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Lord, Teach Us to Pray
(Luke 11:1, NIV)
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.
When he finished, one of his disciples said to him,
‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’”
By the time the disciples uttered the request they made in this verse, they had come to understand that there was a connection between the wonderful public life of their Lord and His secret life of prayer. They had been with Him and had seen Him pray. That’s why Luke wrote, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1, NIV).
They had learned to believe in Him as a Master in the art of prayer. No one else could pray like Him. So intense and so direct were the prayers of Jesus that on the occasion that Luke wrote about, when our Lord had finished praying, one of His disciples turned to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV). When they heard Him pray, they knew that Jesus had been in touch with God, and they wanted to learn to pray like He prayed.
For far too many people, prayer is regarded as simply an ancient tradition or a routine religious activity. They have no sense of prayer as coming into the presence of God. Prayer is simply a formality. Thousands of people pray only in times of great crisis, danger, or uncertainty. The apostle Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV). In other words, “Never stop praying!” Anything so consuming in the Christian experience—that would warrant a statement like that—must be understood! Of all the spiritual disciplines Jesus tells us to engage in, prayer is the only one about which He said, “Never stop doing this one!”
If we don’t know how to pray, or for what to pray, it does us little good to pray. Therefore, we should plead with the Lord, just like that unnamed disciple of Jesus did, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV).
As we meditate on the words of this disciple’s simple request—“Lord, teach us to pray”—we can discover a wealth of practical spiritual treasure.
II. Lord, teach us to pray
As simple and fundamental as it may seem, we need to be taught to “pray!” Even though in one sense prayer is so simple that even the youngest child can do it, at the same time it is so complex and holy that God considers it the highest spiritual achievement to which man can rise. That’s why Jesus’ first-century disciple requested, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV).
Unfortunately, a huge segment of God’s people don’t understand exactly what prayer is. I know this is true, because often when I ask people to define prayer, they say something like this: “Prayer is talking to God.” However, simply ‘talking to God’ is a poor definition of prayer, because you can ‘talk to God’ and ask Him to do what you want Him to do rather than what He wants to do…and that conversation doesn’t qualify as prayer.
So let’s define prayer from a Biblical perspective: “Prayer is simply asking God to go ahead and do what He already wants to do. It is asking Him to do His will right here on planet Earth!” Jesus explained this definition of prayer when He gave His disciples a model prayer. He said, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10, NIV). So according to Jesus, prayer is asking Him to do His will on earth!
It is essential that we learn to pray because there is power in prayer! The eternal power of the Kingdom of heaven is made available to those who pray. James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b, NIV). After making that bold statement about prayer, James then offered an example of a powerful prayer. He wrote, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17-18, NIV). Wow, what a prayer! I wish I could learn to pray like that. Don’t you?
Perhaps a contributing factor to the powerlessness of most modern churches is that we have not learned to pray! Despite God’s promise of the power of prayer to unleash a mighty work of God in this world, most of the churches in the world are currently starving in the area of prayer. Rick Warren, a well-known evangelical pastor has written, “In Acts chapter two, they prayed for ten days. Peter preached for ten minutes and 3,000 were saved. Today, churches pray for ten minutes, preach for ten days, and three get saved.” Think about it. Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach—only how to pray. Knowing how to speak to God is more important than knowing how to speak to men!
III. Lord, teach us to pray
In answer to the request of His unnamed disciple, Jesus taught a lesson on prayer that is forever relevant for those who long to learn to pray like He prayed! The prayer lesson He taught is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer.” I like Matthew’s version best, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen’” (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV). You see, this is actually a model prayer that the Lord recited in answer to the request of His disciple, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV). It was a lesson for “us.”
Why is it necessary for our Lord to “teach us to pray?” Because, apart from His instruction, we do not know how to pray or for what to pray! Paul said it like this, “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8:26, NLT). It is amazing that when we don’t know exactly what God wants in any given situation, but we truly want what He wants, the Holy Spirit will communicate the longing of our heart for God’s will directly to the Father! So we don’t have to know what God wants every time. We just need to want what He wants…whatever it is. Then the Holy Spirit will take it from there!
At times we don’t even sense our need to pray. So we should plead with the Lord, as that early disciple did, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV).
