwill store, with a bow tie.

So I was just a passenger—along with a crazy rich lady and her pet dog and a man who was terrified of flying and a spoiled brat and that sort of thing—while the plot revolved around the pilots and an escaped prisoner. At some point, the bad guy pulls a gun—this was all before 9/11, so you could actually make a comedy that involved guns on a plane—and I had my big moment.

It turns out that timid, mild mannered Mr. Mann believed himself to be a super hero. So I stripped off my suit to reveal that underneath I was wearing tights, a cape, and a white turtle neck with a big black M sewn on it. I declared myself to be “Mighty Mann” and I confronted the bad guy. I believe we have a picture.

Unfortunately, when I threw myself at the escaped prisoner, he sidestepped me and I ended up going out an open cabin door. It’s unclear from the script whether I could actually fly or not, but that was the end of my appearances in the play.

Hypocrites
Now, I tell you that story so that I can get at an idea in our text today. You know, of course, that I didn’t actually believe myself to be a super hero. Neither was I a prancing, bow tie wearing, Pee Wee Herman wannabe. I was pretending. I was acting.

In our text for today Jesus uses the word hypocrite. It’s a word that Jesus apparently invented. There’s no record of anybody using the word the way Jesus does until He came along. Hypocrite. He took it from the Greek word for actor. It’s a way of describing someone who is “pretending”, or “playing a part with intent to deceive.”

And Jesus is talking about prayer. And He says that when it comes to prayer, sometimes people are hypocrites—they’re only pretending. They act like prayer is important to them, but they aren’t praying in sincerity or out of love for God. They’re play-acting.

But Jesus doesn’t want us to be like that. He says that if we are really His followers—that is, if we are Real Christians—then we will really pray. Not pretend. Not acting. But real, regular, heartfelt, genuine conversations with God. Real Christians really pray.

Let’s look at the text. Matthew 6:5-15:

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.
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.’
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Actually Praying
Real Christians really pray. There are two things from the text that get at what it means when we use that word “really” in relation to prayer.

First, I want to talk about what I’ll call disciplined prayer. Jesus is calling on real Christians to really, truly, actually pray. Verses 5 and 6 again:

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.

The problem with the hypocrites is that they are using prayer to burnish their reputation. Jesus isn’t opposed to prayer in public. He prayed in public frequently. But He is opposed to prayer for show. He’s opposed to people using religiosity to call attention to themselves and convince people that there is more going on there than maybe there really is.

But the biggest problem with these showmanship prayers is that they aren’t really prayers at all.

Prayer, at its heart, is talking to God. It’s a conversation with God. It’s a way to ask God for things.

And by things, I don’t mean just stuff. I mean asking God for the things that our hearts need and desire. And, of course, what we most need is God. So prayer is a way that God has given us to grow and develop our relationship with Him.

Think of it this way: if you are in a relationship with somebody, you communicate with them. Imagine dating somebody, or being married to somebody, and never communicating with them. No talking. No phone calls. No texting. No email. No letters. I mean, you might be far away from each other. They might be away to college or deployed in the military or off working in another state. But if you want the relationship to grow, you’re going to find a way to communicate with that person. If you stop communicating—and this is true whether the person is in another state or sleeping right next to you—the relationship is going to suffer.

Well, real Christians are in a relationship with Jesus. And that means there needs to be communication. We need to talk to Him. We need to pray. Or the relationship suffers.

And—back to the text—the problem with the hypocrites is that they aren’t actually praying. They’re putting on a show. They’re calling attention to themselves. But they aren’t really talking to God.

Now, I don’t know if big, flowery, public prayers are a big problem in our church. I know that a lot of you—maybe most of you—get pretty uncomfortable at the idea of praying out loud in front of somebody else.

But I do think not actually praying can be a problem for us.

Let me put it like this: I don’t suppose there is anybody here who would disagree with the idea that prayer is important. When we talk about prayer, we all nod our heads and say we need it. Lots of us get the prayer chain emails asking us to pray about things going on in the lives of our church. Lots of us will say to somebody: “You’re in my prayers” or “I’ll be praying for you.” But here’s the question: Do we actually follow-thru and pray?

Or, like the hypocrites, do we make like prayer is important, but then lead prayer-less lives?

