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Prayer and Our Relationship With The Father (text)

January 8, 2012 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: A Praying Life

Topic: Prayer Passage: Matthew 6:5–6:13

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For the month of January we will be in a series called A Praying Life. We titled itafter a book by the same title that I want to recommend to you. It’s a different kind of book on prayer and I think you will find it very helpful in strengthening your prayer life.

 

ILL: If you’ve ever watched the home improvement TV show  Ask This Old House, you know that at the end of every show one of the guys pulls out some obscure tool and the other guys try to guess what it’s purpose is. None of them guess the right thing but they do come up with some pretty humorous uses for the tool. Finally the guy tells what the real use for the tool is and you can see that it’s built precisely for its unique purpose.

We’re talking about prayer so let me ask you a question: what’s the primary purpose of prayer? Why did God give us prayer and for what does He intend it for?

  • Lift up needs to God – that’s an important part of prayer
  • To get answers from God –that’s also an important part of prayer
  • To call upon God to pour out His power in our lives and church and world
  • To experience God’s presence in our lives and church – that's very close
  • And maybe you’d have another suggestion

These are all important aspects of prayer but I believe the primary purpose and intent of prayer has more to do with our relationship with God than what we pray for or what we get from prayer. Even when we pray for specific needs (which we are supposed to do) or enjoy seeing glorious answers from the hand of God – these aren’t the final end, but the means by which our eyes are opened to see God’s greatness and His glory and to know Him and love Him and trust Him more. Relationship.  In Matthew 6 Jesus frames that relationship in terms so tender and so intimate it would have been very surprising – even shocking - to the Jews of his day. So let’s pray and then read Matthew 6:5-13. (Pray and read)

I really only have one main point this morning:

Effective prayer flows from relationship with our heavenly Father and leads to a growing intimacy with our heavenly Father

I.              Effective prayer flows from our relationship with our heavenly Father

The teaching on prayer that we find Matt 6 is a part of the lengthy discourse we call the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is an overview of what a life submitted to God’s rule and reign will look like and over and over again it turns conventional religious thought of the day on its head. In chapter 6 verses 5-6 Jesus contrasts what the prayer life of the religious leaders of his day – many of whom were riddled through and through with religious hypocrisy – with what the prayer life of his followers should look like. The hypocrites pray to God in order to be seen and applauded by men. Prayer is a show to them, a vehicle to gain a higher spiritual status with men, and Jesus says when they get the applause they are looking for, they get all the reward they’re going to get.

But that’s not how we are to pray, Jesus says. When you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray…Jesus isn’t forbidding praying in public, what he is forbidding is making prayer a show for men to see rather than God to see. But Jesus doesn’t say “pray to God”, he says, pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. The emphasis is on the Father/child relationship we have with God.

Jesus is deliberately drawing us into a private prayer room where we go to meet with God our heavenly Father. And what does he mean, your Father who is in secret. We don’t normally think of God as “in secret” – He’s the one true God, the King of heaven, the Creator of the universe, the heavens don’t whisper the glory of God, they shout His glory. What does Jesus mean your Father who is “in secret”. I think what he means is that true prayer is a private exchange between a man and his God – the reality of our relationship with God and the reality of our faith in God is displayed “in secret” where we don’t substitute what men think of our spiritual state with the reality of our spiritual state.

Jesus goes on in verses 7-8 warning that the pagans pray in long, repetitive prayers – babbling over and over again, thinking that if they say it often enough some god will finally hear them. But, Jesus says, don’t do that. Your Father knows what you need before you say one word. Again, Jesus stresses our relationship with God as Father. And he says your Father knows what you need before you ask him, which strongly implies that He knows and He cares about our needs. Prayer isn’t ever making God aware of our need for bread – He knows and He cares. Prayer is about the relationship that is built and strengthened when we come to our heavenly Father about our need for bread trusting that He knows and cares – and that He will meet our needs. The Christian who doesn’t bring their need to God may not miss out on the bread, they may only miss out on the sweet relationship with the Father that praying for those needs brings.

