Pastor Scott L. Harris
9/27/1992; January 3, 1999
The Proper Pattern of Prayer, Pt. 2
I got up early one morning
And rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish
I didn’t have time to pray.
Troubles just tumbled about me
And heavier came each task.
I wondered, God, why don’t you help me?
And He said, “You didn’t ask.”
I tried to come into God’s presence,
I used all my keys at the Lock.
God gently and lovingly chided,
“Why child, you didn’t knock.”
I wanted to see joy and beauty,
But the day toiled on grey and bleak,
I called on the Lord for the reason –
He answered, “You didn’t seek.”
I woke up early this morning
And paused before the day.
I had so much to accomplish
I had to take time to pray.
Too often our lives are like the first part of this poem. We are so caught up in the rush of trying to live that we forget what life is all about. And in the rush, we try to prevail in our own power and fail to communicate with the one that empowers us to live.
I am sure that for many if not most of us here today, a good resolution for the New Year would be to simplify our lives and restore the proper priorities to them. Time with the Lord is the life blood of the Christian life. Yet, it is not enough to just spend time in prayer, that time must be spent wisely by praying properly.
In our introduction to this passage a few weeks ago we saw that our Lord makes the proper purpose and practice of prayer clear. Matthew 6:5 & 6 tell us that they proper purpose in prayer is to communicate with God. Only what God thinks of you is truly important, not what other people think. The Scribes and Pharisees were not praying to communicate with God, but for the purpose of being seen by men to gain their acclaim and honor. (See: The Proper Purpose & Practice of Prayer).
In Matthew 6:7 & 8 Jesus tells us that God loves us so much that He knows our needs even before we pray. The proper practice in prayer then is to tell Him what is on our hearts and trust Him to do what is best. We do not need to make long, repetitious prayers trying to get God’s attention. Neither length, repetition nor eloquence impress God. We can be confident that our God, who is real and personal, will hear and answer the humble prayer that seeks His will.
In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus gives the proper pattern of prayer. He presents a model of what elements should be in our prayers. This example prayer is short, yet it covers all of what prayer is about. It tells us about our relationship with the one we are praying too; what His position is, what He is like, what is important in life, what our true needs are, and the source of those needs being met. It covers past, present and future.
We looked at the first few elements of the prayer last week. (See: Jesus’ Pattern of Prayer, Part 1). The proper way for the true Christian to address God is as Our Father. That defines the relationship of the saved to Him. Everyone can all Him “Creator,” but only those who have been born again and adopted as His children can call out to Him in the intimacy of the term, “Father.” And because He is Our Father “which art in heaven,” we also understand that He is not like our earthly dads. He is not a man and thereby limited in righteousness, wisdom, fairness, goodness, kindness or love. God will never fail us or forsake us. He will always provide what we really need since He knows what is best for us. Even His discipline will always be in and from perfect love. He never has uncontrolled anger, is injustice or misunderstanding. We can trust Him completely.
The passion of our prayer is seen in the next phrase, “Hallowed by Thy name.” We come to God with the highest reverence and honor and we accomplish that by believing what He has revealed about Himself. To do less than this implies that God is a liar. We speak of Him in a reverent manner and encourage others to do the same. Taking the Lord’s name in vain by using it in a flippant and disrespectful manner is a sin and breaks the third commandment. We also hallow His name by seeking to live in a virtuous manner which will also bring honor to Him.
The next element is our earnest hope and desire: “Thy Kingdom come.” We long for that day when Jesus will establish His kingdom on earth in its fullness. We yearn for His return, but this aspect of the prayer also means that we desire for Jesus to reign within our own hearts here and now. The kingdom of God is currently present on earth in part. Scripture tells us that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), therefore we are aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11), and ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We pray “Thy Kingdom Come” and thereby pledge our allegiance to our King and set ourselves to follow Him now.
