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Lord, Teach Us To Pray - Part 1

Tom Pennington Matthew 6:5-15


Well, as I mentioned to you a couple of weeks ago, we are going to take a few weeks' break from our study of the Epistle of James. I'm looking forward to getting back to it in February, but what I want us to do over the next few Sunday mornings is, I want us to look together at the issue of prayer.

In a Bible teaching church like ours, there is always an emphasis, as there should be, on the teaching of the Word of God. But I'm afraid that we can easily depend on that to the exclusion of the spiritual discipline and responsibility of prayer. If I have a New Year's resolution for myself, as I do, and for our church, it's that we would grow this year in being more of a praying church.

So, I think it's appropriate as we begin that we take a look at this issue of prayer. As I thought about prayer, I was reminded that just outside of Socorro, NM, there is a place that pilots refer to as the mushroom patch. It's maintained by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Its official name is the Very Large Array. It's been popularized in several science fiction movies through the years. Perhaps you've read about it or heard of it. I came across a brief description in a book I was reading, and it interested me, so I did a little research on it. The Very Large Array, or the VLA, as it's sometimes called, is a complex of 27 huge satellite dishes. Each of those dishes measures 82 feet across. And those 27 dishes are mounted and moved on 38 miles of railroad tracks. Together, the 27 dishes can be positioned in such a way that they mimic a telescope the size of the city of Washington, DC.

The VLA converts radio signals that it receives from space into optical images that astronomers from all over the world can analyze to look at the far reaches of space. The VLA, by definition, has to be extremely sensitive because the radio waves that it receives often come from millions of miles away and are very faint signals. In fact, the public television special on the Very Large Array said that all of the energy that it has collected over the years since it was constructed amounts to approximately the amount of energy created by the falling of a single snowflake.

This impressive technology is essentially the world's largest listening device. But in reality, the Scripture tells us that the largest ear in the world is not the Very Large Array. It is instead, the ear of Almighty God, directed at the earth to hear those who cry out to Him. It really amazes me how often Scripture speaks in these terms. Listen to just a few references. Second Samuel 22:7, "He heard my voice, and my cry for help came into His ears." Psalm 18:06, "In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried to my God for help; He heard my voice … And my cry for help before Him came into His ears." Psalm 34:6, "This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him…." Psalm 34:15: "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, And his ears are open to their cry." " The righteous cry and the LORD hears…."

You know, in spite of those amazing promises and examples of God responding to the cries of His people, most Christians, and this is just the reality, most Christians don't pray, or they don't pray very much. In fact, there is no topic that I as a preacher could come to this morning that would be more convicting to everyone here than the issue of prayer. If you want to humble the most mature Christian, just bring up the issue of his prayer life.

Donald Whitney records that more than 15 years ago 17,000 members of a major denomination attended a conference on spiritual awakening. Seventeen thousand Christians, interested in the issue of spiritual awakening, not your average ordinary pew-sitting Christians, but those who have some interest in spiritual things. They were asked while they were there, they were surveyed, and asked a number of questions about their personal spiritual habits, and one of the questions dealt with the issue of prayer. When they asked this group of 17,000 Christians, gathered to discuss their own spiritual health and growth how much they prayed in a given day, on average they prayed less than 5 minutes a day. At the same conference there were more than 2000 pastors and their wives, and they asked them the same questions, and on this question of prayer, on average the pastors and their wives prayed less than 7 minutes a day, 2 minutes better than their congregation.

Sadly, I don't think those numbers have changed much. In fact, given the climate of today's Christian culture, they may have even worsened. As we think about those numbers, we also have to say that they're also fairly well represented here this morning in our lives. I think it's important, as we start our study on prayer that we start by being honest with ourselves. It's obvious that as the people of God we don't pray like we should. But the question is, why?

There are a number of reasons we tend to offer for our paltry patterns of prayer. Let me just give you a couple that I have heard, and that, frankly, I've generated in my own mind. The number 1 answer to the question of why don't we pray more is: time. You know, I'd like to pray more, but I'm just too busy. I don't know where I'd fit it in. I just don't have time. And on the surface, that seems like a reasonable response. But when you stop and ask yourself this question, it sort of is obliterated. Ask yourself is what you have to do each day is more important than what the eternal Son of God had to do in His 3 1/2-year ministry. And yet, somehow, He found time faithfully and regularly to pray. When I ask myself that question, I'm rebuked. It's really not a reason.

