Lesson 8: Petition, Part 3
Good morning! Please find a seat, and we’ll get started. This is our last Sunday school period on prayer. However, Pastor Kit also asked me to take the evening service tonight, and I’m planning to use that time to go over some frequently-asked questions regarding prayer. Two topics I’m especially excited about are systems for keeping track of prayer requests and prayer and God’s sovereignty. So, if there is a topic you were hoping we’d get to that we haven’t discussed, you’ll just have to come back tonight!
I hope this series has been a help to you. I hope you pray better as a result of what you’ve heard. I can stand up here and wax eloquent, and you can shake my hand afterwards and say, “I really enjoyed that lesson!” but unless you’re closer to God and more like Christ because of it, I’ve failed as a pastor. Here at Life Point, we’re after not only renewed thinking, but also transformed lives. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed and profited from this study. Thank you for paying me a salary so that I have the time to study something like prayer and then teach you about it! I think often about how blessed I am in that way, and so I always want to give my best for you folks.
Last week, we began with the question, “What should I pray for?” and we said that although at first glance that question seems simple, it’s an important one to answer because some people really struggle with knowing what to pray for. Also, all of us have room to grow in this area, because our priorities in prayer reflect our priorities in life, and all of us are tempted to pursue wrong priorities.
Then we launched into four guidelines to govern petition. The first guideline was, “Nothing is too big or too small to pray about.” God wants us to pray about all of our troubles, and He wants us to ask Him for blessings. Our failure in regards to prayer is not asking for too much, but asking for too little. That was guideline #1.
Guideline #2 was this: “Pray for guidance, but don’t blame your foolish or sinful choices on God!” Failing to pray for guidance is a foolish and costly mistake. However, we shouldn’t expect God to answer our prayers for guidance by zapping us with a feeling, but by leading us through a process of biblical discernment. God answers our prayers for guidance by giving us wisdom. He cleanses our hearts so that we’re not drawn away by sinful desires. He brings biblical principles to our attention and helps us to understand and apply them. He provides wise counselors to either affirm or challenge our perceptions, logic, and motives. Sometimes, He shuts doors altogether. Take, for instance, that house next door to the church. We were all set to place an offer and fully confident that our offer would be accepted. However, we also prayed for guidance, and God closed the door. Someone placed an offer before us, and the owner accepted that offer without waiting for ours, even though he knew we were planning to put one in! That’s okay! God answered our prayer! So, pray for wisdom, but don’t expect God to answer that prayer by zapping you with a feeling, and then don’t claim immunity to logic because “God gave you peace.”
Guideline #3: Our prayers should be dominated by spiritual, eternal concerns.
Turn with me to Colossians 3:1-4. In these verses, Paul addresses the priorities Christians should have. According to this passage, Christians are to set their minds on things above. That means that we are to focus on spiritual, eternal things. Now let me ask you this: If I am focused on spiritual things, what will I pray for? Spiritual, eternal things! That’s not to say that I shouldn’t pray for physical things! We talked about that last week. However, if 70% of your prayers are for physical things, then your prayer life is out of balance! Did you know that God’s primary concerns for you are not you being healthy, wealthy, and comfortable? He wants to glorify Himself by changing you into His image, and that often means discomfort! So, if you only pray for your own comfort, you’re actually praying against the will of God! Your priorities need to change.
So, with that in mind, what are the spiritual priorities that should drive our prayer lives? What kinds of spiritual, eternal things should we pray for? I’d like to answer that question by focusing on two very important prayers in the gospels. First, let’s examine some spiritual priorities in the Lord’s Prayer. Turn to Matthew 6:9-13.
How many requests do we find in this prayer? There are six— “Hallowed be Your name,” “Your kingdom come,” “Your will be done,” “Give us this day our daily bread,” “Forgive us our debts,” and “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” Now, how many of those requests are for physical needs? Technically speaking, just one— “Give us this day our daily bread.” As we’ll see later on, “lead us not into temptation” does have to do with physical circumstances, as well; however, the focus of that request is still a spiritual need— “deliver us from the evil one.” So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that 1/6 requests in this prayer are for physical needs. We could do a little math—that means that spiritual needs dominate 83% of this prayer! Are you beginning to be convicted about your own priorities in prayer?