The occupation of our prayer is found in the next element:
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the center of prayer for the true Christian, and yet this very point is probably the most attacked part of true prayer. The preachers of the health, wealth, prosperity doctrine attack this element of prayer by ignoring it and/or perverting it. They take verses such as Mt 21:22 which says, “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive,” and teach that you can get whatever you want. How shallow. They never put that together with verses such as James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend in on your lusts,” or 1 John 5:14,15 which says, ” . . . if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” They want their will, not God’s will. That is the basic problem in their doctrine as a whole in and in their teaching on prayer in particular. They do not understand that prayer is about seeking after God’s will and not their own. Prayer is an application of trusting God, not manipulating Him.
Others may not attack the idea of praying for God’s will to be done directly, but they will do so indirectly. There are many people who struggle with this element of prayer because they do not yet grasp the nature of true love or the goodness of God. They do understand that prayer is about seeking God’s will and not their own, but they don’t like that fact. They resent not getting what they want out of life. They want certain things and they do not have them. They are jealous of what other people have and question God because they do not have the same or better. They want their relationships to work out in certain ways, and when they do not they are both hurt and angry. They want to have good health and they are annoyed that they have health problems or that their body just does not work the way they would like. They are irritated because they want pleasant circumstances, but find they are suffering because of other people’s sin, or any combination of the above. It may or may not be verbally expressed, but this individual blames God for the things they want but do not have.
These attitudes most often surface when a tragedy strikes. Though we are to have compassion for the emotional turmoil a person may be going through, a person’s reaction manifests what is really in their heart. Too often it is that of pride instead of humility. They think themselves as worthy and deserving. They are not “poor in spirit,” and so do not cry out for God’s grace and mercy. If they will even pray “Thy will be done,” it is done with resentment or defiant surrender. It is said between clenched teeth in the same manner as someone defeated in a fight would say “uncle.” That is not true prayer and it reveals a sad delusion of who God is and what He has done.
There are others that disgrace the prayer, “Thy will be done,” even though they are no longer defiant. Instead, they are defeated and have given up the battle. They are left with passive resignation. They quietly go through the motions of prayer trying to use all the correct terminology, but there is no heart in it. They also have a sad misconception about who God is, what He has done, and what He desires.
Others malign this aspect of prayer with an over emphasis on the sovereignty of God that results in fatalism. They will pray because they are supposed too, but since God is just going to do whatever He wants anyway they do not put any heart into either. They pray, but there is no real belief or expectation. They are like those at a prayer meeting held in a farm community during a prolonged drought. They came to plead before the Lord that He would in His mercy and grace bring the much needed rain. The pastor came, the Elders came, the deacons came, the deaconesses came, all the faithful in the community came, but only one little girl brought an umbrella!
But before we get too self righteous about these farmers, we should examine ourselves and our own approach to prayer. The Bible records others who were not much different. Acts 12 records Peter being thrown in jail. The church gathered to fervently pray for his release (Acts 12:5), and in light of the fact that James, the brother of John, had been killed by Herod only a few days before (Acts 12:2) they had extra motivation to be fervent. An Angel came and let Peter out of jail (Acts 12:7-10). Peter went to where they were praying and the servant girl, Rhoda, answered the door. When she heard Peter, she became so excited that she forgot to open the door. Instead she ran to tell everyone that Peter was at the door. They told her that she was crazy or that it must be Peter’s angel. They have been fervently praying, but yet they did not believe that God was responding to their prayers. When they saw Peter, they were amazed. We are very often no different than they were. We pray, but have little expectation that God will respond to our prayers. That mind set will eventually cause your prayer life to either cease or become a dead, ritualistic, religious exercise
Yes, the Bible teaches in no uncertain terms that God is sovereign. “God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind” (Numbers 23:19). But the Bible also teaches that in some way God pays attention to our prayers and as a result, things happen. James 5:13-18 makes this point clear when he talks about praying for the sick and then says in James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” When we pray we need to believe that God will hear and respond. Praying for God’s will to be done is not fatalism.
I hope you all know that everything that is done is NOT God’s moral will. It may be within the realm of His sovereignty in that He has let things happen, but that does not mean it is the full expression of His will. How can I say that?