The second reason that I often hear in counseling when I'm talking with people about spiritual disciplines like Bible study and prayer in their lives, when I come to that issue, I often hear a response something like this. "Well, you know, I just don't feel like praying." Many Christians live their lives by their feelings. Listen, if you wait to feel like praying, you will only pray in times of personal crisis. It will only be the crises in your life that are marked by prayer.

For many Christians, a third reason they don't pray, or they don't pray very long, is because they have trouble staying focused. You know, "I've tried to pray, but my mind wanders." In a world of fast food and ten second sound bites and fifteen second commercials, it's hard to focus your mind for more than a minute or two. Listen, prayer is hard work. There's no question. This is an issue.

A fourth reason that we often offer for our lack of prayer, some beg off of prayer because they just don't sense any results to previous prayer. I've tried prayer, and it just doesn't work. For them, past results don't warrant the effort. Now, this is a greater problem than we're willing to admit. Answer for a moment, this question. "If you knew, if I could promise you, that within five minutes of praying you would experience visible, verifiable results of every prayer that you prayed, how would that change your prayer life? If I promised you that five minutes after you prayed there would always be a visible verifiable response from God, you would become the world's greatest prayer warrior, and so would I. So, what it really comes down to is that we doubt that anything will happen if we pray.

Now, those are all legitimate issues. They are hurdles, if you will, that have to be overcome. But in reality, none of those is a reason not to pray. They are, rather, excuses; feeble attempts to justify ourselves for our lack of conformity to the will and purposes of God. So, if those are merely excuses, what are the real reasons for our flabby prayer lives?

Well, there are a number. Let me just give you three. First of all, I don't think we grasp the importance of prayer. We just don't understand how important it is. In this day and age, there is very little emphasis on prayer. When was the last time you heard a sermon about prayer? Oh, there are some who pray and teach to prayer, but usually it's fully self-absorbed, about what I can get from God. Prayer isn't popular in our day. Setting aside time from our busy schedule to spend quietly alone with God is contrary to the spirit of the age. So, we don't understand and appreciate its importance. But from creation, and throughout the Old Testament, we have an unbroken testament of man talking to God. Before the fall Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden, walked and talked with the second Person of the Trinity. The hearts, in the Old Testament, of all those who knew God beat with a passion for speaking to God. When you come to the New Testament, of course, prayer continues to be absolutely foundational to man's relationship to God. A devotion to prayer was the constant preoccupation of the early church. In Acts 2:42, we read that "they were continually devoting themselves to the apostle's teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread"— [a reference to the Lord's table] "and to prayer". Those were their priorities.

And of course, when you leave the time of the apostles and you come into church history, over and over again you find church history punctuated by men of prayer and men who understood the importance of prayer. Augustine wrote:

"prayer is the protection of holy souls, an insupportable torment to the devil, a most acceptable homage to God, the best and most perfect praise, the greatest honor and glory, the preserver of spiritual health. It is the column of all virtues, a ladder to God, the foundation of faith."

Martin Luther writes "as it is the business of tailors to make clothes, and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray." Thomas Watson, the English Puritan writes "prayer is the soul's breathing." He says basically prayer is to the soul what breathing is to the body. Nothing is more foundational to the Christian faith than the place and priority of prayer. And sometimes I think we just don't fully appreciate that.

But there's a second reason I think we don't pray. Not only is it a failure to appreciate its importance, but it's a lack of diligence. A lack of diligence. Paul told Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness. The word "discipline" is the Greek word from which we get the word for "gym, or gymnasium". He's saying, exercise yourself. As athletes exercise their bodies, exercise your soul after godliness. Discipline yourself. Sometimes the reason we don't pray like we should is: we just don't plan to pray. We don't discipline ourselves to do it.

There is something else I think we lack diligence in that contributes to our prayer lives, and that's really a lack of diligence in the study of, the meditation on, God's Word and God's person. Throughout the Psalms, and even throughout the Scriptures, you find constantly a connection between meditating on God and on His Word, and that issuing forth in prayer to God. I experience this personally. When I find myself contemplating and meditating on the Word of God, whether it's in my study, or as I like to do, listening to the Psalms on my little headset as I walk, I find my heart, as I think about the Psalms, bursting forth in prayer to God. You see this in the Psalms. For example, Psalm 19. We won't turn there, but in Psalm 19, of course, is that wonderful meditation on the Word of God. "The law of the LORD is perfect…." and on it goes. And as he meditates on the Word of God, immediately, he turns toward prayer. He cries out to God in prayer. So, sometimes our lack of diligence isn't just in prayer, it's in the lack of meditation on the Word of God, and on God Himself.

