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Nov 26, 2017

What Should We Pray?

Passage: Luke 22:39-46

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: The Why, How and What of Prayer

Category: Prayer

Keywords: intercession, pray, prayer, prayer requests, what to pray for


We’ve asked why we pray and how we should pray, so we’ll end our series on prayer asking, What should we pray for? We read from Luke 22. In the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus is pressed down with the weight of carrying the cross of our sin, guilt and shame, he prays, ‘Father, not my will but your will be done.’ The faith and example of Jesus lead us to prayers that submit our requests to God’s will. CS Lewis struggles with this. Not because of the teaching, but because in other places we are told to bring our requests to God expecting these to be granted: ‘Ask and it will be given you . . .’ Lewis asks, which way are we to pray? ‘How am I to pray tonight?’ he wonders. How would you answer him from your experience in prayer? Our catechism says we do pray with both of these expectations: What did God command us to pray for? Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us. Our growth and journey in prayer learns to embrace both a trusting hope and expectation for God’s good gifts and that in the giving of those gifts God’s will is done in our lives.


We’ve been asking the Lord Jesus to teach us to pray

because we confess we are not prayer experts

and still have a lot to learn about prayer.

First we asked why we pray,

and the Spirit used Scripture to reveal to us

that we pray in order to spend time with

our Heavenly Father:

prayer is our thankful response

for being brought into a right relationship with God

thru Christ,

and our means of living in and discerning

God’s presence.

Prayer makes real Jesus’ promise:

‘I am with you always, to the very end.’


Last week we asked how we should pray,

and confessed we worry too much about mechanics

instead of our faith-relationship with Jesus.

If we give the Lord our best the Spirit will guide us.

The best way to learn how to pray is to pray.

So we should come in prayer to God often

knowing we will always be heard

and blessed being in the Lord’s presence.

That’s how we pray.

Trust matters more than technique.


Why and how lead to our last question

and the one we wonder about most:

What should we pray for?


The Heidelberg Catechism summarizes

the generous grace of God and says:

We should pray for everything we need,

spiritually and physically,

as embraced in the prayer Jesus taught us.

That sounds to me like nothing out of bounds,

but nothing frivolous either.

Let us not think that an audience with the King of Kings

gives us the right to whine about

our first world problems

before the Crucified and Risen One.

It also says that while it is good

to bring all our requests to God,

there are no false promises that God always says yes

to whatever it is we want or think we want.

Christ is the King,

not you or me.


We have testified together about prayers answered

in ways that could only be called miracles.

But we have prayed prayers as well,

good prayers,

not selfish prayers for ourselves,

not silly prayers in the heat of the moment,

but good prayers that

at least from our own view

 God has said no to.


But we keep praying,

because in the asking we learn to  trust

that God has our best in mind:

that at times we are called to suffer

because blessed are those who mourn . . .

that some prayers must be prayed for a long time,

years, maybe generations,

because in faithfulness answers come

that could come no other way.

And so we continue to learn

that prayer is always more than requests,

it is even more than a full submission to God’s will,

it is a growing desire

that God’s will is what we long for most.


We also confess there are good things

we should pray for that we rarely do pray:

to suffer for Jesus

to grow in our obedience

to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus.

These are examples of the

‘everything we need spiritually,’

that often take a back seat in our prayers.

In Luke 22 Jesus models for us what we should pray for – the cross will demand

everything spiritually and physically from him.

And so in the garden,

facing temptation,

full of sorrow,

Jesus prays to our Heavenly Father:

‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation . . .

‘Father, take this cup – this task – from me . . .’

Everything he needs spiritually and physically.


This prayer highlights the mystery and wonder of prayer

that CS Lewis writes about.

CS Lewis, in a writing titled Petitionary Prayer:

A Problem Without An Answer,

confesses a struggle in prayer.

At some places in the Bible

we are commanded and encouraged

to pray in intercession and petition

for almost anything with the expectation

that those prayer requests will be answered

by the Heavenly Father.

Like in Matthew 21:22 “If you believe,

you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

What we are to believe, he says,

is precisely that we get ‘whatever’ we ask for.

We are not to believe that we shall get

either what we ask for or else something far better:

we are to believe we shall get those very things.

And this is not just one Bible verse.

There are many like Matthew 21,

another example is John 14:13, 14 -  

And I will do whatever you ask in my name,

so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

 You may ask me for anything in my name,

and I will do it.


