Praying the Bible-Introduction

Praying the Bible-Introduction

As a teenager, though I had very little spiritual interest, I remember a few times praying to God. But the only times I prayed was when I was in trouble, and I distinctly remember feeling guilty about that. It seemed wrong to pray only when I needed something.
But beyond that, I didn’t know much about prayer or how and what to pray.

In my pre-teen years as a young boy, my Mom was a God-fearing woman who believed God heard prayer, so she taught me a prayer to repeat every night before bed. Some of you my age may have prayed something similar:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
And if I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
God bless mommy. God bless daddy. God bless my sisters….

The content of that prayer is good. But I have no recollection of ever really thinking about what I was actually saying. If prayer is simply conversation with God….and it is…then it shouldn’t be that hard to know how and what to pray, should it?

On the one hand, it is simple. We don’t need flowery, eloquent language. We simply talk from the heart. But on the other hand, we wonder, What should I be praying about? And how should I pray, that is, with what attitude and even what physical posture? I’m not at all surprised we have such questions. Even Jesus’ 12 disciples asked him about prayer.
Luke 11:1 CSB Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”
They watched and heard Jesus pray, but they still wanted to know how to do it. And even John the Baptist’s disciples needed to learn to pray.

We are beginning a new sermon series on prayer. 10 weeks long, through mid-July.
Our goal for this series: to learn how and what to pray.
And since we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, I contend that the answers we need are found there. And not only will we examine what the Bible says about prayer, we want to let God’s Word guide the actual words we use as we pray. In a way, we want to explore how to let the Scriptures be our “prayer language.”

Before we go further, since we’re in a series on prayer, perhaps it would be a good idea to pray to God right now about prayer. 
Heavenly Father, through our faith in your Son, you have adopted us and granted us the astonishing privilege of being your children. Sons and daughters of Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. We are humbled and very grateful.
As we explore this vital topic of prayer in the weeks ahead, would you help us to understand how and what to pray?
And even more foundationally, would you help us to understand you better? To know you more intimately. To love you more wholly.
Thank you for hearing us. In the name of Jesus we pray.

Why pray

Two weeks ago, I spent several hours looking at every verse in the NT with the word, “pray,” I was intrigued by how much the focus was on how to pray and what to pray, but not nearly as much as why we should pray. I was surprised. It doesn’t mean that “why” is unimportant. On the contrary. Why we pray is extremely important.
So let’s talk about that. Why do we pray? And why should we pray?

We pray because God is real. He does exist. And he is a relational God. He is not interested, it seems, in mere transactions. Like relation-less, technical transactions at the bank. We deposit funds. We withdraw funds. We transfer them. A machine can and does do that.
But God is not interested in mere transactions with us. He is interested in us. In our personhood. We see this throughout the Scriptures, and especially in the Psalms.

Look at King David’s words during a time of trouble.
Psalm 5:1–3 CSB Listen to my words, LORD; consider my sighing. Pay attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for I pray to you. In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.
David believed God heard him, cared about him, and had the power and desire to help him. So he prayed and then waited expectantly for the Lord to help him. So from Psalm 5, we see that prayer includes making requests when we are in need.
But prayer also experiences the joy of a beautiful relationship with a loving God.
Again, look at David’s words in Psalm 9:
Psalm 9:1–2 CSB I will thank the LORD with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous works. I will rejoice and boast about you; I will sing about your name, Most High.
Can you hear the passion and joy in his heart? As much as anyone who has ever lived, King David of Israel loved the Lord, for he was persuaded that the Lord was amazing and holy and majestic and good. And worthy of praise and thanksgiving.

And in the NT, to know if this kind of relationship with God is still true and available, we need to look no further than the gospel of Christ.

We just completed a sermon series on the Book of Hebrews.
In Hebrews we learned that through Jesus, we have access to God in prayer.
Jesus Christ is our Mediator who ushers us boldly, confidently into the very throne room of Holy God.
Hebrews 4:14–16 CSB Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
Why do we pray? Because through our faith in Jesus, our Great High Priest, we now have bold access to our Creator God who loves us. What a privilege. What an opportunity.
What compelled God Almighty to send his holy, glorious, eternal Son into this world to die and rise from the dead for us?