God’s moral will is stated in His commandments. Man has been given volition (the ability to make choices) and must choose to either obey or disobey those commandments. For example, in 2 Peter 3:9 says God “is patient toward you, not wishing (willing – KJV) for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Acts 17:30 is also clear on this point. Paul warns the Athenians on Mars hill, “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the wicked in righteousness through a Man who He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” God’s stated moral will is that all people repent from their sins and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul warns that a failure to submit to God’s stated moral will that “all should repent” will result in judgement. In Revelation 20 we find this being carried out. Though God has been patient with the wicked and wants them to repent, most people have not repented and they are doomed to perish in eternal hell. That is God’s sovereign will which no one can escape. People may violate God’s moral will, but they cannot escape His sovereign will.
Some people will claim that praying for God’s will to be done is mystical and therefore somewhat fatalistic since they do not know what God’s will is. However, neither prayer nor God’s will is shrouded in mystery. The Bible explains clearly how prayer works and what God’s will is both in principle and specific statements.
For example, when you or someone else sins, that is not God’s moral will. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is very clear that it is not God’s will that we sin. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. When we or someone else sins it is because we are in defiance of God’s stated will. James 1:13 tells us, Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust, then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
God has revealed His will, so no one can claim ignorance of it as an excuse not obeying it. He expects us to learn His will and do it. Consider the following verses.
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. The Lord expects you resist the pressure of the world to mold you into its image and instead to heed His word and prove out His will by how you live your life. If God’s will was not revealed in the Bible, this would be impossible.
Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured
in all the will of God. The expectation here is that the Colossians, and us as well, would know and stand in the will of God.
1 Peter 4:1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. In this passage we find that living according to the will of God is contrasted with living in the flesh according to the lusts, the strong desires, of the flesh. Again, this would be impossible if God has not already revealed His will.
1 Peter 4:19 Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. Our comfort in the midst of suffering is knowing the will of God in the matter. If that could not be known then it would be extremely difficult at best to entrust your soul to God because you would be uncertain as to what is right and whether He was faithful.
1 John 2:17 And the world is passing away, and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever. Here we find a very sobering ramification if the will of God could not be known. You would pass away with the world for only those that know the will of God will abide with Him forever.
A person who claims they are ignorant of the will of God only demonstrate their own refusal to repent and seek God. They reveal that they do not know the Scriptures or have much of an interest in knowing them or the God who wrote them.
When it comes to praying, “Thy will be done,” many people actually attack this element of prayer by mouthing the words, but having hearts that are insincere of that desire. The tragedy with this is that many people are self-deceived at this point. They think they really do want to have God’s will done in the matter they are praying about, but the sad fact is that they either want their own will to be done or they want to be able to blame God for whatever happens. We have already seen that all that happens is not God’s moral will. Each of us are individually responsible for our own sins.
Let me add this. If you are praying for God’s will to be done as a true expression of your desire, then it only follows that you will already be seeking to be obedient to those things you already know are God’s will. It is ludicrous to be praying for God to do His will in your life when you refuse to follow what He has already revealed to you as His will. This fact exposes the prayer lives of many people. Let me give you some examples.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; [that is,] that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 [and] that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is [the] avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned [you.] 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 Consequently, he who rejects [this] is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” Could God be any clearer? Yet, it is not unusual to find people who are living in fornication who still think they are in God’s will. I have met quite a few couples in this position. They do not like it when I point out this passage of Scripture, but instead of heeding it, they go do what they want anyway. The results are often very tragic, especially when there are children born as a result of their fornication and they suffer for the sins of the biological parents. Can a person really sincerely pray for God’s will concerning their relationship with another person when they are violating what God has already said is His will about the relationship?
Here is another passage that states God’s will but is still often ignored by people. 1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Remember that this was written when Caesar was on the throne in Rome. We may not like what our government is doing or the people in those positions of authority, but even Bill Clinton is an angel compared to what the Caesars were like. We are to submit to the governing authorities until such point that doing so would result in having to disobey God, then we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). That even includes paying all of our taxes honestly without fudging figures and obeying traffic laws.
1 Timothy 2 states that we should pray for “kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Let me be very practical with this. God’s moral will is that we pray for our governmental leaders for the express purpose of being able to lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. Romans 13 makes it clear that the purpose of government is to be “an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who does evil.” That is God’s stated moral will.