James offered a scathing indictment to followers of the Lord regarding our lack of urgency in prayer when he wrote, “Ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2, KJV). We need our Lord to teach “us” because we often do not sense the urgent need to pray.
IV. Lord, teach us to pray
If the ability to pray effectively was something we were given at the moment we were saved—as some seem to think—there would have been no reason for Jesus’ disciple to make the request he did when he said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV). If that was the case Jesus would not have responded in the way He did—by offering them a model prayer from which to learn to pray. His response was, “This, then, is how you should pray…” (Matthew 6:9a, NIV). He would have said something like, “You are my disciples, so you should already know how to pray!”
Since Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, His disciples should teach their disciples how to pray. The last thing Jesus said to His disciples before He left them and returned to heaven was, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV). Obviously, teaching people how to pray is an important aspect of the disciple-making process. After all, Jesus didn’t say “If you pray.” He said, “When you pray…” (Matthew 6:5a, NIV). Prayer is a non-optional part of an effective Christian life!
V. Lord, teach us to pray
The disciple of Jesus who made the request, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV), certainly made his request to the right person. No one can teach like Jesus.
A pupil needs a teacher who knows his subject, who has the gift of teaching, and who in patience and love will meet the student’s needs. That’s why it is such a privilege to be enrolled in Jesus’ prayer academy with classes conducted by Jesus Himself!
Regarding His teaching abilities, a first century ‘in the closet’ follower of Jesus said to Him, “Rabbi [teacher], we know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2a, NIV). Matthew referred to His superior teaching abilities when he wrote, “The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28b-29, NIV).
It is imperative that we learn to pray! Jesus has entrusted His work of disciple-making to us...so we must learn to pray. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a, NIV).
Whether or not God’s name is magnified among the population of planet Earth is affected by our prayers…so we must learn to pray. Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9, NIV).
The coming of His Kingdom to Earth is affected by our prayers…so we must learn to pray. He said, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:9-10a, NIV).
When His people pray properly, His will has the potential to be done to a greater degree among the population of planet Earth…so we must learn to pray! He said, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 28:9-10, NIV).
Therefore, we must plead Him like that ancient unnamed disciple, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV).
Prayer: Private and Public
(Matthew 6:5a…7a, KJV)
“When thou prayest…When ye pray”
During His “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus taught some incredible principles to guide our prayer lives. One of the most notable insights to be gained from this section of Scripture is that our Lord divides the prayers of His people into two broad categories—private prayers & public prayers. Jesus used two different phrases to reveal this truth. He said, “When thou prayest” (Matthew 6:5a, KJV). Then He said, “When ye pray” (Matthew 6:7a, KJV).
The reason I chose to use the King James Version for our text verses in this lesson is because in that version it is easy to see that Jesus used different personal pronouns when He taught about prayer. He taught first about private prayer using singular pronouns. Then He taught about public prayer using plural pronouns.
In the modern English versions of Scripture it is not as easy to see the difference, because the second person singular personal pronoun in modern English and the second person plural personal pronoun are the same word, “you.” Whether “you” is singular or plural is determined by the context.
In 1611 English the singular second person personal pronoun was “thou.” So when Jesus was teaching about private prayer, when only the person praying and God are present, He said, “When thou prayest” (Matthew 6:5a, KJV).
On the other hand, in 1611 English the plural second person personal pronoun was “ye.” So when Jesus was teaching about public prayer, when people in addition to the person praying and God are present, He said, “When ye pray” (Matthew 6:7a, KJV).
Do you see how important it is to pay attention to “every word” in the Scriptures? The simple difference between “thou” and “ye” makes all the difference in understanding the subject matter of a particular verse. Maybe that’s why Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NIV).
So let’s take a look at what Jesus said about these two kinds of prayer.
First, Jesus taught on private prayer. Perhaps the reason for this is that unless we get our private prayer lives right, we are in no condition to lead others in public prayer. About private prayer Jesus said, “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:5-6, KJV).
These verses obviously deal with private prayer…or “closet” prayer. The bottom line offered by Jesus regarding private prayer is that it is necessary. He didn’t say, “If thou prayest.” He said, “When thou prayest” (Matthew 6:5a, KJV).
Jesus also taught that His people should not do their private praying in a public setting in order to gain the admiration of bystanders. To do so makes your prayer life hypocritical. Jesus said, “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet” (Matthew 6:5-6, KJV). If the reward you are seeking when you pray is public approval—you may get it, but that is all you will get!