I could show you 100 more passages, but let’s look at just one.
1 John 3:1 CSB See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!
God loved this broken, darkened, sinful world so much that he sent his Son to give us life. And when we believe in the Son, God forgives us adopts us as his own children. We now call Almighty God our Father. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling reason to pray than this: God is our Father, and we are his children.

From the first page of the Bible to the last, the history of God’s interaction and involvement with this world is so compelling, so involved, so holy, so compassionate that instead of asking, “Why should I pray?”, we really should ask, “Why WOULDN’T I pray? And why don’t I pray more?”

In the face of God’s majesty and power, his humility towards us—his eager willingness to stoop down to care about us mere mortals—should astound us. And it should compel us to pray to him.

So there a few reasons WHY we should pray.

Why We Don’t Pray

So let’s spend a few minutes considering why we don’t pray.
What keeps us from a joy-filled, sincere, persistent, loving relationship with God in prayer?

The most obvious reason to me is that we forget or are ignorant about who he really is. That he is Creator. That he desires relationship with us. That he wants more than to conduct transactions with us. That he sent his Son to establish an eternal, family relationship with us.

We might think that God is like the genie in a bottle. We are the Master, and God must do our bidding.
On Saturday we were visiting our granddaughters in Kansas City, and we watched the old animated Disney movie, Aladdin. Aladdin is a young man who discovered a mysterious, ancient container. And when he rubbed it, out pops this spirit, a genie, who is compelled to grant Aladdin three wishes.
Subtly, we can view God that way, that he owes us something. Almost like we are Lord and he is our servant.
Or…we may know he is Lord, that he rules over all and is mighty. But we don’t believe he is good. So why pray?

So I wonder if our lack of faith in who God really is is the greatest problem we face in prayer.
This reveals why it’s absolutely vital we know God better and better every year. And next week in Ephesians 1 & 3, we will see that the Apostle Paul prays for that very thing: to know God better. To know his power. His love.

Another reason we may not pray much is that we were not taught to pray. Like the disciples asked the Lord Jesus,
Luke 11:1 CSB “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”
So we simply don’t know what to say. We run out of words. We get bored. Our prayers may become rather mindless. Like when I was a boy praying,
“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep…
And when we don’t quite know what to say, what words to us, prayer can seem like a foreign language, and we’re simply not fluent in it. We haven’t been taught how to pray and what to pray.

Another reason we don’t pray: We are in a spiritual war. And prayer is one of the key ways we fight this unseen war. So Satan surely doesn’t want us to pray. We’ll look more at this next week in Ephesians 6.

Another challenge in prayer: We may wonder if what we are asking is in God’s will. We can wonder, “Am I praying rightly? Am I praying in God’s will? Is this what he wants?” I may be praying for something that is good, or at least it seems good to me. But does that mean it’s God’s will for me and for others? What if he has a different plan, one that is still good and actually may be far better?
We hesitate to pray when we wonder what his will is.

Another challenge: Our minds wander during prayer. This happens to me all the time, even after 40+ years of praying as a disciple of Jesus. When I’m praying in the morning, I like to walk and talk out loud when I pray. That keeps me focused. But I’m often amazed how distractable I am. Oh, look at that bird in the backyard. What is he doing? Look at the mess on the floor over there. I should clean that up.

And another challenge we face in prayer: We feel guilty about something in our lives, so we are inhibited to approach God. Either we haven’t repented of our sin and confessed it to God and man. Or, we have repented, but we’ve forgotten the gospel. The radical, complete forgiveness we have in Christ. We forgotten that, and we can’t seem to shake the guilt. So we conclude, How could I ever talk to God about anything?

And there are countless other reasons we don’t pray.

Solution: Pray the Bible

So now what? Where do we go from here? Like Jesus’ disciples, we should ask him, “Lord, would you teach us to pray?”

Here is my broad proposal for learning how to pray. One of the best steps we can take to learn to pray is simply open up our Bibles and let the Scriptures give us words to talk to God about. This will be our focus for this 10-week series. Countless men and women of faith over the last 3000 years have found the Scriptures to be a key source for how to pray and what to pray.

