The Essentials of Prayer
Text: Luke 18:9-14
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
Over the past four weeks we have covered a great deal of ground concerning prayer. We have talked about the necessity of prayer, power through prayer, purpose in prayer, and the possibilities of prayer. Today I want to zero in on the essentials of prayer. The essentials of prayer are those things which embody what it means to be in prayer. There are four that I want to address.
The first essential to prayer is: our full involvement. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Prayer takes in the whole person and prayer affects the whole person. This is why it is so important for us to be in a place wherein we will not be interrupted. We need to be in a place that is as free from distraction as possible. Otherwise, we are divided because of our senses, the things going on around us, pull us away from our focus on God. There is a story about Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, and several other children, where whenever she needed quiet time to pray, she would take her apron and throw it up over her head. This would indicate to the children it was time to settle down because mother was in prayer and didn’t want to be distracted during that time.
In the parable that Jesus told here in Luke, he pointed out that both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, went to the Temple to pray. They both went to the one place where they would be undistracted and could potentially focus themselves for prayer. Prayer takes the entire person, both the emotion and the mind,
are involved. Our intellect is needed because through the mind we are able to prepare ourselves to come before God. We are able to think about what we will be praying for and asking for in prayer. Our emotion is needed because it brings passion to our praying. It opens us up to the person and presence of God as we seek His face. The mind and the emotion together, focused, brings us into a great connection with the divine. This is why we need to have time to pray without distractions.
Oh, yes, we can pray any time, anywhere, shopping, driving, doing dishes, but, the most intimate praying takes place when we take time apart, focused and centered on nothing other than Christ our Lord.
Another essential of prayer is humility. To be humble means we do not think more highly of our self
than we ought to. It doesn’t mean we beat ourselves up and look at ourselves as lowly, filthy, disgusting, wretched creatures with no skills or redeeming value. It doesn’t mean we look at ourselves as nothing but doormats for others. Being humble merely means not viewing ourselves as superior to other people.
When we come to God in prayer, we need to come acknowledging we have nothing. We come acknowledging our weakness and need, trusting in God for help and guidance. We come in this way to remind ourselves that it is God who supplies all our need. It is important to remember this because as soon as we start approaching God as though we have something, and we begin to approach God as though it was a courtesy to God that we come to him, then we get into trouble. When we start to come before God as though we are doing Him a personal favor by being in his presence, we get our self into deep weeds. We get our self into deep weeds because we begin to get spiritually prideful as we start to esteem others as not really being worthy to be in our presence, let alone God’s.
Consider the prayer of the Pharisee in this passage, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess”(Luke 18:11-12).
“God, I am so good I can hardly stand myself. Wow, God! I’m just amazing. Look at all the good I do. Boy, I’m such a great Christian. I’m glad I don’t party like those non-Christian people. I don’t even hang out with non-Christians, God. I bet I’ll get a special place in heaven for that!”
If we pray like that, or pray with that kind of attitude in our heart, then we’ll get a special place alright, but it probably won’t be where we think it is. We cannot approach God as though we have merit or personal righteousness, because we don’t. Those of us who claim the name of Jesus Christ have no right to be prideful. We have no right to be prideful because we were all in the same position as non-Christians before we came into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
We were made righteous because of Christ. We are a forgiven people because of Jesus, not because of anything we did. When we come to God in prayer we come only by His grace, through the righteousness of Christ.
Humility is important in prayer. Consider the prayer of the Tax Collector, “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’”(Luke 18:13).
“Lord, I don’t even have a right to stand in your presence, please forgive me and have mercy upon me, a sinner.” No pride or arrogance in his prayer. No honoring of himself. Just a complete understanding of himself before God.
Humility is acknowledging we are a people in need, with no strength of our own, coming to a God who can meet our needs and fill us with His strength and renew us by His grace.
A third essential to prayer is devotion. Devotion is the particular frame of mind found in one entirely devoted to God. It is the spirit of reverence, of awe, of godly fear. What is interesting in this story that Jesus shares of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, is the one who you would think would be devoted because of their knowledge, education, and experience, is the one who is, in reality, the farthest from God.