These two verses use the second person singular personal pronoun. In the 1611 King James Bible, it is translated “thou.” The use of this singular pronoun illustrates that these instructions are related to private prayer—prayer sessions when only you and God are there! The private nature of this kind of prayer is emphasized by the guidelines Jesus gave. He said, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6, KJV). This is obviously private prayer because it is rather difficult for public prayer to be done “in secret” in a “closet” with the door “shut.”
The next two verses deal with public prayer. We know this because Jesus changed the pronoun He used in the previous verses. At this point He began to use the second person plural personal pronoun. The use of this plural pronoun illustrates that these instructions are related to public prayer—prayer sessions when other people in addition to you and God are present. These instructions are guidelines for group prayer sessions. Jesus said, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8, KJV). So let’s examine the guidelines our Lord gives regarding public prayer:
#1) Jesus said, “Use not vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7a, KJV). This means that when we lead in public prayer we should not use meaningless repetitions of words, phrases, and religious sounding clichés. When we pray, God hears us the first time, it is not necessary to repeat the same sentence over and over again in the same prayer to get God’s attention. This also eliminates the use of memorized prayers that are recited over and over again each time we are called upon to pray publicly. The best thing to do in prayer is simply use your natural, ordinary language to tell God what’s on your mind and ask Him to do whatever He wants to do about it!
#2) He then said, “They (the heathen) think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7b, KJV). This indicates that Jesus views long public prayers as heathenish! Long prayers are appropriate in your prayer closet, but not in a public setting! In verses 9-13, Jesus offers us an example of a well-crafted public prayer. We commonly call it “The Lord’s Prayer.” If you were to read that prayer very deliberately and slowly, it would only take about 30 seconds—give or take a few seconds. The indication is that public prayers should be very brief and to the point!
#3) Jesus continued, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8, KJV). If God knows what we need before we ask, it is obviously not necessary to go into a lot of detail when wording a public prayer.
If God knows what we need before we ask…why is it necessary to ask? The answer is that asking is God’s prescribed way for His people to receive. Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Failure to ask means failure to receive. James wrote, “Ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2, KJV).
Jesus then offered His disciples a “Model Prayer.” He said, “After this manner therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13, KJV). This is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer,” but I prefer to refer to it as the “Model Prayer,” because Jesus was giving His disciples a well-crafted model for public prayer. Let’s notice three specific principles for public prayer illustrated in this model:
#1) First person plural personal pronouns are used throughout the prayer. Notice: “After this manner therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13, KJV). This indicates that the speaker is leading a group or an assembly of people in prayer. To effectively do so, the speaker’s voice must be loud enough for everyone in the assembly to easily hear the content of the prayer. If those in the assembly cannot hear you, even though you may be praying, you are not leading the assembly in prayer. Remember this is a public prayer, not a “closet” prayer!
#2) This model for public prayer is very general in nature. Every request is basic and general enough in nature that every believer present in the assembly would be able to say “Amen” to each of them. Notice:
Each request in the model is designed to something everyone can agree on. If it is the least bit controversial, it should not be included in a public prayer. Public prayer should never be a source of division within the Body of Christ!
#3) The central focus of this model prayer is found in the words, “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10, KJV). Every request made in a public prayer should have as its motive one of three results:
Any request that will not result in one of these three things happening should not be included in public prayer.
Whether or not God’s name is honored, His kingdom is advanced, and His will is done on Earth is directly affected by how effectively His people learn to pray—both privately and publicly! Therefore we must make the same urgent request made by the nameless first-century disciple that we learned about last week—“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1, NIV).
Praying for Your Pastor
(I Thessalonians 5:25, NIV)
“Brothers and sisters, pray for us.”
It was during Paul’s second missionary journey that the light of the gospel first penetrated the darkness of the city of Thessalonica. The story is recorded in Acts 17:1-10.
After Paul and Silas had been released from jail in Philippi, they traveled to Thessalonica, passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia. True to form, upon his arrival at the city Paul went to the Jewish synagogue and proved from the Old Testament scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. He then declared that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. This synagogue ministry lasted for no longer than three weeks—he was there for only three Sabbath Days. Let’s read Luke’s version of the story: “When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said” (Acts 17:1-3, NIV).