I’ll be honest, maintaining a regular and consistent prayer life is not the easiest thing for me. It’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to want to move on to something more “active”. But Jesus says that real Christians really pray. They actually pray. And so I strive to make prayer a part of my life.

That’s why I use the word disciplined to talk about really praying. When Jesus tells us to go into our room and close the door He’s specifically addressing the problem of praying for show, but He’s also showing that prayer takes intentionality. It takes a plan. Jesus is saying that real prayer means really, truly, actually praying.

Real Relationship
But there’s a second thing that I mean by really praying. I’ll call it devoted praying. And by that I mean praying that springs out of a real, love relationship with God the Father. Verses 7-9:

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.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,

We should note that lots of people pray who aren’t Christians. Muslims pray. Hindus pray. Jews pray. And so on. There are all kinds of prayers that are memorized and repeated like magic incantations. But Jesus says those prayers don’t work.

They are not effective prayers because there is no relationship.

Jesus says real Christians have a real relationship with God. They relate to God as Father.

That’s what I mean by devoted prayer. Real Christians have been adopted by God into His family because of what Jesus did on the Cross. We are God’s own children.

Mark Driscoll—pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle—says that makes a difference in how we pray. He says it means we should pray respectfully, but we need not pray formally.

I grew up in a church where some of the older folks would use very formal, very serious language when they prayed. A lot of King James language. And I understand that’s what they were raised in, and I’m not doubting the sincerity of their prayers. But our prayers don’t have to be in some language pattern we never use anywhere else in life.

God is our father. He wants us to approach Him as father. That means we pray respectfully, but it doesn’t mean we have to pray formally.

Let me explain it this way. I’m a dad. And sometimes my kids ask me for things. Now, if they come at it disrespectfully, that’s probably not going to work. You know, if they say: “Hey old man, give me 20 bucks” that’s not going to get them any money. But at the same time, I don’t require them to be all formal. They don’t have to say: “Dearest Father of mine, wouldest thou possibly have 20 dollars I couldst use?” They talk like that, I’m just going to look at them funny. Instead, they just say something like: “Dad, can I have $20?” Respectful, but not formal.

And that’s what God wants from us. He wants us to approach Him like a Father, like a Dad. And like any Dad, God wants us to have good things. He wants what is best for us. He’s a loving Father.

That doesn’t mean He’ll always answer our prayers the way we want Him too. I’m not always going to give 20 bucks to my kids when they ask. It depends on why they’re asking, and what I’m trying to teach them about handling money, and who I hope they’ll become, and a whole host of factors. But I’ll give them an answer. It’ll be “Yes”, “No,” or “maybe later”, and I’ll try to do what I believe is best for them.

And God is the same way. He always answers our prayers. Yes, no, or later. And He always does what He--as the sovereign, loving Father He is-- knows is in our best interests.

So real prayer will be born out of a real relationship with God as your Father. He’s your dad. Dad listens. Dad cares. Dad is good. Dad is available. Dad loves you. Just talk to Him. That’s what prayer is.

How To’s
So, real Christians really pray. They pray with discipline and they pray with devotion.

I don’t suppose it takes too much to convince you of the importance of prayer. The tough thing is developing your prayer life. We’d probably all agree that we could pray better. So I’m going to end this message by giving 9 points of practical application. 9 things that can help us grow in prayer.

#1. Trust Jesus for Access to the Father.

If you don’t know Jesus as Savior and Lord, you don’t know God as your Father. Without Jesus, you can’t say, “Our Father.”

But there is no reason why you can’t turn from your sins now and trust in the Savior. Right here, right now, you can believe the saving Gospel of grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and be saved.

And if you do, you will become adopted. And, then, you can really pray.

Tell God right now that you want to turn from your own way and trust in what Jesus did on the Cross on your behalf. Tell Him that you believe that Jesus died for your sins and was raised to life to give you new life. And that you want God as your Father.

And then #2. Thank Jesus for Access to the Father.

I don’t think we are thankful enough for what God has done through Jesus. We need to be Cross-Centered people who are overwhelmed with how we have been loved.

Every day, we need to be thanking Jesus for providing our access to the Father.

And then #3. Use Your Access to the Father!

Pray. Really pray. Don’t just pretend for show. Don’t just babble on like a pagan.

But pray. Really pray.

How?

#4. Make a Plan to Really Pray.

