My favorite prayer in all of Scripture is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus and I’m excited to share it with you today. But before I do, I want to thank you for joining me through this study of prayers in the New Testament. I have enjoyed digging into God’s Word with you.
February was a rough month for Paul and I, between illnesses that reeked havoc on our family and the passing of Paul’s father, I was honestly surprised when someone told me it was March already. I want to send a special thank you to everyone who has prayed for us, and supported us during this time. We are so blessed.
And now, in the words of the apostle Paul:
“For this reason I kneel before the Father,from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
~ Ephesians 3:14-21
When I read that prayer, I am overcome with the tremendous importance of love. When Jesus truly dwells in our hearts, we love Him, and that love we have from Him strengthens our faith, which in turn strengthens us.
I love the word picture Paul gives us about being rooted and grounded in love. When we studied the fruit of the Spirit last year, the first fruit we looked at was the fruit of love. It’s like the taproot and everything else stems off of it.
Without love we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13).
Can you grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is? It’s a love that surpasses knowledge, and He loves us that much.
When we fail, God loves us.
When we don’t love others, God loves us.
For while we were still sinners, God sent His son to die for us, because He loves us that much.
How great is our God.
I know this is a short lesson, but it’s so powerful. I encourage you to dwell on the love of Christ today. Let it overflow out of you onto those in your life.
And now I want to leave you with another prayer Paul wrote, this one was to the church in Philippi…
“And this is my prayer:
that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
~ Philippians 1:9-11
Are you rooted and grounded in love?
What are some of the ways you can show love to others this week?
Do you try to love others out of your own strength, or by letting God’s love overflow out of you and onto those around you?
Take it Deeper
Read the following Scriptures: Romans 1:16; John 3:16; Romans 5:5-81; Corinthians 4:20-21; Romans 8:37-39; Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 5:43-48; John 13:34-35; John 15:13; John 14:23-24; Romans 12:9-10
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
~ Luke 23:34
This is probably the shortest prayer we will look at during this study, but it is also one of the most powerful. The power of this one sentence prayer is in the context.
Jesus prayed for those persecuting Him. He was betrayed, abandoned, beaten, and nailed to a cross for sins He never committed, and in the heat of the moment He prayed for the very people who were to blame.
If you were in a similar situation, how do you think you would react?
Would you remember to pray for your enemies?
I doubt I would.
I would be tempted to lash out in anger. To scream my innocence at the top of my lungs. At the very least I would most likely be absorbed in the unfairness of it all.
But not our Savior.
Jesus didn’t wallow in self-pity or spew hatred, His heart was full of love for the unlovable.
In what must have been the lowest moment of His life–His rock bottom–He asked God to forgive those who were against him.
What an amazing Savior we have.
It isn’t always easy to be imitators of our King.
However, there are certain things we can do, to make following Him easier.
We can be in His Word daily.
We can pray continuously.
We can memorize Scriptures.
The more we immerse ourselves in our relationship with Christ, the easier it will be to honor Him with our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
The more we immerse ourselves in our relationship with Christ, the easier it will be to imitate Him.
Do you pray for your enemies? Is there someone you specifically need to pray for today?
What are some of your default reactions when people sin against you?
Do you have a verse that helps you remember to honor God, and choose to imitate Him over the sinful desires of your heart?
Take it Deeper
Read the following Scriptures: Romans 12:14; Matthew 5:43-48; Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:10-13; Luke 6:27-31; Matthew 18:21-22; Matthew 5:38-42; Colossians 3:13
“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!”
~ Acts 4:19
The believer’s life isn’t always an easy one. In Acts 4, Peter and John are thrown in prison for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. Only for one night, but being arrested is still being arrested. When morning came around, they were released, but not until after they were threatened and commanded not to teach God’s Word.
Have you ever thought God was calling you to do something, but then the results made you question that calling?
Often times we want to think that if it’s God’s will, it will go smoothly. That He will bless it and we will shine.
But that’s not what Peter and John experienced.
Instead of second guessing their calling, they gathered together and prayed with other believers that God would give them strength to keep going.
