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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: The Purpose of Prayer   Matt. 6:7-15  Shawn Wiebers

I want to say thank you to your pastor; we’ve been friends for eight months.  You have an excellent, top shelf, amazing, Bronco-rooting pastor in Pastor Ryan and his family.  I want to say thanks to Ryan and the whole staff for their hospitality and ministering to me as I come to minister the Word today.  I have been friends with Larry Boatright for 20 years.  We actually traveled for a year in a praise and worship band together.

On the screen is my family.  This is my wife of fifteen years, Jennifer.  Together we have Hayley, Carter and Griffin.  We did pastor in Oklahoma for 12-13 years, but we are all die-hard Broncos fans, so when God said, “Go to Colorado,” I said, “Yes, Lord, here am I, send me!”  My dad grew up in Sterling; my aunt lives south of the church here in Highlands Ranch, so it feels like extended family and it’s an honor to be here with you this morning.  As I get to share on the Lord’s Prayer in this series, The Sermon on the Mount: The Art of Human Flourishing, I want to specifically talk about the purposes of prayer.

About 2-3 years ago, my son Carter came up to me (about 5-6 at the time) and with his big eyes said, “Dad, I want to play Tee-ball.”  And I said, “Okay, son, let’s do this.”  So we went and bought cleats, and a glove, and a helmet, and a bat, and we went to our first Tee-ball practice with a bunch of 4-, 5-, 6-year-old kids who had never played ball before.  The coach had played collegiate athletics so he was all in, a big guy.  First thing, all the kids line up and begin to throw a ball back and forth to each other.  I’m sitting back in my lawn chair and I realize I had not done due diligence, because Carter could not properly throw a baseball.  As an athlete myself, I was thinking, “Where have I gone wrong as a father?”  The coach kept hollering at him saying, “Carter, step into it.”  Carter would throw and then step.  No, step into it!  And he would step and then throw.  There’s a rhythm to throwing a baseball.  It seems really easy if you grew up. . . .but for your first experience of throwing a baseball, there’s a rhythm to it and if you hadn’t had previous practice, it’s really difficult for a 4- or 5-year-old kid to throw a baseball.  When the time came for the kids to practice hitting off a tee, only two went to first base, most of them went to second, and some went to third.  Because they have never experienced the game.  I don’t know if they even knew how to keep score.  These were entry-level baseball players.

I was sitting there, humiliated as a father, and the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “This is like the kingdom of God.”  It seems so easy if you’ve served God, if you’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time, but if you first just come into it and we say things like, blessed are the meek, blessed are the mourners, FORGIVE, give, worship, it seems abnormal to someone who comes into the church or the kingdom of God for the first time, because there’s a rhythm to it.  Just like baseball, when I stand up here today and say let’s pray, some of you feel very apprehensive.  You go, “Oh my goodness, I’ve never done this before.  I’ve never prayed before.”

Last week, we were in my son’s bedroom and had a little devotional.  I looked at our two year old and said, “Griffin, would you like to pray?”  He said, “No, daddy, it’s too hard!”  Pastoring for fifteen years, I’ve heard that many times, not just from two year olds, but from seasoned men and women in the kingdom of God who say, “Uh oh, we’re not going to pray.”  Then the pastor comes along, puts his hands on their shoulder and says, “Hey, you want to pray out loud at service?”  Nooooo!  There’s this angst, anxiety, that comes with prayer.  Maybe you’ve experienced that.  Prayer is just difficult.

What I want you to see this morning is that the purpose of prayer is not to perfect it, but to allow IT to perfect you!  The purpose of prayer is not for you to perfect it.  In fact, we’ll look here in a minute how Jesus actually spoke against that, because it’s so much more than just words and lip service.  It’s not about you perfecting it, but instead it’s allowing prayer to perfect you.  The reason we have the Lord’s Prayer in Scripture, in Matthew 6, is because a disciple, according to Luke 11:1. . . . Jesus had prayed and he completed his prayer and a disciple went to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  {NOTE: Verses from English Standard Version.}  If you’ve ever had that question how to pray, you’re in good company because a disciple, who had a Jewish background, who knew something about prayer because the Jews would pray at least twice a day.  They had morning prayers and evening prayers.  On the Sabbath, at the synagogue, they had eighteen prayers of repentance.  That makes our prayer seem pretty simple today, doesn’t it?  A Jew would have an understanding of prayer.  A practicing Jew would have insight to prayer, but yet here’s a disciple of Jesus, and he leans in—he’s not a two-year-old, he’s a mature man—and he says, “Jesus, teach us to pray.”

