Hemphill exhorts seminarians to kingdom-focused prayer

Communications Staff — October 15, 2003

God-honoring prayer is not about merely informing the Lord of our need but is about enjoying God and committing to the expansion of His kingdom, Ken Hemphill said Oct. 2 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Preaching from Matthew 6, Hemphill, who served as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for nearly a decade, told students and faculty that the Lord’s Prayer models kingdom-focused prayer. Hemphill is National Strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) for the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Somehow we’ve come to the notion that prayer is about informing God or even convincing God to be on our side,” Hemphill said. “Listen, God is so on your side that while you were yet ungodly, He sent His Son to die for you. … Prayer is primarily an issue of enjoying God and [discovering] His priority for your life.”

From its opening phrase, “Our Father who art in heaven,” the model prayer teaches believers to shift their focus from self to God and His church, he said.

“‘Our’ is the nature of the community focus itself. I began to notice that we tend to pray ‘me’ and ‘mine’ prayers, whereas Jesus prayed ‘our’ and ‘Thine’ prayers. Prayer’s not so much about me. It’s about Him and it’s about us,” Hemphill said.

Subsequent phrases specifically teach us how to focus on God’s priorities, he said. “Hallowed be Thy name,” for instance, represents a commitment to honor God’s name with all of our actions.

The Lord desires for His people to live by “[His] Word in such a way that your behavior and your character become a showcase for the authority of God,” he said. “I want people to be able to see what God could do in the lives of a yielded people.”

In fact, hallowing God’s name before the world is the focus of the EKG emphasis in Southern Baptist life, Hemphill said.

“We’re asking the question, ‘What remains in terms of Southern Baptists and evangelicals evangelizing the world?’ … The first issue is our holiness, that God proves Himself holy among us in their sight, that there’s an obvious salty character about our lifestyle, that there is a flavor of our life, that people see us and in us they see the Father’s image so clearly reflected that they know we’ve been with Him and that we are His,” he said.

“Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for God to show believers His daily activity and allow them to participate in it, Hemphill said.

Christians often don’t know what God is doing around them because they don’t ask, he said. “His activity isn’t just here on campus. It’s not just in chapel. It won’t be just in your church on Sunday morning. God is at work all the time everywhere around us, and the problem is we’ve never asked Him to let us see.”

Hemphill told chapel attendees that one encounter in the hallway at Southwestern Seminary provided him with an unexpected opportunity to join God’s kingdom activity.

On his way to preach in chapel one morning, Hemphill struck up a conversation with a student only to learn that the student’s wife had experienced a serious health crisis. Hemphill was able to pray for the student and offer financial help to his family.

“You know what I’ve began to realize?” he asked. “A lot of your kingdom moments are going to be in the side ditch. They’re not going to be things you’ve planned. … What we’re praying is, ‘God, give me kingdom vision. Help me to see the world as You see the world. Help me to see needs as You see needs.”

“Thy will be done” then is an expression of willingness to participate in God’s work when He reveals it, Hemphill said.

“You cannot pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ without praying, ‘Thy will be done.’ It’s a façade. It’s a lie if you’re saying, ‘I hope somebody else does the kingdom, just not me, Lord.”

In conclusion, Hemphill said that the benediction of the Lord’s Prayer defines man’s purpose for living.

“You know why you’re here? Here is it: to advance His kingdom through His power for His glory. That’s it. Bottom line, why did God create you? Why did He redeem you? So that you could advance His kingdom through His power for His glory.”

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