Henry Ford said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And that’s really true with prayer, isn’t it?

Have you ever noticed how prayer is one of those things that is easily forgotten? I often forget that I’m praying when I’m praying!!!

So, we’ve got to have plan for it. When, where, what.

Make an appointment with God. Set a time. Maybe before breakfast. Maybe before bed. It doesn’t have to be one long time either. If it works better, appoint different times for conversation with God throughout the day. Maybe during your commute. Maybe at meal times. Daniel, in the Old Testament prayed 3 times a day.

Where? It helps to have a place where you will go to pray. Maybe a special chair. Maybe a quiet room. Maybe a walk.

And what. What are you planning to talk about? Maybe you need a prayer list. Obviously, I can’t pray for all of you individually every day. But I have a prayer letter that Lori sends out to three of you every week. I pray specifically for three families every week, and eventually I pray for all of you.

So, what’s on your prayer list? Have a plan.

Then, on the flip side, #5. Live Your Life on Speakerphone.

It’s not enough to plan to really pray and then pray at those times. We need to be praying all the time!

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, to “Pray continually.” That means that there is a sense in which we can live our entire day with an awareness that we are always in God’s presence. So when we get up in the morning, we need to hit the button for speakerphone for our thoughts and heart, opening them up to God, and then have a running dialog with Him all day long.

Then, #6. Pray Out Loud Whenever You Can.

I’ll be honest, I don’t do this. But my friend Matt suggested it in his version of this sermon and I think it is good advice. If we think of prayer as a conversation with God, then doesn’t it make sense to speak out loud? How many other conversations do you have that only take place in your head?

Plus, it’s a lot harder to get distracted in your prayers if you are speaking them aloud, and it makes the presence of God feel more real. Obviously, you want to make sure you aren’t out in public if you are going to pray out loud, but I think this is something I’m going to start doing more of.

#7. Pray with Other Christians.

One of the best things you can do for your prayer life is to get a prayer partner or a prayer group. Not so that you can pray like a hypocrite on a street corner, but so that you can have somebody to hold you accountable and encourage you.

For me, it’s like running. If I’m supposed to run by myself, I’ll find excuses for it not to happen. But if I know there is somebody out there waiting for me, I’m much more likely to go. So now, I’ve combined prayer with running. Every Tuesday morning, there’s a group of guys who meet here at church. Some of us run first, but at 6:30 we come in here and we pray. There are a couple of women’s groups that meet for prayer on several weekday mornings as well.

Plus, we have groups that meet for prayer during prayer and praise on Wednesdays and folks who meet in the grace room and the Well before each worship service. And if none of those groups work for you, start one of your own.

#8. Pray in His Will

This is an important point. Jesus often says that anything we ask in His name will be granted to us. To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray in His will. It means asking for things that would be pleasing to Him.

Often we get frustrated that God is not answering our prayers the way we want, but we don’t realize we’re asking for things outside of His will. So, for example, if you’re asking God to bless your business when you are cheating your customers, He’s probably not cool with that. If you’re asking God to bless an adulterous relationship, that’s not a request He is likely to grant.

And then, #9. Get Ready for Answers.

Because when Real Christians Really Pray, God Really Answers. Verse 6: “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”

George Muller was a Real Christian who lived in the 19th century. And he ran orphanages for British children. And he ran them on prayer.

I mean that literally. He prayed for everything: money, food, clothes, buildings, everything. He made a point from the outset that he would never write a fundraising letter, never go out to recruit donors or solicit support. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but Muller wanted to make a point about the power of prayer.

And God provided in amazing miraculous ways.

The five orphanage buildings he built cost 100,000 pounds! And every dime was given to him as an answer to prayer.

Sometimes they didn’t know where the next meal was going to come from, and all of those little mouths to feed! But they would pray. Sometimes, sitting at the table with no food in the kitchen.

And then, there would be a knock at the door. And someone would “just happen” to be coming through with a whole mess of food that had to get eaten.

When Real Christians Really Pray, God Really Answers.

So let’s stop pretending that prayer is important and really get serious about the business of prayer. Disciplined, devoted prayer. Imagine the kinds of things that could happen to us as a church if we were all praying regularly and out of love for Jesus.

The God who provided for George Muller’s orphanages is still alive and well today. And He wants to hear from you. He wants to answer your prayers.

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