In Jesus' Name: Patterns and Obstacles to Prayer
In Jesus’ Name
A Sermon Series on Prayer
Week Two: The Pattern and Obstacles to Prayer
Read Luke 11:1-4
We’re wrapping up a short series on prayer called, “In Jesus’ name.” Last week we covered the PURPOSE of prayer and the POWER of prayer. We talked about the purpose of prayer was to invoke the PRESENCE of God, to trust in the PROMISES of God, and to release the POWER of God over the circumstances around and in our lives. If we believe that God means what he says He does in Scripture, then we must come to the conclusion that God can DO what the Bible says He can do!
Today I want us to consider the PATTERN of prayer, and finally some OBSTACLES to a vibrant prayer life. As I said last week, the subject of prayer is so vast and eternally vital to the life of a Christ-follower, we could easily spend a year of Sundays studying the various prayers of Scripture (there are 650) and barely scratch the surface.
According to Eaton’s Bible dictionary, there are no rules anywhere in Scripture regarding the manner or pattern of prayer. We have in Scripture various postures people take when praying: kneeling, bowing, falling prostrate, raising one’s hands, and standing. The Bible is not specific as to WHERE we should pray, though Ephesians 6:18 we are told to pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.
Also, Jesus did tell his disciples in Matthew 6 to go into a solitary place to pray. [He said this in what’s known as the Sermon on the Mount when he was rebuffing the way hypocrites babble on in synagogues and street corners]. Given all the other occasions in which prayers are offered, Jesus was not insisting we always pray alone in our prayer closet.
Here’s something interesting—The Bible also never mentions people closing their eyes when they pray. But it does mention people looking up. In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus looked up when we prayed to the Father thanking Him for always hearing Jesus’s prayers and he prayed out loud for the benefit of those present that they may believe in Christ and give glory to God.
In digging through the Scriptures, we have no SET PRAYER we are commanded to pray as Christians. I like that, because it gives us the freedom to pray from our hearts and not automatically or mindlessly. We DO have, however, a PATTERN or model of prayer which we commonly called, "Lord's Prayer." It is recorded in two different Gospels, Matthew 6:9-13, and Luke 11:2-4.
In Matthew’s account, we find the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount as part of Jesus’s larger teachings. In Luke’s gospel, we see that Jesus offered this model in response to a very poignant question asked by his disciples, “Lord, teach us how to pray like John taught his disciples.” They asked this because when they found Jesus, he had just finished praying. From this occasion we can learn two important facts: Jesus was a praying man on earth. We can find many places in the gospels where Jesus was praying. If it was vital to Jesus, it must be vital to us. Second, prayer was important to others who followed Jesus, like John the Baptist; so much so that he gave HIS disciples a pattern for prayer [which we do not have recorded in Scripture].
Let’s spend some time breaking down the Lord’s Prayer to learn some truths regarding our pattern of prayer. I chose Luke’s narrative to look at this pattern primarily because it varies a bit from the traditional prayer that we offer in worship many Sundays. In fact, even Matthew’s account is not as complete as our “Lord’s Prayer,” and that’s because much of the other language we use was added by the early church. Remember, this is to be a PATTERN, not a liturgy.
This prayer can be broken down in differing ways, but I like to think of it in only TWO: (1) praises to God for WHO he is and WHAT he is about; and (2) petitions to God for ourselves in relation to who WE are as his children. Let’s quickly consider those two approaches.
1ST, PRAISES TO GOD FOR WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE IS ABOUT
Jesus begins with “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” There are three parts to that statement. First, addressing God as Father is a very intimate title. In fact, in Arabic it would be like saying, “Daddy.” While God is all-powerful and all-sovereign, he’s also all-loving and all-caring like a daddy should be. We can go to him in a personal way.
Second, however, we recognize that God is NOT like our earthly fathers who sometimes fail us. Our earthly fathers and mothers don’t always lead and guide their children the right way. They don’t always set the best example. But our heavenly father is holy, perfect, and unlike any created beings. The weightiness of his majesty is palpable. So we hallow his name.
Third, we recognize that what God desires is ALWAYS best for what God created. So, we pray that God’s kingdom comes. God’s rule and reign over this world is far better than OUR reign and rule. Our world…and especially our nation…needs God’s sovereign rule more than ever! “Thy will be done, thy kingdom come, as it is in heaven.”
