Jesus teaching on prayer

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Why do we regularly have a World Mission Sunday at this time of the year at JPC? Answer: to remember Christ's Great Commission that was, so to speak, his "last will and testament" and which he repeated several times. For example, just before his Ascension Jesus said to his disciples:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1.7-8).

Yes, these words had a special application to the apostolic leadership of the early church. But it is the church of succeeding generations (you and me) that must put this apostolic commission into effect. So Jesus wants his followers to have a world-wide vision and the Holy Spirit will equip them to do as required.

Certainly Richard Clayton had that vision and took that commission of Jesus seriously. For newcomers, Richard Clayton is the person in whose memory this church was founded, to form, I quote,

a central point for the maintenance and promulgation of sound scriptural and evangelical truth.

And this year, our World Mission Sunday is when we should celebrate the 150th anniversary of Clayton's death. Richard Clayton died in October 1856, 150 years ago. For those who do not know the story, Richard Clayton was minister at St Thomas', Haymarket and was the great evangelical leader in Newcastle in the first half of the 19th century. He died relatively young after building up St Thomas's. But when the authorities would not appoint a successor who the congregation reckoned would "maintain and promulgate sound scriptural and evangelical truth", its lay leaders decided to plant JPC.

Today, therefore, we need to maintain that truth against all sorts of errors and distortions. But we mustn't stop there, otherwise you have dead orthodoxy. As our founders said, it is vital that we also "promulgate" the truth or get the message out to people who have not yet received or heard it. And that is mission.

But at this time of year we also want to be practical and give for World Mission. At JPC we think of World Mission in terms, first of overseas mission - that is, direct evangelism, bible teaching or church planting overseas; secondly, relief work, which is Christian compassion; and then thirdly, home mission.

So next week is the start of our World Mission Gift Week. And you can see from the note in the Newsletter that this year in terms of overseas mission, we are supporting Alan and Ritva Brown, two of or own missionaries who work in Papua New Guinea helping to translate the Bible for the Kovai people. Their primitive house on Umboi Island is collapsing and they need a new one.

Then in terms of relief we want to help the Navajeevana Health Care Centre that Melwyn and Premini Tissainayagam, members of JPC, pioneered. This helps the poor in Colombo, Sri Lanka and since 2005 the work has expanded to the East of Sri Lanka to help those suffering the effects of the Tsunami. We can help them acquire a new scanner.

For home mission we want to get ready for the expansion that is soon to take place as broadcasting and the internet converge. We praise God for the way our current web-site is helping in world-wide mission. The site is visited from all over the world. Some sermons have been re-preached in other countries. Also other churches make use of material from the Coloured Supplements. But we want to be as forward looking in our day as Richard Clayton and the founders of this church were in their day. Going visual to a standard that is appropriate for the 21st century will be difficult. However, if Christians aren't active in this area we will surrender the field to humanists, pornographers and people of other faiths.

But you say, all this is so insignificant - another very simple house for the Browns; one scanner for Colombo; and just working modestly on new forms of digital communication. Yes, in one sense this is all insignificant except for two huge factors. On the one hand, from God's side there is the Holy Spirit; and on the other hand, from our side, there is prayer. That is why, and I trust you will see why, it is good that our subject this morning is Jesus Teaching on Prayer as Luke records it in Luke 11.1-12. And my headings are very simple, first, JESUS' TEACHING; and, secondly, but briefly, PRAYING FOR MISSION.


Look at Luke 11.1:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.

One of Jesus' disciples wanted Jesus to teach all of them the right way to pray. You see, prayer isn't necessarily right or a good thing. Later on in Luke you read a parable Jesus told about ...

two men [who] went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector" (Luke 18.10).

But the prayers of the self-righteous Pharisee God ignored.

And today there are all sorts of strange ideas going around about prayer. Jesus teaches that basically prayer is "communion with God through conversation". It is a conversation with God about changing people and changing things and changing the world. Of course, the worship of God is basic and a right heart essential and a quiet place desirable. But for many prayer is now all about contemplation or "an attitude of our hearts towards God" (as one writer puts it) rather than asking God to work in the world to make a difference.