Some of the Jews were converted. Also many Greek proselytes to Judaism and a significant number of the city’s leading women became believers. Then the backlash began. The Jews who did not believe rounded up some of the hoodlums from the marketplace, incited a riot, and attacked the home of Jason—a relative of Paul with whom he and his companions were lodging. When they were unable to find the missionaries in the house, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, accusing them of plotting to overthrow Caesar by gathering a following for another King—One named Jesus! Luke recorded the story when he wrote, “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus’” (Acts 17:4-7, NIV).
The believers in Thessalonica decided it would be wise for the missionaries to leave town, so they sent them away by night to Berea. After a brief ministry at Berea, Paul traveled to Athens. Luke wrote, “As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue…As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men…Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens (Acts 17:10…12…15a, NIV).
While at Athens, Paul received word that the church at Thessalonica was being persecuted. He tried to return to Thessalonica, but Satan hindered him. He wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us” (I Thessalonians 2:17-18, NLT). Since Paul couldn’t personally go, he sent Timothy to Thessalonica. He wrote, “Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, and we sent Timothy to visit you” (I Thessalonians 3:1-2a, NLT).
Timothy brought back an encouraging report. Paul wrote, “Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love” (I Thessalonians 3:6a, NLT). As a result of Timothy’s good report, Paul was prompted by the Holy Spirit to write the letter that we call I Thessalonians—and as he was closing the letter, he pleaded with them, “Brothers and sisters, pray for us” (I Thessalonians 5:25, NIV).
I am confident that if a tremendous man of God…a highly successful church leader…a deeply committed Christian…like Paul, felt the need for the prayers of God’s people deeply enough to write, “Brothers and sisters, pray for us,” then every twenty-first century pastor desperately needs men and women of faith to pray for him. That means your pastor and other spiritual leaders need you to pray for them!
In his book “Partners in Prayer,” Christian leadership expert, John Maxwell wrote, “I receive about a thousand letters each year from pastors. Many of them are discouraged and ready to quit the ministry. And most of the time the people in their churches aren’t aware of the struggles they’re facing. The average church-goer often has no idea how difficult it is to lead a church.
The church is the most leadership-demanding enterprise in modern society. The work of the church is building and redeeming lives, a process hated by the enemy. The workers are all volunteers who can simply leave if corrected or asked for a deeper level of commitment—and many times they do!
When recruiting workers, the pastor can’t offer monetary incentives or other tangible benefits. The best he can do is promise volunteers long hours and hard work without pay, a demanding schedule consuming lots of their time, and—if things go according to Scripture—suffering will be part of their reward! Paul wrote, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12, NLT).
Picture in your mind a leader working in this stressful kind of environment, whose followers often expect him to be a great communicator from the platform, an incredible organizer and leader in the church, and a perfect husband and parent at home…and you have the pastor of a typical twenty-first century church!
A recent survey of pastors conducted by the Fuller Institute reveals some startling statistics. I’d like to share them with you in an effort to help you understand why a church leader like the ancient apostle Paul—or for that matter—a contemporary church leader like your pastor feels compelled to cry out, “Brothers and sisters, pray for us” (I Thessalonians 5:25, NIV).
These statistics are heartbreaking. They demonstrate how difficult the struggle is for many pastors and how much pastors need the prayers of the people to whom they minister! No wonder Paul pleaded, “Brothers and sisters, pray for us” (I Thessalonians 5:25, NIV).
How does a pastor find the strength to face all the stress and demands of pastoral ministry? The answer is prayer! Prayer is the key to solving any problem or overcoming any obstacle! Remember what James wrote about prayer: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b, NIV). If the pastor’s prayers are “powerful and effective,” think how much more “powerful and effective” the prayers of the pastor and his followers must be! These strategic prayer partnerships are essential.
The idea of strategic prayer partnership isn’t new. In the New Testament church leaders often asked God’s people to partner with them in prayer. Paul invited the Romans to join him in a prayer partnership when he wrote, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Romans 15:30, NIV).
Paul also invited the believers at Ephesus to be his prayer partners. He wrote, “Always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:18b-19, NIV).
