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: Through the Lord Jesus Christ
In yesterday’s study we concluded by talking about the necessity of recognizing that when we pray we are coming into God’s presence.
Listen to Dr. Torrey’s own description of how he learned this principle. He writes, “I can remember when that thought transformed my prayer life. I was brought up to pray. I was taught to pray so early in life that I have not the slightest recollection of who taught me to pray… Nevertheless, prayer was largely a mere matter of form. There was little real thought of God, and no real approach to God. And even after I was converted, yes, even after I had entered the ministry, prayer was largely a matter of form.
“But the day came,” Torrey writes, “when I realized what real prayer meant, realized that prayer was having an audience with God, actually coming into the presence of God and asking and getting things from him. And the realization of that fact transformed my prayer life. Before that prayer had been a mere duty, and sometimes a very irksome duty, but from that time on prayer has been not merely a duty but a privilege, one of the most highly esteemed privileges of life. Before that the thought that I had was, ‘How much time must I spend in prayer?’ The thought that now possesses me is, ‘How much time may I spend in prayer without neglecting the other privileges and duties of life?'”2
Have you learned that lesson? Or are you still like so many Christians who do not really know what it is to pray to God? I believe that the psychiatrists are entirely right when they say that much of our prayer is mere wish-fulfillment. For we often pray merely by reciting things that we would like to see happen to ourselves. Instead of this, Jesus taught that we are to pray only when we are conscious of being in God’s presence and are truly communing with Him.
Now a question arises at this point. If it is true, as we have said, that prayer is communing with God, the question naturally arises about the means of access to Him. How can a sinful human being approach a God who is holy? Is it even possible? And if it is, what does it mean in terms of the way that you and I can approach Him? The answer to this question brings us to the second great principle of true prayer. True prayer is prayer offered to God the Father on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ His Son. The author of the book of Hebrews puts it like this: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus… let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19, 22). Jesus taught the same principle when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
What does this mean? Well, it means that if we were to approach God simply as we are apart from Jesus Christ, God would have to turn from us. God is holy—the verse from Hebrews says “holiest”—and He must turn from all that is unholy and imperfect if He is to be true to His nature. If it were not for Jesus Christ, God would have had to turn a deaf ear to every prayer ever offered by any human being. However, He tells us that anyone can be purified in His sight through faith in the death of Jesus Christ and that in this state he may come. In fact, he is even urged to come.
This means, of course, that prayer is for believers only. It is not for the heathen. It is not for the atheist. It is not for the good man who nevertheless regards Jesus as nothing more than a man, as worth little more than an example. Prayer is for Christians, and it is for Christians exclusively. The best man or woman in this world is unable to come into the presence of God on the basis of any merit of his own. He cannot receive anything from God on the grounds of his own goodness. Yet, on the ground of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the worst sinner who ever walked on the face of this earth but who has turned from his sin and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior can come into the presence of God any day of the year, at any hour of the day or night, and with boldness can speak out the longing of his heart and get from God what he asks.
Isn’t that wonderful? Yes, it is wonderful, and doubly wonderful because it is possible only on the basis of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. True prayer is prayer to God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ.
What transformed R. A. Torrey’s prayer life? How did this change Torrey’s thinking about prayer?
What does it mean to speak of prayer as mere wish-fulfillment?
What is the second principle of prayer? Why is it necessary?
Application: How much time do you spend in prayer praising the Lord for who He is, asking for the Lord’s help and blessing for other people, and making requests of him for yourself?
Key Point: This means, of course, that prayer is for believers only. It is not for the heathen. It is not for the atheist. It is not for the good man who nevertheless regards Jesus as nothing more than a man, as worth little more than an example. Prayer is for Christians, and it is for Christians exclusively.
2Reuben A. Torrey, The Power of Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1955), 76-77.