So, let’s get down to the specifics. What are some of the spiritual priorities that dominate the Lord’s Prayer? What kinds of spiritual, eternal things should we pray for?
First, pray for God to be glorified. Request #1: “hallowed be Your name.” You can often tell the difference between saved and unsaved people based on how they treat the name of God. This is especially true in our day and age, in which God’s name is routinely blasphemed on public television and in kids’ movies! The little girl next door may not drop the “F bomb,” but she will take God’s name in vain! As Christians, we ought to be completely different! We ought to be zealous for God’s name and to pray that it be honored in the world around us.
However, this request is about more than just blasphemy. It’s about God Himself receiving the glory He deserves from His creation! Do you care whether God gets the glory He deserves in the world at large, or are you content as long as you’re basically pleasing Him in your own little world? You say, “Pastor Kris, I can’t control what’s going on out there!” You’re right, you can’t control it, but you can pray about it to the One who controls all things.
But if you’re truly zealous for God’s glory, you’ll do more than pray about it. You’ll defend His honor every chance you get. That’s called apologetics. You’ll also praise Him as loudly and publicly as you possibly can! David said, “I will praise You, O Lord among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations. For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, And Your truth unto the clouds” (Ps 57:9-10). David was zealous for God’s glory! He said, “I hope the Gentiles to hear me praise You because your mercy and truth are out of this world!” This is not just about how loud you turn up your radio when you’re listening to Christian music! It’s about what you talk about, and the way you talk about it. Brothers and sisters, we need to be outspoken proponents of our God!
If you’re zealous for God’s glory, you’ll also witness. This is the highest motivation for evangelism. “Go to the world for the sake of His name. To every nation His glory proclaim. Pray that the Spirit wise Will open darkened eyes, Granting new life to display Jesus’ fame. In Jesus power, preach Christ to the lost. For Jesus glory, count all else but loss. Gather from ev’ry place, trophies of sov’reign grace. Lest life be wasted, exalt Jesus’ cross.”
I wonder if part of the reason we don’t see more people saved is because we are so apathetic about God’s glory. Now, just to be clear, I do believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation. However, our choices still have consequences! (We’ll talk more about how those two truths fit together tonight.) The writer of a book on leadership I read recently said this: “Passionate leaders attract and motivate passionate followers. Together, they build passionate movements.” Does that sound like Christianity? It should. We will not consistently pray for God to be glorified unless we learn to look up. We’ve got to get our eyes off ourselves and our petty concerns and be consumed with His glory.
So, spiritual request #1: pray for people to glorify God.
Second, pray for Jesus to set up His kingdom. Request #2: “Your kingdom come.” What does that mean? There’s some debate about that. Many people want to relate this request to the advance of the present, spiritual kingdom of God in the hearts of men. The New Testament does sometimes refer to such a kingdom. However, this request is primarily about the future, physical kingdom that the Jews were expecting. It says “Your kingdom come,” which means Jesus is talking about something that’s not here yet. This prayer is echoed by John’s prayer in Revelation 21:20: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” Do you ever pray like that? In order to do so, you must look forward.
Throughout the New Testament, we see this forward look driving Christians. Take Peter, for example. He says that we as believers have been given an inheritance, and that we are “kept by the power of God… for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” And he used this “living hope” to motivate his readers to persevere through their trials until they finally see the face of Christ, whom they love. Or take the apostle Paul. He said, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” What motivated Paul to press on? It was his focus on the prize.