In each of these three declarations, we are praising the God of all creation. It’s all about the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! If we begin our prayers praising God for who He is and what he is about…and if we go into our prayers with the humble attitude that God’s will is best for our lives, then the rest of our prayers should line up with how God wants to respond anyway.
petitions to God
the second part of this pattern of prayer are the petitions on behalf of ourselves because we are in a relationship with God the Father. Again, there are three parts: (1) 3Give us each day our daily bread. (2) 4Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. and (3) lead us not into temptation.
The first petition is for God to meet our physical needs. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness 40 years, God met their daily needs with manna and quail from heaven and water from rocks. Only enough manna was given for THAT day…new manna would be supplied by God the next day. Trying to hoard more than one could eat in a day was futile. It spoiled. God wants to supply our daily needs.
The second petition is for our spiritual needs. “Forgive us our sins, for we forgive others who sin against us.” Forgiveness puts us in right relationship…first with God, and then with others. Conversely, unforgiveness hinders our relationship with God and others. We’ll address this a bit more when we look at obstacles to prayer.
The third petition is for our protection. This is where the expanded pattern found in Matthew 6:13 is helpful: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. On first blush, we might wrongly assume that it is GOD who is tempting us. James 1:13-15 sets the record straight. Listen: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
What we are seeking from God is the protection from the evil one, our enemy the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Jesus says he comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus came to give us abundant life! We are NO MATCH for the devil, but Jesus our king is the victorious warrior Who has already defeated Satan and his minions. So we lean on Jesus protect us from the evil one.
But we also recognize our own evil desires. Some of us don’t need much help from the devil to be led astray from God and his righteousness. That’s why this PATTERN of prayer that puts God first, his kingdom first, his righteousness first will help us re-orient our lives toward God. You can’t run to God and Satan at the same time!
Beyond the biblical pattern we see in the Lord’s Prayer, there are a couple of acronyms that are somewhat related, and many folks find helpful: ACTS, and JOY.
ACTS = Adoration…Confession…Thanksgiving…and Supplication. [explain]
JOY = Jesus…Others…Yourself. [explain]
Well, that’s a quick overview of patterns to prayer. Regardless of HOW we pray, the important thing is THAT we pray. Honestly, I wish we would just stop right here and spend the next 20 minutes PRACTICING prayer. The best way to pray is to…PRAY!!!
But I want to spend a little bit of time talking about hindrances to a fervent, vibrant prayer life. Some of us don’t pray often and when we do, we feel our prayers are weak, shallow, and maybe even self-serving. We struggle because we hear others pray and wish we prayed like them.
So, what are some of the obstacles to a fruitful prayer life? That answer might be as varied as the number of people in this room. This is not an exhaustive list by any means but let me offer FIVE specific issues that can negatively affect our conversation with God.
- Prayerlessness. That might seem like a cheap answer. Of course, preacher! Not praying is a hinderance to a fruitful prayer life! Duh! James puts it this way, “You have not because you ask not.” God wants us to ask him to help us. There are many reasons why we may be prayerless, but here a couple:
- We’re too busy. Many of us simply don’t make time on a daily basis to spend time with our Creator, our Savior, the One we will spend eternity with. We will make time for lively conversations around cafés; we will make time for regular exercise regimens, golf or fishing with buddies; we will make time for our grandkids and kids, our spouses or significant others. And all those things are good. But we somehow can’t carve out 15-30 minutes to sit alone with God.
- We’re too distracted. My worst enemy when it comes to my prayer life is my to-do list. It seems to grow the longer the day grows. And while I’m TRYING to focus my time on God, I get distracted with other things I need to get done. There is a quiet restlessness I begin feeling. Anyone ever feel that?
- Unconfessed Sin. This second reason is not very popular, but it is BIBLICAL. Sometimes we may have trouble praying—or our prayers may not being answered—because there is some area of our lives that is inconsistent with God’s will and Word.
The prophet Isaiah spoke God’s Word when he said, “1Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Unconfessed sin can be an obstacle to prayer.
Let’s give an earthly example. When I was a teenager I did something my dad specifically told me NOT to do. For a while he didn’t know about it; but instead of feeling like I “got away with it,” I felt miserable. I felt like I couldn’t REALLY talk to Dad because the “thing” was hanging over my head. He sensed it, too. Our relationship was…distant. Then one day I got up the courage to confess my disobedience. He was disappointed, of course, but was not as angry as I had imagined he would be.
Immediately, I felt relieved and our relationship felt…normal again. That’s the way it is when we come clean with God. 1 John 1:9 is one of my favorite promises in the NT: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Isn’t that GREAT news? We don’t have to live with the shame or guilt of past sins. Jesus stands ready to forgive if we humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our sinful ways.
