Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer (Pt. 2) - June 27, 2018

The danger always exists in our lives of allowing otherwise special things to become common or routine.  There are things we do every day like eat lunch, watch the news, and drink coffee.  There are things we do weekly like go to church and shop for groceries.  There are things we do yearly like celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and our birthday.  There are, however a limited number of both seldom and rare events which take place in our lives such as a wedding day, the birth of a child, a 20 year high school reunion, or the death of a parent.  The more rare an event, the more special we tend to treat it.

          One of the biggest challenges in our lives is to take something we do often and keep it special as though it were rare.  Marriage, for instance, frequently becomes a victim of familiarity and two people who once considered the other as extremely special are now taking one another for granted.  Our prayer lives, just like other areas, can become stale, haphazard, and even sloppy if we do not work hard at keeping it fresh and sincere.  In our relationship with God there is an ongoing tendency to get worse and not better, that is unless we work hard at not letting the relationship slip and deteriorate.  The most common symptom this is happening is that prayers become recitations of a few familiar phrases with no real meaning attached.  Jesus knew this would be a problem so He warns His disciples about the tendencies and dangers concerning prayer.

          Jesus taught the disciples not to use what He called “vain” or “meaningless” repetition (Mat. 6:7-8).  The phrase “Use meaningless repetition” is one word in the Greek and refers to idle, thoughtless chatter.  The Scribes and Pharisees used repetitious prayers; in fact, it had become their tradition to do so.  Other Jews may have prayed that way simply because that is how they had been taught.  Others, however, resorted to repetition because it was easy and demanded little concentration or effort.  The proud hypocrites were trying to use God to glorify themselves when it came to prayer.  The Jews had picked up the practice of “receptiveness,” in prayer largely from the Gentiles, who believed that the value of prayer was significantly tied to quantity.  The longer the better was their way of thinking.  They truly believed they would be heard for their many words! Jesus explained that those who prayed to these pagan gods thought their deities first had to be aroused, then cajoled, intimidated, badgered into listening, and finally answering as a sort of concession to the one making the request.  There is an example of this in 1 Kings 18:26-29 where we read of the Prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel carrying on and on thinking that finally their god(s) would hear their prayers and answer them.

          Jesus never forbade the repetition of genuine requests, in fact several passages point to the importance of persistence (asking, seeking, knocking).  Even Jesus, in what is known as His High Priestly Prayer in John 17, knowing His fate, prayed vehemently that “This cup might pass from Him.”  What Jesus condemns is the mindless, thoughtless, heartless, indifferent recitals of what sounds like prayer but is not.

          True prayer is offering sincere requests to God.  God knows our every need before we even ask because He is omniscient (all knowing).  Martin Luther said “By praying . . . we are instructing ourselves more than we are Him.”  The purpose of prayer then is not to inform or persuade God but to come before him sincerely, purposefully, consciously, and devotedly. 

          Prayer is sharing the needs, burdens, and the hungers of the heart with our Heavenly Father, who already knows what we really need. God’s love for us is exponentially greater than our love for Him.  Prayer is, in many ways, stepping back and giving God the opportunity/place to manifest His power, majesty, love, and guidance in our lives or in particular situations.  John 14:13 says, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”  To pray rightly is to pray with a devout heart and with pure motives.  It is to pray with single attention to God rather than to other men. 

          When one thinks of prayer, perhaps the name of St. Francis of Assisi comes to mind.  It is said that he was so close to Christ that he even bore on his body the marks of the cross.  St. Francis knew so much about prayer that he prayed one of the greatest prayers that has ever been recorded on this earth.  “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.  O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying we are born to eternal life.  Amen” (St. Francis of Assisi)  God always repays our sincere devotion with a gracious response.  Every indication is that God is ready to pour out His blessings on His people.  He is ready to give.  Are you really ready to receive?