I admire their faith and dedication, but not their situation.
I don’t want to be thrown in jail for proclaiming Christ, and I pray that if it does ever come to that, that I will be able to stand faithfully as these two men did so ever long ago.
Let’s take a look at their prayer:
“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:24-30 NIV)
There is so much in that prayer.
Praise for who God is and what He’s done (vs. 24-25).
They prayed Scripture (vs. 25-26).
They told God what had happened (vs. 27), and confirmed that it was God’s will — that He is sovereign (vs. 28).
And then they asked Him to strengthen them, and enable them to fulfill their calling and bring Him glory (vs. 29-30).
But my favorite part of that prayer is actually what happens after the prayer in verse 31:
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
They came before God, and God listened.
I love that God answers prayers, don’t you?
These were Christians who made a difficult decision to stand up for their faith and live lives that honored God, but they knew they needed His help.
We will face trials as Christians, as people in general. But if our God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
My encouragement to you this week is not to let hardships or trials keep you from doing what God has called you to do.
For if we are trying to please men, we aren’t servants of Christ (Gal. 1:10)
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
~ Luke 18:14
Welcome to week three of our study of the prayers from the New Testament! Today, we are looking at the prayers from the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18 (vs 9-14)
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Oh how easy it is to slip into the prayer of the Pharisee. We might not pray the words, but we sure think them.
We may look down on others because they don’t have what we have or do what they do. Maybe they don’t come to church as often as we do, or they don’t have clothes that are as nice as ours. Or maybe it’s something more… maybe they are robbers or evildoers.
I know I often thank God for my blessings while comparing them to someone elses downfall. Do you ever do that? Do you ever say, “God, thank you that my husband isn’t like so and so” or “Thank you that my kids don’t do that”?
Instead of stopping to pray for the person going through whatever it is, whether a struggle with sin, heartache, or a deep seated need for Salvation, we turn it inward and thank God that we don’t share that need. How selfish am I?
Worse yet, just as the Pharisee boasted about his religious acts, I am tempted to do the same. Not outwardly of course, but in my mind. I’m tempted to feel good about myself because I took the time to read my Bible and pray in the morning–knowing full well that while reading my Bible and praying are good things, only the blood of Christ is my Salvation. I only have a Bible to read because God has blessed me. I can only pray because Christ ripped the veil and allowed us entrance to the holy place.
How tempting it is to be a closet Pharisee…to pray how I know I should pray, but continue living in a state of subtle pride.
In fact, that’s the exact reason Jesus told this parable. He told it to, “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else”. We know that Jesus can see our hearts. And I have to wonder if the people He told this parable to were outwardly self-righteous, or just subtly self-righteous. The result is the same state of the heart.
Subtle Pride is Still Pride Just the Same
The tax collector, on the other hand, stood at a distance and wouldn’t even approach God. He begged for forgiveness–and Jesus said he received it.
Because of what Christ did, I know that I don’t have to fearfully approach God. We can sit at His feet as His beloved children.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
~1 John 4:18
But there is more than one type of fear. While I know we don’t need to be frightened of God, we should still stand in awe of Him. We should approach Him with a godly-fear–a fear that reminds us He alone has the power to save us or send us to hell. Yes, we are His children and He loves us, but He is still God.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.For our God is a consuming fire.”
~ Hebrews 12:28-29 (NKJV)
It is so important to come before God with humility, but it is equally important to live that way. To remember that God is God, and that He loves everyone He created.
We should “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [ourselves],not looking to [our] own interests but…to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Not prayer. Not thanksgiving. Nothing.
With that in mind, I wanted to close today’s lesson with a verse from Colossians:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
~ Colossians 3:12
What are some things you tend to look down on others for? How can you pray for them instead?
Are you ever tempted to feel good about your religious acts? Which ones make you feel the best?
If you had to summarize the lesson Jesus was trying to get across in this parable, what would you say?
Take it Deeper
Look up the following Scriptures on humility: James 4:10; Proverbs 11:2; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Peter 3:8; Deuteronomy 8:17-18;1 Timothy 6:17
The Lord’s Prayer is probably the most well-known prayer in the world. It’s found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus used it as an illustration of how to pray. It seemed fitting that it was the first prayer that we looked at during our study of Prayers from the New Testament.