But I think the main reason for our lack of prayer, or our prayerlessness, is very straightforward. It is a simple lack of obedience. We don't have to understand how prayer and sovereignty intersect, although we can understand that, and in the coming weeks we'll talk about that. We don't have to understand how our prayers will affect the eternal plan of God. We don't have to understand all of the intricacies of prayer. We are just commanded to do it. Mathew 7:7, Jesus says, "Ask" (command) ask, and it … [shall] be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it … [shall] be opened [to you]." Philippians 4:6, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Colossians 4:2, "Devote yourselves to prayer," First Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." First Timothy 2:8, "I want the men in every place to pray…." On and on it goes. It's a simple command. And to fail to do it is to disobey our God.

But the immediate question that comes up, and the crucial question that we want to answer in the coming weeks, is how? How should we pray? We're going to spend the next number of weeks examining that very issue, and of course, nowhere do we learn more about how to pray than what is traditionally called The Lord's Prayer. In reality of course, we should call it the Disciples' Prayer, because it was given as a pattern to us. John 17 is more properly called The Lord's Prayer. The Disciples' Prayer is recorded in two of the gospels. It's recorded in The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, and in Luke, in Luke 11. But these are not strictly speaking, this is very important for you to understand, these are not strictly speaking parallel passages.

Jesus preached the sermon in Matthew 6 several months before what occurs in Luke 11. So, this prayer was something that Jesus repeated on at least 2 occasions during His earthly ministry, and in all likelihood on other occasions as well. This became the pattern for the Disciples' Prayer.

Next week, Lord willing, we will begin to examine Matthew's version, which is the longer and the more complete of the two versions. But in the few minutes that we have remaining together this morning, I'd like for us to turn to Luke 11. Because, in Luke 11, the introduction to the Disciples' Prayer is extremely insightful into this whole issue. I want us to look in the remaining minutes at one verse. The introduction to the prayer in Luke 11:1, you follow along as I read it. "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." This one verse contains four compelling implications for our study of prayer, and for our study of The Lord's Prayer, of the Disciples' Prayer. And it's a fitting introduction for us to look at.

The first implication that we see in this text is that prayer was a crucial part of our Lord's earthly life. Prayer was a crucial part of our Lord's earthly life. Notice how the verse begins. "It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place…." Now the word that Luke uses for praying here is part of the family of words that the New Testament uses most frequently for prayer. Over 120 times this family of words is used to describe this activity. In secular Greek, the word simply means to speak to a deity. It's often used of man's approach to the God of heaven, or to the gods of the pantheon of the Greeks and the Romans. And here, our Lord, as man, speaks to God in the same way that all godly men have done and continue to do. Nowhere do we see firsthand the importance of prayer more than we do in the life of Christ. His life was a life of prayer. Now, maybe you have been tempted, as I have been in the past, to think that the reason Jesus spent so much time in prayer is because as the divine Son, He missed the communion that He and the Father had enjoyed prior to His incarnation. But that is not the reason Jesus prayed.

Think about it with me for a moment. Jesus' Divine Nature, as we have learned in the past when we went through Philippians, Jesus' Divine Nature did not change when He took on humanity. Though His human nature was bound to a body and could only be in one place, His Divine Nature continued to fill the universe. He continued throughout His earthly life to enjoy that communion that He had enjoyed with the Father through all eternity, uninterrupted except for those 6 hours, that dark Friday of the crucifixion. So, Jesus prayer life was not a reflection of His divine nature, but of His human nature. As you know, Luke wrote his gospel to present Jesus as the perfect man, and so it shouldn't surprise us that Luke stresses this aspect of Jesus' life, which would be appropriate for the perfect man, a life of prayerful communion with His Father.

Luke stresses Jesus' praying. Nine times Luke tells us about Jesus praying. Seven of those are only recorded in Luke. I just want to trace them with you for a moment, because they are really quite thought-provoking. Turn with me back to Luke 3. Let's look at what Luke records about the prayer life of our Lord. In Luke 3:21, Jesus begins His earthly ministry, of course, with His baptism. Luke writes,

"Now … when all the people were baptized, [that] Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven [saying], "Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased."