Paul also urged the Colossians to partner with him in prayer. He wrote, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us [Paul’s missionary team], too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I [Paul himself] may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Colossians 4:2-4, NIV).
Let me close by showing you a biblical example of the value of strategic prayer partnerships. This story was recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts when he wrote, “King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them…he proceeded to seize Peter also… After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. Then the angel said to him, ‘Put on your clothes and sandals.’ And Peter did so. ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,’ the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.’ When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying” (Acts 12:1b…3b-4-12, NIV).
Peter evidently had established several strategic prayer partnerships with people in the Jerusalem Church. Luke wrote, “Many people had gathered and were praying” (Acts 12:12b, NIV). These strategic prayer partnerships were extremely valuable—so valuable that they saved Peter’s life by getting him miraculously delivered from prison!
Hindrances to Prayer
(I Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV)
“Pray without ceasing.”
These words of Paul directed to the believers at Thessalonica probably constitute the most consuming statement that has ever been made about the importance of prayer! He wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV). I am not aware of any other spiritual discipline about which God has said, “Do this without ceasing.” Since that is so, it would be in our best interest to identify any potential hindrances to prayer! By the way, “Pray without ceasing” is a command, not a suggestion. The New Living Translation says it like this: “Never stop praying” (I Thessalonians 5:17, NLT).
I have found that there ten common hindrances to prayer. I call them prayer hindrances because they steel power from our prayers by hindering our relationship with God. We’ll look at five of them today and five of them in next week.
II. Prayer Hindrances (1-5)
Hindrance #1: Unconfessed Sin. Unconfessed sin is probably the most common hindrance to prayer. David referred to this prayer hindrance when he wrote, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18, NKJV). David said in this verse, that if I have known sin in my life and refuse to deal with it God’s way, my prayers are hindered!
What is God’s preferred way of dealing with sin in the life of a Christian? The answer is found in scripture, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9, NKJV). The good news is that when we confess sin, God forgives it, and it is gone! If it is gone, it can no longer hinder our prayers.
The ancient prophet Jeremiah recorded for us God’s attitude toward the sin He has forgiven. He wrote, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34, NKJV). Not only are we forgiven, but God also chooses to truly forget our past sins. As a result, our fellowship to Him is restored, and our prayers regain their power.
If you have confessed a sin to God and continue to sense condemnation in your heart for that sin, it is not God’s voice you are hearing. It is Satan causing you to experience “false guilt” by accusing you. The Good News is that the Devil won’t be permitted to go on doing that to God’s people forever. The Bible describes a great celebration in heaven at the end of this age when Satan is finally “thrown down.” John wrote, “Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, ‘It has come at last—salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God day and night’” (Revelation 12:10, NLT).
Hindrance #2: Lack of Faith. Lack of faith has an incredibly negative impact on a Christian’s prayer life. Jesus’ brother James offered practical insight into the effect that faithlessness has on the believer’s prayer life. He wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:5-7, NKJV). When God’s people pray from a heart full of doubt—a heart void of faith—they will receive nothing from the Lord in answer to prayer!
Faith is essential to an effective and powerful prayer life. Jesus said, “You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it” (Matthew 21:22, NLT).
Hindrance #3: Disobedience. I remember one afternoon when I was sixteen, sitting on the ground under an old maple tree in the front yard at my parent’s old farm house on the edge of Crowley’s Ridge in Clay County, Arkansas. I was reading through the book of First John and I discovered these verses: “Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (I John 3:22, NKJV). I remember circling these words from those two verses: “we ask…we receive…because… we keep his commandments.” It was as if God unlocked a door in my mind and I was flooded with understanding. It was one of those “ah-ha moments” that a person experiences at a turning point in his life. At that moment I realized, for the very first time, that God answers our prayers when we obey Him! If so, disobedience is undoubtedly a hindrance to our prayer lives.
Hindrance #4: Unforgiveness. You probably remember the occasion recorded in Scripture when Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21, NKJV). Hebrew tradition required a person to forgive a person three times for the same kind of offense. When Peter suggested that he was willing to forgive an offender seven times, he thought he was being very generous. He was probably shocked when he heard Jesus’ answer: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22, NKJV). You see, Jesus was trying to teach Peter that forgiveness is not a matter of mathematics. It is an attitude of the heart, and only the Holy Spirit can teach us to forgive like God wants us to forgive.