And then as Jesus teaches his disciples what we now call the Lord’s prayer, he teaches us to pray, our Father in heaven…Do you see how Jesus is connecting our prayers to our relationship with God as our Father?

Effective prayer flows from our relationship with our Father. Our prayers don’t make the relationship possible, our relationship with the Father makes the prayers possible. We have been adopted by God through Christ. Ephesians 1:4-5 says In love He [God] predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will…(1:4-5). Through Christ, God adopted us as His sons and daughters.Paul writes to both the Romans and the Galatians that the Holy Spirit within us cries, Abba, Father.

When we come to God in prayer, we should come convinced that we are loved and accepted by our Father just as we are. Nothing will draw our hearts to prayer like knowing that a loving heavenly Father waits to hear from His beloved son or daughter.

Now I realize that the word “father” may evoke different images to different people. Maybe you had a father that makes it hard for you to even want to think of God as your father. Years ago a precious Christian woman who attended the church wrote this about her relationship with her father:

Growing up I did not have a good relationship with my father. My mother and father divorced when I was about 11 years old. He seldom came to visit and when he did it seemed he only came to visit my mom. He never asked about our lives or how school went - he never got involved. We never dared to ask him for anything not even money for field trips…I never felt accepted I always thought I had to find a way for people to like me. I always felt like something was missing in my life. I felt alone and empty and unloved. I don't think that my earthly father knew how to love his children. I know he never had time for us.

 Maybe that’s how you see God – a distant Father who doesn’t care about your life. If you never felt accepted by your earthly father, maybe you have a hard time believing you are accepted by your heavenly Father. Maybe your earthly father always seemed to be angry with you so it’s easy to think that God is always angry with you too.

Remember that fatherhood isn’t defined by earthly fathers. Our fathers, and we who are fathers, are a reflection of the Father – God isn’t a reflection of them. He’s the perfect  Father, all others are to reflect His fatherhood. Some do it well. Others do it poorly. None do it perfectly.

So let’s speak objective truth from God’s word to our souls concerning the Father’s attitude toward us:

1.    We can be confident our Father loves us – John 3:16 - God (the Father) so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life. Romans 5:8 but God (the Father) shows His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There is no greater demonstration of the love of the Father than the cross – because love is measured by giving and God gave at immeasurable cost to His infinite heart when He gave His Son. He gave His Son in order to make it possible to adopt us as His children - See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. 1 John 3:1. The gospel is the sweet story of God’s love for us His children! Be confident, walk in His love – if you are trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection you are His child and He loves you.

2.    We can be confident that our Father delights in being good to us-

Turn with me to Luke 12:32. Jesus is speaking to the things we fear – earlier in the passage he tells us not to be anxious about our life or what we will eat or wear. Don’t fear you won’t have what you need because life is more than these things and your Father knows that you need them.

And in verse 32, what’s the fear Jesus is addressing? Our fear that God won’t accept us in His kingdom. That God doesn’t want to be good to us. Jesus doesn’t just say that God will give us His kingdom – he says it’s the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. Our heavenly Father takes delight in doing good to us – especially welcoming us into His kingdom. So don’t fear - be confident that your Father enjoys being good to you – it’s His good pleasure.  

If you have trouble believing this – maybe you had a father that makes it challenging to see God as your Father, ask Him to help you. The Holy Spirit cries within you Abba Father – none of us know the Father purely through natural means, we all need supernatural help for our hearts to comprehend His Fatherhood in our lives. And if you’re not a Christian, I want to urge you to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord today. We aren’t born under God’s love. He loves us but what we live under is His judgment because of our rebellion against Him. Ask Jesus to be your Savior, yield your life to His Lordship, and He will save you and adopt you.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

II.            Prayer leads to a growing intimacy with our heavenly Father

Prayer doesn’t make our relationship with God possible, but prayer does make our relationship stronger. Jesus said go into your room – away from the noise and busyness and clutter of daily life and be alone with your Father. And in that place, our relationship with our Father will grow more intimate.