I have served God since I was five years old, 35 years, I’ve been reared in the church and the last couple years I’m still going through this formation of God, teach me to pray.  Because in prayer, it’s a growing process.  You never arrive in your prayer life.  So why then did the disciple ask, “Jesus, teach us to pray?”  He knew down deep it was more than lip service.  He knew down deep it was more than ritualistic sayings, it was more than history.  There was something deeper to prayer that he was hungry for.  Matthew Henry says that prayer is “lifting up the soul and pouring out your heart!”  I love that!  Prayer is lifting up one’s soul and pouring out one’s heart.  Adam Clarke, a Methodist theologian from the 1600s, said, “Prayer is not designed to inform God, but to give man a sight of his misery; to humble his heart, to excite his desire, to inflame his faith, to animate his hope, to raise his soul from earth to heaven, and to put him in mind that there is his Father, his country, and inheritance.”  Jon Courson says that when we pray we “don’t need to inform the Lord, or convince the Lord, we need to connect to the Lord.”  In Matthew 6:8, Jesus said the same thing.  Jesus said: For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  The goal of prayer is not to impress.  It’s not to entice, and it’s not to inform God.  The goal of prayer is to fellowship with your heavenly Father.  It is to connect with Him on a deep level.

So what is prayer?  When I pastored in Oklahoma, our church grew significantly, similar to South Fellowship, and I had an office kind of in the inner chamber of the office suite.  My three children had access to my office.  We had a large staff and they all had small children, and all their parents kept them out of my office, but MY kids had access into my office.  To be honest, it annoyed me.  I would go in after preaching or after a long day and my telephone would be unhooked.  Post-it notes would be everywhere!  All the pins would be ruffled through.  Scissors would be out.  Remnants of cutting up paper was on the floor.  It was just a mess!  But my kids had access to my office based on relationship, based on the fact that I was their father.  William Barclay says—and I don’t mean to simplify prayer—he defines prayer as simple access.  Unrestrained, unrestricted access to the presence of God.  In the presence of God is where you and I, as a Christ follower, grow and mature and grow up in Christ.  It’s in his very presence that we grow.  William Barclay says that prayer, at its simplest form, is simply access.

So, if it’s access, why should you and I pray, if it’s not about informing God, if it’s not about enticing God, if it’s not about impressing God?  Why should we pray?  We should pray because it’s an expression of a trusted relationship.  If you’re married, in the room, you’re going to have a deep and, at least, a more comprehensive view of prayer.  Because in your marriage relationship, it’s not all about impressing, enticing, and informing.  Something I was not prepared for when I married Jennifer fifteen years ago was this one word that you—especially as a man—have to lean into and learn and that is the art of LISTENING.  We did not come conditioned to listen.  We can hear, but hearing and listening are two separate things.  When the Broncos are on, it’s not a good time to have a deep discussion.  It’s like every time OU played, Jen would ask, “Can we talk?”  No! Come back in three hours and we can talk.  But there’s this art of listening, and in prayer, there’s this art of listening.  It’s not all about enticing and informing and impressing God, but it’s this expression of a trusted relationship.

Jesus answers this question of a disciple—How should we pray?—and Jesus said this in Matthew 6:7-13 — And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.   {So, off the bat, right at the start of this, Jesus is saying it’s not about lip service, it’s what Matthew Henry called soul service.  When you take your vehicle into be serviced, it’s to get an oil change and check the fluids and all this stuff.  When we go into prayer it’s for soul service.  It’s to allow the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, in relationship with Christ, to begin to heal our soul.  It’s not about lip service, it’s about soul service.}  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. {In verse 9 we have this very famous prayer.  We, the church, call it the Lord’s Prayer.  Earlier in the church, they called it the Disciples’ Prayer. Let’s say it out loud, but don’t say it ritualistically.  Let’s take a moment and pause and say it deep from our soul. This is really a community prayer, we’ll talk about that in just a minute.} Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

So today I want to dig into this text and discover four purposes of prayer.  Number one is this:  It moves us into God’s collective.  When you think about the very first word of the prayer, it is not ‘me’ or ‘my,’ it is ‘our.’  Our Father.  When we pray the Lord’s prayer, when we pray as a church and a community, it places us into God’s collective—from different backgrounds, from different ethnicities, from different countries—now we’re coming together under one banner—the banner of the name of Jesus—and we cry out “our Father.” OUR. FATHER.  So in prayer, we participate in God’s community called the kingdom of God.  In prayer, it moves us into the kingdom of God.  As I thought about that this week, I was thinking that prayer rips us from the desires of self-idolatry and self-identity.  It places us inside of this family known as the church, as a collective group of people, as the body of Christ.