If we had time this morning, we could list passage after passage after passage from both testaments in which eschatology (that is, end times teaching) is used to motivate believers. And yet, sadly, we open our hymnals, and there aren’t many songs about heaven or Christ’s return. The fact is that it’s more common to use physical things to motivate believers. Do we really care more about creature comforts than we do about eternal rewards? Yes, we do! That’s why Joel Osteen is the most popular preacher in America! But it’s not just them, is it? It’s us. Our priorities need to change. When was the last time you prayed for Jesus to come back, to punish sin, and to make everything right again? We ought to pray that often.
# 3: Pray for people to obey God. Request #3 in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What aspect of God’s will was Jesus talking about? Was it His sovereign will, otherwise known as His “will of decree”? I don’t think so, because Jesus draws a distinction between the way God’s will is done in heaven and the way it’s done on earth. God’s sovereign will is perfectly accomplished in all places and at all times. That’s why Ephesians 1:11 says that God “works all things after the counsel of His will.” However, there are also other aspects to His will. God’s moral will, otherwise known as His “will of command,” consists of the instructions He gives; and that aspect of God’s will is often violated by sinners down here.
You say, “Pastor Kris, I’m not convinced. Can people really violate any aspect of God’s will?” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” If you were ungrateful this morning, you violated the moral will of God. You did not alter His sovereign plan, but you did violate His moral will. So, when Jesus instructs His disciples to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, He is telling them to pray for people to obey God’s moral will. Do you see that? It’s people He’s talking about. Animals don’t make moral choices; they’re not made in the image of God. But people do. So how about you? Do you pray for yourself that you would obey God? Do you pray that for your husband? For your wife? For your kids? For your friends? For people at church? For others in the world?
Once again, consider David’s zeal. He said, “Indignation has taken hold of me Because of the wicked, who forsake Your law” (Ps 119:53). We, on the other hand, don’t take God’s rules seriously ourselves; why would we care about what anyone else does? You see, the hard thing about this request is that in order to pray “Your will to be done,” you must look inside, that is, inside your own heart. It makes no sense to pray that others would obey God if you are not willing to obey Him.
Do you remember what Jesus prayed in Gethsemane? He said, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Jesus didn’t want to go through with the cross! But He submitted His will to that of His Father. And if you are going to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” you are going to have to do the same.
By the way, these first three requests in the Lord’s Prayer have to do with three of the most important themes in Scripture: God’s glory, His kingdom, and His will. Once again, His priorities are becoming ours.
#4: Pray for spiritual preservation and growth. We’re going to skip the next two requests in the Lord’s Prayer because they have to do with asking God for physical needs and confessing sin, which are topics we’ve already discussed. So, let’s skip down to the sixth and final request in this prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” This is a fascinating request. First, we have to figure out what it means. There are two options; and at first glance, neither one seems appealing. The word “temptation” could mean either “temptation to sin” or “testing.” So, this request could mean either, “God, don’t tempt me to sin,” or, “God, don’t test me.” What’s the problem with the first option? God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin—James 1:5! He never has and He never will! So why pray for God not do so something that He has clearly said He will not do? That seems a little odd.
But the second option is also tricky! Why is that? Because over and over again in the Bible, we are told that God does indeed test people at times! He tested Abraham when He told him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, He tested Job, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and 1 Peter talks about the testing of our faith. So, we know that God will test us! That being said, what are we to make of this request? Any ideas?
Here’s what I would say. It is not inconsistent to pray for deliverance from difficult trials, even though you know that to some extent, trials are inevitable. In fact, there’s an interesting parallel elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul told Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” But he also told Timothy, pray “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” “You’re certainly going to be persecuted, but go ahead and pray for less persecution.” Does that seem odd? It shouldn’t, because it’s only human nature. God does not expect us to love pain. He does expect us to rejoice when we suffer, but that’s only because He’s using the suffering to accomplish a greater purpose. He doesn’t expect us to invite suffering into our lives. In fact, He tells us to pray for deliverance from it!
However, I want you to notice the primary reason that we are to pray for deliverance from testing. It’s not so that we will be more comfortable; it’s so that we will not sin. It says, “Lead us not into temptation,” but… what? “Deliver us from the evil one.” We see in this passage the conflicting purposes of God and Satan when a believer is led into temptation.