The Pharisee, through his prayer, is obviously interested in boosting his own self-esteem and self-worth in his eyes and in God’s. Yet, the Tax Collector, the one hated by every party in Jesus’ day because of their connection to the Roman government, is the one who meets the qualifications of a devoted person. The Tax Collector has a spirit of reverence, he does not even lift his eyes heavenward. He keeps his face to the ground. He has the spirit of awe, he recognizes his place in the presence of God as the one who is in great need. He also has the spirit of Godly fear in that he beats his chest and cries to God for mercy. The religious Pharisee was devoted, in reality, to himself, while the Tax Collector was truly devoted to God.
Edward McKendree Bounds put the need for devotion this way: “The great lack of modern religion is the spirit of devotion. We hear sermons in the same spirit with which we listen to a lecture or hear a speech. We visit the house of God just as if it were a common place, on a level with the theater, the lecture room or the forum. We look upon the minister of God not as a divinely called person of God, but merely as a sort of public speaker, on plane with the politician, the lawyer, or the average speech maker, or the lecturer. Oh, how the spirit of true and genuine devotion would radically change all this for the better…we need the spirit of devotion, not only to salt our secularities, but to make praying real prayers. We need to put the spirit of devotion into Monday’s business as well as in Sunday’s worship. We need the spirit of devotion, to recollect always the presence of God, to be always doing the will of God, to direct all things always to the glory of God”(The Essentials of Prayer, 27).
The spirit of devotion puts God in all things, especially into our prayers.
We must be fully involved in our prayers, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We must bring ourselves before God humbly, and with full devotion. And with the final essential of prayer, praise and thanksgiving. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving all go hand in hand. Thanksgiving, of course, includes gratitude. In fact, thanksgiving is the expression of an inward conscious gratitude to God for mercies received and prayers answered. Consider the Tax Collector. What did he pray for? He prayed for God to have mercy upon him. Do you think God answered that prayer? Would this person have been grateful for that answer? Absolutely! The Tax Collector would have been full of praise and thanksgiving for being forgiven and receiving God’s mercy!
What about the Pharisee? Was he grateful to God after his prayer? Likely not. The Pharisee didn’t ask God for anything. He was too busy singing his own praises to be able to sing the praises of God. We can only sing praise to God when we are focused on, who? God!
Prayer turns to gratitude and praise when the things asked for have been granted by God. Thanksgiving follows answered prayer just as day follows night. Have you had prayers answered? After having your prayers answered did you tell anyone? Did you praise God for the answer? Of course you did! Giving thanks to God is the very life of prayer!
This is why we sing! This is why we praise the Lord! Because he has answered our prayers. If we have a relationship with Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, then we praise the Lord for that answered prayer! Jesus heard our cry for grace and forgiveness, and He answered that prayer by giving us new life in Him! One of the greatest blessings we could ever receive!
Our God answers prayer, so we are motivated, through those answers, to praise him more and more and to pray more and more. Answered prayers motivate us to continue to pray and to pray more deeply and seek God more fervently.
These essentials: Involving our whole self in prayer, coming humbly to prayer, being fully devoted to God in our prayer, and coming with praise and thanksgiving on our lips for what God has done and what God will do, are important because they keep us ready to pray at all times.
When we face times of trouble, what do we need to do? Pray! When it comes to promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ, what do we need to do? Pray! When it comes to the needs of others around the world, and in our community, what do we need to do? Pray!
Prayer is the necessity that calls us to full involvement. It calls us to engage our whole self in the presence of God. We are called to put the essentials of prayer into practice, both individually and as a body of believers, the church, for we are the body of Christ.
We are to pray in unity, involving the whole church, coming before the Lord humbly, acknowledging our need, fully committed, devoted, to the cause of Christ, praising God and thanking Him in the full confidence that He has already begun answering our prayers. Through these essentials our hearts are focused in prayer. Amen.