Let’s go ahead and read it now. You may be tempted to skip over it, because you have it memorized, you know what it says, but I encourage you to read it and let the words wash over your heart.
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Many of us know that prayer by heart, we can recite it by memory, but is it the words that really matter?
The Lord’s Prayer is also recorded in the book of Luke, but his is a much simpler version:
“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” (11:2-4)
If it was the words that matter, I’m sure it would be the same in both recordings. I love the question posed in Zechariah 7:5. He said, “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?’”
When we say a prayer from memory, is it really for God we pray?
I’ve been reading through The Power of Praying Through the Bible by Stormie Omartian and in it, she wrote: “…you must actually worship God with a heart full of love for Him. It’s in your own personal worship times that you develop an intimate relationship with God.”
It doesn’t take a heart full of love for God to say a prayer from memory, but a prayer from memory can be said out of love for God. In other words, it’s not what we pray, but how we pray it.
Jesus used the Lord’s Prayer as an example to teach us how to pray—to give us an idea of what God wants to hear from us. Here are a few things I see when I meditate on the Lord’s Prayer:
God alone is worthy of our prayers and praise (vs 9)
We should pray for His will to be done (vs 10) – In Life Resources study on prayer, they wrote: “The kingdom of God grows on earth each time a person allows God to rule in his heart. When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth, we are not just praying for changes in the world but we are confessing that we want God to change our own lives, too.”
We need to acknowledge our need for Him (vs 11) – What a relief that it isn’t all up to us!
Our need to repent and forgive others (with His help) (vs 12)
We should ask for His strength against sin and remember He has already defeated it (vs 13)
But all that being said, Jesus’ teaching on prayer really started back in verse 5.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
~ Matthew 6:5-8
Jesus instructs us to pray by ourselves, in secret, but I don’t think He means that we should never pray with others.
Psalm 34:3 says, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.”
And Jesus Himself said, “truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
If we were never suppose to pray with others, I don’t think Jesus would have said that. Moreover, Jesus didn’t always pray in secret…
Matthew 26:36-38: “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.'”
He did go a little further before He began to pour His heart out to God, but He wasn’t doing it in secret. I think the main point is that we should pray for God and God alone, not for those who listen.
Also, Pagan prayers were all about the external circumstances surrounding them—the words and actions were the most important parts. If you didn’t kneel the right way, weren’t in the right room, or didn’t say the right words, your prayer was useless.
Isaiah 29:13 says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
Jesus didn’t want us to be like that.
True prayers are internal, not external.
They aren’t about getting it right, but coming before God with a heart full of love for Him.
To take it from Scripture, we should, “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind.” (Matthew 22:37) And our prayers should flow out of that love.
So what’s the big picture?
Jesus used the Lord’s Prayer to show us a glimpse of His heart – and when we pray, He wants to hear whats in our hearts. He doesn’t want us to recite something for the sake of reciting it. He doesn’t want us to use words that will impress those who hear us.
He wants to hear words spoken from our hearts.
It’s not about where we are, what we are doing, or even the words we say. It’s the heart of the matter that counts.
I want to close with a passage from the book of Hebrews:
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
~ Hebrews 10:22-23
Do you ever pray for the benefit of those who hear, rather than just to talk to God?
Do you have a prayer you say, or a specific time you pray where pray more out of habit or routine then out of a heart for God?
Do you have any misconceptions or pre-conceived notions about how to pray, or requirements that you attach to prayer that God doesn’t?
Take it Deeper
Look up the following Scriptures on praying with others: Psalm 34:3; Matthew 18:19-20; Matthew 26:36-38; James 5:16; Acts 12:12
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
~ James 5:13-16
Prayer is powerful and effective.
But what is prayer?
How would you define it?
Google defines prayer as: “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.”
But one of their alternate definitions is: “an earnest hope or wish.”
I have to share a story with you.