Why is forgiveness so important? The answer is found in the words Jesus spoke immediately after He concluded teaching His disciples the lessons in prayer found in what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer.” The only part of the prayer about which Jesus offered an explanation was the part about forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, NKJV). He said, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV). The explanation is that unless we are willing to forgive others, our prayers for forgiveness are powerless—we will not be forgiven!
When God’s people refuse to forgive others, this lack of forgiveness turns to bitterness—and bitterness is a serious matter, because bitter people are troubled people. The author of the Book of Hebrews offered this warning, “Follow peace with all men…lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15, KKJV). You can’t go into your prayer closet with bitterness and come out with blessings! It is imperative that we learn to forgive in order to prevent our prayers for forgiveness from being hindered.
Hindrance #5: Marriage Conflict. The last prayer hindrance we will consider in this lesson may surprise you. Conflict in your marriage caused by the failure of either spouse to respond to the other according to the instructions of Scripture will hinder the prayers of both of you. Peter explained it very clearly when he wrote, “Wives…be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives… Husbands, likewise, dwell with them [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (I Peter 3:1…7, NKJV).
When Christian husbands and wives do not treat one another the God has decreed—when we are not “together” like He wants us to be, then we forfeit His grace. Once we are married we receive His grace “together.” When unresolved conflicts divide us His grace in our lives is diminished. We are to be “heirs together of the grace of life.” A diminished level of God’s grace in our lives will certainly hinder our prayer life. That’s why Peter warned Christian husbands and wives to treat one another appropriately so that “your prayers may not be hindered.”
Since prayer is such an important component of the Christian life that God inspired Paul to write to first-century believers, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV), then we certainly need to ask Him to help us identify specific hindrances to our personal prayer lives and deal with them so we can utilize all the power available to us through prayer. After all, James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b, NIV).
Hindrances to Prayer
(Luke 6:12, NKJV)
“Now it came to pass in those days
that He went out to the mountain to pray,
and continued all night in prayer to God.”
In last week’s lesson we learned that prayer is to be high priority in the lives of God’s people—so much so that Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV). To begin this lesson I want to show you from Scripture that Jesus valued prayer so highly that “He…continued all night in prayer to God.” Notice what Luke wrote, “Now it came to pass in those days that He [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12b, NKJV). The probing questions we must ask ourselves are, “Do I value prayer that highly? Have I ever ‘continued all night in prayer to God’?”
I am not aware of any other spiritual discipline about which God has said that His Son “continued all night” doing it. Since that is so, it will be in our best interest to identify any potential hindrances to prayer!
Last week we examined five potential hindrances to prayer. They were: Unconfessed Sin, Lack of Faith, Disobedience, Unforgiveness, & Marriage Conflict. Today we will examine five additional hindrances to prayer: Unsurrendered Will, Pride, Ignorance, Time, and Lack of Love for Others. But before we look at them, I want to make two critically important statements about prayer:
II. Prayer Hindrances (6-10)
Hindrance #6: Unsurrendered Will. There was once a Scottish woman who earned a modest living peddling her wares along the roads of her country. Each day she would travel about, and when she came to an intersection, she would toss a stick into the air. Whichever way the stick pointed was the way she went. On one occasion an old man stood across the road from her as she tossed the stick into the air once, twice, three times. Finally the old man asked, “Why are you throwing that stick into the air?” “I’m letting God show me which way to go by using this stick,” she said. “Then why did you throw it three times?” the old man asked. “Because the first two times, He was pointing me in the wrong direction,” was her reply. Can you relate to the old woman?
The ultimate purpose of prayer is not to get what we want, but to learn to want what God wants. But that will not happen unless we surrender our will and put ourselves on God’s agenda instead of our own. That’s why, when Jesus taught His disciples “The Model Prayer,” He taught them to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10, KJV).
Jesus set the example of praying with a “surrendered will” when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before His crucifixion. He prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39b, NKJV).
John promised that when we surrender our own will and pray according to the Lord’s will, our prayers will be heard and answered. He wrote, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (I John 5:14-15, NKJV). Every time you ask God to do what He wants to do, He does it! So do you see how the surrender of our will, in favor of His will, is a necessary ingredient to a powerful prayer life?
