The last five Psalms begin with a note of praise. Give me five ‘P’ words that should shape our prayers. #1 Praise – we can argue this from the Lord’s Prayer. It begins with God’s greatness and holiness; also, the last five psalms all begin with praise. We could argue this is a good way to begin our prayers. We can focus on God’s attributes – His grace or mercy, goodness or love. #2 Pardon, or penitence – daily we are to ask for God’s forgiveness. This is a staple we find in the Lord’s Prayer. We are sinners, saved sinners, but still sinners. John Newton said, “I thank God I am not what I once was. But I am not what I desire to be.” In this life, we never will. We will always have a holy discontent with respect to our spiritual state. We can always grow in holiness. #3 Protection – The Lord’s Prayers asks, lead us not into temptation, protect us from the Evil One. We are asking God to protect us by His gracious providence. #4 Provision – even if Adam never sinned we are dependent on God. The Lord’s Prayer petitions God, Give us this day our daily bread. #5 People – we pray corporately for others. The Lord’s Prayer is not an individual prayer, “Our Father”, but a corporate prayer. We are to be intercessory pray-ers. We are to pray for other believers and for unsaved people: Thy kingdom come.
Our prayers should be evangelistic. We pray for unsaved relatives, co-workers. Before sharing the Gospel, we pray that God would help them hear what we have to say. How can we pray for the unsaved? Here are some suggestions. They need new hearts, so we can pray that God would circumcise their hearts. We can pray that God would break the dominion of sin, that God would open their blind eyes. We can pray that God will give them repentance and faith. We can pray that they will see their sin and seek God’s grace. We can also pray for ourselves, that we will have opportunity to talk with them evangelistically. Pray that we might be light and salt, that others will see our good works, praise Jesus and even ask for the hope within us.
Psalm 139: 1-18 Four Doctrines to Shape Our Prayer Life
Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones said a lot about prayer. I quoted him last Sunday, “What a man is on his knees, that he is and nothing more.” He called prayer the noblest of activities and believed the best posture for prayer was on our knees because it cultivates in our minds and hearts a submissive spirit. He had four great doctrines which he believed should shape our prayer life. First, the doctrine of God. Second, the doctrine of the Trinity. Third, the atonement. Fourth, adoption.
Let’s look at the first one, the doctrine of God. Think of some places in the Bible we might go to meditate on the doctrine of God, so we don’t fall into the trap of shrinking God. I think it was Dr. Packer who suggested we are God-shrinkers. What are some places that help us remember how great our God is?
We should remember how great our God is when we go to prayer, remember that there is nothing He cannot do. No one can stay His hand, there is no obstacle he cannot overcome. Let’s remember who God is when we come to prayer.
Acts 14: 19-22
We can deduce from our Bibles that the Christian life is not going to be an easy one. Jesus made this very plain. What is the figure that He used to underscore the pain and suffering of the child of God? Six times He uses the cross: pick up a cross. He wanted us to know that the cross is part of true discipleship. The apostles understood what our Lord was teaching; when they write their epistles they also pick up several graphic images to show that it isn’t going to be easy. What pictures do the apostles give us? The picture of a pilgrim, an athlete, a soldier. Paul uses at least three athlete images – the runner, the wrestler and the boxer. The dominant figure he uses is probably the soldier to describe suffering or perseverance in the Christian life.
So, Paul wants us to know that the Christian life is not going to be easy. Here in Acts 14 we see that Paul knew this on an experiential level. What I find interesting from this passage is that Paul is stoned, beaten so badly he is left for dead. What does he do the next day? Take some R&R? Go on a month’s sabbatical? No, he’s back preaching. He probably has bandages, bruises and scars but he’s preaching. In verse 20, Paul wants to encourage the disciples and strengthen them, preparing them for future persecution. He tells them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” He has suffered, and he wants to prepare them for suffering. Remember what he says in Timothy 3:12, “The godly shall suffer persecution.”
