Monday, January 17, 2011

A SURVEY OF THE PRAYERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

# 1 THE PRAYERS OF THE GOSPELS 

We begin this new year  with  a fresh reminder  concerning the nature and need for prayer. My real desire  is  that   we  should grow in our desire  for both private and corporate  prayer , and that you and I should be encouraged by the many   answers  granted to us  by God in response to our prayers .
I have just  purchased  a book at a Minister’s Conference   entitled   A way to pray “ by Matthew  Henry. This book was    first published in 1710 and now  it appears in  revised form , thanks to  O. Palmer Robertson . It is  thus a 300th Anniversary edition!  This book is an attempt by Matthew Henry  to  lay out a method of prayer  that is based altogether on the expressions of prayer in the scriptures  . I shall  attempt  to use these frequently  this year  in my own pulpit prayers .
Something  which Palmer Robertson says in his foreword  strikes me :
“ Distinctive  is Matthew Henry’s  model for  Christians  to make  exclusive  use of the language of Scripture to express their prayers. What could be more obvious as a proper method of praying ? What  could be more encouraging to Christians  desiring to enrich their prayer experience and to make their prayers more likely to be heard and answered by the Lord ? What could be more threatening to the devil than to hear believers in Christ approaching the throne of grace with expressions in prayer that will be honoured by the Lord ?
Prayer in this form is nothing more  and nothing less than what the old Puritans called ‘ pleading the promises’ . God has made promises to His people. His people respond by  redirecting those promises to the Lord in the form of prayer . How could a God who is faithful to His word fail to answer prayers of this kind ? He has promised. If Christians would join together and form their prayers with the maturity and insight provided by Scripture itself , the impact on the world could not be measured…” [1]
The puritan pastor  William Gurnall  put it like this : “Prayer is nothing  but the promise reversed , or God’s Word formed into an argument …[2]We need to  be taught and to be reminded  to  pray  .  William Gurnall  also said : “ Furnish yourself with arguments from the promises to enforce your prayers… the mightier  anyone is t in the word, the more mighty he will be in prayer” .  [3] Someone once said :  Show  God His own handwriting ; He is tended toward it.

At the outset of this year  of our Lord in  2011,  I have planned  to do a brief survey  of the prayers of the gospels ,  the book of Acts and Paul’s epistles with you . The object will be to  draw you attention  to the  prayers of a Scripture  so that you might be convinced once again concerning the important work of prayer .
  • We need to learn to pray   not only  by learning to pray scripturally 
  • We also need to pray   in obedience  to the command  of our Lord Jesus  Christ and by  imitating His life of prayer
  • We need to pray  because  such  prayer    is the most effective weapon against  Satan’s  work  in this world . The apostle Paul  reminds  us that we  must  wrestle  against the rulers , against the authorities, against the cosmic  powers  over this present darkness, against  the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places .” (  Eph 6:12) . The Puritan pastor  Richard Sibbes  says: “When we  go to God by prayer, the devil knows we go to fetch strength against him and therefore he opposes us all he can .”

We begin then  with …

1. A SURVEY  OF THE PRAYERS OF  THE GOSPELS

1. Our survey begins with the  “ Lord’s Prayer “  in Matt 6:5-15  (  cf  Lk  11:1-4) .  In the “Lord’s prayer “ , Jesus  gives us a pattern  for prayer . He  begins by  discouraging  us  to use  prayer in  a  hypocritical , ostentatious , babbling (repetitive)  sense .  He reminds us  that true prayer is based on  a real  relationship   in which we speak to  the God who  has created this Universe   as our Father . We are encouraged  to  approach  Him  firstly   by  expressing our desire to see His Name hallowed, His kingdom extended and His will done  on earth . After that we are encouraged to seek  Him for everything necessary and legitimate  for our  life – whether is be  our   physical  , emotional  or spiritual needs.
The  Lord’s prayer really sets the standard for our praying   . It forms an appropriate outline  for our  daily prayers , BUT please note again that it is not designed for  mindless repetition . It  is given to us  as  a way or manner after which to pray  .

It is important to make mention here that prayer   can be  hindered  by the spirit of unforgiveness. The petition in Matthew  6:12 is picked up again in 6:14,15 , where Jesus makes it very clear that  no prayer  will be answered by God when  forgiveness is not granted  to others .  This thought is also repeated  in Mk  11:24,25  . So  let us remember this important  warning whenever we pray !  We cannot afford  to ignore this . God absolutely means what He says .  Jesus illustrated   His commitment on the cross when He prayed for those that  would kill Him :  Father forgive them for they know  not what they do “ ( Lk  23:34)

It is  also worth mentioning  that , in this context,  the Lord Jesus teaching about prayer  adds some   words about fasting in Matthew  6:16-18 . He does not explain what fasting is  here , but it is clear from the teaching of scripture , that fasting is an activity  that strengthens  prayer .  It adds intensity  and resolve to our prayer  . An instance  of unanswered prayer of the disciples  for a  demon possessed by in Mk  9:14-29  is  qualified by Jesus with these words : “ This kind cannot be driven out  by anything but prayer  and fasting ( some manuscripts) …”. We ought to consider the discipline  of fasting  in times  when  prayer is of an urgent nature .

