Learning to Pray – In Secret, Ask, Seek and Knock

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
‘Give us each day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Since this blog series is about prayer, we\’ll just skip the fact that Jesus was praying and any implications that might be made around that fact.  But one of the things I do want you to see is something that most people consider anecdotal:  \”It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place …\”

Why do we find a reference to \”a certain place?\”  If there was something special about a particular place, say the garden of Gethsemane, then why wouldn\’t we be told exactly the name of that place?  I think we would, but that\’s not the case.  Rather, the important thing we\’re left to understand is that there most definitely was a \”certain place.\” 

So why is that important?  Because it\’s important that you designate a place for payer.  This isn\’t to say that you cannot pray in any place at any time, but you need a retreat, a secret place:

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6)

The Model Prayer
It took me a long time to figure out that the Lord\’s prayer is a model, not something we\’re supposed to corporately repeat week after week, which is why I typically avoid repeating it at the pre-defined time.  There are a plethora of bible studies and sermons on this prayer, but suffice it to say we should remember to acknowledge who He is, and the necessity for us to be in harmony with His will and that as His will is in Heaven, so should it be here.  We ask for our needs to be met and then confess our sins, and acknowledge our responsibility to forgive those who sin against us.  And lastly, we ask for protection.  The model prayer is something in which we should pay special attention to the order of the given concepts.  We will express our priorities through prayer, and the model prayer helps us keep our priorities in line with His priorities.

Ask, Seek, Knock
This is where the meat of the lesson lives.  We find a man, who upon having a friend arrive from a long journey, realizes that he has nothing to set before him.  In other words, he can\’t meet his needs, which for any of us in a similar situation, would be embarrassing.

Asking is a necessary step.  So, lets assume, for argument\’s sake, that the man asked his wife, \”where is the food?\”  Upon learning there was none to be had, his next step was seeking.  So, out of his house he went, seeking food for the hungry traveler and seeking after the friend whom he knew could meet his needs.  Upon finding his friend\’s house, he then knocked on the door.   He could have just stood at the door, upon finding it closed.  But if he had done that, then the door would have never opened.  Many times, God provides provision, but we refuse to knock.

One of the things we must avoid when considering this example is that God is not annoyed with us, neither are we an inconvenience when encountered through prayer.  The point the Jesus is making regarding the two men is two fold: true friends meet each others needs, and secondly, you have to seek, ask and knock when opportunities are presented.

No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

Relationship and Persistence
So, why did the man go to his friends house?  I know, it\’s a rhetorical question, but it\’s worth considering.  He could have stopped at any other house along the way.  The answer is simple: when we ask favors of people whom we have not earned the right to impose upon, we are more often than not, rejected.  But our friends are different.  We\’ve invested in them and we\’ve earned the right to ask favors of them.  True friends help one another, and there is no more truer a friend than Jesus.  Again, we\’re getting back to knowing the nature of God, for we don\’t earn the right to ask, seek and knock at His door, rather we are imputed with that authority.

But why the persistence?  Because persistence represents conviction – the conviction that we know who we\’re dealing with, that we know the nature of God, and that we know His will.  The man continued to knock on the door because he knew that eventually, his friend would get up and meet his needs.   While persistence helped, it was the relationship that provided a basis for having his needs met.  And that\’s the position from which we must approach God.

Learning to Pray – Knowing Him

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5:14-15)

In a previous post, I suggested that there is a vast difference between doing for God and knowing God.  Interestingly enough, that concept segues into our greatest problem with prayer: understanding how to apply scripture like 1 John 5:14-15.  Which poses the question, how do you know His will?

Answer: just like any child knows the will of their parents.

Children can tell you what their parents would think of many different things.  They can tell you when they\’re likely to get into trouble through their actions, and when they\’re likely to receive praise.  Is this information impossible to come by?  Apparently not, for through a simple thing called relationship and \”getting to know someone,\” children come to exercise these abilities naturally.

And therein lies the rub.  We\’re too busy learning pseudo-doctrine, denominational tradition and how to keep the Law, and in doing so, we substitute those things for getting to know Him.  The Scribes and Pharisees had the same problem:   they were well versed in the Law, but didn\’t have a clue when it came to knowing who God was and what he was all about.