Five months ago I picked up a short book by the title, Praying the Bible, by Donald Whitney. This book became the spark behind this sermon series. As I read the book, I realized, “Oh, what he is saying is how I’ve been praying for 40 years.” I simply didn’t have a phrase like, “Praying the Bible,” to describe it. But for over 40 years, the Scriptures have fueled my prayer life more than any other single thing.

• The Scriptures have shown me how to pray.
• This Book has shown me what is important to pray.
• The words found in this Book have given me vocabulary to pray. I don’t mean having a precise formula in prayer. I mean the Bible gives me a vocabulary to express to the Lord my joys and sorrows and needs and worship.
• The Bible has shown me what is God’s will when I pray.

What we will address in this 10-week sermon series is nothing new. Men and women of faith have been using the Scriptures to pray for 3000 years. How do I know?

One of the best explanations is the large book that is right in the middle of your Bible: The Psalms. The Psalms are like a prayer book. Believers in God have been using the Psalms to pray ever since King David and others wrote them under inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

Just yesterday morning, I was tired in my soul and tempted to complain about various trials. But Psalm 16 gave me words to pray to the Lord.
Psalm 16:5–6 CSB Lord, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I prayed, “Lord, you are my portion, my blessing. You are enough for me. You are more than enough for me in spite of my trials that I am weary from. The boundary lines you have set up in my life are good because you are good.”
My heart was greatly comforted as I read and prayed through the entire Psalm.

“The more deeply we grow in the psalms, and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich our prayers will become.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor in Germany in 1930’s and 40’s.

“Not without reason, it is my custom to call this book, ‘An anatomy of all parts of the soul,’ since there is no emotion anyone will experience whose image is not reflected in this mirror.”
– John Calvin, theologian

The Psalms will give us words to express all that is in our hearts and minds. Our emotions, desires, and thoughts. In the middle of this 10-week sermon series, we will spend four weeks examining how we can pray the Psalms.
• Psalms of deliverance. Of rescue. Talking to God about our fears and worries, seeking his aid.
• Psalms of lament and complaint, offering up our pain and sorrows to God. We’ll find freedom and comfort as we see the raw honesty that the psalmists have with God.
• Psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Vocabulary to express ourselves to God,, expressing joy, thanksgiving, praise for who God is and what he has done.
• Psalms about justice, learning to speak to our Creator about injustices we experience, and the anger we feel towards those injustices.

And the Psalms are not the only place we can learn to pray. We have countless prayers recorded in the Bible. Prayers of godly believers. Moses, Solomon, Nehemiah, and a godly woman named Hannah.
Prayers by the Lord Jesus, of course, such as all of chapter 17 in John’s Gospel.
Prayers by the Apostle Paul. We will spend the next 3 weeks looking at some of Paul’s deep, rich prayers for unseen and heavenly things. For me, Paul’s many prayers have been at the center of my prayer life for 40 years. In my opinion, Paul’s prayers have been too neglected by Christians over the centuries, and perhaps neglected by many of us in this room.

Then we will wrap up this series on prayer with two weeks examining what we often call, “The Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus gave this instruction to the disciples after they asked in Luke 11, “Lord, would you teach us to pray?” The Lord’s Prayer was never intended to merely be memorized and quoted over and over and over again with no thought given to the meaning or what we are actually praying. The Lord’s Prayer is actually a framework for prayer. Like an outline. In a way, Jesus is saying, “Pray these kinds of things.”

So again, the goal of all this sermon series “Praying the Bible” is not that we have to get the words exactly right before it “counts.” The goal is to teach us HOW to pray and WHAT to pray by simply but passionately praying based on the Scriptures.

We want the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to help us pray in the will of God.

19th century Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne said,
“Turn the Bible into prayer… this is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray.”
I mentioned that I spent several hours last week looking at every passage in the NT that uses the word “pray” or “prayer.” An eye-opening study.

In those dozens and dozens of passages, I created a long list of “HOW” we should pray. With what heart and in what manner.
Let me give you a sample. As we look at this list, ask yourself, “Do I pray consistently in this manner?”


