At Gateway Church in Austin, we started a new series, WHY PRAY?

Many people talk about prayer—this idea of talking to God, but for some it can be an elusive practice. What is prayer truly meant to look like? What is its purpose? If we begin to seek answers concerning what prayer is all about and what it can lead to in our lives, what might we find?

Next Steps

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.

HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE JOHN BURKE SHARED:

HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JOHN BURKE:

Why Pray?

Why Pray? Does it work? Is it supposed to “work?” What’s the point? Just like we heard from Sam Smith, People do pray, but why? That’s what we’re diving into today, and before we do, first, let me say I wanted to share with all of you my own struggle with prayer because I bet you’ve struggled some too.

I grew up doubting God-thought the whole Jesus, Son of God was probably myth, I had tons of questions.  After lots of questioning with a group of Christians not afraid of my questions, I finally came to believe that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. God revealed in a form we could comprehend, and that God wanted a relationship. So one night, I said a simple prayer, “God, I want what Jesus did to count for me.  I want your forgiveness for all my wrongs, I want to let you be God in my life, come lead me.”  And they congratulated me and said I had begun my relationship with God. They challenged me to pray every day, and I did.

Now, here comes the confusing part of prayer no one talks about.  Four months later, my father’s cancer that had been in remission, returned with a vengeance.  I remember going away on a retreat for a weekend during this time, knowing the doctors were saying he was dying, but I was praying in faith for healing. We had been best friends, but on his death bed, he started acting weird, couldn’t communicate, he even hit me, which he’d never done. But I prayed that weekend, “heal him Lord, but either way, at least let me talk to him again.” I got home from that weekend, and the doctors had switched his medicines and he was normal mentally again. We talked, he apologized, we told each other we loved each other.  And I thought, God heard my prayers, wow, he’s going to heal him. So I redoubled my prayer efforts.  And my dad died the next week.

Why Pray? That question seared my heart like a hot branding iron.

  • Why Pray?
  • Did I not pray with enough faith?
  • Was this God stuff a joke?

And I almost quit God and quit prayer, but I had this thought “If there’s no God, nothing good will ever come of this tragedy. That day, for some reason, I thought “Ok, then You’re gonna have to be my Father.” Years later, I read this

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm 68:5

I realized, that thought was from God entering my grief saying, “I will be your Father.”

Even though God disappointed me and let me down.  I kept praying. And at times, it seemed like God might actually be listening, coincidences happened, but it was confusing. I never heard any voices, I never saw any lightning bolts, no sky-writing, sometimes I felt I was talking to the ceiling.  About a year later, I was jogging around the track, “What if this God stuff isn’t real?”  Why doesn’t God just show himself? Why not just talk to me if he wants a relationship? What if I’ve just been fooling myself?  I keep praying, but I never hear back. Why Pray? And once again, I almost quit God and prayer. Maybe some of you have been at that crossroads, deciding whether to quit God and quit prayer because it’s not going as you expected. [Next week I’ll talk more about hearing from God in prayer] As I walked the track I had a thought, “maybe it takes time, like any relationship, it takes time to get to know and trust and learn to communicate.”  And I’m so glad I listened to that thought and kept experimenting with prayer. I’ve found this promise is true:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD.”  Jeremiah 29:13-14

30 years of prayer later, I’ve seen so many answered prayers, obvious God answers, I’ve kept Journals for 30 years showing what I was praying for, then pages, or sometimes years later, God’s clear answer. Your lives are proof that God hears our prayers.

But at the same time, I’ve had WAY more unanswered prayer, or confusing responses to my prayers. So if it’s less than 50/50 effective, Why Pray?  Because that’s not the goal of prayer, the goal is not attainment, but alignment. Jesus taught us Why Pray in a model of how to pray, so let’s look at Why Pray from Jesus. 

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.  But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6

Why Pray? God Rewards Prayer!

God created you for a relationship, and prayer is how He told us to relate to Him.  He sees every prayerful thought, every prayerful motive, every prayerful intention, and when you spend time talking to the God who loves you, it will be rewarded. Many of the outwardly religious people of Jesus day sought the wrong kind of rewards ,they’d pray flowery, ornately decorated prayers so everyone would “oo” and “aw” and say “isn’t she so spiritual?” God just wants honest communication. They would pray not to Personally connect with God, but to be thought of as good “pray-ers, Religious Attainment, not Relational Alignment with God.  Or they’d pray for people rather than to God.  Ever been prayed at?

Like this prayer to open the Florida State Senate that got lots of media coverage: “Holy and Eternal God, it must be great to be God, to get what you want, when you want it, how you want it. We mere mortals are not that lucky. We are always having to compromise to get what we want. We call the process “politics.” You see, O Lord, we find Senator Jennings’ priority number one is Senator McKay’s priority number five and Governor Bush’s priority number ten; and Senator Carlton doesn’t even know it’s on the agenda while Secretary of State Kathryn Harris is busy closing down shop. In the midst of all this “politicking” during Session, we know we are supposed to “Be still and know” your will for the people of the State of Florida—with every lobbyist in the world bugging us to death. So, God, we do call upon you to come and be in these Senate Chambers today. …We pray this in the name of the God of all things, even of politics and politicians and in rare instances a lobbyist or two, Amen.” You have to wonder just who that prayer was really for–Personally to God or the Senators and Reporters?

