Sermon: How to Pray
Scripture: Matthew 6:5-8
In this week’s lessons, we learn three great principles of prayer, and how we can pray with confidence.
Theme: A Confusing Subject
The second great example of godly living discussed by Jesus Christ in the second chapter of the Sermon on the Mount is prayer. It is an important subject, for prayer is at least partially confusing to us all.
There are some Christians, hyper-Calvinists—you probably know some—who believe that it is hardly necessary to pray. They say that everything is in God’s hands and that He does what He wants to do, whether or not you ask for it. There are Arminians (those who make a great deal of man’s supposed part in salvation) who believe that almost everything is contingent upon prayer and that God will do very little unless we ask for it. In between are most of us, who believe that God is indeed in charge of things and is accomplishing His own purposes but who, nevertheless, also believe that God responds to our prayers and in fact even urges us to pray. Unfortunately, we are often uncertain about prayer anyway. We wonder how we should pray, what we should pray for, and sometimes whether we should even pray at all.
Some time ago I heard a story that illustrates how some of these questions trouble even very mature Christians. At one point in the course of their very influential ministries George Whitefield, the Calvinistic evangelist, and John Wesley, the Arminian evangelist, were preaching together in the daytime and rooming together in the same boarding house each night. One evening after a particularly strenuous day, the two of them returned to the boarding house exhausted, and prepared for bed. When they were ready, each knelt beside the bed to pray. Whitefield, the Calvinist, prayed like this: “Lord, we thank Thee for all of those with whom we spoke today, and we rejoice that their lives and destinies are entirely in Thy hand. Honor our efforts according to Thy perfect will. Amen.” And he rose from his knees and got into bed. Wesley, who had hardly gotten past the invocation of his prayer in this length of time, looked up from his side of the bed and said, “Mr. Whitefield, is this where your Calvinism leads you?” He then put his head down and went on praying. Whitefield stayed in bed and went to sleep. About two hours later Whitefield woke up, and there was Wesley still on his knees beside the bed. So Whitefield got up and went around the bed to where Wesley was kneeling. When he got there Wesley was asleep. He shook him by the shoulder and said to him, “Mr. Wesley, is this where your Arminianism leads you?”
This story shows us that we all have at least some things to learn about prayer. And it teaches that because no one understands the ways of God as perfectly as we ought to understand them, prayer is, therefore, at least partially confusing to us all.
Why can prayer be confusing? What different approaches do Christians have toward prayer?
What do other passages teach us about prayer?
Application: Ask the Lord to deepen your prayer life as you learn about prayer during this week.