Understand here that Jesus begins His earthly ministry in prayer. He begins His time of ministry to His disciples with prayer. But this wasn't merely the beginning of His life, this was the habit of His life. Turn over to 5:16. You'll notice in verse 15 of chapter 5,

… the news about Him was spreading even farther…large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.

In the Greek text, the words that are translated "slip away" and "pray", the tense of those words implies that this was a consistent pattern. This was what Jesus did. This was characteristic of His life; to slip away and to pray; to withdraw and pray.

Turn to 6:12, you find that at a strategic time of decision, Jesus resorted to prayer. Again, remember this is Jesus' human nature manifesting itself. At a strategic point in His ministry verse 12 says,

"It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. [Why?] And when day came, He called His disciples [His group] to Him" And out of those disciples He chose 12 whom He named as apostles.

At a strategic point of decision, He bathed that decision in prayer before God, praying all night. In 9:18 we find that it was while He was praying that He was transfigured. We're here introduced to the episode that the other gospels record as the transfiguration, and it begins–notice 9:18, "[that] it happened … while He was praying alone, [and this is an interesting phrase] the disciples were with Him…." He was absolutely focused, undistracted by His circumstances. And that's when the conversation that eventually ensues in His transfiguration begins. Jesus prayed, we learned, for Peter. In Luke 22, Luke 22:31;

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."

Jesus prayed for individuals. He prays here for Peter. He also prayed for Himself. In the same chapter, in the garden of Gethsemane, down in verse 41,

… "He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying "Father, if Thou are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done.""

He prayed for His enemies as well, over in 23:34: "But Jesus was saying, "Father forgive them [of course as He's being crucified] for they know not what they are doing." In fact, Jesus died praying. Just as He began His earthly ministry with prayer, He dies praying, 23:46, "And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said "Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT." [And] having said this, He breathed His last." Jesus ministry, His life, was a life lived in prayer before God. His last utterance of His earthly life was a prayer to His Father. Jesus' life was absolutely immersed in the spiritual practice of prayer.

There's another interesting thing that came up as I studied Jesus' prayer life. While posture in prayer, that is the position your body is in while you pray isn't the most important thing, the New Testament records that Jesus prayed in 3 positions. He prayed standing, we see this in Matthew 14 and John 11 and John 17. He prayed kneeling in Luke 22. And Matthew 26 records that He prayed by falling on His face before God. There's really no mention of His ever praying seated, although it's possible that was true during the Lord's Supper, during the Passover they celebrated together. J. Oswald Sanders writes of these postures of Jesus in prayer, "If the Son of God got down upon His knees, yes upon His face, before God, what attitude should we ordinary mortals assume as we go into His presence. Posture is not everything, but it is something."

Jesus prayed, we are told by Mark 1:35 in the morning. Mark 1:35 says He rose up in the early morning while it was still dark and prayed. He prayed in the evening after the day's work was done, Mark 6:46. He prayed both before and after great accomplishments like some of the great miracles that He wrought. The only part of prayer that Jesus never modeled was confession, because He never needed to. But His life was an absolute paragon of prayer. He also taught His disciples, His followers, about prayer. He does that here in Luke 11 in The Lord's Prayer. He does it starting in verse 5 of the same chapter, the parable of the reluctant neighbor. In chapter 18 Luke records the parable of the unjust judge as well as the prayers of both the Pharisee and the tax collector. He told His disciples to pray. For example, here in Luke 6:28, He says "pray for those who mistreat you". And on a number of other occasions, He gave them similar commands.

Did the disciples ever get it? You know, the disciples, like we are, were often fairly dense. But they did eventually get that this was to be a priority in their lives. Turn over to Acts 6. You'll remember that when there was a problem in the church in Jerusalem, and the widows weren't being cared for as they should, the apostles decided to appoint seven men in charge of them in verse 3. In verse 4, here is why, so we can devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. This is to be the priority of all believers, and especially of those who are in ministry. If it was so important for Christ, God's Son, to pray while He was here on the most important mission the world has ever known, and with a ministry that was only 3 1/2 years in duration, how much more important is it for us to pray? We claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, to be His disciples. Do our lives look remotely like His in this area? If we are honest with ourselves, most of us have to say, they don't. Why is that? Well, I think we can see why, in the second implication we can draw from Luke 11:1.