For many people prayer is often a quest for inner tranquillity. It is fundamentally about their own spiritual state. It becomes like a Christian version of pagan Yoga. So you have to be careful about teaching on prayer. Follow Jesus' teaching in the Bible rather than the latest religious fashion. And in our passage Jesus teaches five basic lessons about prayer.

First, he teaches about the content of our praying by teaching the Lord's Prayer with its opening address to God, and then its five petitions or requests. There are two versions of this prayer, one as recorded in Matthew and a shorter one here in Luke. There is no reason for doubting that Jesus taught both versions. Luke's seems to be the most basic form of the prayer. Look at verses 2-3. This is what Jesus said:

When you pray, say: '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.

You are, says Jesus, to address God as "Father". This is so important. This was Jesus' own way of addressing God. It seems that uniquely he used the Aramaic word Abba in his own prayers. And the good news is that through trusting Jesus and his atoning work on the cross for our sins we too can become God's spiritual children through new birth and also address God as "Father". This is a respectful but intimate word. So God is not just an almighty creator, but our loving Father. Who needs to learn that lesson this morning - perhaps for the first time? Well, Jesus then said we are to ask for five things, two relate to God our Father and the last three relate to ourselves.

First, we pray "hallowed be your name" - literally, "let your name be regarded as holy". God's name stands for his character; and holy is God's "otherness" - he is altogether beyond our thinking and imagining but also all righteous and good. So this is a prayer for us to remember God's control and total sovereignty over all life and the universe, however difficult at times things may seem. It is also a prayer for others to believe in the God of the Bible who has revealed his character, not only in creation and the human conscience but especially in Old Testament history and supremely in the salvation Jesus came to bring us.

Secondly, we pray "your kingdom come". We pray that the God who is in control of all things and ruling all things may have his way in the world and in our own lives now, even before his rule is finally and completely established at Christ's return. A host of things come under that heading - especially the people you are praying for and the work you do both outside the church and inside the church. It means praying that God has his way in all these people and all these areas.

Then, thirdly, we are to pray for "daily bread" - this is for all material and physical needs. Note it is for bread not caviar; and for daily bread not for a huge lump sum of money to buy all the supplies of bread you will ever need, and so no longer have to trust God for.

Fourthly, we are to pray for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, there is that primal act of forgiveness achieved by Christ at Calvary that enables a person to call God "Father" and that is received through faith. But the Christian believer then regularly needs to seek God's forgiveness for things they still do wrong. And the evidence they are genuine in wanting to be forgiven is that they can say "we also forgive everyone who sins against us".

And fifthly we are to pray "that we are not led into temptation". The world around you will present you with all sorts of temptations - to compromise and go with its flow and not witness to Christ or take that moral stand you need to. But this is a request that God will not let you be so tempted and tested that you fail him. That, then, is the content Jesus taught. In your own prayers you can fill that content out from your personal situation.

Secondly, Jesus taught the attitude you should have when you pray. Look at verses 5-8. Jesus next said:

Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

The situation is clear. You're living in Palestine at the time of Jesus. You have a friend with a one-roomed house where everyone sleeps close together. You have another friend who turns up unexpectedly at midnight. But nothing is in the larder. You are desperate. You can't fulfil your duty of hospitality. So you ignore your wife who says you must never contact your friends after 10.00 pm (or the very latest 10.30) and you go to your friend's house, knock on his door, wake him up and ask to borrow some food. At first this friend is none to pleased. But because of your "boldness" (as the NIV translates it) or your apparently anti-social visit, this friend seems to realize that you are really desperate and so gives you as much as you need.

The key surely is in verse 6, with those words,

I have nothing to set before him.

That has to be our attitude when we go to God in prayer. We must say, "I have nothing". Last week we had those words of Jesus in John 15.5: "Apart from me you can do nothing."

