A sermon I heard Saturday got me to pondering on what really should be going on during prayer. Now, if we have bothered, we have all read the details around Jesus' teaching of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6, but you folks who haven't don't feel left out, because I realized as well as I know this passage, I've never gave it the "third degree of looking at the references my Bible hooks up to it. So I did and learned what I am going to call the 16 brief lessons about prayer.
1- Did you realize that Jesus' discourse on prayer was sandwiched between two other items, all of which we are admonished to do privately, and not for the eyes of man? The first was charity; the last was fasting.
2- And if you look at the references to each of these- I was given Luke 14 for the first and Isaiah 58 for the last- that they are VIRTUALLY the same thing? Luke has Jesus describing charity as that what you do for those that cannot pay you back in this life; Isaiah describes true fasting as the things you do for the downtrodden and oppressed- both for strangers and for your own family.
3- And as we enter the plane of prayer, the first keyword is, in truth. My Bible notes that hypocrites (as in do not do as the hypocrites do) basically means "pretenders". Prayer is more than just bowing your head with everyone else while you figure your lotto numbers. You wonder why some of the people praying around you as a leader prays are saying, "Amen" a lot? Because they are praying the words with him. "A moment of silent reflection" in which there is silence in your thoughts is a waste of time.
4- The reference when Jesus tells you to go up in your room and pray in private is in 2 Kings 4- the story of Elisha raising the widow's boy from the dead. From it we gather several points, starting with this one- Seek out what God wants (which was actually the point of the sermon I mentioned). The whole story begins with Elisha telling Gehazi that it was "a matter the Lord had hidden from me." "A prayer that is just us telling God what we need," the pastor said, "is half a prayer." Find out first what God wants from YOU today.
5- Next keyword is involve. Elisha's first attempt was just to send Gehazi ahead and lay his staff on the boy- and nothing happened. Elisha couldn't mail it in- he had to be engaged in what he was praying for.
6- In Private is next. Elisha put everyone out of the house but himself and the boy, and shut the door behind him. The point being, he needed to concentrate and be away from all distractions.
7- Repeat. It took more than one round of the most intimate of prayer to get an answer.
8- Persevere. Elisha got up between rounds and "walked around inside the house", gathering mental and emotional strength before attempting a second time. That gives a good indication of the effort he was putting in.
9- As the passage in Matthew goes on, we come to the part about "vain repetitions". And that section is hooked up to Ecclesiastes 2, from which we can draw three more lessons. The first comes from the line, "Do not be rash in your mouth..." In other words, Think before you pray.
10- Respect, the next line being "...and do not utter things hastily before God..."
11- Realize, because "...for God is in heaven, and you on earth. Therefore let your words be few."
12- This passage also hooked up to Elijah's victory on Mt Carmel in 1 Kings 18. After spending an entire day in "vain repetitions", the prophets of Baal sat down while Elijah made his preparations. And when he was ready his was a simple two point prayer. The first point was God's glory, as he noted that he wished to make known that the Lord was God, and he his servant...
13- ...and the second was confidence, praying that God was not just about to turn the hearts of the people back to Himself, but that He HAD done it. Then came the fireworks.
14- As we turn back to the main passage, we note that the next keyword is assurance- Jesus says, "For Your Father already knows what you need. So stop wasting time telling Him, and spend more time THANKING Him for it!
15- Goals. The Lord's Prayer itself should be a guide to your goals in prayer. First Praise, then obedience to His will (which would require you to come back to the sermon point which was "get to know what His will for you is"), provision, forgiveness, protection, and praise again.
16- And finally Jesus re-emphasises that WE need to forgive, making our last key making an effort to come with a clear conscience.
Wow, that's a lot at one sitting, but the wonderful thing about the Bible is that each time you hit a passage, you can draw something new, something different, something necessary to your circumstance. So you take what you need from it, and maybe the next time around you grab something else. Those who believe the Bible is a mere collection of stories don't get the point that it is a living, breathing document, that as God wills can talk to you in many voices. Which do you hear today?