In order to know Him, you generally have to give some things up, such as your view of church or your reliance upon the Law.  Church isn\’t about the worship service, it\’s not about the sermon, and it is most definitely not about the preacher, the projects or the ministries.  Church is about exercising the heart and nature of God.  With certainty, those things can be found in the aforementioned.  But it is woefully too easy to just do those things because it\’s the right thing to do, rather than because it is an overflow of His nature pouring out of you.  There is a vast difference between the two, as seen in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

So, boys and girls, our assignment today is to get to know something about His nature and His character.  And here\’s a suggestion on how to do that.  Read a Psalm, and when you finish a verse or a complete thought, ask this question: why?  Why did the Psalmist say that?  Why would God say that?

Here\’s something to get you started:

Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, loving kindness shall surround him. (Ps. 32:10)

Why?  Why would God surround us with loving kindness simply because we trusted in Him?  What does that say about His nature?  Next, can you imagine an experience that must have been necessary in order for those words to flow from the authors heart?

Consider those questions, or others you may prefer, and consider the answers that would be consistent with other Bible passages that you\’re familiar with.  The purpose of the exercise is to learn something about the nature and character of God.  Doing so will enable us to understand His will, at least in some limited fashion.

The Model Prayer: Thoughts on how to pray

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. Matthew 6:9-13

The \’Lord\’s Prayer\’ or better, “The Model Prayer”, is the prayer guide that Jesus gave to us in order to teach us how to pray. The model prayer describes a structure that we should strive to emulate when speaking with God. Furthermore, it provides an outline of what to pray for and it inherently provides priorities relating to our relationship with God through prayer.

The structure of Prayer

  1. Proper focus with humility and exaltation of God.
  2. Align your desires and will with His will.
  3. Suplication with dependence upon Him.
  4. Confession, repentance and forgiveness.
  5. Protection and guidance.
  6. Acknowledge and praise His pre-eminence over all creation.

Proper focus with humility and exaltation

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name
  1. The proper focus of our prayers should always be God the Father. Never should you pray to a person or saint (living or dead), or anything else (idol) that you could venerate.
  2. Humility and exaltation are found in \’hallowed be thy name\’. Hallowed means to venerate. Venerate means to make holy. Also see Jude 1:25

Align your desires with His will

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
  1. God\’s will is always perfectly done (performed) in heaven. You must be willing to align yourself to His authority and desires and will for your life here on earth.

Suplication with dependence upon Him

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
  1. Paul said, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
  2. Dependence upon Him is is paramount above all else. Dependence upon self, outside of the Grace of God, is rooted in pride. This does not mean we should not take action based upon our knowledge and abilities. Recall David and Goliath: even though David spent years (assuredly) practicing with the sling, it was God that enabled him the victory.

Confession, repentance and forgiveness

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors..
  1. It is interesting to compare the differences in the priority Jesus gives to confession of sins during prayer as to priorities we learn from the average teacher. The average teacher (or preacher if you so chose), is dead set on telling you that the first thing you should do is make sure your sins are confessed, or “God won\’t hear you”. They\’re even sure to use the scripture to back themselves up, quoting Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” This scripture is taken completely out of context, and such an application does not fit in any way, shape or form the model prayer given by Jesus that we see here.
  2. So consider for a moment, the placement of confession, repentance and forgiveness in the model prayer: it\’s 4th in the list of priorities. Why is this? Because He has forgiven all our sins. Not just some of them today, and a few more tomorrow, but all. When we were made alive with Him, we were forgiven all of our sins; past, present and future.
  3. Confession, repentance and forgiveness (our forgiveness of others) is for us to restore our right relationship with God. God never moves away from us, we move away from Him.

Protection and guidance

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
  1. If God does not tempt any man, then what is the meaning of this phrase? It is a prayer of protection. A similar petition was made in Psalm 141:4: “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.”
  2. Quite simply, God has the ability to protect you from suffering, should it be His will. However, through trials and tribulations, we are perfected.

Acknowledge His pre-eminence over all creation

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
  1. We end up at the end of our prayer in a similar place as when we began: acknowledging that God is in all, through all and in control of all, and that it is use that needs to be changed, not the desire or will of God. We must be willing to praise and worship Him in all things, and we must be willing to humble ourselves and our will to His desires and will for our life.