Principles of Prayer From the Master
Topic: Prayer Passage: John 14:12–14, John 15:7–8, John 16:23–24
Lord willing, I will be concluding a series of messages I’ve entitled Devoted. Today we will look at a fourth item we are to be devoted to. I’ve pressed upon you the need to be devoted to scripture. We have looked at what it means to be devoted to one another, and our devotion to the Lord’s Supper and remembering the one sacrifice Christ made to bear our sins. Today, we turn our attention to prayer. The early church was devoted to prayer. Now, I think everyone here has an automatic, almost a internal reflex - we know prayer is important. It’s sort of the ultimate duh statement for a Christian. It is one thing to say we ought to be and quite another to show that we in fact are. The early church certainly was.
John Owen said prayer is “the vital breath of our spiritual life unto God.” Prayer was vital to the spiritual breath of the believers in the book of Acts. And it will be for us as well. These three passages that were read a bit ago are all from one discourse Jesus gave - one talk with his disciples. This was on the night of his betrayal… the night before he was crucified. And so we can expect that these words, this teaching on prayer was uppermost in our Lord’s mind as he was about to leave them.
Whereas the Lord’s prayer gives us the pattern of prayer, these texts show us the divine principles of prayer without which we are just going through the motions. Principles of prayer from the Master. These are principles - fundamental truths that serve as a foundation for prayer. And it begs the question, what was Jesus wanting to drive home to his disciples about prayer from these principles? What did he want to drill into their minds and hearts (he repeated the same things over and over)? I hope it’s obvious that one thing he did not want to communicate is that prayer is to be approached with a lot of uncertainty. Uncertain and timid prayers betray what Jesus teaches here. And the three principles can be summarized in three words: Invitation. Access. Expectation.
So let’s look at how Jesus draws out these three principles. And my hope is that the result of this message is that you actually pray more. Pray in faith. And experience answers to prayer.
First Principle: Invitation
Prayer is our response to a great, large-hearted invitation. We are invited to pray. And I think we just need to pause for a moment and consider just how remarkable that is. God almighty - El Shaddai (and that’s who Jesus is) invites us to pray. Have you ever considered just how astounding that is? And the invitation is great. It is enormous. Once we hear the invitation, how could we turn it down? The first words we see in John 14:12 are is the repeated word “Truly”. Truly, truly. The word “truly” is the Greek word “amen”. The word amen, in its most basic form means “true”. Now, think about it. We say amen at the end of a prayer and once we hear something that we agree with in prayer. Jesus says it on the front end. He frontloads his teaching on prayer with “This is true, this is true”. So listen up. And then we hear this glorious invitation:
Ask whatever you wish. (six times)
Clearly Jesus is not first and foremost concerned about the content of what we ask. That is not unimportant. And in a bit I will show you why this is not a completely unqualified statement. There are parameters of our asking. So what is Jesus doing here? Jesus wants us to know how willing and kind he and the Father are, and how desirous they are to hear our prayers and bless us. Think about this. The Almighty God is our Father and he loves to bless us. What does Jesus say?
How much more will your Father give good things to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11)
Which leads to that little three letter word that is all important. ASK. Ten times this word is used. Ask. It assumes a hierarchy. An authority structure. God is higher than us. Infinitely, actually. It is only by grace that we can even pray. He is our authority, above us. And so we ask. We don’t merely tell God what we want. We certainly must not demand from him what we want. I have to say, I am shocked at the way I hear some people describe their conversations with God. How they tell God what he should do for them… give him ultimatums and so forth. When I hear that nonsense, I think: “They do not know God”. That is not how you address God. Jesus didn’t pray to the Father that way. In fact, we have an entire chapter (John 17) of the eternal Son praying to God the Father and what we see is loving, humble asking. It is not a lack of faith to ask. I love when my kids ask me for good things - especially when it is in my power to give it to them.
You may have noticed that Jesus says “Ask me anything” in one place and then says, “ask the Father”. Which is it? I think the pattern of prayer in scripture is that we pray to the Father. Prayer is coming to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. But what we see here is a clear example that the Father and Son are one. We can ask the Son anything. We can ask the Father anything. And the Holy Spirit is God too - we can ask him anything. But I do think the pattern is given to us in the Lord’s Prayer where we pray to God as “Our Father”.
I said I would get to this and now I need to. And this is not to diminish the invitation, but to put a finer point on it. I think we probably understand that the word whatever or anything is not unqualified…And in one sense I think we want to err on the side of being presumptuous and asking too much than in coming to God our Father as though he is tight fisted and we have to kind of pry blessing out of his hand. One of our passages helps to clarify parameters of “asking anything…” It’s John 15:7 which says, “if you abide in me and my word abides in you, ask whatever you wish.” When we abide in Christ (close fellowship) and his words abide in us, our prayers will bear witness to that. And the kinds of things we will pray for will be according to his will… they will be the things he has promised. The puritans were fond of viewing prayer as drawing near to God with His promises in their hands. Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon entitled Pleading Prayer said:
This is the sure way of prevailing with the Lord in prayer. We may humbly remind Him of what He has said. Our faithful God will never run back from His word, nor will He leave it unfulfilled; yet He loves to be enquired of by His people, and put in mind of His promise. This is refreshing to their memories, reviving to their faith, and renewing to their hope. God's Word is given, not for His sake, but for ours. His purposes are settled, and He needs nothing to bind Him to His design of doing His people good; but He gives the promise for our strengthening and comfort. Hence He wishes us to plead it, and say to Him, "Thou saidst."
