Pray Like This ~ January 06, 2019 ~ Matthew 6:7-13
Have you ever heard of Antonio Meucci? Antonio Meucci is actually the man who invented the telephone. It’s the truth. In 1871, Antonio Meucci invented the telephone and filed a patent. The unfortunate thing is, he didn’t put on the patent enough minute details to make sure it was just him, so five years later, another gentleman came along and applied for a patent with all of the details in it, and his name was Alexander Graham Bell. So, we always give credit to Alexander Graham Bell, but the man who actually invented the telephone is Antonio Meucci. You can google that yourself (not now, but later).
Antonio – or Alexander Graham Bell – they could not have imagined what was to come, huh? I mean, the methods of communication have advanced at light speed. First there was this little machine that transferred your voice from one place to another, and that was pretty much it for lots of years. The next major advancement for communication that I think was the fax machine. Remember the fax machine? And I was convinced (because I was working for the Post Office at the time) that the fax machine was going to be the death of the Post Office, because why would you mail something if you could just feed it into this machine and a few minutes later somebody would get it? So, we had the fax machine. Then – remember pagers? Everybody have a pager? All my kids had pagers (they lost them, unbelievable). But they all had pagers at one time. All of us that were on staff at my previous church in Maine, we all had pagers too because Reverend Carlson wanted to make sure he could get a hold of us if he needed to. It’s funny – what he never realized is that the rest of the staff developed this Morse Code language where you could send numbers. You ever done the 0-7-7-3-4 and you turn it upside down and it spells hello? So, we came up with a bunch of things that we could actually have a whole conversation amongst the staff with just numbers coming through on the pager. Why did we want to do that? Because bzzzz, you pick up the pager, you look at it, “1-2-3-4” – Pastor Bob is in the building! We wanted to let everybody know that the boss was there! So, we had pagers, and then from pagers we went to desktops, PCs, then laptops, then email, and I think the vast majority of our communication nowadays is through email or text. And then last but not least, cell phones, which Meucci – his mind must be blown that his little invention got to this where you can sit in the middle of Nairobi on a hotspot and access the internet. Unbelievable.
Unfortunately, we are now hooked, right? 24/7. Gotta find out, check it every five seconds. You probably have also seen, as Renée and I have, you go out to dinner and there’s a family and they’re all doing this – sometimes they’re texting each other. So, we’ve gone a little crazy with phones. But even with all of this technology, how we communicate with God remains the same. God doesn’t have a Facebook page. Apologies to that new television series “God Friended Me,” but He doesn’t have a Facebook page. He doesn’t have a Twitter account. He doesn’t have an email address. He doesn’t have a phone number. (Well, I have it, I’m just not handing it out… just kidding!) He doesn’t have a phone number. The only way we still communicate with God is through prayer.
Prayer is not meditation like some faith traditions do. Prayer is not reflection. Prayer is the act of talking to God. We just did it a minute ago, right? Kyle led us. Now, Jesus said about prayer in His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6 beginning in verse 5:
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with praying on street corners and in public, but if you’re doing it so that people will look at you and say, “Oh, what a holy person that is!” that’s the wrong motivation. So, don’t be hypocrites who pray publicly for self-grandisement.
“I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”
They wanted the attention? They got the attention. Jesus says, “I’m not going to give them any when they come to see me. They got what they wanted.”
“But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
Will you please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
So, Jesus says:
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.”
We all recognize that as what we call The Lord’s Prayer. Now, prayer can be audible as you heard Kyle do, and some of you mentioned prayers; or prayer can be silent. You can pray to God by speaking to Him in your mind. Prayer can be public, prayer can be formal, prayer can be private, prayer can be informal. There’s all kinds of ways that we can pray; however, as Jesus says, prayer is not designed to bring attention to the petitioner. It’s not supposed to be about the person speaking, but rather focused on the one who has the answers.
