I invite you to open your Bibles to Luke, chapter 11. This morning we are talking again about prayer. And Luke 11 is where we will begin.
Prayer is one of the most basic activities known to all of the world religions. Oh, it may be called different things in different religions. But it is the same concept. It's the process of communicating with the supernatural.
It takes many forms. For the native Americans, this meant a dance to invoke the spirits to bring rain. For the pagans, this means a séance, where they can communicate with the spirit world. For the Buddhists, this means chanting a mantra to connect themselves to their spirit. It means spinning wheels with prayers written on them. For the New Agers, this means meditation. For secular Americans, I don't know what it means. But, whenever a tragedy strikes, you can often hear them say, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family."
For Catholics and Jews, it's about the words you say. For Christians, it's about talking with God.
My message this morning is entitled, "How to pray." I want to give some very low-level, practical counsel for all of us this morning. Now, fortunately, the disciples of Jesus asked him this very question.
In the very first verse, his disciples asked Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray." In other words, you might say it this way, "Lord, how do we pray?"
They had seen Jesus pray, and this is what prompted their question in the first place. Look at Luke 11:1, ...
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."
There was something very attractive about the prayer life of Jesus. And the disciples wanted a piece of it. And Jesus was more than willing to help them. And may these words profit us this morning.
Jesus gives two answers to this question. This morning we are going to look at them very broadly. Let me read them for you now. Luke 11 and beginning in verse 2.
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 forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation."
And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell 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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
How to pray? Jesus begins by giving us some words to pray.
These words are familiar to many of us. They are often called "The Lord's Prayer." But really, it is better called, "The Disciples' Prayer," as it what Jesus gives us to pray. The Lord's prayer is what Jesus prayed, and that's found in John 17. But, these words are some words that Jesus gave us to pray.
Now, you may notice that these words are a bit different than what we are used to praying. A few phrases are missing. We are used to praying the way that it's recorded in Matthew 6. Let's say it together ...
"Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day 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 evil.
Luke's version drops a few phrases, which tells us that it isn't the exact words that are important in praying. Rather, I believe that Jesus is pointing out a helpful pattern of prayer. We begin with God and his character and his kingdom. He is in heaven, He is a holy God. He has a kingdom.
Only then to we come to our requests. We pray for physical needs, like our daily bread. We pray for our spiritual needs, like forgiveness of sins. Like help in temptation. And I think that this is important. How to pray? Here is our pattern of prayer.
Pray about God first. And then pray for your needs. This is the way that Jesus taught us to pray.
Now that's not to say that this is the only way to pray. There are plenty of Biblical prayers that don't follow this pattern. You read through the Psalms and there are many times when the Psalm begins with a request to God. Psalm 4:1: "Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness." Psalm 5:1: "Give ear to my words, O LORD." Psalm 6:1: "O LORD rebuke me not in your anger." And there are many more.
So, it's not as if this is the only acceptable pattern that God will ever accept from our lips. I think especially in the moment of trouble, a simple, "Help!" prayer is about as good as it gets. But, if you are looking to learn about prayer, the counsel of Jesus is about as good as it gets. Begin with God, then continue to your requests.
So, how do you do this? What do you pray about God? Let the Bible be your guide. Perhaps you might want to begin with the Psalms. Perhaps you might want to begin with the beginning of many Psalms.
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
The mighty One, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O, LORD of hosts.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty;
The LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
Stretching out the heavens like a tent.
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains,
from whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD
who made heaven and earth.
Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens!
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!
And we could go on and on and on and on in the Psalms. But, I wanted to overwhelm you with the grandeur and greatness of God in the Psalms. We could go to Isaiah or Jeremiah or any of the prophets. There is plenty of data about the transcendent power and majesty of God throughout the Scriptures that will resonate in our hearts to give us a view of him and that will put us into a posture of prayer.
... I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are ne every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, "What have you done?"
We could go to the New Testament and pray.
Acts 17: 24-25
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Or, you could go to the book of Revelation and pray.
To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!
Or, you could go to your hymnal and pray ...
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love.
Hearts unfold like flow'rs before Thee, Opening to the sun of love.
Fairest Lord Jesus; Ruler of all nature,
O Thou of God and man the Son.
Thee will I cherish; Thee will I honor,
Thou my soul's glory, joy, and crown.
Alas! And did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
This is the pattern of prayer that Jesus gave to us. Begin with God. We can pray the Psalms. We can pray the prophets. We can pray the New Testament. We can pray the hymns.
