Why Pray and How: ACTS 11:19-12:25

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Acts 11:19-12:25

Praying before meals was a regular part of our practice throughout my childhood.  One Sunday afternoon our family sat down to eat our noon meal, which was probably pot roast from the crock-pot, typical Sunday fare in our home. We prayed and then began to eat. My little brother yelped and whimpered as he took a bite and said, “Daddy, the food is still too hot. You didn’t pray long enough.”

Why do we pray? How do we pray?  Like many things in scripture, prayer is a simple act that is steeped in complexity.  In this passage of Acts we see the story of Peter’s miraculous release from prison.   His release occurs as the Jerusalem believers gathered to pray earnestly for his safety. I’d like to take the time today to dive into the real value of prayer.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

This wouldn’t be a lesson on prayer without a visit to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.   In chapter 6 Jesus teaches his followers how to pray. Even though you may have heard a dozen sermons on The Lord’s Prayer, it’s wise to come here first, as a basis of context. Jesus says,

Pray like this: Our Father in Heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13 NLT)

I have to admit, I have a tendency to resist this scripture because I have a natural aversion to rules when it comes to my faith, and I’ve held the bias that a memorized prayer was an empty prayer.  And that’s probably because most of the teachings I’ve heard on The Lord’s Prayer usually end up as a “how to” message on how to construct my prayers. Even if the pastor didn’t intended it, most folks walk away thinking, “Ok. So when I pray this week, I need to start like this, then move into this, and end with this.” They walk away with a formula!

Can you imagine the extensive amount of thought, energy, and emotion required to make a cake without any basic recipe to follow?  Formulas are extremely helpful when trying to recreate your favorite cake or calculate equations or perform heart surgery.  A formula decreases variability and increases quality.  But can you really apply this approach to relationships?  Absolutely not.  No one wants to feel like the variable in someone’s formula.  When you approach God using a formula, you’re essentially taking out the thought, energy and emotion, and all these things are required components to any relationship.  The quickest way to sever a connection to the Holy Spirit is by responding to him with a recipe.  But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer.

BREAKING IT DOWN

I honestly don’t believe Jesus gave us this prayer so that we would necessarily pray these words exactly, nor to give us a recipe for what to include in our prayers; even though the words are great and the structure, worthy of duplication. He was revealing truth about himself and how we relate to him. When we absolutely believe these truths, it will most definitely impact our prayers and bring us into the presence of God. The problem arises when we don’t believe them.

1)May your kingdom come soon. When his disciples heard this, you know they were praying he would establish this kingdom by overthrowing the occupying Roman government. But there’s actually two components to the kingdom, a heavenly kingdom and an earthly one. The earthly kingdom pictured in the books of the prophets and revealed further in Revelation are pictures of what he’s prepared for us in heaven. Scripture promises a time when Jesus will return again to finally address the corruption of sin here on Earth and establish a kingdom. It will be yet one more picture of the splendor in the heavenly realm.  However, when Jesus died on the cross, rose again, and was seated at the right hand of the Father that too was picture of that heavenly kingdom. Because of his blood sacrifice, we are granted access to the power of that kingdom now. When we are praying for the kingdom, we are praying for the completion of all of his promises. We are also praying that we would walk in that kingdom now via the Holy Spirit. It’s like heaven invading earth through our hearts, and that’s exactly what happens when we are plugged into the Holy Spirit. He is our King, and his Kingdom has come into us, when we are abiding in Christ and he abides in us.

2) May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Even here, Jesus is talking about these two economies, or households, heaven and earth. He has a will for heaven and one for earth and his purpose has always been to bring them into perfect union. I think we can all agree that they’re not unified today; there’s too much sin and corruption to think otherwise. His will, here on earth, includes each one of us, and if we submit to that will, our stories will play an eternal role in it’s unfolding. Our prayer should be that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we would live our lives to accomplish his will. Praying in God’s will is not necessarily a lack of faith, quite the contrary. In fact the more we are in His presence and seek to understand His will, the bolder our prayers become.

3) Give us today the food we need. In some versions, the translation is, “give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is a common theme throughout the course of scripture from the manna given to Israel, to the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus wants us to know that HE is our daily bread. He is our manna from heaven. Of all our needs, there is none greater than he. Of course we have needs that need to be met, and he knows exactly what they are.

 …your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! (Matthew 6:8 NLT)

So why even ask? Because it brings us back to him as our resource. Our family discovered toxic mold during the holidays and we were wondering if we would lose our home. I was frantic and you can bet I prayed for resolution. God knew my needs, and he knew the solution. I don’t know if my prayer changed anything in that moment except myself.  In my fear, I could hear his voice say, “I have a solution in place. Trust me.” It brought me back to him. Sometimes we pray for what we need, so that we can hear His steady response. Let me be clear.  There are plenty of scriptural anecdotes telling of prayers that changed the Lord’s mind and altered outcomes.  They certainly can.  It all comes back to God.  He alone is our daily bread.