Samuel Rutherford gives a small commentary on Acts 14:20. He says, “Christian, do not be afraid of suffering for Christ.” We need suffering; it comes hand in hand with our identification with Christ. He says, “You cannot be above your Master, who received many strokes.” He goes on to explain why we all must suffer; why it is part and parcel with Christian life and experience. “Faith grows more with the sharp winter storm in its face. Grace withers without adversity. You can’t sneak quietly into heaven without a cross. Crosses form us into His image. They cut away the pieces of our corruption.” Then he makes this his prayer, “Lord, carve, wound, cut. Do anything to perfect Your image. Do anything to fit me for glory.” This is something we should pray – that God would use our trials to fit us for heaven and bring us into greater conformity to Christ. Rutherford ends on a positive note, saying, “Be assured God will take care of you. Lay all your loads by faith on Christ. Let Him bear all. He can, He does, He will bear you. The softest pillow will be given to your head when you must place your feet on thorns.” We can always be thankful no matter what the trial, that God is using it to mold us into the image of His Son.
This passage comes after Jesus’ triumphal entry. He had left Jerusalem and was returning to the city. The imagery here is clear. Using the fig tree, Jesus is teaching us that wherever there is true life, there is fruit. And wherever there is the appearance of life, but no real fruit that is hypocrisy, which God judges. This is the moral of the real life picture Jesus gives us by His actions. Christ regularly preached against hypocrisy: the tree had leaves – appeared real, but had no fruit. Fruit is the evidence of true life.
The second part tells us that the disciples were amazed. Jesus cursed the tree and it withered immediately. Here Christ, instructing His disciples, reveals to us more about prayer in this almost afterthought to the cursing of the tree. This phrase is repeated twice, “If you have faith and do not doubt” (v21 & 22). It is the conditional requirement, the prerequisite, for our prayers to be effective. We must have faith. So, we ought to do all we can when we gather to pray to remember how important faith is and to encourage one another’s faith before we pray.
Three ways our thoughts about God can strengthen our faith: 1) Who God is, 2) what He says to us, and 3) His relationship to us and ours with Him. First, who God is referring to His character. We can look at Titus 1:2, for example. “The God who cannot lie.” Then, second, what He says. Matthew 7: 7 and 8, He commands us to pray. Third, our relationship. God describes our relationship to Him in prayer as children making a request of their parents. Luke 11:11-13. We must believe these three things, which will strengthen our faith.
This is what faith is about. Do I believe God is who He says He is (His character), do I believe His words (what He has said to us), and do I believe in the relationship of adoption (a Father toward His children)? As we meditate on the Lord, on His commandments regarding prayer and our relationship with Him these can strengthen our faith. They are the foundation upon which we pray. Faith is the rocket fuel or engine of prayer. Prayers go nowhere if faith is not energizing them. May this meditation strengthen our faith.
Romans 8: 26
If I were to ask what is the most crucial doctrine when it comes to prayer, what would you say? The doctrine of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It should shape our Christian lives more than anything else. The doctrine of the Trinity is probably the most important doctrine in the Bible.
When we think of prayer, we should think of the Triune God. Each member of the Godhead plays an active part in our prayers. How do we know this from our Bibles? Starting with God the Father, we can think back to what we heard last Sunday night: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” How do we know that the Father cares for us? We can go to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) where Jesus tells us, the Father knows and answers our prayer. As fathers, we know that the most heart-rending things in life have to do with our children. We have the tenderest concern for our children just as our Heavenly Father pities His children. God, our Father, cares for us perfectly.
How do we know God the Son cares? Hebrews 4:14-16 speaks of Christ as the Great High Priest. He is sympathetic. He cares. He understands our weaknesses and the temptations we face. He knows our infirmities, was tempted in all points as we are.
We can also argue that the Holy Spirit cares, using our text: Romans 8. He groans and sighs on our behalf. Doesn’t that express His care for us? There is something mysterious, what exactly happens, when we pray with the Holy Spirit engaged. Verse 26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” He groans, he sighs, he deeply cares. He comes alongside struggling saints to help us pray. He knows our weaknesses, our discouragements. He knows that sometimes we don’t know what to pray.
The greatest incentive, the greatest encouragement, when we come to pray should be God Himself. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit care for us.