And when you do so, it's amazing how the things on earth are set in their proper place. All of sudden, your problems don't seem to be so big. And some of your requests don't seem to be appropriate. Because, a focus upon God first is a help to make sure that my prayers are not all about me.
Now, that's not to say that you aren't important. Because you are. In Jesus Christ, "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). But, focusing your heart first upon God is a helpful pattern.
And if you are looking for words to pray, pray the words of Scripture. Pray the words of the great hymns of the faith. And then continue on with your requests. You can do this with an open Bible.
Though we often shut our eyes when we pray (to help us get away from our earthly existence), there is nothing in the Bible that tells us we need to shut our eyes when we pray. We can pray with our eyes wide open, reading the opening part of our prayers letting the Scripture form the opening part of our prayers.
Nor is there anything in the Scriptures that tell us to pray with our own words. We can pray the words of Scripture very easily.
Better, however, is to memorize some of the great passages of Scripture. Because, you are not focused upon comprehending what you have read. You have already internalized it in your heart. And you are merely praying God's words back to him.
For instance, there are a handful of us who have been working on our Fighter Verses. These are the weekly Bible memory verses from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. They are key verses given to help us in our fight for sanctification. Thus, they are called, "Fighter Verses." They have a web site of the current verses. They have an app. They have generated some songs for each verse. And we have worked hard to promote these verses. Tina includes the verse of the week in her "Stuff for Sunday" email. We have book marks in the back of all of the verses for the year. We have CD's in the back that you can listen to at home.
And, we have even formed some accountability for memorizing these verses, if you want it. At the beginning of our prayer meeting each week, we say, "If you have memorized the Fighter Verse for this week, let's say it together." And those who have memorized it say it. And for those who haven't memorized the verse, it's OK. The recitations of the verses each week takes less than a minute, and then we carry on.
So, this week was Romans, chapter 11, verses 33-36. If you have memorized this passage this week, say it with me.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom
and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments
and how inscrutable his ways!
"For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?"
"Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?"
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.
Before this week, I had known these verses, but I had never memorized them. But I memorized them this week. And now I can use them in prayer.
In fact, this week as we gathered as elders, and got on our knees to pray, Darryn began his prayer like this, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33). And then he continued on with his prayer requests.
You want to pray? Just remember this: First God. Then us. Do you want to be helped to focus on God? Pray Scripture. Do you want to pray from the heart? Memorize Scripture. The fighter verses are all laid out for you. With just a little bit of effort, they can help.
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?
[But] to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
This week's fighter verse will be:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This is my point. We should pray with a pattern.
So, let's continue on to verses 3 and 4 in Luke 18.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation."
Did you notice the pronouns in this prayer? They are all plural. Jesus gave this prayer to be prayed in public with others. All of the counsel that I have given to you about prayer -- first God, then us -- primarily applies to the public setting. Our messages in the month of January have been on prayer, with the aim of promoting our prayer meeting and encouraging you attendance at our prayer meeting at 9am on Sundays in the family room.
Now, you can pray this prayer in private. "Give me each day my daily bread, and forgive me my sins, for I forgive everyone who is indebted to me. And lead me not into temptation." And that's totally appropriate. But, Jesus taught us to pray together.
And so, I encourage you to make prayer meeting a priority in your life if at all possible. We are preaching on prayer that we all might become better prayers.
Notice how mundane this prayer is. The prayer is for our daily food. How much are we talking? You can probably live on a couple of dollars of food each day. We are talking a prayer here for $5? Perhaps $10?
Listen, when it comes to prayer, nothing is too small to bring to God. If it's a burden on your heart, then pray it. Now, when it comes to food, we live in affluent America. Our problem isn't having enough food for the day. Our problem is having too much food for the day. We could easily pray, "Keep us from too much bread this day."
Have you ever prayed about what you eat? Have you ever prayed about your diet? Have you ever prayed about your needed willpower to avoid the foods your body desires? Although we have talked Scripture and grand truths for the first part of my message, requests for prayer don't need to be so high and lofty. They can be prayers for $5. When you pray, communicate your needs to God, no matter how small.
The first part of my message may require some reading and some training and some knowledge. Not so here. Here we are talking about the burdens of our heart.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah
Again, you need no instruction here regarding prayer. Let's think about the beggar on the street. For whatever reason, he's got nothing. He has come upon some bad luck. He has made some bad choices. He doesn't have friends or family willing to take him in. Most likely he has worn out his welcome. But, he doesn't have anything. And so, he begs. He begs for anything that anyone might happen to give him by the street.