Not only was prayer a crucial part of our Lord's life, but secondly, prayer takes deliberate time. Prayer takes deliberate time. Notice the little phrase, "after He had finished." One clear implication of this verse is that the disciples, and particularly this disciple who poses the question has to wait until Jesus is done praying. It took time for Him to pray. Other passages state overtly that our Lord spent considerable time in prayer. As we already saw, it was His practice to withdraw to a lonely place to pray. It was pointless to take the time to withdraw if you were only going to be there a very few moments. On at least one occasion He prayed all night.

But I think we get more insight even, into the prayer life of Jesus, by looking at the one day in His life that is most recorded in the gospels. The 24-hour period from the Passover celebration through His death gets the most print of any event in His life. In fact, more than a third of the gospels is devoted to that 24-hour period. And if you look at that snapshot of Jesus during that 24 hours, you get even a little more insight into the time He devoted to prayer. Of course, you know that Jesus and His disciples had assembled in the upper room to celebrate the Passover. In Luke 22.32, Jesus tells Peter that He has prayed for him that his faith not fail. In all three of the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus then prays giving thanks for the bread and the cup as part of the Passover meal.

John records His High Priestly prayer, verses 1-26, the most lengthy prayer that we have recorded of our Lord's. That happened that evening as well. Again, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Three times He left Peter, James, and John and prayed for long enough that when He returned, all three of them had fallen asleep. All of that praying occurred in the process of one evening in our Lord's life. And it gives us a real glimpse into the fact that He devoted deliberate time to prayer.

You know, we read a verse like 1 Thessalonians 5:17 "pray without ceasing" and we conclude that that means that we can just sort of constantly pray on the run. Well, I pray, I mean you know, I pray when I'm waiting at a stoplight, I pray while I'm commuting, I pray, you know the story. We salve our consciences in that way. And it's true we're all to live our lives in a spirit of prayer. Our hearts should rise to God when they're free to do so like a balloon rises when it's not held down. But the same Paul who wrote, "pray without ceasing" also wrote Colossians 4:2, "Devote yourselves to prayer." It's not something that happens waiting at a traffic light. Devote yourselves to prayer. First Thessalonians 3:10, "… night and day [we] keep praying most earnestly…." Second Timothy1:3, "I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day."

When you look at the lives of the great saints, you invariably see a pattern of time, deliberate time set aside for prayer. David in Psalm 55:17 says morning and at noon and at evening will I pray will you hear my voice. Daniel, three times a day, we're told, it was his custom, to pray. It was his practice. It was known. This is what he did. It was a part of his schedule, a part of his life. The same thing is true of the apostles when you get to the book of Acts. If we were to take time to trace through there, you would see that they are often devoting the time of sacrifice, the ninth hour, to prayer, going to the temple to pray. Peter, in Acts 10 devotes the sixth hour before meal is served to prayer. Do you set aside deliberate times in your daily routine to pray?

Let me challenge you with a pattern of daily prayer that I read in the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin urges his readers to consider committing themselves to start by setting aside time each day to pray on several different occasions. He says, first of all, consider praying when you first wake up Let the first act of your day, if you're like me, maybe that's not in bed, you might fall back asleep. But the first real act of your day is given to prayer to your God.

Secondly, he said, pray before you begin that day's tasks. Take deliberate time set aside before you begin that day's responsibilities.

Thirdly, pray at mealtimes. Don't make it a toss-away prayer. Make it meaningful. Don't make it "vain repetition". We're going to get to that next week. Many of our prayers at mealtime particularly tend to be vain repetition.

Fourthly, he said pray as the last thing you do before you go to sleep. Set aside time before you go to bed to commit that day and the next to the Lord. I'm not talking about spending about four hours. I'm talking about deliberately setting aside time to pray to God.

The third implication that comes out of Luke 11:1 is that prayer does not come naturally. Prayer does not come naturally. One of His disciples, when He finished praying, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray. Remember that most of the disciples grew up in Jewish homes where they had heard prayers and prayed their entire lives. And by the time this incident in Luke 11 occurs, they had been with Christ day and night for somewhere between a year and a year and a half. They had watched Jesus. They had undoubtedly heard Him pray many times.