Hindrance #7: Pride. Pride is the most deceitful sin of all and is one of the major reasons God’s people don’t pray as they should. Why does pride hinder our prayer life? It hinders our praying because it over-estimates the power of self!
Remember: Prayerlessness occurs because you choose to depend on yourself. When His people rely upon themselves rather than on Him, God resists their efforts to accomplish anything for Him—because when we accomplish anything as a result of reliance upon ourselves, we get the credit…we get the “glory,” but God has said, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8a, NKJV).
It is prideful to take the credit…to get the “glory”… for what someone else has done. That’s why God resists us, rather than answering us, when we pray in pride. James put it like this, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6b, NKJV).
Peter struggled with pride. Can you feel the pride dripping from his voice on the way to Gethsemane when, after Jesus predicted that they would all desert Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33b, NLT)? A few moments later, Peter said, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” (Matthew 26:35b, NLT).
Later that evening—the evening before He was crucified—our Lord asked Peter, along with James and John, to pray with Him in the Garden. They began to pray, but fell asleep. Three times Jesus asked them to watch and pray, and three times they fell asleep.
This was the most critical night of Jesus’ life—and in the middle of the most difficult night of His life, His three most loyal disciples not only did not have “power in prayer,” they didn’t even have “power to pray.” Why? I think the answer is relatively clear: Pride!
Pride will keep you from praying, even when Jesus personally asks you to pray! Notice what happens when God’s men fail to pray:
Pride will definitely hinder your prayer life!
Hindrance #8: Ignorance. Ignorance is one of the major reason God’s people do not pray. How does ignorance keep us from prayer? It over-estimates the difficulty of talking to God! Many people think that talking to God is difficult because the only kind of prayers they have heard are the ones well-meaning folks pray at church—using lofty sounding King James English, full of words like “thee” and “thou.” Forget trying to impress God with your language. He isn’t interested in your words. He’s interested in your heart!
Real prayer occurs when God’s people simply walk into His presence and share their hearts with Him in the same kind of language they use every day! I think that’s what the author of the book of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV).
Memorized prayers that are recited over and over again are actually often a hindrance to prayer because they tend to become a substitute for transparently sharing our hearts with the Father. I think that’s why Jesus said, “When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do” (Matthew 6:7a, NKJV). The best approach to prayer is to honestly share your heart with God!
Hindrance #9: Time. Another major reason people do not pray is time. Time actually places everyone in the world on equal ground. We each have twenty-four hours in every day—168 hours in every week—8,736 in every year! Time for prayer only becomes a problem when we under-estimate the value of being alone with God to talk to Him. Time is only a hindrance to prayer, when prayer is not a priority in our schedules! The simple fact is: We make time for the things that are important to us.
Time with God in prayer is essential for a successful Christian life. When we don’t take the time to pray, our real problem isn’t a time problem—it’s a priority problem. If you will invest time in prayer, God will reward your effort. The author of the book of Hebrews wrote, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV). Seeking Him in prayer is a wonderful use of your time!
Hindrance #10: Lack of Love for Others. King David wrote an awesome statement about God, “The Lord looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth” (Psalm 33:13-14, NLT). God’s perspective is expansive. He sees everyone! He is acutely aware of every human being who lives on Earth!
God not only sees everyone, He also loves everyone, and His desire is that we do the same. Jesus said this about God’s love for every human being: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).
An often overlooked fact is that because Jesus has such a deep love for mankind, He prays for us. John recorded a prayer of our Lord in his gospel. In His prayer Jesus said to His Father, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word…I pray for them…My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:6…9a…20, NIV).
When you learn to genuinely love other believers, you will pray for them. When you learn to love unbelievers—regardless of the mess they are in, what they look like, what they do, or what they don’t do—you will pray for them! Because Jesus loved all mankind, He prayed for believers…and those who were not yet believers—and so should we.
Since prayer is such an important component of the Christian life that Luke wrote about Jesus that “He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12b, NKJV), then we certainly need to ask Him to help us identify specific hindrances to our personal prayer lives and deal with them so we can utilize all the power available to us through prayer. After all, James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b, NIV).
Sunday Service Times
Morning Worship: 10:00 a.m.
M*PACT Kidz: 10:00 a.m.
Helping Hands: 6:00 p.m.
ONE WAY Youth: 6:00 p.m.