In the last election, many people were praying for “God’s will to be done.” God’s sovereign will was done, but His moral will was not. Why? Many of those same people that prayed for “God’s will to be done” either did not bother to vote or completely ignored God’s stated will concerning the purpose of government and the qualities that should be in leaders, (Psalm 15, various Proverbs, etc.), and elected many people who lack the moral character to fulfill God’s purpose for government. Bill Clinton and the rest were God’s sovereign will of judgement against this nation. America elected people like unto themselves and we are reaping the consequences.
How about this verse? Ephesians 6:5, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” Regardless of how bad you think your job may be, at least you are not a slave. What is God’s will concerning how you do your work. The verse is plain enough. We are to work with a sincere heart in a way as to please the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the one we really work for anyway. Tell me, how can a person seek the Lord’s will about a new job or a different position when they are not yet obedient to the Lord in their current job? Can a person really apply Godly wisdom in thinking through the various factors in such a decision when they are already ignoring what God has already clearly stated as His will?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 states, Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Each of those are clear statements of God’s will. If you do not rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks to God in everything, then you are out of God’s will. Can you sincerely be praying for God’s will in a matter if you are disobedient to what He has clearly stated as His will?
How then do we pray for “Thy will to be done, on earth as it is in Heaven?” The same way Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. It would be good to study this whole passage in depth, but for our purposes this morning, a brief exposition will still make the point. In Matthew 26 we find Jesus petitioning the Father three times with great emotion about His human desire to avoid the cross. Jesus describes that Himself in verse 38 saying, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death . . . ” Three times Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me . . . “, yet at the same time Jesus seeks out and yields Himself to the Father’s will saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.”
It is to be the same way for us. When we pray for “Thy will to be done,” there should be passion in our prayer. We should express our heart’s cry in our petitions and there should even be a sense of rebellion against sin, our own, that of others and the general curse of sin in the world. Yet, there is a total seeking of and yielding to the will of the Father in all of it just as there was in Jesus in Gethsemane. The hearts of true Christians want God’s will to be done, not their own. In humility we know that our understanding is very limited and so we desire to be submissive to what God wants even when things don’t go the way we would like. This results in being able to gives thanks to God in all things, both the pleasurable and the unpleasurable, because we know we can trust God to do what is right and best for us.
When we pray for God’s will to be done concerning someone’s salvation, we are praying that the Holy Spirit will convict that person of their sin and need for Christ, that they will understand all of what it means to trust Jesus for salvation, and that they will yield their lives to Him and walk in obedience to Him.
When we pray for God’s will to be done when facing tough decisions, we are praying for a clear understanding of Biblical principles and precepts that would apply to the decision, and that the decision would be made based on that and how it would affect the person’s ability to serve God. We pray they would make their decision based upon the spiritual consequences and not upon the enticements this world offers.
When we pray for God’s will in tragedies, we pray that unbelievers would see the frailty of human life and how quickly they could stand in judgement before God and that they would turn to Him. We pray that believers would increase in their trust of the savior and take advantage of every opportunity to praise God. We pray that earthly leaders would make decisions that uphold righteousness and that those who do not would be removed from power. We pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The true believer wants God’s will to be done on the earth as it is in heaven. Heaven is where God sits enthroned and His will is done there perfectly and without hesitation. The result is that heaven is a place of peace, order and righteousness. That is our desire for the earth and why we look forward to the day when Jesus Christ will sit on David’s throne as king. In the meantime, we pray for that to be true in our own lives and in connection with circumstances of life that we encounter.
The true Christian understands who God is and his own relationship to Him. We pray to the creator of the universe, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Our passion is to see the Lord exalted. We pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” Our God is the creator, we are the created. God is holy, It is God’s kingdom that is important, It is God’s will that must be done. Our hope and desire is to see Him bring about the fullness of His rule both in the world and in our own lives. We pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Our occupation is to see that it is God’s desires that are accomplished. We pray, “Thy will be done, in earth and it is in heaven.”
My prayer for you is that these elements of prayer will become real in your own prayer life, and that when you pray for God’s will to be done, you truly mean it, and that your very life demonstrates that desire.
(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
For comments, please e-mail Church office