Here’s about ½ my total list.
• In faith. Matthew 21:22 Jesus said, “If you believe…ask.”
• In humility, not in self-righteousness. Luke 18:9-14 the tax collector vs. Pharisee
• Boldly, confidently to the throne of grace. Hebrews 4:14-16
• In God’s will. 1 John 5:14-15
• Unselfishly. James 4:1-4
• Persistently. Never giving up. Luke 18:1-8,
• Continually. Never stopping. Part of your lifestyle. Acts 2:42, 46; Acts 6:4, Romans 12:12
• In Jesus’ name. In his authority and power, not in our own. John 14:2-14.
• With a heart to glorify God, not to glorify self. Jesus in John 17:1-4

• With one another in unity. Acts 1:14, 6:4
• At a scheduled time and place for prayer like the Apostles did. Acts 3:1, 16:13-16
• At all times and in the Spirit, alert to the spiritual warfare. Eph 6:19
• With joyful, thankful hearts for others. Phil 1:3-4
• Like Jesus did with loud cries and tears. Heb 5:7
This list challenges me. One challenge for me is “continually.” My prayers are far less consistent than I would like.

The NT is also quite instructive on WHAT we should pray. I don’t mean the precise words like a formula. I mean what KINDS of things should we pray for.

The list of WHAT we should pray is even longer than HOW. Here’s a partial list.

As we look at this list, ask yourself, “Do I pray consistently for these things?”
• For laborers. Matthew 9:36-38
• To not enter into temptation by being alert and praying. Matthew 26:41, Luke 22:40
• That our faith wouldn’t fail in times of testing. Luke 21:32-33 Jesus praying for Peter
• Protection from the evil one. John 17:12-15
• For unity amongst believers to testify of the unity of the Father and the Son. John 17:21-24
• To abide in the love of God. John 17:25-26
• For boldness in evangelism, even when persecuted. Acts 4:23-31, Eph 6:19-20
• Rescue from danger. Acts 27:29
• Fruitfulness in ministry, if that specific step is in God’s will. Romans 1:9-10
• For others’ salvation. Romans 10:1

• Do what is right and become fully mature. 2 Cor 13:7-9
• Know the Lord better. Eph 1:17
• Know our eternal hope. Eph 1:18-19
• Know God’s extraordinary love. Eph 3:14-19
• Present our requests to God with thanksgiving and without worry. Phil 4:6-7
• Pray we would be filled with knowledge of God’s will. Col 1:9
• Open doors for evangelism. Col 4:3
• For governing authorities, that we would live peaceful and quiet lives. 1 Tim 2:1-2
• Have clear consciences and honorable conduct. Heb 13:18-19

If we learn to consistently pray from the Scriptures, we will never wonder HOW we should pray. And we will never wonder WHAT we should pray.
Praying to God will become a great joy. We will pray with greater expectation. We will pray more consistently.

Application

Let me give you two simple applications from this.
First, look at my partial lists from the NT of “HOW” and “WHAT” we should pray. (See above.)
Take 1 or 2 “HOW’s”. Look up the Scriptures. Talk to the Lord about them. Search for ways to pray more with that spirit.

Then take 1 or 2 “WHAT’s” from my list. Perhaps something you rarely pray for. Look up the Scriptures. Pray for those things this week. For yourself and your family or roommates. For each member of your Community Group.

Also, for the next 3 Sundays, we will look at what the Apostle Paul prayed. To get a head start, read Ephesians. Look for every “HOW” and “WHAT” of Paul’s related to prayer. (A clue: read chapter 1 and 3. And if you want Extra Credit, read chapter 6.). Then start praying like Paul.

Conclusion

To conclude: Let me close with a beautiful quote from a very godly woman, Joni Eareckson Tada:
“I have learned to…season my prayers with the word of God. It’s a way of talking to God in his language—speaking his dialect, using his vernacular, employing his idioms… This is not a matter simply of divine vocabulary. It’s a matter of power. When we bring God’s word directly into our praying, we are bringing God’s power into our praying. Hebrews 4:12 declares, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” God’s word is living, and so it infuses our prayers with life and vitality. God’s word is also active, injecting energy and power into our prayer.”

May the Word of God become the fuel in our prayer tank.