It is the same truth. So content, attitude and ...

Thirdly, Jesus teaches "prayerful obedience". Look at verses 9-10:

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

These are wonderful promises for those who genuinely can call God "Father" through faith in Jesus Christ. What you ask for will be given you - not always, though, when, or in quite the way, you thought. But that is an unqualified promise. However, it goes with the next promise that you will "find", if you "seek". Seeking is not praying. It is you doing something. It is looking, or preparing for, what you are wanting. It is doing what is necessary after you have prayed. And then there is the promise that there will be an "opening", if you knock.

Imagine being at that friend's house at midnight. It would not have been much use to have found where his house was, but then remain petrified at the door because you are afraid to disturb his family. You have to knock. Then the door will be opened. God answers our prayers but he often involves us in their answer. Jesus teaches prayerful obedience.

Fourthly, Jesus teaches that you should pray with faith. Look at verses 11-13:

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

He is saying that God is our heavenly Father so of course he will do no less for his children than an earthly father. And because he is not "evil" or with faults like earthly fathers, but is our all loving and almighty "Father in heaven", he will do "much more" that an earthly Father. So when you pray, don't worry that you may be not be praying for exactly the right thing. God will only give you what is good. I have known that a number of times. You pray for one thing you think absolutely necessary and God doesn't grant it. Instead he gives you something else which down the tracks you are so thankful for. You now see how wrong would have been what you once set your heart on. Jesus teaches that when you pray you are to believe that God will only give you what is good.

And, fifthly, God's greatest gift now is the Holy Spirit and if you ask, he will give you the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not only the one who gives life but also so much else that is good. Some people say that they already have the Holy Spirit - they are born again by the Holy Spirit. So they don't need to pray for him. It is like some people say they have been forgiven once for sins and don't need to pray again for forgiveness. But Jesus teaches us, as we have seen, to pray regularly for forgiveness. Similarly we should pray regularly for the Holy Spirit. And how we need to pray for him in regard to mission. So my ...

... Second and final heading (and very briefly) is PRAYING FOR MISSION.

Let's apply this teaching of Jesus to our home mission concern for Christian Broadcasting. In terms of terrestrial Christian broadcasting, the UK is one of the most censored nations in the Western World. The 16th century Christian Reformation, humanly, could not have happened without the printing press which had not long been invented. It is not surprising, therefore, that this country is now so anti-Christian. Biblical Christians have been virtually excluded for half a century from the modern equivalent of the Printing Press - namely terrestrial Broadcasting.

But thank God now for the internet. So will you pray for new opportunities for biblical Christians in the years that lie ahead to get the gospel out through new developments in electronic communication? But how do you pray? Answer, you follow Jesus' teaching.

First, you come to God as your Father, and you pray that his name may be hallowed in the electronic media instead of being blasphemed or ignored.

Then you pray for God's rule to be effective in the BBC and in the Independent Companies. And pray for God to overrule so that biblical churches and Christian groups can have their own channels and get to broadcast standard sooner rather than later. And pray from a position of desperation. With God nothing is impossible. But humanly speaking Europe is unlikely to be re-evangelized without some Christian control of, and opportunity for, significant broadcasting. At the moment you have to say, "We have virtually nothing". Thank God for what is being done. But what is "sound scriptural and evangelical" is a very small proportion.

So pray from a position of desperation.

Then, after praying and asking, there needs to be seeking - the taking of those preliminary steps which is what we are seeking to do at this church. Yes, they are very small. But like the loaves and fishes Christ can use even the smallest of offerings. Then pray in faith knowing that God is good and will only give what is good.

Above all pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you and all of us as a church and as individuals to do his will in mission. This specialized form of home mission probably will involve a relatively small number of people. So pray for the mission God has already called you to this week - the mission to work for, and witness to, Jesus Christ at your home or at your work or at your place of study.

And if you remember nothing else from this morning, remember that promise - Luke 11.13:

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
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