Now, does he need a training class on begging? Is there some group of people that take in all the beggars and sit them in desks with pads of paper and writing utensils, and then begins to teach to them about how to beg? Imagine, ...
Choosing a Location
Choose an area with lots of foot traffic. If you're going to maximize your earning-potential, you'll need to go to a place in which you'll encounter a lot of different approachable people. Subway stations, metro stops, truck stops, urban campuses. Place yourself directly outside of the entrance to a subway station is a high-yield opportunity.
Or, you might choose an area with lots of auto traffic. Make a sign. All you need is a piece of cardboard from a recycling or garbage dumpster and something to write with. Make the lettering bold and clear so it can be read quickly. Post your sign in a traffic median near an interstate on-ramp, wherever you will be seen by lots of people. This requires the least amount of effort on your part, but it's also easier for people to ignore someone while in a car. This works best during spring or summer months when people drive with their windows down.
Posting up outside the same neighborhood coffee shop every day will likely get you into some heat with the staff and you'll quickly wear out your welcome with the patrons, making the likelihood of an uncomfortable confrontation too great. Besides, at that point, you'll have stopped making any money. Aim to hit up the same place no more than once a month.
Asking for Money.
Be polite. If there's one thing that's guaranteed to fail and get you in lots of trouble, it's demanding money from strangers in a rude or confrontational way. Smile, be courteous, and thank people whether or not they choose to give you anything.
Whatever your tactic in asking--if you choose to tell people the whole truth, or if you spin a yarn to get some change--you need to sound like you're being honest. Make sure your appearance matches your story as best as it can. If you're playing the lost traveler, it won't help your story if it looks like you've been sleeping outside for the past couple months, even if you have been.
Some panhandlers believe the key to success is in asking for a very particular amount of money for a very particular reason. "I need 40 cents to get a bus ticket, can you help me out?" tends to be a more effective approach than "I need to get a bus ticket."
Be clear and concise.
"Excuse me sir, I'm sorry to bother you, but I need some change to get something to eat." Ask for one thing and give one reason: "I need ____ for _____."
Some people are more willing to donate if they recognize that you're in a dire situation and are truly in need of help. Whether this is a lie or the truth, try appealing to their sense of empathy and morality. If they think it's their obligation to help you, they'll be more likely to do it.
Remember: It's a numbers game.
If people choose not to give you anything. Thank them and let them move on. Someone else will be passed in another couple seconds if you're in a good location anyway. Moving quickly through your routine is a much more effective method than dwelling on lost opportunities. Be consistent and you'll make some money.
Finally, Stay safe!
Learn the laws in the area you're planning to panhandle. Some areas outlawed begging in certain areas. Portland, OR, for example, no longer permits panhandling in traffic medians. Be friendly to other beggars. Avoid territorial disputes. Watch for "No soliciting" or "No loitering" signs. If someone tells you to move, just move, especially if you're alone and vulnerable.
Stash your money frequently. Beggars are frequently the target of robbers. If you've been working all day, you might end up with a fair amount of spare change and cash on hand. It's not a great idea to carry it around with you all the time and attract the attention of unsavory characters.
So, go out and do it." 
Sounds ridiculous, right? Why? Because you don't need to teach a poor man how to beg! The needs in their life are so great, and they have nowhere else to turn. And so, they beg. Or they go hungry.
And in many ways, you don't need to instruct a godly man how to pray. Because a godly man knows his own sin. Because a godly man knows his God. Because a godly man knows his need. And he pours out his heart before God.
Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
And when the need in your life is great enough to catch your attention, you will pray to God with passion. And when you are hungry, you will pray for your daily bread.
Let me give you some short advice regarding prayer.
1. Pray every day.
If Luke 11:3 teaches us anything, it teaches us that we should pray every day. Jesus tells us to pray for our daily food.
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
2. Pray for the day.
When you pray, for the food that comes that day. Jesus says to pray for
Do you remember when Jesus was teaching about anxiety? He said, ...
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Every day has its trouble. Every day has its needs. Pray for the needs of the day
3. Pray all the day.
Jesus said that we ought always to pray (Luke 18:1). Paul said, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Live each day in constant communion with God.
Let's get back to Luke 11. When Jesus focuses upon the prayers we need, he focuses first on the physical (the daily food). Then, he focuses on the spiritual (the need for forgiveness).
This is where all of us would do well to focus our prayers -- upon our sins, upon our forgiveness, upon the help we need to live righteously.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
January 31, 2016 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.