Do you remember the story of Job? Who wanted God to be tested, God or Satan? It was both of them! God’s purpose in the testing was to prove and refine Job’s character and to glorify His name. Satan’s purpose was to make Job renounce God. Job’s wife became Satan’s mouthpiece when she said, “Curse God, and die!” So, trials are risky things for a believer. There is opportunity for great success, but there is also opportunity for great failure. So, knowing our weaknesses, Jesus instructs us to pray that we are spared from difficult testing so that we do not fall into sin, and ultimately, so that our faith does not fail.
By the way, testing can come by way of either difficulty or ease. That’s why Proverbs 30:8-9 says, Give me neither poverty nor riches—Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.”
This request finds an interesting parallel in Christ’s longest recorded prayer. Turn to John 17 (John 17:6, 9-12, 15, 17). Now, there’s obviously a lot going on in these verses that we won’t take the time to get into this morning. We studied these verses in depth last summer. But I want to direct your attention to Christ’s central request in these verses. It’s found in verse 11. What is it? It's “Father, keep them.” Such a simple phrase, but it’s packed with complex theology! Keep them from what? According to verse 12, Jesus wants His Father to keep His disciples from perishing. The ultimate danger is that what happened to Judas will happen to them.
Of course, we know it is the Father’s sovereign will to preserve all who come to Him in faith, but that does not render Christ’s prayer meaningless! Our prayers are one of the appointed means God uses to accomplish that appointed end. (Again, we’ll talk about that more tonight.) But for now, do you understand what that means for your prayer life? It means that when you pray for God to preserve your loved ones, that they would not deny the faith but would hold fast to what they have been taught, God is using you to effect their final salvation! So, with that in mind, we ought to pray earnestly for our own preservation, and for that of our brothers and sisters in Christ!
But Jesus also prayed for His disciples to grow in holiness. He said in verse 17, “Sanctify them by Your truth.” That was an interesting thing for Him to pray, because just one verse earlier, He said that His disciples had already been set apart—they were not “of the world.” But now, He is asking for their growth in holiness. Not only did He want His disciples to be preserved from Satan, He wanted them to become more and more distinct. According to this prayer, we must value holiness. This is such a major focus in the New Testament! So many of the requests in Paul’s prayers could be placed under this heading! We must pray for spiritual preservation and growth! But in order to do so, we must learn to look out. We must look out and see the danger. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
But we must also look out and see the needs of others. This leads us to our final guideline to govern petition.
Guideline #4: Pray for others.
What is it called when we pray for others? It’s called intercession, and it’s a theme throughout the Bible. Job interceded for his children. Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorra. Moses and Daniel interceded for the nation of Israel. As we just saw, Jesus interceded for His disciples. And Paul interceded for the churches in his day. We could summarize all of this by saying that godly people intercede. They get on their knees in their closets and they pray for others. They pray for their children to get saved, to make wise choices, and to follow God. They pray for the salvation of their grandchildren. They pray for people in their church. They pray for people they’ve never met, only heard about. They pray specifically for the needs of missionaries. They pray for their country and for their political leaders. They pray for their pastors and deacons. Godly men and women intercede. What about you? Do you spend a good chunk of your prayer time interceding for others, or are you focused solely on your own concerns? We must learn to intercede.
The thing about leading a series on a topic like prayer is that you will never exhaust the subject. I had to come to grips with that early on in this study. There is so much more that could be said about intercession and the spiritual priorities that should drive our prayers. If you are interested in further study on this particular topic, I would highly recommend to you a book by D.A. Carson that I just read a couple weeks ago. It’s called, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. This book is excellent! It’s theologically rich, but also warm and practical. I can hardly praise it enough.
Also, if you still have some unanswered questions regarding prayer, or even if you don’t, come back tonight and join the discussion as we work through some of the frequently-asked questions regarding prayer.