This reminds me of a visitation of God on the New Hebrides Islands - off the coast of Scotland (1949-1953). Two old sisters (both in their eighties) talked to their pastor and the three of them along with the deacons in the church began to pray on the basis of what God says in Isaiah 44:3. They believed it was a promise:
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
God heard and answered. This is the great invitation. When you are abiding in Christ and his word of promise is abiding in you, “Ask whatever you wish!”
Second Principle: ACCESS
Prayer is to be traveled on the access road that God provides for us - and it’s a good one. One thing we need to think about in prayer is this. When we come to God and ask him to do things for us, whose name do we come in? Do we come in our own name? In other words, do we come to God on the basis of who we are, what we have done for God, the strength of our faith, and what God ought to do for us because we are special? Jesus would say no.
In fact, he said four times, “In my name…” Whatever you ask in my name. In other words, we petition God on the basis of who Christ is, what he has done, the access he grants us to God, and because of his special relationship to the Father. To pray in Jesus’ name is SO MUCH MORE than just tacking those words on the end of our petition. Growing up, I saw the words “in Jesus name” as a sort of magic mantra that was like a secret passcode to get answers to prayer. But it’s not. When we pray in Jesus name, we are traveling the access road to God. Think about what we are doing in prayer. In one real sense taking a trip to heaven. It’s true!
There is a picture we have in the book of Revelation of the prayers of the saints depicted as incense that rises before the throne of God day and night. What a picture! What a truth! Our prayers are a sweet smelling aroma to God. They do not stay in the room. They ascend to the throne of God. But it’s not just our prayers that reach the heavenly throne room of God. We do. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace…” We draw near to the throne. Wow! And we cannot forget how we are permitted access to the throne. It is in the name of Jesus Christ. Through Christ. The two verses right before we are told to draw near to the throne of grace, we are told how:
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near.
One of the great subjects in the book of Hebrews is how the worshiper may draw near to God. And over and over and over again we are beckoned to draw near through Jesus Christ. It is the only way.
Beyond this, when we come to the throne of grace through the access gained in Jesus’ name, whose merit do we come in and ask? Christ’s. Who deserves the answers to our prayers? Jesus. We ask in his name, for his sake, because of the perfection of his life, the atonement of his sacrifice. Think of all of the strands that are intertwined to make Christian prayer an unbreakable cord. In prayer, we draw near to the Father at his invitation, through Jesus, asking for his promises to be fulfilled on our behalf; promises that Jesus has secured for us through his perfect life, atoning death, triumphant resurrection, and ongoing intercession.
Remember what I said earlier how the puritans came to the Father in prayer with His promises in their hands - promises that are promised to us in and through Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says,
For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
In prayer, we should ask the question: “Whose name am I coming to God in?” My own? Or in Jesus’ name. This is so important. That we are consciously drawing close to God through Jesus - asking for what we need / want in His name because He is the One who grants me access to God, has purchased every precious and great promise, and he is the One who deserves the answers to these prayers.
Third Principle: EXPECTATION
When we pray, there should be the expectation of answered prayer. Six times Jesus says something to the effect that He or the Father will give what we ask for. Now, I understand that this raises questions. I have unanswered prayers. God did not answer this or that prayer. I understand that. And of course, we always submit ourselves to God and entrust ourselves to him in our prayers. But again, the teaching here strongly suggests that we should consistently experience answers to prayer.
I wonder if sometimes your prayers are like mine where they are so vague that you wouldn’t really know if it was answered or not. We should work on being specific, for sure. I love this though. It’s so personal. John 16:23-27 tells us to come to the Father through Christ… and Jesus says,
You can go right to the Father in my name and ask. I won’t ask for you. You can ask him directly in my name. And why? Because the Father himself loves you. This brings us right back to the beginning. God almighty is our kind and wise Father who loves to bless us. Remember what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:
If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him. (Matthew 7:11)
This is the great expectation. Our Father will give us good things. He loves to give us good things - the best things! Quickly and just in passing I want to mention:
Three Overlapping Purposes of Answered Prayer
- The glory of God (14:13, 15:8)
- Fruit of answered prayer - proof that we are disciples (15:8)
- Fullness of joy (16:24)
Do you pray?
1. Repent. The neglect of prayer is practical atheism. It is to live as though he doesn’t exist… or it is to relate to a god quite unlike the true God of Scripture. It’s also pride. Prayer is the quintessential act of humility. The reason we don’t pray is pride. Prayerlessness says, “I got this” or “God can’t” or “God won’t”. What an affront to God and his power, his willingness. What if God took back his invitation? What if he said, “When you call out to me, I will not answer.” He does say that to certain people:
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, 25 because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, 27 when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, 30 would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, 31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. (Proverbs 2)
Jesus is counseling us today. Will you heed? If you are mostly prayerless. Repent, and heed his counsel, and respond to his invitation to pray.
2. Start filling up a treasure chest of promises from the word of God. Scour God’s word. Shamelessly grab promises (that are truly promises) - because they are for you! God wants the best things for you… WAY more than you do. So put those promises in your hand and bring them to God asking him to fulfill his word, asking in Jesus name, expecting him to answer. Luke 11:13 - “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him…”
Starting this morning.