When we pray “Our Father,” as one of my mentors has said, it removes us from the false trinity of “me, myself, and I” and it places us in the real Trinity of God our Father, God Lord Jesus, and God Holy Spirit.  When we pray it removes this self-sufficiency from our lives, and it places us into a church body. I just want to say that you need the church maybe more than you recognize or confess.  Iron sharpens iron as one brother sharpens another (Prov. 27:17); you were meant for community.  You were meant to be a part of what God is doing.

So when we say “OUR Father,” it gives us this excellent, healthy view of God, but it also gives us a healthy view of each other.  Because all of a sudden it’s not about me, it’s not about MY needs and MY desires.  It’s not about being self-sufficient, a self-made man, but it’s OUR Father.  When you see God as OURS, when you see God in this community of believers, then you’re ready to say “hallowed be Thy name.”  It’s in that community that now you’re ready to worship and praise God and his name.  Hallowed be Thy name.  It simply means that God is set apart.  He is holy.  There’s none like Him in all the earth.  There’s none like Him in all generations.  He is a stand alone God, self-sufficient.  We pray “Our Father, hallowed be Thy name.”  You see, reverence only comes in relationship.  You can’t say “hallowed be Thy name” if you don’t see God as Father.  Because reverencing God, or setting Him apart in your mind, only comes in the relationship of our Father.  We declare God as holy, we declare God as gracious, we declare God as self-sufficient One, we declare God as Savior, we declare God as healer. . . .because we know Him as Father.

Here’s the Why?  When you come together as a church—in small groups, in meet ups, in serve teams—you begin to visit and talk about God.  In that discussion, in that friendship, comes a different view of God.  You may know God as Savior and He redeemed you and delivered you out of, literally, a life of hell, but your friend might know Him as Healer.  Your other friend might know Him as Restorer, restoring a marriage, restoring a family that’s seen the lost.  You come together and now you can say, “Our Father, hallowed be Your name.”  I have a deeper understanding of you because of what Teresa’s going through, because of what Mark is going through.  I see you now, not only as MY Savior, but I see you as Redeemer, Restorer, Healer.  That’s why relationships are so important—they give us a deeper view of God.  So prayer moves us into God’s collective and removes us from being self-sufficient, having a self-identity that moves into self-idolatry.

The second thing—I struggled with this point—is that prayer moves us to collaborate with God.   Out of my struggling comes a clear understanding of what this means.  Dallas Willard says, “Prayer is a collaboration with God.”  By no means do I mean to humanize God.  By no means do I mean God is like one of us.  But as I’ve studied this—Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.—it’s truly us collaborating with God.  In other words, when we pray that, we cannot drop the mic and walk off and be done.  No, no, no, no, that’s not what this prayer means.  What THIS prayer means—let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven—means I must align my life with God’s purpose and principles on the earth.  It means that we are to actively participate in God’s promises.  We are to actively participate in God’s will being done on earth.  We’re to align our purpose with God’s purpose in saying let Your kingdom come.  In fact, the way I pray this is “Let me participate in bringing your kingdom to earth and let me participate in doing your will on earth as it is in heaven.”  We can’t pray it, drop the mic, and say see you tomorrow, God.  No, no, no, no.  It’s a collaboration.  Place yourself and say what am I doing in bringing the kingdom of God to earth?  What am I doing in my life that aligns with the will of God?  One theologian said it this way:  “Let your kingdom come” starts with ME, not we.  Your kingdom comes starts with me, and that reminded me of James 1:22-25 — But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 

So this prayer is about actively participating in the kingdom of God and the will of God on earth.  If you want to be blessed in your doing, align your doing with the will and the purposes of God.  If you want to be blessed in your marriage, align your marriage with the will and the purpose of God.  If you want to be blessed in your family, align your purpose and your will with the will and the purpose of the heavenly Father.

