Lessons in Discipleship (11) دروس في التلمذة

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LID#11-Prayer and The Prayer Hand Illustration

          This is Dr. Ed Hoskins welcoming you to Lessons in Discipleship, a series designed to help new believers become established in their Christian faith.  Today’s lesson is on Prayer and the Prayer Hand Illustration.  First, let me tell you a little about myself.  I’m a retired physician who spent 34 years in family medicine and student health.  I became a Christian 50 years ago and was helped early in my Christian faith by the Navigators, an international non-denominational Christian organization whose stated goal is “To Know Christ and to Make Him Known.”  I have been on associate staff with that organization since 1980.  Lessons in Discipleship is a compilation of what I learned during that time from the Bible and under the direction of the Navigators.  What I learned then I now pass on to you.  Today’s session is on “Prayer and the Prayer Hand Illustration.”

These are some questions you may be asking about prayer.  First,  what is prayer?  Does God really hear our prayers?  Are there special words or rituals that must be used for prayer to work?  Do we have to pray in Jesus’ name?  What should we pray for?  Does anything in our lives cause God not to hear our prayers?  Is it better to pray the same prayer again and again until we get what we asked for?  These are all important questions.  So let’s get started.

We begin by focusing on our Lord Jesus’ model and example for prayer.  We call that ‘the Lord’s Prayer.’  We are also going to look at a practical illustration to help us in prayer, the Prayer Hand.  And then we will finish with some additional thoughts about prayer and  recommendations.

In Luke 11:1 Jesus’ disciples asked,  “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  Here is the prayer Jesus taught them from Matthew 6:9-13, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the  evil one.”

What can we learn from this example about prayer?  First, remember God’s holiness.  Then we are instructed to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom and for his will to be done.  Then we are to pray for our daily needs.  We are also to confess our sins and to forgive those who have sinned against us.  Finally, we are to ask for protection from Satan’s schemes.

Here is a practical model that helps organize our prayers.  They are simple suggestions that help me remember the major aspects of prayer.  I think of our physical hands.  The little finger represents ‘confession.’  I start by confessing my own sins, my own failures before God, and I do have them.  Confession means agreeing with God about my sins.  The ring finger comes next and stands for ‘petition.’  Petition means asking God for my own needs.  The middle finger stands for ‘intercession.’  Intercession is asking for the needs of other people.  The index finger stands for thanksgiving.  I must thank God for his blessings and provision and direction in life.   The thumb represents ‘praise.’  Just as the thumb touches all the other four fingers, so praise should permeate all the other parts of prayer.  Praise is exalting God for his character, for the magnificent person that he is.  When I confess I also praise.  When I petition I also praise him.  When I intercede on behalf of others I also praise him.  When I give thanks I also praise.  All the fingers of the hand should work together.

Here are some additional thoughts on prayer.  First, prayer is talking with God.  Literally, prayer is aligning my heart with God’s heart. And it is also speaking conversationally with a friend.  But I must never forget that when I pray I am speaking with the creator of the universe.

So who can pray to God?  It is helpful for me to remember that  meeting with anyone important in our physical world usually requires an appointment.  Or I need to know someone rich or powerful, someone who can introduce me – like the president or vice president or governor or senator.  But as Christians, we already have a unique relationship and invitation through Jesus.  As a result we are told, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)  God wants us to come to him with all of our needs.  In Philippians 4:6-7 we are told, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything,  by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Here is another helpful recommendation.  Be thoughtful, but respectful of God.  “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)   What does this mean?  Don’t rush into prayer and don’t bring a laundry list.  I would never do that if I was meeting with the governor of the state where I live.  I would never suddenly barge in and say, “Here is my list of five things I want from you.  Thanks and goodbye.” And then I would run out of the room.  That would be unspeakably rude.  On the other hand, we should not be afraid to pray.  John 16:24 says we are coming before God as representatives of King Jesus, praying ‘in Jesus’ name.’

Here are some additional thoughts on prayer.  God’s throne is built on praise.  “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.” (Psalms 22:3)  Here is another thought – asking big requests from God.  Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, liked to ask,  “Are we praying for peanuts or for continents?”  He encouraged people to ask big.

I remember a legendary story of Napoleon Bonaparte when he had captured a new region.  A poor, ragged peasant came up to his tent and asked the chief guard to let him speak with Napoleon.  Napoleon ushered the man in.  A little later, Napoleon came out and said, “I want you to make this man governor of this entire province.”  The chief guard was amazed.  Napoleon responded,  “He honored me by the magnitude of his request.”  I believe that when we ask big, we honor God by the magnitude of our requests.

I remember a poem from years ago attributed to John Newton:

          Thou art coming to a king,

          Great petitions with thee bring.

          For His grace and power are such,

          That one can never ask too much.

Here are a few thoughts on prayer from Matthew 6.  Prayer should be done privately and not to be done bragging before others.  “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6).  Also, we shouldn’t be praying with lots of repetition thinking God hears us because of our many words.  “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)

God always answers our prayers, but he may not always answer in the way we think he should.  I remember the story of the missionary Amy Carmichael and a prayer she prayed as a five-year-old child.  At the time, she hated her brown eyes and always wished they were blue.  So she prayed fervently one night that God would change her brown eyes into blue ones.  In the morning she was so disappointed and told her mother, “God did not answer my prayer.”  Her mother said, “Yes, he did. He said ‘No.’ God can answer with either yes, or no, or wait.” It turned out that many years later, as a missionary to India, Amy Carmichael needed brown eyes in order to fit in with the Indian people who also had brown eyes.

Here is something that can and will hinder our prayers and even cause our sins not to be forgiven by God: failing to forgive others.  “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15)

Sin in my own life can also hinder my prayers.  “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18)

Let’s summarize what we have learned from this brief presentation.  First, prayer is speaking conversationally with God.  We come boldly before God.  Second, don’t rush into prayer – be respectful. Third, a model for prayer is the Lord’s Prayer.  Treat him as holy.  Pray for God’s will to be done.  Pray his promises from the scriptures.  Ask big.  Pray for continents, not just peanuts.  Fourth, the Prayer Hand illustration is helpful (confessing my sins, petition for my needs, intercession for the needs of others, thanking God for his previous blessings, and praising him for who he is).  Fifth, God always answers our prayers either with a “Yes” or “No” or “Wait.”  Sixth, sin in my life as well as failing to forgive others, and boastful pride can all hinder my prayers.

Well, we will see you next time for another session of Lessons in Discipleship when our topic will be Fellowship and the Church.  That wraps up today’s session.  Thanks for being a part.  Until next time, keep following Jesus.  He’s worth it.

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