Earlier this month I was feeling pretty down and out. I hadn’t slept well, I had a migraine; it was just a bad day. After fixing my husband’s lunch and seeing him out the door, I crawled back under the covers.
However, I had someone coming over at 8 in the morning, so I really needed to drag myself out of bed and face the day. I remember thinking how great it would be if the person would reschedule. I didn’t address God, but it was an earnest hope and subconsciously I knew He could do it if it were His will.
Would you be surprised to know that less than 15 minutes later that person rescheduled. I definitely counted it as an answer to prayer even though there were no flattering words or even direct appeals to God.
However, when I was looking up Scriptures on prayer, two that stuck out to me were Philippians 4:6 and Ephesians 6:18
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” ~ Philippians 4:6
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” ~ Ephesians 6:18
With those two Scriptures in mind, it already started questions spinning in my mind.
Is not every petition or request to God a prayer?
If coming before God to ask for something isn’t always a prayer, what is?
So I looked up some more definitions of prayer:
Matt Slick posted his definition of prayer on the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) website saying: “Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian. Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope.”
Here is one more definition. This one is from Dr. Ralph Martin (author of The Fulfillment of All Desire): “Prayer is, at root, simply paying attention to God.”
By these definitions, prayer is so much more than what we traditionally think of as conversations with God.
But they are definitions written by men, so I turned back to Scripture once more, looking up the definition of the Greek word for prayer, proseúxomai (pros-yoo’-khom-ahee) – which literally means, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes or ideas for His wishes (or will) as He imparts faith to us.
Prayer is coming before God with a heart that is open to His will.
Yes, it can be pouring your heart out to Him, but only when we do so knowing that He is Lord, and He knows best. It’s coming before Him and trusting that He can work all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Not asking Him to grant our wishes, but loving Him for being sovereign.
I have no doubt that many, if not all, of the women reading this are prayer warriors. Yet I also know that many Christian women today struggle with their prayer life. Finding the time to pray, knowing what to say, remembering who to pray for, it’s a lot. But it is what God has called us to do.
Over the next 6 weeks (7 if you count today), we will be looking at some of the prayers from the New Testament. From Jesus to Paul, and the poor and the rich, the Bible gives us both humbling and amazing examples to follow.
The first section of Scripture I read today was from James 5 and the end of verse 16 says: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Jesus Himself said, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
When I first became a Christian, I thought that asking in His name meant tacking “in Jesus’ name” onto the end of my prayers. But that’s not it at all. It essentially means exactly what my final definition of prayer says: “Coming before Him and trusting that He can work all things out for the good of those who love Him. Not asking Him to grant our wishes, but loving Him for being sovereign.” It is to echo Christ saying, “Not my will but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39)
Hebrews 5:7 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
His prayers were heard because of His reverent submission.
Our prayers are powerful and effective when we come before God in reverent submission.
I want to close today with a prayer of my own:
Father God, thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving each and every woman who is reading this post on my blog, or attending this study at church. Let us have hearts that are set on You, Lord. Help us to come before You, open to Your will. I ask that over the next several weeks that You would open up Your Word to us and let it transform us to be more like Your Son. It is in His name we pray; amen.
Based off my definition of prayer, how would you say you are doing in your prayer life?
Have you ever been confused about the meaning of asking for something in Jesus’ name?
When was the last time you came before God with the purpose of seeking His will?
Take it Deeper:
Look up the following Scriptures about prayer: Matthew 5:44; Matthew 26:41; Matthew 6:5-8; Mark 1:35; Mark 6:46
Over and over again in Scripture we are called to pray. But more than that, Scripture also offers examples of how to pray and what to pray for. From Jesus to Paul, and the poor to the rich, the New Testament offers amazing insights to living a life of prayer.
I am excited to announce our next Bible study will begin one week from today. During this Bible study, we will be looking at some of the different prayers from the New Testament, how they fit in Scripture, and how they apply to our lives today.
I hope you will join us. You can follow along here on my blog, subscribe below to get lessons e-mailed to you each week, or if you live in Seymour, TX you can join us in person Mondays at noon at the First Baptist Church in Seymour.