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Teach Us to Pray

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 4, 2024 12:01 am

Teach Us to Pray

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 4, 2024 12:01 am

Prayer can be a struggle for every Christian at times--even Jesus' disciples sought His instruction on how to pray. Today, R.C. Sproul begins his study of the Lord's Prayer by explaining what we should avoid doing when we pray.

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The disciples came up to Jesus on an occasion and said, Master, teach us how to pray. I find that fascinating that that was the burning question.

Why do you suppose they asked Him that? I'm speculating now, but my guess is they saw the link between Jesus' extraordinary prayer life and His power, His teaching, His character, His whole person. If you had the opportunity to ask Jesus to teach you something, what would you choose? Maybe how to raise the dead?

How to walk on water? Will the disciples ask Jesus how to pray? Welcome to the Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. Prayer should be a natural part of the Christian life, yet it's an area that many Christians have struggled with at some point, so it's a great encouragement to know that even His close disciples asked this question and needed help.

All week, R.C. Sproul will be taking us through portions of Jesus' answer to help us in our prayer lives. We're also offering Dr. Sproul's book on prayer, along with digital access to the complete series you'll hear this week for a donation of any amount at

Here's Dr. Sproul on Jesus' answer to the disciples' question, beginning with how Jesus said we shouldn't pray. A few months ago, I was sitting in an easy chair in my house doing something that I don't do very often, and that's I was channel surfing, sitting there with my remote control flipping through the channels. And as I was moving through the channels, I quickly saw a view of somebody playing the piano, but it was like an aerial shot. All you could see were the hands playing on the keyboard. And I flipped right on past it, went two or three more channels, and had a delayed reaction.

You know how that happens, where all of a sudden something registers in your brain. And I stopped flipping, and I said, wait a minute, that sound is familiar to my ear. And so I backed up the clicker, and now it was a frontal view of the person who was playing the piano. And I was shocked to see a friend of mine playing the piano on national television, and his name is George M'Ladden. And he was playing because he is a master teacher and has a teaching program for the piano called the See and Hear series, which uses audio tapes and so on. And this was a national infomercial is what it was. And George has a sound very much like George Shearing.

That's how I could recognize it. And there is my friend George M'Ladden on national television playing in his inimitable style. And my mind dropped back instantly to a circumstance that happened a few years ago when I was in San Diego for a conference.

And George M'Ladden, who now lives in San Diego, came to the conference. And after one of the plenary sessions of the conference, I grabbed George and I said, George, I said, we've got to find a piano. So we looked all through this church until we found a choir rehearsal room, and nobody was around.

And we went in there and closed the door. And I said to George, I said, George, teach me some things about the piano. And he says, like, what? And I said, I don't know, just teach me something neat, because I love to play the piano and learn new little things, new little things, and I like to hear how he plays. And so he sat down at the piano and showed me a couple of little techniques that he uses in his repertoire. And I thought about that afterwards, about how eager I was to get him aside so that he could teach me to do something I didn't know how to do. And I don't ask very many people that question, teach me to do this or teach me to do that. But I will go out of my way to ask a person that question if I have great admiration for their ability or their prowess in a particular skill or art, particularly if it's something I'm interested in.

I don't usually ask rocket scientists to tell me how to build a rocket because I think it would be a waste of his time and mine as well. But I think now about the disciples in the New Testament who walked around as part of the entourage of Jesus every day. They had enrolled in His school. It was a peripatetic ministry. Jesus was a rabbi who didn't have a regular school where they had classes, but He moved from village to village, and His disciples literally followed after Him. In fact, when He called the disciples, He said to them, follow Me.

And He meant it literally. He wasn't saying follow after My teachings or so on, but He meant literally follow after Me, enroll in My rabbinic school, be My students, because the word mathetes or disciple means a learner or a student. And these men had gathered about Jesus and would literally walk behind Him and try to memorize the teaching that He would give them as they were walking down the road.

Well, these people obviously got more than they bargained for. Not only did they learn the great truths of the Scriptures following after Jesus, but they also were given the unspeakable privilege of being eyewitnesses of the multitude of miracles that Jesus performed. It was said of Christ that His life was a blaze of miracles.

Now, here was my question. Following Jesus around day after day after day, listening to His teaching, watching Him perform all these miracles, and then you have the opportunity, like I had with this great pianist, George Miladyn, to ask Him to teach you something. What would you ask Jesus to teach you? You would think that the disciples would go up to Him and say, Jesus, teach us how to turn the water into wine, or teach us how to walk on the water, or teach us how to raise people from the dead. Those are the kinds of questions I would have been asking Jesus. But the New Testament tells us of a different question that the disciples posed to Jesus. They came up to Jesus on an occasion, as Luke records it for us in his gospel, and said, Master, teach us how to pray. I find that fascinating, that that was the burning question they brought with Jesus, the how-to question, that they wanted to gain a special insight into a skill or an art.