- Unresolved Relational Conflict. Of all possible hindrances to a fervent, vibrant, and fruitful prayer life, having broken relationships caused by unforgiveness, resentment, hurt feelings, or bitterness toward others may be the most challenging for many us. When we’ve been offended and feel justified in our anger and unforgiveness toward others, we may then struggle to approach the “throne of grace” with the right attitude.
In Matthew’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says this: 23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” You see, it’s NOT that God is not ABLE to forgive…or that He doesn’t WANT to forgive us. He does. It’s that WE ARE INCAPABLE OF RECEIVING GOD’S FORGIVENESS when we have a heart of unforgiveness toward others.
Jesus said that if we are bringing our gift to the altar—in other words, if we are coming to the throne of grace—and remember a relational conflict with another person, then go make that wrong relationship right.
Some of you may rightly push back, saying the person who wronged me…or whom I’ve wronged…won’t speak with me. Or, maybe that person has already died. Don’t we believe God understands all that. It’s not really about the relationship totally being repaired…it’s about YOU and ME having an attitude of reconciliation and forgiveness toward others.
So, we ask ourselves: is there someone with whom I’m in conflict right now? Have I tried to make that right? Have I forgiven that person? Have I asked for forgiveness of them? If you’ve sincerely tried but failed because of the other person, then I believe I’m on solid ground to say that you have done all you can. Listen to how the apostle Paul put it in Romans 12:18à “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
- Selfishness. Now I realize that most of us don’t pray to God like he’s some “Santa Claus” in the sky ready to give us everything we selfishly ask for. Most of us don’t pray for a new car or to win the lottery. Do we? Anyway, what are the motivations behind our prayers?
Earlier we read James 4:2 about having not because we ask not. But James 4:3 speaks about our motivations. Listen: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Lately, we’ve been asking God for Cassie to find a new job. We’ve even been very specific about the amount that job might pay. Is that wrong? If might be, if our goal was to grow rich and buy lots of stuff. But our motives is that she may have a pleasurable work environment where she can grow as a person while at the same time help in meeting our financial needs.
It comes down to motives. What are your motives for your prayers? Are they self-serving, or others-focused? Here’s one way to tell. Let’s use the “Great Commandment” test. In all three synoptic Gospels, Jesus told some religious leaders what was most important, citing the OT: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Do my prayers express a love for God and a love for others? Jesus. Others. Yourself. Certainly, we are asking God for things like protection and presence, good health, peace of mind, and daily provisions. Nothing wrong with that. But if we pray that God would let our kid get out of speeding ticket when they clearly would learn by paying it…or if we pray for God to bless some decision we WANT to make regardless of how it affects others or if it’s God’s will, then I would call that selfish. Selfishness is an obstacle to a vibrant prayer life.
- Indifference. Finally, one last obstacle to a powerful prayer life may be indifference. This ties closely with selfishness. Too often we pray for God to bless our nation, but what do we mean by that? Are we asking God to make us into an even more prosperous and militarily powerful nation? Does that mean that we pray that EVERYONE have the opportunities we have? What about the poor among us? The uneducated? Those who see no hope? Do we overlook them in our prayers?
Proverbs 21:13 says, “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” If we are the kind of Christ-followers who reflect the character and nature of God, then we will express concern and compassion for the afflicted because God does indeed care for the least, the last, and the left out. An uncaring attitude toward those in need may be an obstacle to an effective prayer life.
Wow! Fire hydrant. Drink! I’ve tried to do too much in one message. Truth is, we would honor God more with our time if we had just had a short meditation and spent another 30 minutes in prayer together. Some of you would have LOVED that!
In the end, I just want to please God, but I sometimes fail miserably at that. But I am equally grateful that we have a compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He stands ready to meet us in prayer all the time! He WANTS to hear from us. So what’s stopping us? What’s hindering YOU from a life of effective and intimate prayer with God? Is it prayer-less-ness? Unconfessed sin? Unresolved conflict? Selfishness? Indifference? Something else?
Listen to this good news. The best way to pray is to…PRAY! Just begin. Ask God to reveal attitudes and behaviors that are inconsistent with His Word and will (i.e., sin). Confess that sin. Use the Lord’s Prayer as your guide—praising God and seeking His will; then seeking your own physical and spiritual needs. The more you pray—privately and publicly—the more you WILL pray! And the more intimate and powerful your prayer life will be!