I have a dear friend who’s become a mentor.  His name is Robert Barriger.  Robert has pastored a church in Peru for over twenty years.  Robert was a wild surfer from San Diego and had never even experienced church.  He came to know Christ.  He and his wife were married when they were young and God put on his heart “Peru.”  Not knowing much about Peru, they literally, instead of praying “God, you do something in Peru,” he said, “Lord, here I am, send me.”  So they raised enough money for one-way airline tickets to Peru, and they moved to Lima as a young couple with a young child and they literally knew nobody.  He tells the story now in one of his books, called “Honoring God,” of how he would pray and go check the mail and believe that God would put it on someone’s heart to send a check so they could make all their payments for the month.  Truly an act of faith.  Multiple times in the past twenty years, terrorists have focused in on him.  They’ve robbed him, have held him hostage, broken into church and stolen the safe.  I can imagine that multiple times he’s said, “Lord, this is too hard, I’m moving back to San Diego to become a surfer.”  This is too hard, Lord.  This is too difficult.  But he prayed this prayer—Let YOUR will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Today, twenty years later, Pastor Robert is on the council to advise the president of the country of Peru.  His church is now in five cities—they average, on a weekend, attendance of anywhere from 16,000-18,000 people.

When you pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” you can’t drop the mic and walk off.  You have to ask how can I participate in bringing the kingdom of God to Centennial?  How can I participate in bringing the kingdom of God to Denver?  How can I participate in bringing the kingdom of God to my family, and my neighborhood, and my city?  When we pray, it moves us to collaborate with God.

The third thing is it moves us to be cleansed by God.  Verses 11 and 12 say:  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  Many people—and it’s perfectly fine—separate these two phrases.  For the sake of time, as I begin to look at these, I really see this as a continuation—Give us this day our daily bread, AND forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.    The reason I see this as one is because God is both concerned about our physical and spiritual need.  God is concerned about our physical and spiritual state, and so what God does is He heals our soul, He puts right our spirit, so that He can direct our destiny.  So He can direct us, lead us, and guide us.  Jesus said it best in John 6:32-35 — Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  What was Jesus saying?  When you get Jesus in your heart, when you get Jesus in your life, He begins to work on your soul and your mind to renew your mind, and He gives you the strength, He gives you the ability to forgive, to show grace and to show mercy.  You cannot forgive apart from accepting the forgiveness of God.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” we go that’s great, I love bread.  Fresh bread is good, I’ll take you Jesus.  What Jesus is really concerned about are the results of the bread.  You eat to gain fuel and energy for the day.  Remember a few years ago when Michael Phelps was in the Olympics?  He ate eight to ten thousand calories for breakfast!  It was a table—nearly as big as this stage—and it had food all over it.  He would literally eat for an hour.  It was not healthy stuff — biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage and eggs…   It was my type of breakfast!  Why did he have to eat that much?  The results were that it was going to give him the energy to be an Olympic swimmer.  The reason Jesus wants you in His life is so that you will have the strength in your weakness to forgive the unforgivable.  So that Jesus can give you the ability and the strength to show mercy when you’re done showing mercy.  So that Jesus can come and use you as a grace agent when you say, “I cannot show grace anymore.  I am done with this, Jesus.”  Jesus says no, no, no, take a bite from me and I will give you the strength, I will give you the grace, I am sufficient for you today.

I’m reminded of the lady in Luke 7:47 — I tell you, her sings—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.    When you understand that you have been forgiven much, it’s easy to forgive much.  When you understand that you have received unreasonable grace, it’s easy to show unreasonable grace.  When you have encountered Jesus as merciful, it becomes easy to show mercy.  He will give you the strength you need to do what He’s called you to do.  So I see this as one :  Give us this day our daily bread.  Yes, physical.  It’s also spiritual — Forgive us OUR debts, so that we can forgive our debtors.