In addition, He had taught them how to pray in just this same way, just several months before in the Sermon on the Mount. But this disciple still realizes that he hasn't mastered the skill of praying, and neither have his fellow disciples. Understand something. Praying obviously does not come naturally. You don't pick it up by osmosis. This makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, you and I were born with absolutely no skills. Of course, we were born with the evil skills of lying and things like that. We never had to be taught to do that. But any worthwhile skill, we've had to learn. And the same thing is true in the spiritual realm. Skills worth having have to be learned. They are not natural. And certainly, spiritual skills, spiritual disciplines are not natural.

In fact, a fourth implication takes it one step further. Not only does prayer not come naturally, but fourthly, prayer is a skill you can learn. Prayer is a skill you can learn. Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples. The Greek word teach is the common Greek verb for oral instructions. They're saying, Lord, just teach us how. Explain it to us. Obviously, the disciples understood the basic methods and ideas of prayer. They'd read the Old Testament and the prayers contained there. They had heard Jesus. And yet, they knew in their hearts that their prayers needed help. And they weren't the only ones to acknowledge their inadequacy in this area. Notice this disciple says, "as John the Baptist taught his disciples." Now we don't have any record of John the Baptist's prayers, or of this instruction on prayer, but clearly, he did instruct his disciples. It was well known, and the disciples of Jesus bring it up to Him.

I don't know about for you, but this is very comforting for me. If you have to acknowledge this morning that your prayers need help, you aren't the only one. Get in line. Get in line behind the disciples of John the Baptist. Get in line behind the apostles of Jesus Christ. Let's all get in line and admit that we need help in this area. And it also means that it's a skill that can be orally taught and can be learned. Without question the best one to teach us to pray is Jesus Himself. Notice how He begins to respond in verse 2. "And He said to them, 'When you pray, say:'" By the grace and wisdom of God, God has provided us with an inspired account of exactly what our Lord taught His disciples about how to pray. It's as if the Lord Himself said, "Congregation at Countryside, let Me teach you how to pray." And He's put it here on the pages of Scripture for us to learn, to grow, to benefit from.

Over the next few weeks it will be our privilege to examine it together, and when we're done, none of us will have any valid reasons for failing to grow in the spiritual skill and discipline of prayer. So, what should you do with our discussion this morning? What changes should you make? Let me encourage you on several fronts.

Number 1: Commit yourselves this week to setting aside time each day to pray. Perhaps you follow the pattern I mentioned earlier. Determine that you will pray when you first get up in the morning. That you will set aside time to pray before you begin that day's activities, that day's work. That you will pray at mealtimes, and that they won't be vain repetition prayers, but they'll be legitimate prayers to God. Determine that you will devote yourself to prayer before you go to bed in the evening. That you will set aside time to acknowledge your dependence on God, and to seek His grace and His help. Don't wait to feel like it. Make yourself. It's simply a question of obedience. You say, well what do I pray about?

That brings me to the second thing I encourage you to do. Pray specifically in this way. Let's all pray this basic prayer. "Lord, as we go through the disciples' prayer, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples, and just as you taught your disciples. Teach us how to pray."

And finally, let me urge you to make a New Year's resolution that you will commit yourself to growing this year in the spiritual discipline and skill of prayer, as I have committed to the Lord. Let's commit that as a church. In the end, as we'll discover, prayer isn't for God. He knows what we think before we think it. Prayer is for us. We are the ones who benefit from the spiritual skill and virtue of prayer. Lord, teach us to pray.

Let's pray together.

Father, we come before you humbled this morning, acknowledging our sinfulness. It really is unthinkable, Father, that we have the privilege, the joy, the opportunity to come into your very presence, and yet we take advantage of it so little. Lord, forgive us for our carelessness, forgive us for our lack of obedience, for our lack of diligence. Forgive us for our feeble excuses. Lord, forgive us for being so proud and so independent that we think we can run our lives on our own, without your help.

Lord, make us individuals and a church characterized by prayer. Father, I pray that over the next few weeks you would teach us how to pray. Help us to see Your heart. Help us to see the pattern that our Lord laid out. Help us to grasp it in all of its depth. Lord, we've recited those words. We've memorized them as children. And yet, Lord, we've never really plumbed the depths of them. I pray that together you would help us to do that in a way that would be instructive and meaningful and life changing. Lord, don't let this just be another study that we have together, but change us as a result of it. We cry out with this disciple, Lord, teach us to pray.

We pray it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and for His glory. Amen.