The Lord’s prayer in Lk 11:5-12  stresses  the importance of  perseverance in prayer  in the parable  of  the friend  knocking at the door at midnight” . This teaching is reinforced in Lk 18 :1-8 in the parable of the persistent widow , where the point is that  we must pray and never give up  ( provided  of course that the request is in God’s will)

2. In  Matthew 7:7-11  (  more fully stated in  Lk  11:9-13)  Jesus gives us   one of the most remarkable  assurances   that our prayer – particularly for the gift of salvation  will not go unanswered : and I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for  a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Such strong assurances  of prayers asked  in the name of Christ  being granted  by the Father  are also found in  John 14:13-14 ; 15 :7,16;16:23,24  

3.  In Matthew 9:38   ( Lk  10:2) Jesus teaches us to pray  to God to send out workers into the harvest field . There are so many  harassed , helpless people in this world  – like sheep without a shepherd in this world .  The task is overwhelming . Jesus  says “pray  for labourers ( shepherds) “ , and when He says “ pray then He also means this prayer to be answered.  Pray  that God will add faithful shepherds to the ministry of our church and churches .

4.  Matthew 11:25  ( Lk  10: 21) records an actual  prayer of  Jesus   in which He reveals that  the attitude of  a childlike   heart  (in terms to receiving God’s revelation by faith )  will go infinitely further than  those  that  continuously seek  scientific proof for God’s existence  and who will show no  desire for the life of faith .

5.  Matthew  14:19 ( feeding of 5000 ; see also Lk 9:16; John 6:11,23 ) and Matt  15:36  ( feeding of 4000)  reveals that  Jesus  gave thanks to God the Father  for the food that He  ( and others) ate. Let us  remember constantly at every meal time that   the food which we receive  daily  ultimately does not come from  the money we earn  , but from the storehouse  of God’s mercy  .

6. Matthew  14:23 teaches us that Jesus  frequently took time to pray alone. Communion with God the Father is  the basis  from which  we  must  work   if we are going to have spiritual success  in our labours and triumph over   Satan’s  strategies . ( Other instances of  Jesus in  prayer with God  is found in Mark  1:35; 6:31-32 ; 6:46Luke  5:16; Lk 6:12; Lk  9:18,28 ) 

7. Matthew 19:13-15 : Jesus prayed for  children . We must  faithfully pray for our church’s children .  ( Get a prayer list for the children of the church going )

8.  Matthew  21:13 ; Mark 11:17 ;  Lk  19:46 :  Jesus  called the temple “a house of prayer “. That is the primary purpose of   the  church – to provide  a place and a people  who seek God  in prayer  so that He might  bless us and cause  His kingdom to advance  through  us .
9.  In  Matthew  21:22  Jesus  connects  the necessity of faith  in prayer  with receiving . Please note that this is not ‘ name it and claim it ‘ theology , for if we remember that faith’s object is God and if our desire is for  His will  to be done ( and not our  will) then we may know that  God will give us  whatever we ask in accordance with God’s will . This  principle is beautifully expressed in  1 Jn 5:14,15 .

10. Luke 18:1-8   tells the story of the tax collector  and the Pharisee  who come to pray in the temple . Here Jesus stresses the importance of  humility  in prayer .

11. In the context  of the end times  ( i.e. the times in which we are currently living)  Jesus counsels us to pray  that we might be kept  from needless suffering ( Pray that your flight will not be  in winter or on the SabbathMatt 24:20). He also admonishes us  not to become spiritually sleepy  , but to ‘ watch ‘. ( Lk  21:36)  Mark’s account of this  in  Chapter  13 is strong!  The lack of watchfulness  is illustrated in  Matthew  26:36 ff ( cf Mark  14:32ff;  Lk  22: 39-46 ) . In the hour of trial  in the garden of Gethsemane  we find Jesus praying against temptation , but the disciples are  sleeping . We note that Jesus’ faith  stays on course , while  the disciples  are caught off guard . The saddest words in  Matthew must be  found in  Matthew  26:56  following the arrest and trial of Jesus  : “Then all the disciples left Him and fled” . Their prayerlessness caused the  Lord Jesus  to  experience  not only the forsakenness of His Father , but  the forsakenness by all His earthly friends – those into whom He had poured  His life.  But thankfully , Jesus’ earthly vigilance  in prayer  in the hour of  temptation  stimulates  us to pray  in times of  temptation , and we thank God today for the active obedience of Christ  when  through wrestling prayer , He chose the cup of suffering above His own comfort . It is by His suffering , His death that your and my sin are atoned for . Praise  God for that  faithful prayer of Christ prayer by which he persevered for your and my sake  .

12. John 17 records the longest prayer of Jesus . It is the profound  prayer of the great Shepherd for His dear sheep  as He faces the cross , He commits them into the hands of His Father , praying that they will be kept from the evil one  and they  will be unified .

13. The last act of Jesus  before he ascended to heaven was to pray for His disciples  , blessing them (Lk  24:50)

Conclusion  : 
The  prayers  of the gospels  are  mostly  the prayers of Jesus . He provides  the model  for what follows in the Acts and the epistles  as the church  pours out her heart to the Father in her prayers. He provides the model for our praying  today .

I have shared this with you in the hope that you will continue to meditate on these things  and learn  the art of  biblical praying  , for the more we imitate  Christ in His prayer life , the more  favour we shall find  favour with our heavenly Father who cannot deny the Word  and the promises  that He  has spoken .  Amen .



[1] Matthew Henry  ( ed.  O Palmer Robertson , 2010 :  A Way to Pray , p.xii
[2] A Puritan Golden treasury : I.D.E Thomas , p. 210
[3]   Ibid , p. 214

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