Now, one thing I have always noticed about prayer: it reveals the fallacy of atheism. I believe it does. People who claim that they don’t believe in God, or have doubts – in fact, they often say, and you’ve probably heard them say some version of this, “If there is a God, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?” “If there is a God, why did my loved one have to die?” “If there is a God, why do good people have to suffer, and bad people get elected to higher office?” A lot of people use things like this, things that they don’t understand as reasons to not believe. Or at least they say they don’t believe. However, I don’t know about you, but in my experience, I have seen more times than I can count, that as soon as so-called atheists, so-called doubters find themselves in a crisis situation – someone they love has just been given the diagnosis of the C-word, cancer, or they themselves have been given that diagnosis; or there was a car accident and your spouse was in it; or your teenager who said she was going to be home at eleven has not yet returned, and it’s 2:00 in the morning and you’ve called and you’ve texted and you’ve gotten no response – my experience has been that even atheists, and doubters, when they find themselves in crisis situations like that, the words that come out of their mouths are not, “Oh well, since we’re all just a big cosmic, unplanned accident, a product of natural selection and chance, then c’est la vie!” I don’t ever hear anybody say that, even though that’s the only conclusion you can come to if you buy all that Darwin stuff, that we’re here by accident. An accident is called an accident because it’s an accident. (Do you believe they’re going to give me a doctorate in May?) An accident is called an accident because it is an accident. If it were not an accident, it would be called an on-purpose! But there is no purpose in an accident. Therefore, if you believe the Darwin stuff – that we are all a big, cosmic, unplanned accident, a product of natural selection and random chance – then we are not here on purpose. Therefore, we don’t have a purpose. Accidents don’t have purpose.
So, if you’ve been given a bad diagnosis, or if someone you love has, or if there’s been a car accident, or if your child hasn’t come home yet – who cares? We have no purpose, right? That’s the only logical conclusion to a Darwinist.
The funny thing is, atheists never say that, do they? No! As soon as they find themselves in a crisis situation like that, they say, “God! Please help my mother, father, sister, brother or child!” It’s fascinating. I have done so many funerals in my career thus far, and I have had people tell me straight to my face, “I don’t believe in all that stuff.” I’ve been asked, “Would you go easy on the Jesus stuff?” You know, at that time, I was wearing a clerical collar, so I loved to go, “It’s kind of my thing!” But every single one of those people who wanted me to go light on the Jesus stuff, who didn’t want me to go too heavy on the Bible, all believed that their loved one was in heaven. Says who? And Darwin never said there was a heaven. Darwin said that when you die… that’s it. There is nothing next.
So, why is it, when they find themselves in crisis, they immediately, like the rest of us, pray to God? It’s because deep down in their heart, they know there is something or someone beyond that which we can comprehend. I mean, if you pray, then you must believe there is someone or something to pray to, right? Otherwise you’d just be talking to yourself. You must also believe that that someone has the power to do something about your situation, or you wouldn’t be asking. I know Renée loves Disney, as do many other people, but I ask the question, “Why wish upon a star when you can pray to the one who created it?” We don’t want wishes. We want to talk to the Boss. We want to go right to the top.
So, why do we instinctively believe that there is something else? Solomon records for us in Ecclesiastes 3:
God as planted eternity in the human heart.
We are all made in the image of God. There is a divine spark in each one of us. That’s why we just know there is something beyond this. Because there is.
Well, let me ask you this: Why is it, then, that we all know from a very early age when we’ve done something wrong? Even our dogs know, right? You ever walked into your house, opened the door and the dog goes [shrinks]. She knows or he knows they’ve done something naughty! We know that as children! We know when we do something wrong. Why is that? Somehow, even though we may not have heard of the Ten Commandments yet, we know somehow when we’ve crossed a line.
Why is it that in every faith, even all the false ones – and I know that’s kind of politically incorrect, but that’s the truth. God says through the prophet Isaiah 43:10:
“You are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord. “You are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is on other God – there never has been, and there never will be.”
