SBTS chapel live blog: ‘And when you pray: or, why Jesus doesn’t think much of standard fare Christian prayer’

Communications Staff — February 10, 2009

Chapel message

Preacher: R. Albert Mohler Jr, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Text: Matthew 6:5-8 (The Lord’s Prayer)

Mohler said it is easy to fall into the slipstream of Evangelicalism and offer ‘prayers’ that are robotic and not really prayers at all.

Prayer is never an isolated event. A person’s theology is revealed in his prayers. All of a person’s theological convictions, doctrines and spiritual instincts come out in his prayers.

Prayer is a part of every major world religion. With Islam, there is a call to pray five times a day. In Judaism, you have a formal approach to prayer. With Buddhism, the goal is mindlessness, emptying the mind, and its model of prayer fits with this form of meditation.

Catholicism has its own form, with formal prayers such as ‘Hail, Mary’ and ‘Our Father.’ With Protestantism, particularly the Reformation brought a high commitment to offering prayers that are informed by Scripture.

The prayers of Evangelicalism

Modern-day evangelicalism has brought a simplified form of prayer, with its own vocabulary and commonly-repeated phrases:

‘Lord we pray that you would lead, guide and direct…’

‘Lord we just want to come to you in prayer, and just lift up our worship, and just pray for our pastor…’

The Lord’s Prayer

Jesus begins in Matthew 6:1 by telling the disciples to not pray like those who offer up loud and ostentatious public prayers, thus drawing attention to themselves. Such men already have their reward, Jesus says. Instead, followers of Christ should pray humbly and in secret.

Time and again, Jesus absents Himself from the scene to pray in private. Jesus tells His disciples that there is power in prayer, telling them that certain evil spirits may be driven out only by prayer.

Prayer is not only a matter of responsibility and following Christ’s example, but is the sum and substance of our intimacy and relationship with our heavenly Father. What we have in the New Testament is a not a mechanical handbook of prayer, but a model of prayer that is pleasing to God.

False purposes for prayer

What are we trying to do in prayer? Are we trying to inform Him in prayer of what He does not know? Some of our prayers sound like we are trying to manipulate God into doing what we want Him to do.

First needed theological assumption: there is one true and living God who has made us in His image and given us the capacity to pray. We alone are able to talk with the Creator.

Prayer is not first and foremost supposed to be a matter of our creativity or self-expression. Our prayer must be in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

False purposes for prayer:

  • Therapy. There are those who pray who seek to gain a therapeutic benefit from prayer. People seek to alleviate their fears and anxieties.
  • Manipulation. We think that we can unlock God’s answers by praying according to a certain code.
  • Persuasion. We seek to persuade God to do our will in prayer.
  • Negotiation. We try to bargain with God. ‘Lord, I will do this, if you do this.’

These are all false forms of prayer.

Prayer does not change God, but it does change us. We know that God is not passively waiting for us to pray. But we are to be giving ourselves faithfully to the high calling of prayer.

True prayer

We must not pray in order to impress men. Instead, we should hide ourselves away in isolation, where the only concern is prayer to God. In that isolation, we find that true prayer is going to happen because we are not posing or posturing.

The Father will reward those who pray to Him in secret.

We are also not to pray in order to impress God. Some people when they pray no longer sound like themselves. They suddenly start using Elizabethan English. Some people also use mindless and meaningless repetition in their prayers.

Jesus reminds His disciples Father knows what we need before we pray. Jesus reminds His disciples that the Father knows what they need before they pray (Matt 6:8).

We should not be seeking to impress people or God in prayer. Instead, we should seek to please God. We find in the Lord’s Prayer not a formula, but a pattern that are we to study, learn and live.

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