Now, the first thing I want to ask is this. Why do you suppose they asked Him that? I'm speculating now, but my guess is they saw the link between Jesus' extraordinary prayer life and His power, His teaching, His character, His whole person. They would notice that when Jesus would go and minister to thousands of people, that after those events, He would withdraw by Himself. He would feel drained from that ministry. We remember when the woman who was hemorrhaging touched the hem of His garment, Jesus stopped and said, Who touched me?

Because I felt the power go out of me. And Jesus would not simply withdraw for a half an hour or for a half a day. The periods of time that Christ spent in prayer were intense. We know of the intensity of that prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed with such stress and fervency that drops of blood were coming from His forehead as sweat. We know that before He even selected His disciples and called them to follow after Him, He spent the entire night alone in prayer, so that that selection process only took place after this profound period of wrestling with the Father in prayer. And the disciples noticed this. They saw the intimacy that Jesus had with the Father and obviously drew the link between His prayer and His power. And so when they came to Him, they asked Him the most reasonable question they would have to ask Him, Lord, teach us how to pray. And they added a little statement to that as John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray. See, they not only noticed Jesus' extraordinary character, but they had also seen it in John the Baptist and in John the Baptist's followers, who later, of course, transferred their devotion to Christ after John had pointed to Jesus. Now, when Jesus answers the question from the disciples, when they say, please teach us how to pray, I'm a little bit surprised by how He answered it, far be it for me to suggest that He could have given a better answer.

And I don't mean that, but I do mean that I'm surprised. I would have thought that Jesus would have said to His disciples, if you really want to learn how to pray, immerse yourselves in the Psalms. Because in the Psalms, we have a record of prayers that were given under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. And as the New Testament tells us, the Holy Spirit is active in assisting us in our praying. And so, in the New Testament, praying, we're not all that adept at prayer.

This is not something that we have mastered, for the most part. We find it difficult to articulate our deepest feelings and our deepest concerns to God. And yet God is pleased to give His Holy Spirit to assist us in expressing ourselves to the Father in prayer. And He did that, obviously, for the Psalmist in the Old Testament. I've also been interested in some of the evaluations of church historians who have indicated more than once that if we look back through church history and look at those periods of time in the history of the church where the church flourished, where great spiritual vitality became manifest, where worship reached its apogee in the history of the church, that the historians indicate that during those periods of special renewal in the church's history, the Psalms were at the heart and center of the liturgy of the church, and in the devotional life of the people. And so, those people who have learned the lesson of meditating deeply on the Psalms are experiencing the supreme Old Testament model, at least, of prayer that is provoked by God the Holy Spirit. And that's how I would have answered the question, but aren't you glad I'm not Jesus? But no, I don't mean to suggest that Jesus in any way denied the value of the Psalms, but just in passing, I want to suggest to you that if you really want to learn how to pray and the kind of prayers that are pleasing to God, that you do that, that you immerse yourselves in the Psalm and consider the Psalms as prayers, not just as anthems, but as prayers. But again, that's not how Jesus answered the question.

How did He answer the question? In verse 5 of chapter 6 of Matthew, He says this, "'When you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.'" I believe that this is one of the most neglected passages in the whole New Testament, one of the most neglected instructions given to us by Christ. But when He's dealing with this whole concept of prayer, here, of course, in the Sermon on the Mount, the first the first thing He tells us about prayer is how not to pray. And so the first restriction against prayer is a restriction against hypocrisy.

Now we need to take this seriously, because God is not honored, and God is not pleased by hypocritical prayer. Now the term hypocrisy in the New Testament is drawn from the culture of the day, and a hypocrite was one who was engaged in drama, in the theater. He was play-acting. What he was doing was not real. The original meaning of the term had nothing to do with insincerity.

We don't charge actors today with being hypocrites or insincere simply because they're playing a role that does not correspond to their real lives. But the word was drawn from that environment and then applied, particularly by Jesus, to people who were going through the motions of prayer, making a great external show of piety, but whose real state did not match this outward show. It was a sham. It was phony.

It was fraudulent. It was a fake form of godliness, which had been mastered by the Pharisees. Prayer was for them a business. Prayer was something that was expected from people, and so they made a public display of their piety. And we need to be careful here, because we need to be careful here, because Christians in our day and age are often enjoined to bear witness to their faith. And of course we are called to bear witness to our faith, which means making the invisible visible.