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer (Pt. 1) June 21, 2018

No one can fully comprehend exactly how prayer functions within the infinite plans of God.  To some, prayer is nothing more than “tuning in” to God’s will like you might tune in a radio station.  Some take an opposite extreme and say that God’s actions are significantly affected by human prayers.  On one hand we have prayer seen simply as lining up with God regarding what He has already determined to do, and on the other it is asking God to do what He otherwise would not do.  You can find some support for both positions in Scripture.  The two concepts seem to be in tension.  The Bible is absolutely clear about God’s sovereignty, but our sovereign Lord implores us, His creatures, to pray and seek His guidance, provision, protection, mercy, forgiveness, and countless other needs.  John MacArthur has written “It is neither required nor possible to fathom the divine workings that make prayer effective.  God simply commands us to obey the principles of prayer that His Word gives.”

          When we pray it is tempting to pray for an audience of man.  That is a “false” audience.  Someone once described the prayer of a certain preacher in a Boston church this way: “It was the most eloquent prayer ever offered to a Boston audience.”  If we are overly concerned with the impression we make on other people we are not really thinking of God. 

          Prayers can become ritualized, merely words recited from memory, and devoid of sincerity.  Some prayers were and are delivered with sincerity to God, but the Pharisees Jesus often dealt with and referred to in the New Testament meticulously recited their prayers making sure to pronounce every word and syllable properly.  Three times each day they paraded their piety before the Lord.  Ancient rabbis taught that the longer the prayer, the more likely it would be heard and heeded by God.  Wordiness was confused with meaning and the length was confused with sincerity.  How could prayer be so confusing?

          Have you ever done anything and felt proud of yourself the whole time you were doing it?  Have you longed for the praise and compliments of others?  Few would admit they desire praise from others, but the evidence shows that many do.  When I was in college I attended an on-campus concert.  The performer was a Christian recording artist named Tim Minor.  I only remember 2 things about that concert.  It was extremely loud; perhaps not unusual for a concert.  But the other thing was this huge banner that descended from the ceiling of Raley Chapel which had on it a portrait of Tim Minor!  It is one of the most graphic displays of pride and arrogance I have ever seen before!  It can be said of the prideful, they have their reward!  Just like the religious leaders, they have an ulterior motive.

          There was never anything about prayer that was meant to be flashy or showy.  The basic definition of prayer is “communion with God.”  If God is not “involved” in the prayer then there really is no prayer.  God not only must be involved, but He must be central.  Prayer, in the first place, was not man’s idea but rather God’s.  Jesus never forbid public prayer, but taught that the overwhelming focus of prayer should be in secret.  It is much more difficult to have proper intimacy with God in a public prayer, but there are occasional exceptions.  I remember when I was in my early teens, being at a church service when a man from the congregation got up to offer a scheduled prayer that came at the same point in the service week to week.  I remember he only had one leg and stood there at a microphone on crutches.  He made himself comfortable and prayed for 25 minutes!  I remember it vividly because it was so out of the ordinary.  His words were different.  I had never heard anyone pray that long before! There was a sincerity and a genuineness that was rarely heard or seen in other public prayers.

          Most generally, when we pray we should go to a secret or hidden place.  If you have seen the Christian movie “The War Room” it provides a perfect example of what is best.  But, even if the whole world hears the words of a prayer uttered, that prayer can still be uttered from the secret recesses of one’s heart and make that perfect connection with God.

          Your public persona may be quite different than the person God sees.  God looks inside your heart.  When God is genuinely the audience of our prayers we have the reward that only He can give.  Jesus does not really give an idea, in this passage, as to what God’s reward or repayment will be.  The important thing is that God will faithfully and unfailingly bless those who come to Him in sincerity, without question, the Lord will repay those who insincerely and hypocritically pray as well; it will be through His judgment.

          True prayer can be one of the most beautiful and rewarding experience of our lives.  It can also become all for show if we are not careful and we lose our reward.  Merely going through the motions will not cut it with God!


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor