Turning to God for Help
Prayer, Forgiveness, Sermon on the Mount
We have been looking at part of the instruction Jesus gives us about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (there is more in Matthew 7:7-11). Specifically we are looking at what is known as “the Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6. Last week we looked at the proper attitude for prayer: intimate, respectful, trusting, and hungry for the Kingdom of God to come.
This morning we look at the last half of the prayer that focuses on bringing our needs to God.
Before we talk about praying for needs we must address an important issue: We believe (based on Scripture) that God is Sovereign (in other words that He is in control and will always do what pleases Him). Second, we believe God responds to our prayers. In other words, there seems to be some things that will not happen unless we pray.
The Bible certainly teaches that “in some sense” we bring about God’s will by our praying. “In some sense” we cause circumstances to change by praying. We do not know the extent of this influence but . . . we know from Biblical accounts and teachings that prayer makes a difference. But the Bible says no one can change God’s will.
How do we combine these two seemingly contradictory ideas of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s responsibility to effect change? Tim Keller writes,
If we believed that God was in charge and our actions meant nothing, it would lead to discouraged passivity. If on the other hand we really believed that our actions changed God’s plan—it would lead to paralyzing fear. If both are true, however, we have the greatest incentive for diligent effort, and yet we can always sense God’s everlasting arms under us. In the end, we can’t frustrate God’s good plans for us.
A second issue to take up before we talk about specific requests is: What about prayers that are not answered? The Bible tells us
14 And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. 15 And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. (1 John 5:14-15)
if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! (John 15:7)
God will give us those things that are in accordance with His will. We don’t get what we ask for because of at least 3 reasons:
- We are asking selfishly (James 4:3). God does not give us things we ask for out of greed any more than a parent would do so. God is not a genie that you can command to do what you want.
- We do not see our prayers answered because the timing is wrong. It is not that our prayers won’t be answered it is that they will not be answered at this moment.
- We are asking for the wrong thing. Sometimes we pray sincere prayers but we don’t understand that we are really asking for something that if granted would hurt us.
Let me give you a common example. Let’s say someone you love (a parent) is very very sick. Our instinct is to always pray for their healing. However, what if God does spare them but they are no longer able to live in their home, or think clearly? That would be a greater horror. Death is not the enemy when you are a child of God. If we had it to do over again we would pray: Lord, please take care of my parent. I place them in Your hands and I pray for their healing if that is what is best.”
So, let’s talk about that for which we should pray.
Praying For Our Needs to be Met
11 Give us today the food we need
Martin Luther defined bread as “Everything necessary for the preservation of this life, including food, a healthy body, house, home, wife and children.”
We can pray boldly because we know that God gives to us abundantly and he does beyond all that we can ask or think. However, praying boldly and praying arrogantly are not the same things. We do not command God and we do not tell God what He must do. We always pray as Jesus did, “Not my will, but yours be done.” We do this not because we are praying a weak prayer. We do this because we recognize God knows better than us and His plan is perfect.
There are several things we learn from Jesus statement:
- God wants us to bring Him our needs. The Lord wants us to talk about all the things that concern us and weigh us down. God cares about our lives. He cares for us. Whatever concerns or weighs on You matters to Him. If you see it as a need, He wants you to talk to Him about it.
- God wants us to acknowledge that He can meet these needs. When we come to the Lord every day and ask Him to equip us for each day, meet the problems that we face, and address the concerns that we carry we are reminding ourselves that the Lord is the One who provides everything we need. By asking we are in a sense submitting to His will and purpose for our lives. It is kind of like saying grace. At every meal we acknowledge that we get every blessing from His hand.
- We are to do this every day. We are not to pray a single prayer and say, “God, please provide all the needs for the rest of my life.” God wants me to come to Him every day. I need that daily reminder that he is the source of my life and my strength.
As a dad and Grandpa I know it is fun to learn what is going on in the lives of my children and Grandchildren (even if I have already heard about it from someone else). I love to hear them talk about what is going on. I believe the same is true for the Lord.
When we turn to the Lord in prayer we align our hearts with His. We are reminded of what is truly important.
One of the purposes of bringing God our needs and petitions is for our benefit. When we bring our needs and place them at the feet of Jesus in a submissive attitude, confident of His wisdom, we find rest and peace inside of us.
There have been times when I did not know what the future held yet when I turned to Him in prayer I was able to rest in the knowledge that I was “in His hands”. And when you are in His hands you don’t have anything to worry about.
Praying for Protection/Deliverance
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one
Some versions say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. That is a bad translation. God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13). He does not try to trip us up.
This prayer is a prayer that acknowledges our inherent weakness. It is like saying, “Lord, you know the way I am; how prone I am to wander. Guard me from wandering. Help me to remain close to You. Help me to see problems before they become overwhelming. In other words, keep me from trouble”.
Of course, we will at times fall to temptation. However that is not because God has not warned us over and over again. You are probably like I am in the fact that sometimes I see all the stop signs God sends my way but I just blow through them! The Bible tells us that
If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:12,13)
We are never caught on the raging sea of temptation without a life boat. God will always give us a way to defeat the temptation. Sometimes we will take that way, other times we think that we know better. Our prayer is for God to help us see the way out, and to give us the strength and courage to take it.
Praying for Forgiveness
The first of these prayers was for God to provide for our needs. The second was for God to lead us spiritually so we would not succumb to temptation. This last command is about how we deal with other people.
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Every one of us understands the need to pray for forgiveness. We all sin. We all travel the wrong way on the one-way street called holiness.
The Bible tells us that if
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness (1 John 1:9)
It is an amazing promise. If we will honestly acknowledge our sin and the sinfulness of it, God will forgive us through the sacrifice of Christ. So day after day we are called to make a personal inventory of our lives. We should review our day and confess honestly where we have fallen in our actions, in our thoughts and in our inactions. We must confess when we were indifferent and hostile to the things of God. It is all about honesty and candor.
We come seeking the forgiveness God promises. However, there is that little phrase, “as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”
We have to ask, what is this verse saying? We know it is NOT saying that we cannot go to Heaven unless we forgive everyone. We cannot do ANYTHING to effect our own salvation other than rest completely on the work of Christ on our behalf. If our salvation is contingent on the way we forgive other people that would be a way of being saved by our works. Besides, it would result in most of us going to Hell.
So what is He saying? I believe we are saying this in the prayer, “Lord, please forgive me because I recognize how undeserving I am. I seek your forgiveness even as I seek to forgive others for their sin. I see the magnitude of my own sin and the incredible mercy that has been extended so I in turn extend mercy and forgiveness to others.”
Jesus told a parable about a man who was forgiven a great debt and then refused to forgive another for a very small debt that was owed. What the parable shows us is this: if we understand what we have been forgiven by God; if we truly appreciate the magnitude of God’s grace; then we will be willing to extend forgiveness for the LESSER offenses committed against us.
I know it doesn’t seem like what others do to us are lesser offenses but that shows a lack of understanding on our part! We don’t see the exceeding sinfulness of sin! We don’t understand the treasonous ways of our actions toward God. We offended the Creator of the Universe and the One who saved us and sustains us!
When we are unwilling to forgive four things come into play,
- We reveal a failure to appreciate our own forgiveness. We have forgotten how desperately dependent we are on forgiveness.
- We are playing God. We have decided that it is our job to determine the fate of the one who has offended us. In other words we become the judge. The Bible reminds us that God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”
- We are refusing to trust God to act justly in vindication. Why don’t we let God deal with those who have offended us? It is because we don’t trust Him to do what is right. There is a sense in which we are like the prophet Jonah. We are afraid God might forgive our enemy (like he did us)!
- We are handicapping our own ability to live victoriously. When we refuse to forgive it means we harbor bitterness in our heart. We can become angry and then we may take out that anger on those around us. We will slander the one we refuse to forgive. We will feel anxiety every time we have to see this person. In other words, we will keep ourselves in a prison that will drain the life from us!
Forgiveness is like an escape valve. We can let go of those feelings and find the joy of life once again. In other words, forgiveness is good for YOU because it sets you free from all the baggage that comes with a bitter heart.
Forgiveness does not come easy. Putting the hurt we have experienced in the hands of Jesus is a hard thing to do. The deeper the hurt, the harder it is to let go. Hurts from people we thought loved us and hurts TO people we love are probably the hardest to forgive.
I do not pretend to be an expert on forgiveness. But I know how important it is. It is always easier to forgive when someone is willing to confess the hurt they have caused. But even if they don’t confess . . . we are still in bondage until we forgive. We have to put the hurt and the injustice into the hands of Jesus.
So here are some suggestions:
- Take time to remember the forgiveness that has already been extended to you. Remember what you deserved and then compare it to what you have been given. Those aware of their own dependence on mercy are better able to forgive others.
- Remind yourself that you are not “letting someone off” from responsibility for his or her actions, you are simply entrusting the case to a more impartial and wise Judge. This Judge knows all the mitigating factors and makes no mistakes.
- Spend as much time in prayer as necessary to give the situation to the Lord and not take it back. You will likely have to do this over and over again.
- Look at this as a spiritual problem between you and God and not an issue between you and the person who hurt you. It is now a question of whether or not you trust the Lord.
Forgiveness often takes time. Don’t give up even if you have to release the hurt 100 times or more. When you finally do let it go, you will experience a freedom that will fill you with life.
Probably everyone here has something they still need to forgive. It is time to confront our own sin of unforgiveness.
What I hope you have seen over these last few weeks is that prayer is not complicated. It is not about a technique, it is about a relationship. We are called to enter into a relationship with our Father that is filled with conversation.
It is privilege, it is a gift, and it is a blessing. Prayer draws us close to the One who loves us more than we can imagine. So let’s pray.
 Tim Keller Prayer (New York: Dutton 2014).. 225