And that is our duty as Christians. But sometimes we think that one of the primary ways of bearing witness to people is by demonstrating our Christian spirituality by public prayer. Now that's a dangerous thing, because the purpose of prayer is not to be seen of men. The motivation for prayer is not to display our spirituality before the watching world. Prayer is to be something intensely private. Now I don't believe that Christianity is private. I've heard people on talk shows say, I never talk about religion or politics because religion is intensely personal, and it's intensely private.

Well, I grant half of that thesis. Certainly, Christianity is personal. It's not impersonal, but it is not private. The New Testament gives us all kinds of mandates to declare our faith publicly. We're not Secret Service Christians. We're not supposed to be closet Christians. We're to bear witness to the world of our commitment to Christ. We're not to hide that. But prayer involves a special kind of communion, a special relationship between the person individually or the church corporately with their God.

And this is not designed for show. And we need to be careful of that. I mean, I don't know how many times I've been in church, and I've heard the minister pray the pastoral prayer on Sunday morning, and I wonder to whom he's speaking. You sort of get a mini sermon in the prayer, and you get the strange sensation, he's not talking to God. He's talking to us.

And he's got us here as a captive audience. Our eyes are closed, and we're being quiet, and we're trying to focus on what he's saying. But what we should be doing is eavesdropping, as it were, on the pastor when he is addressing God for us. We participate because He is representing us before the presence of God, and so we listen.

But it's not for our ears primarily. We're praying to God. And so the first thing Jesus says is, don't pray like the hypocrites. And the second thing He says is, do pray in private.

Go in, shut the door, go in your closet, get on your face before God, and the Father who hears you in secret will reward you in public. We've missed something here where we want to display to other people how pious we are. God's not interested in piety. He's not interested in religion in terms of the outward show. He's interested in godliness.

He's interested in righteousness. Even spirituality is not an end in itself. Our spiritual lives are means to the end of godliness. And, of course, one of the most important of those means is prayer. Alright, quickly, what's the second thing Jesus says here by way of preface? He says, and when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Again, Jesus says, do not be involved in prayer as some kind of magical incantation. That's what the pagans do. They recite meaningless phrases, empty phrases, over and over again. They'll sit around and say, om, om, and that kind of thing.

And they'll say, om, om, and that kind of thing. Or they'll just recite long prayers with no understanding, no passion, just empty, meaningless rote recitation. Jesus does not commend this as a godly form of prayer, but rather He links the use of vain repetitions to the work of paganism.

Now we'll talk more about that as we continue with Jesus' teaching on prayer in our next session. Martin Luther was known for many things, one of which, at least in the minds of his contemporaries, was for his extraordinary devotion to prayer. Luther was given to a disciplined prayer life whereby he would spend a couple of hours every day of his life in prayer. And somebody asked him on one occasion, Brother Martin, you're a busy man, you're a productive man.

Look at all the books he wrote, 50-some thick volumes of books. He had all kinds of responsibilities in the teaching ministry and preaching and leading the Reformation and all the rest. How in the world can you find time in your busy schedule for two hours of prayer a day?

And Luther answered that question by saying, well, the two-hour principle was basic, fundamental. When he was pressed with more tasks and more responsibilities and his life became more busy than normal, Luther said he would adjust his prayer life. But what would you suppose he would adjust?

In what direction? You would think he would diminish the time that he spent in prayer, but he meant just the opposite. He said, the busier I am, the more responsibilities I have, the more I find it necessary to engage in prayer. So his prayer time would increase rather than diminish with the amount of pressure on his life.

At that point, Luther was imitating Christ, because that was also true for our Lord. That was R.C. Sproul on this Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Thanks for being with us as we begin a week of study on the topic of prayer.

What you just heard was the first message from R.C. Sproul's 10-part series, The Lord's Prayer. Even though you may be familiar with this prayer, in this series, Dr. Sproul takes the time to consider this prayer line by line and the practical lessons that each of us can learn. Request access to the complete 10-part series and Dr. Sproul's book, The Prayer of the Lord, when you give a gift of any amount, at, or when you call us at 800-435-4343. In both the series and the book, be reminded of the incredible privilege that it is to call upon our Heavenly Father in prayer. Give your gift today at After laying the groundwork today, tomorrow we move ahead several verses to consider the petition, Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done, On Earth As It Is In Heaven. That's Tuesday, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-04 02:34:38 / 2024-03-04 02:42:50 / 8

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