4) Forgive us our sins. Like so many things, I think this also has a heavenly and an earthly component if you’ll follow me for a minute. If you have already given your heart over to a faith in Jesus, then this prayer for forgiveness is one that has cleansed you from all unrighteousness. Scripture says that faith in Jesus is all you need for forgiveness, to thereby gain eternal life. In the heavenly realm this need only be done once. Because the blood of Christ is absolute, covering all sin (past, present, and future), there is only one forgiveness for salvation. The end. You do NOT need to pray for forgiveness repeatedly.

So why in the world do you think Jesus would include this in a daily prayer? Because I believe it’s a prayer for healing in the earthly realm. We’re not praying this to be saved. We all need to be healed of the sins that we’ve committed. We have not, and we will not live perfect, sinless lives. Continued confession and repentance, reminds us of our forgiveness and allows the Lord to work in our heart daily for healing. It allows us to transfer that burden of guilt to Jesus, and it closes an open door to Satan. I know I’m not alone in being tormented by the decisions of my past and present. I know by experience, that unconfessed sin simmers within me and wreaks havoc in all aspects of my life. I’ve learned that I can heal and receive the power of the Holy Spirit by making this a regular practice in my life.

5) As we have forgiven those who sin against us. This is also a prayer for healing. We need healing from the sins we’ve committed, and we need healing from the sins others have inflicted upon us. Anger can be so destructive and a very effective tool for Satan. Most of us know the concept of not letting the sun go down on our anger recorded by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians. This doesn’t mean that we must literally let go of the anger within 24 hours or less, but it’s establishing the principle of avoiding a grudge. Paul also says, be angry and do not sin, so that indicates there is such a thing as righteous anger. God doesn’t expect us to live up to a standard that he doesn’t hold for himself. Scripture records over and over the anger he has over sin. But righteous anger that brews into unforgiveness will always turn into a grudge, and that’s the open door for which Satan prowls. Knowing this, and praying for his supernatural power to help us forgive, even while the sting of pain still stabs, places us on the right path. Notice this phrase, “as we have forgiven those who sin against us,forgiven is in the past tense, while sin is present tense. Awfully optimistic for most of us, but if we will proactively pray in this direction it will become the past. It’s called praying in his will.

6) And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. I’ve mentioned this evil one twice already. He’s real, and his number one goal is to derail each and every one of us. All the aforementioned parts of the Lord’s Prayer work together to answer this one.

The Lord’s Prayer isn’t necessarily a prayer to guide the structure of our prayers. Jesus put into words the essence of our relationship with him in prayer. It’s an authoritative, powerful relationship, because he is king; it’s a revelatory relationship because he wants to share his will and make himself known to us; it’s a provisionary relationship because of his overwhelming love for us; it’s a healing relationship because he makes us whole; and it’s a protective relationship because he is sovereign over all, even evil.

I find it incredibly interesting that this prayer never actually mentions thanksgiving while scripture is filled with advice toward gratitude. I wondered why. Then it occurred to me, when I really see the dramatic impact of this prayer, and I’m ushered into his presence, how can I not be thankful? He’s brought me into his kingdom, he’s revealed himself to me in astounding ways, he’s given me a purpose that will play into his will on earth AND heaven, he provided for me abundantly, he’s healed me from lifelong hurts, and he is waging battle against my enemy alongside me. I am humbled by and thankful for his grace. This is a prayer for our earthly world filled with eternal implications in the heavenly world, because it keeps our eyes fixed on the things above.

Coming back to Peter’s release from prison in this passage of Acts, we see no detail on what their prayers for Peter looked like exactly except that they were earnest.  These believers were fervent, faithful and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Peter’s release was so miraculous, the believers weren’t about to believe it actually happened. Peter wasn’t even so sure himself for a minute. But when it’s God’s will, there’s no shame in praying for it and claiming it.  Be ready to be blown away.

CHALLENGE

God called me to write, teach and speak two years ago. I have avoided praying for an abundance of opportunities to speak and teach, mainly for my fear of arrogance and my fear of failure. But if God has called me, and revealed his will to me, I NEED to be praying boldly for his will. My challenge to you this week, is to examine your own hearts. What are your prayers expressing? Are you claiming and worshipping Christ through all aspects of your relationship with him? Are you praying in his will that he has revealed to you and through you?

Additional verses on prayer.   Read and see what the Lord shows you in the context of the Lord’s Prayer.

Ephesians 6:18

Colossians 4:2

Matthew 7:7

James 4:2-3

James 5:16

I John 5:14

John 15:7