There’s only one God. I know there’s a lot of people that worship all kinds of other things, but it’s not real! There is one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ who died for our sins. That’s it. Now, this is a free country, and I will defend the death the right of any person to worship however they want; but Christians shouldn’t be saying, “Oh, that’s ok, I’ll just worship my God and you can worship your Mormon God.” Or your Jehovah God. Or your Scientology whatever-that-is. No! We should be trying to share the truth with people so that their light goes on, so that they understand there is only one true God and His Son is Jesus Christ.
But nonetheless, even those who worship something or someone who really isn’t there, they all know murder is wrong. What is that? No matter what faith tradition you go to, I don’t know of a single faith tradition that says, “Yeah, murder’s ok.” Why is that? Because we were made in God’s image, He planted eternity in our hearts, and He also gave us something else. God says through the apostle Paul in Romans 2:
Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written on their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.
See, God gave us a conscience. There is no scientific, biological, physiological explanation for the conscience. There is no strand of DNA that we could point to, or genetic marker, “there is the conscience gene!” Science can’t explain it! I can. God gave you a conscience. God planted eternity in your heart. God made you in His image. The conscience is evidence that God exists! The instinct that even non-believers suddenly have to pray in crisis is also evidence that God exists. And when you want to talk to Him, that’s called prayer.
Anyone can do it. You don’t need fancy words, you don’t have to turn into Shakespeare. Some people do. I have a book in my office (because I’m a nerd) that is the 1948 Book of Worship for Free Churches that was prepared under the direction of the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches in the United States. This is the organization that was the precursor to the UCC, 4Cs or NACCC to which we belong. They printed a book of worship, offered it to all the churches. And in it are some prayers. Like on page 290, “Prayers for Common Worship.”
O Lord our God who callest us by the pleadings of Thy good Spirit, to forsake our sins: Cleanse us from every mean desire and save us from every evil way that we may follow after that which is pure, and cleave to that which is holy; and that we may come at last to the perfect obedience and fellowship that is our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who talks like that?! I don’t talk like that. I don’t know any people who talk like that. But all of a sudden when we get into prayer, all of a sudden we gotta act like we’re PhDs! You don’t gotta talk like that! I mean, you don’t have to use fancy words, just talk to Him. And He wants to hear from you.
Look, I am always up for prayer. I love to pray, and every time one of you asks me to pray, I do. In fact, I carry with me (it’s kind of gross because it’s been in my pocket for 10, 12 years) a little black book, and in that little black book, when somebody says, “Would you pray for me?” I write it down, because I have the memory of a gnat, and if I don’t write it down, I will forget. And if I tell you I’m going to pray for your situation, I want to do it. So, I love to pray, which is another reason I have this book, I went on Amazon and got this really cool thing… it’s a pen! It telescopes out so I always have a pen on me, I always have my book. In fact, Tessa asked me earlier to pray for her Aunt Camille, because she sadly just passed away, so we need to pray for Aunt Camille’s family. And then Pam asked me to pray for Carlos Colon. I love to pray, and when I tell you I’m going to pray for you, I will. I promise I do. However, I want my prayers to be in addition to yours, not in place of yours. Please do not think for a moment that a pastor’s prayers, or a prayer leader that stands up front and prays, has any more power or authority than yours do. It’s not true. God doesn’t listen to me, or Phil, or Kyle, or Ryan any more or any closer than He listens to you. Yes, we do love to pray, no question. But God also loves to hear from His kids. He wants to hear from you. So, talk to Him. He’s listening. You don’t need fancy words or a fancy person. You also don’t need a lot of words, remember, Jesus says don’t babble on and on. You don’t need to have an extensive vocabulary. In fact, do you know what the shortest prayer in the Bible is? Remember the story of Jesus walking on the water? The disciples are out on the lake, and they’re caught up in a storm, and they’re worried for their lives, and all of a sudden, they see what they believe is an apparition walking towards them on the water. They think it’s a ghost because a person is not supposed to be able to walk on water. Finally, He gets close enough where they realize, it’s Jesus! Probably the first time somebody said, “Jesus Christ!” And Peter says, “Lord, if it really is you, tell me to come out of the boat, walk on water and join you.” What does Jesus say? “Come on!” So Peter has to have the faith to step over the side of that boat and put his foot on water. But as long as he’s in faith, as long as he’s focusing on Christ, as long as he’s believing he continues to walk on water. As soon as he stops and looks around and the evil one gets in his brain and says, “Hey, this is physiologically impossible! This should not be happening!” he sinks. And then we have the shortest prayer in all the Bible: Peter yells out to the Lord, “Save me, Lord!” Three words, straight to the point.