Let me just say this, I have an entire series I taught in Oklahoma on taking offense and living in bitterness and offense, and if that’s you this morning, just release that.  It’s not doing you any good and you think it’s hurting the other person, but it’s not.  In fact, later in this text, Jesus says if you aren’t willing to forgive others, I can’t even forgive you. (Matt. 6:14-15) So it all begins with receiving God’s grace and his forgiveness, then He will give the strength and the empowerment to forgive others.  If you’ve tasted the goodness of God, the mercy of God, don’t withhold that from a person in your life.  Freely you have received; freely give. (Matt. 10:8)

The purpose of prayer is that it moves us into accepting and receiving the cleansing work of Jesus.  And the fourth thing, the last thing, and the most difficult thing is that prayer moves to accept that God is in control.  For all of you control freaks in the room, this is not an easy prayer to say, is it?  I hate to fly.  Someone asked, “Are you afraid of heights?”  Not necessarily.  Then why are you afraid to fly?   Because I’m not in charge and I’m not driving the aircraft.  Very simple.  My fear is based on the fact that I’m not in control.  What I’ve learned in serving God for thirty-five years, and leading a church, and now planting a church, is that we are really in control of less than what we think we’re in control of.  The tighter we hang onto control, the more we fail.  The more we let go and say, “God, lead us not into temptation—which literally means sin—but deliver us from evil,” we’re saying Lord, you’re the great leader.  You’re the great Shepherd.  Psalm 23:1-3 reminds us that: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  What is that saying?  God is a good leader.  He is a good shepherd.  He will lead you to places of plenty to where He can feed you, and restore you, and heal you, and He can get to know you.

We serve a good God.  He’s a faithful God.  He’s a gracious God.  In fact, the Bible says He has more patience than you and I.  He’s long-suffering.  When you understand that about God and you see Him as a Good Father, and a Holy God, you can say:  Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.  So that job that you didn’t get that you thought was right for you and you prayed about?  It was really Jesus intercepting you and saying no, no, no, no, no, I’m going to direct you and lead you and keep you from evil.  That school that you applied for and you just knew it was a right fit and you didn’t get accepted and you went, man, Jesus, what happened?  He says no, no, no, I’m directing you and guiding you and leading you away from evil.  Here’s a good one:  That person you thought was going to be your spouse and you even prayed them into your life and Jesus, in the last moment, says no, no, no, no, I’m going to protect you and lead you and guide you and guard you and govern you away from evil.  When God is in control, you can simply put your trust in Him.  Put your trust in Him, He is in control.

So maybe you’re new to the faith, maybe this is your first time to South, the purpose of prayer is not for you to perfect it, but for you to allow it to perfect you.  It moves you into God’s collective.  It moves you into collaboration with God, seeing the world the way He sees it, allowing your heart to break for what breaks His.  Seeing needs and fulfilling the need; being the answer to someone’s prayer. . .that’s what it means to move into collaboration with God.  It moves us into being cleansed and setting us free, and filling us from the inside out.  So many times we’re looking for the external to bring pleasure to the internal, but it’s really when the Holy Spirit begins to work on the internal that brings pleasure to the external.  The joy of the Lord is my strength, Nehemiah declared.  (Nehemiah 8:10)  Finally, it moves us to accept that God is in control — Lead me, guide me, and govern my life.  Amen.

Let me pray for you.  Heavenly Father, I know this can be difficult, but really prayer is access into your presence, so God, let me just say on behalf of this church, thank you that you’ve made a way to fellowship and commune with us.  It seems hard to imagine that the God of the universe, who spoke into existence all that we can see, touch, and feel, would say, “I want to have a relationship with you.”  It’s all you’ve ever desired is that your people would know You.  So we thank you for that.  I pray blessings upon this congregation.  I pray blessings upon this staff, the leaders, the elders.  God, I just join my faith with theirs and know that the greatest days of South Fellowship are ahead of it, not behind it.  You’ve called this church with a purpose—aligning to be a part of your will and your purpose and bringing the glory of Jesus to this city and to this neighborhood.  May it be done.  God, we worship you, we honor you.

With every head bowed, in 1 John 1: 9, the Scripture says:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Maybe that’s you and you wandered into this place—drug by a friend—and showed up here today, not knowing what to expect.  The Holy Spirit’s working on your heart.  The Apostle Paul says that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we shall be saved. (Rom. 10:9) It’s that simple.  If that’s you, I just want to urge you and encourage you to take that step towards God.  As you draw near to Him, the promise is He will draw near to you. (James 4:8) I’m not going to lead you in a prayer, because a prayer is not magical.  It’s not what brings the totality of salvation and healing.  The Scripture says it’s confession and belief.  Right now, right where you are, say, “Jesus, you’re my Lord.  I give you everything.  I worship you.  I believe you’re who the word of God declares you to be.  My Savior.  My Redeemer.”   In Jesus’s name.  Amen.