Now Jesus teaches us to pray together, even out loud, because it can unite us. But above all God wants our hearts connecting with God’s heart. It matters to God when we daily make time to talk to God—that’s prayer. Jesus says “He rewards it.”

When my kids were young, my favorite time of the day is when we put them to bed, not for that reason.  But yes, when they’re running crazy all day long.  What I loved about bedtime is that in those quiet times when their little active bodies are finally lying still (or relatively still), they talk, we connect at a deeper level than we can throughout the busy day! I love hearing my kid’s thoughts, because I love them.

Have you ever considered that your Heavenly Father feels that way about you? That’s why Jesus calls him Your Father in Heaven. He goes on

 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.  Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!  Pray like this: Our Father in heaven…”

if you’ve opened your heart in faith to God, He says he adopts you as His own child, in Christ he forgives all sin because He wants a family of spiritual children who love him.  So He’s YOUR Father, Jesus said, call him “Abba” which was the Aramaic word for “Daddy.”  The God who Created you says “Call me daddy”. He longs for Relational Alignment with you, for those quiet times when you slow down your active little mind enough to pour out your heart. Do you do that? Do you make time to talk to God? Not with babbling, recited, meaningless rote prayers, he wants honest conversation with your Heavenly Daddy.

Now if you’re earthly father tainted the word “Father”, study the life of Jesus so you know what God the Father is really like. Jesus claimed:

If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. John 14:7-9, 11

Now, some of you aren’t convinced of this yet, but I found amazing evidence that what Jesus was claiming is true. How you view God is how you’ll pray and relate.

So I want to ask you to do something, even if you don’t yet believe Jesus revealed the invisible God. Suspend disbelief long enough to read what Jesus claims God is like. Read the book of John asking, “what if it’s true?” What I’ve found is that the God Jesus reveals is the most beautiful, compelling, life-giving Spirit imaginable. Do an experiment during this prayer series the next 4 weeks, pray daily to God as if what Jesus said is true, and see what happens. And if you are a Christ-follower. Commit to daily prayer, a time and a place. Like making an appointment with the most important person in the world. You wouldn’t stand up you CEO, keep your appointment with the CEO of the Universe, who amazingly, longs to be with you and rewards you just showing up!

So Jesus continues teaching us Why Pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Hallowed, or Holy means “set apart as different.”  God is not like us. He is Power beyond comprehension, without relational metaphors like Father, or Mother or Spouse (all which are used to describe God), without His self-revelation in Jesus, we can’t comprehend a power greater than the universe.  God is not to be taken lightly or flippantly, He created everything, He sustains your very life. God was not created for You—You were created for Him.  He’s God, You’re not!

Why Pray? Because You’re God, I’m Not

Remember this when you pray, Jesus says. Why?  Because we all have this tendency to act like we’re God and He’s not.  You say, “Not me.”  Well, I do.  I often spend all my waking day thinking only about what I have to do, what I need to get done, how to get others to cooperate so that my will be done, one earth, as in my head!  Hallowed be my name, amen! Ever do that?  Or Sometimes, I get really angry and upset inside when the world doesn’t cooperate.  When traffic doesn’t move like I want it to, when my grocery line turns out to be the slowest, when I had pre-ordained it to be the fastest, when my wife or kids don’t do act or think as I Divinely Desire.  But who said life is supposed to revolve around me and my will?  Ever have that problem? Sometimes, I think so much about myself that I worry about what others think of me, or what I want others to think of me.  And I get so consumed with trying to make others think the right thing about me.  But who says I’m so important?  Ever done that? I think you get the point.  All humans have a twisted view of ourselves that makes God real small and us real big.  So prayer is taking time and reflecting on who God is and who you are in relation. He’s a good good Father who loves you. But He’s God, you’re God.  That prepares you for the next part:

Why Pray? To Align My Will To God’s Will 

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God’s kingdom is just the place where His will and His ways are done. Where God’s goodness rules.  This earth, if you haven’t yet noticed, is not a place where God’s goodness rules all the time.  It’s a place of decision, where human hearts decide WHOSE WILL will it be?  And all too often, it’s our will that Rules.

Jesus says the purpose of prayer is Alignment of my will with God’s will, of really searching our hearts saying, “God am I willing to do your will today.  Help me, Lord, what’s your will in this business deal I’m stressing about, how do I do your will with my spouse, children.  It’s searching my heart to see if I honestly want God’s will done, and let it start with me!  Because you’re the only will you have sway over, so to pray “your will be done, everywhere on earth, let there be peace in the middle east, let there be no more hunger or hatred or fighting. Lord change all those people to do what I want, but leave my will alone!”  No ¼ that won’t work. The world changes One willing heart at a time, starting with your will.