You don’t create intimacy, you make room for it. Paul Miller (A Praying Life)

Are we making room in our lives for a growing intimacy with our Father? Here are some brief thoughts for how we should come to the Father in prayer.

a.    Come real

Have you ever been at a meeting where someone is asked to pray and when they start to pray they have a whole different voice than they normally have? Now I realize that might just be how they learned to pray so let’s not read too much into that, but there are ways we can all try to put on facades when coming to the Father in prayer. The Father wants us to come real. Relationships can only flourish where they can be real – when you have to put on a façade or an image to be accepted there isn’t a true relationship.

I attended a church decades ago that was really high energy and into the power of God. The preaching was no nonsense, people were radical in their faith, the music was pumping, and the sense of God’s power in the meeting was palpable.

But after going there for a while and getting to know a number of the people better – and I had dear friends who attended the church and were in leadership in the church for over a decade – I began to realize that the relationships were really shallow. It was a cold church – hard to develop warm friendships. Everybody preached at each other, but no one talked to each other – not on any depth, not with any warmth. Being open about any weakness was looked down on, sickness was something to be overcome by faith, financial struggles meant you weren’t claiming your inheritance. In other words, it was a brutal place to be real and eventually it fell apart.

Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with pumping music or dynamic preaching or sky high levels of faith! The problems come when we aren't real and all of that isn't married to a genuine and intimate relationship with God our Father. We need to be real - warts and all - with God and with each other or all that is fake and a fraud. 

You ever feel weak in your prayers? Mind wander? Lose heart? Wonder whether God hears at all? Come real and share all that with your Father. I’ve often told my kids I want them to feel comfortable to talk to me about anything – do you think God is any less committed to hear all that is on our hearts? Come real.

b.    Come dependent

Our Father loves for us to come to Him in our weakness and dependency on Him like a little child. Jesus rose early to pray everyday – because he, the Son of God, needed to. He often said things like, The Son can do nothing of his own accord (John 5:19). If Jesus was dependent on His Father, how much more do we need to be?

Throughout the gospels we see people coming to Jesus for help – his mother Mary came to him when the wedding ran out of wine, the Centurian when his servant was dying, the father when his son was demon-possessed, the woman with a 12 year bleeding condition, the Gentile mother whose daughter had a demon.

Prayer isn’t just that time we put aside in the morning or evening – we should be breathing prayers all the time – do we need provision? Father, you know the need, please provide the money I need for this bill. Do we need courage? Father, I am really stressed out over this coming presentation, please give me the courage to do it. Do we need to change in some area? Are you a loud-mouth (don’t raise your hand)? Are you timid and shy? Are you too quick to share your opinion in a bossy way? Are you arrogant? Are you afraid?  Are you controlling? Are you manipulative? Do you lose your temper easily? Have you tried to change but can’t? Bring those areas to the Father and ask Him to bring change to your character, then see that area as a door to God. Bend your heart to Him at that point and depend on Him whenever that trait raises its head. It probably won’t happen overnight, it will probably be painfully gradual, but change will happen and it will be real.

When there is a need, a problem, a challenge, an opportunity, a joy, a heartache, whatever, see it as a door to God and come dependent. Our heavenly Father loves to meet the needs of His children.

c.    Come consistently (call band up)

Consistency is more important than length. If you’re looking to learn the guitar, ten minutes of practice every day will do far more good than practicing a couple of hours every two weeks. Resolve in your heart and put on your calendar getting up a little earlier and getting 10 minutes with God in prayer and His word. It will grow, but that’s a good start. Carve out time – I think morning is best and there’s a lot of scripture that agrees but whenever you can make it happen, the important thing is to commit to it and be consistent.

At the heart of prayer is relationship. It’s the primary purpose for which prayer was designed for. As we draw near to the Father, our relationship with Him will grow, and that will bring all the other beautiful benefits that prayer brings to our lives. Prayer flows from relationship with our heavenly Father and leads to a growing intimacy with our heavenly Father

Let’s pray.

More in A Praying Life

January 29, 2012

Praying in Real Life (text)

January 22, 2012

Praying With Faith (text)

January 15, 2012

Prayer and the Danger of Cynicism