That’s it. No Shakespearean language. No babbling on. “Save me, Lord!” and Jesus reaches down his hand and pulls Peter to safety.
You don’t need a lot of words. You don’t need a lot of fancy words, you don’t need a fancy person. Just talk to the guy. He wants to hear from you. And not just when you need something. He wants to hear from you all the time. It’s just like when a son or daughter goes away to college, you’re going to want a phone call every once in a while, right? So, just talk to Him.
Did you notice when we read, Jesus began verse 7, “When you pray…” Not if you pray, when you pray. He is fully expecting that His children will want to talk with Him. And who wouldn’t? Who would pass up the opportunity to speak with God? Don’t babble on and on and on and think that you have to come up with all this flowery language, don’t repeat yourself. Save me, Lord! Great prayer.
And then Jesus gives us a formula. Note that in verse 9, Jesus says, “Pray like this,” not “Pray this, pray these words.” He says, “Pray LIKE this.” It’s a formula, it’s a blueprint. The formula says before we get right to our wish list, we should first begin by recognizing our creator just by who He is. “Our Father in heaven, may Your name be kept holy. May Your Kingdom come soon.” Thank you, God, for who You and what You have done for me. We should be grateful that He gave us life and then offered us eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Then the formula says that just as Jesus did, we should pray that “God’s will be done.” Whatever it may be, God’s will and our will are not always the same thing. God doesn’t want for us oftentimes what we want for us. But who knows more, you or God? Pray that His will be done, and if it’s not my will, pray that You will reveal to me, show me the lesson I’m supposed to be learning, but Your will be done, Lord, because I trust You. You are omniscient. You are omnipresent. You are omnipotent. I know You have my best in mind. So, whatever Your will is, may Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Then, we can ask for what it is we need. Not what we want, what we need. Jesus is not Santa Claus. Interesting that Jesus says, “Give us today the food we need.” Give us this day our daily bread. Help us get through today. It sounds a lot like when somebody’s going through a twelve steps program, trying to stay sober. Your prayer every morning is Lord, let me be clean today, let me be sober today. I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Help me for today. That’s what our prayer should be, help me today, Lord, to give You glory, to give You honor, to be thankful, to share the truth.
And then we follow that with asking for mercy and forgiveness of our sins. Now, we can use trespasses, or we can use debts like we do; but as I said, you don’t need to use fancy words. We mean sins, right? Forgive us our sins! So, why don’t we say sins? I don’t know! Somebody along the line said, “That doesn’t sound classy enough, you’ve got to spruce it up a little bit!” Like when you’re writing a paper for school and you need as many pages as you can, you’re constantly going for the thesaurus to find the longest word, right? Because you need pages! Somebody said, let’s come up with trespasses, or debts! What are we asking God to do? We’re asking Him to forgive us our sins, so why don’t we just say sins? In fact, what I’m going to do for the rest of January, anyway, when we do the Lord’s prayer, we’re going to say sins. Try it out! See what happens! You might stumble, we’ll try to remind you ahead of time. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us. We don’t need fancy words.
Then the formula says we end with a plea to help us to remember to stay faithful and obedient. Don’t let us yield to temptation, rescue us from the evil one. It’s a formula. It’s a blueprint. Use whatever words you like. God wants to hear your voice. But just talk to Him. He wants to hear from you. He likes hearing from me too, on your behalf, but He wants to hear from you. He loves to hear from His kids, so talk to Him.
Let’s talk to Him now.