Let me just say, for many, many years of seeking to follow Christ, my prayer life was more about attainment than alignment.  And many times my prayer life was much more about getting God to do my will than it was about me turning my hands open to God saying, “God ¼ I trust you ¼ help me do your will.”  And finally I came to the most hopeless place of desperation, trying to make things go my way, frustrated and angry with God for not working things out as I was Sure He knew He should.   You know what was ironic–I said I had already made Christ the leader of my life–but I still fought hard when I couldn’t make things go my way.  And it takes daily decisions of surrender.  Will it be God’s will or my will?  The more I surrendered my will to be willing to do His will, it was so freeing!  No Anxiety. Suddenly, I can flex and adjust and adapt, I don’t have to control or rule everything, and I can be more available.  But I go back to the addiction of my will as fast as you can snap your fingers, that’s WHY PRAY, to daily align our will’s to God’s will.

And it really does change things for the better. Do you know that your brain chemistry really changes based on what you think or do regularly, called neuroplasticity?  You’ve heard how imagining yourself shooting free throws or golfing the perfect shot can improve your game like physically practicing.  Well that’s why pray–daily time with God, imagining the day ahead, and mentally release things you can’t and shouldn’t try to control that cause worry or anxiety, and then honestly wrestling through God’s will for the decisions ahead. When you take time to align your will to be willing, you will see God’s will start to unfold.

At first, it may feel scary, risky, because you’re giving up playing God, trusting that God’s will will be better.

I can’t imagine a more exciting, fulfilling, challenging, loving, relationally rich way to live than aligned with God’s will. When you are willing, you will start to see God doing his will in and through you, and it’s a wonderful place to live.

Jesus continues Give us today our daily bread.

Why Pray? To Ask For What Concerns Me 

Jesus says it’s ok to ask God for things. In a society of subsistence farmers, many of the people Jesus was speaking to like Misha, would be thinking “what if it doesn’t rain, how will we ear?” What Jesus is saying is , “It’s ok to ask God for the things that concern you, that matters to Him as well. I used to think it probably annoyed God when I kept asking for things. He’s got much bigger requests to deal with than mine, like world hunger and people in serious need, helping pro football players win important games. Important stuff. So I thought it noble to not ask. I’d save up my requests until it felt really big, I guess thinking God would go, “Whoa, hey is that John asking for something there? He’s so considerate to not grovel and beg for this and that, I’ll just do it-he hardly ask anyway.” Almost like it was big of me to not ask – I was totally wrong. We get that Wayne’s World mentality, ” We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.” But if you’re in God’s family, you’re his child, you’re worthy.

I love to give things to my kids.  I love to do things for them.  I love to be able to honor their requests.  Usually the only reason I would say  “No” is either because of my limitations (which God doesn’t have that problem) or because I don’t think it would be in their best interest to say “Yes.”  It’s never because they’re not worthy.  Jesus said, “God loves to give you good things, he said

If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Matthew 7:11

God doesn’t ever tire of your requests.  Bring all your concerns to him, that’s how you learn to trust that He really does know your needs.  And He won’t hold back any good thing from you.  So if you’re asking for something over and over (which is ok, Jesus said in another place to not be afraid to keep on asking from the heart), and we’re not seeing it happen, it could be timing, or it could be it’s not in our best interest. Because the truth is, if God did everything everyone wanted, it would probably destroy us all.

Like the cartoon I saw with two Christian business men walking down the street talking about the competition.  One says, “What if they’re praying for the same thing?”  The other says, “You just have to believe in faith that God doesn’t answer their prayers.”

God doesn’t give us all we ask for because we can’t see all the implications.  But God still wants us to ask, because even asking can be about Personal Alignment rather than attainment.  Because if we don’t ask, we don’t recognize when we receive, and we miss out on seeing the giving heart of God.  And as we ask and don’t receive, it forms us as we wrestle with God over whether we can be ok with that.  And it forces us to learn to trust further.

And you parents know, as your kids mature, they start to understand why mom or dad might say yes or no, and they learn how to ask for things you would want to say “yes” to, and they hear “yes” more often.  And in the same way, as we mature spiritually, and we see more and more answers of “yes” to our requests of God, we realize that it’s because our hearts are more Aligned to His heart, and what a truly good Parent He is.  So don’t be afraid to ask, but ask for Alignment’s sake, not just attainment’s sake.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Why Pray? For Forgiveness 

If our hearts are being Aligned to the heart of God, it will reflect in the way we deal inter-personally with God and everyone else.  When we come to God, we need to be honest about where we need His forgiveness, to pray “God show me where I’ve wronged You or others” and he wants us to admit it before him, because that too aligns our hearts.  He offers forgiveness free of charge, slate clean every time because he already paid our debts through Christ.  But, he expects those of us who have received that forgiveness we didn’t deserve to not use it as an excuse to keep going against his will, but to ask Him “show me why I go against your will, help me see why Your will is better. That’s confession. And God expects us to offer the same forgiveness to those who don’t deserve it from us. So Jesus instructs to pray “God show me where I’ve wronged you or others.”  And “Show me if there’s anyone I need to forgive and apologize to.”  God’s will is the way of relational peace, unity, love that bridges all divides, racial, socio-economic, political, business rivalry, even neighbor’s dog’s pooping in your yard. Why Pray? Because we all need ongoing forgiveness and relational unity with God and others.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

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