We are encouraged to take this at face value,

it seems to me, he is saying.

Yet our experiences in prayer are not always so.

“Dare we say that when God promises

‘You shall have what you ask’

he secretly means,

you shall have it if you ask

for something I really want to give you?

What should we think of an earthly father

who promised to give his son

whatever he chose for his birthday

and when the boy asked for a bicycle

gave him a mathematics book instead?

Of course the math book

may be better for the son than the bike,

and a robust faith may manage to believe so.

But that’s not the problem.

The boy is tempted not to complain

that the bicycle was denied,

but that the promise of anything he chose was made. And so with us.


But then there is also this Gethsemane prayer of Jesus, that looks at odds with the promises he has made to us

regarding prayer.

Here Jesus prays:

Take this cup from me, that’s his request.

But before his petition he says,

Father, if you are willing,

and after his request he adds,

Not my will but yours be done.


So which way am I to pray?

Our catechism answers: both ways.

Prayer embraces the mystery and wonder

of living by grace alone,

and our desire to live fully by that grace.

What did God command us to pray for?

Everything we need, spiritually and physically,

as embraced in the prayer

Christ our Lord himself taught us.

Everything from our daily bread

to your kingdom come, your will be done.


Can you think that hopefully

about your own prayers to the Heavenly Father?

Let me give you another insight from CS Lewis:

Sometimes people ask,

“If God is sovereign, then why pray?”

“. . . if you say “It is useless to pray

because our Father knows what is best

and will certainly do it,”

then why is it not equally useless

(and for the same reason)

to try to alter the course of events

in any way whatever?

“. . . suppose you never ask a person next to you

to pass the salt,

because God knows best

whether you ought to have salt or not.

And suppose you never take an umbrella

because God knows best

whether you ought to be wet or dry?”

“The odd thing is that the Lord

should let us influence the course of events at all.

But since He lets us do it in one way,

by our choices and behavior,

I don’t see why He shouldn’t let us do it in the other,

by our prayers.”


Lewis is saying that

because we have the capacity to cause

(from a human perspective) real events,

we have an obligation and responsibility to act.

Our prayers are no different from those actions.


And just like our actions,

some faith experiences are done quickly

but some take longer.

We might be able to learn to read in a short time,

only a year or so of school.

We might not learn how to love for decades.

We might get pretty good at our jobs in a season or so.

We might not be able to break from

the sinful habit of pornography or anger or racism

for the better part of our lives.

We may be forgiven the instant we pray.

It might take many sermons

and sacramental experiences

for us to finally rest assured in our forgiveness.

So don’t despair or dismiss

praying for the same things over and over:

Annie Dillard writes about the time she was in church, and the pastor was praying for the congregation,

and in the middle of his list of people

and their struggles and hopes

he stopped and all of the sudden blurted out,

Lord, we’ve been praying these same prayers

every week!

What gives, he was pleading!


Sometimes we do that too –

we pray the same prayers for a long time –

not because we think God hasn’t heard us the first time,

but because to keep someone in prayer

before our Lord and Savior

is a kindness and a trust,

a thanksgiving born out of who we know God to be,

our Father, who has our best in mind

and whose kingdom comes.


So here is some help in prayer as Jesus prays:

Do pray knowing God hears us the first time we pray,

but that there are larger spiritual battles going on

that may require a long time

from our human perspective

before we see what God has done.


In Daniel 10 we read that for three weeks Daniel fasted, prayed, mourned for three weeks:

how come no answer –

an angel bearing the presence of God

then came and said:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel.

Since the first day that you set your mind

to gain understanding

and to humble yourself before your God,

your words were heard,

and I have come in response to them.

13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom

resisted me twenty-one days.


Do offer your requests acknowledging

that in and through our prayers

the Spirit is making us holy.

In ALL our requests

is the ONE request to be like Jesus.

This is what God is answering in our prayers.

Faithful prayer changes us for the better:

a holy change only Christ can accomplish.


James KA Smith –

If you really want to know who a person is,

don’t ask where they work or about their family.

Dare to ask: What do you want?

What is your passion? What do you desire?

What are your loves?

Because God is love,

and we are made in the image of God,

broken tho that image is,

it is restored again in the love of our Savior

who took up our cross and forgave us by his sacrifice.

Because we are made in that image,

we are made for love also.


We are what we love.

So God guides us into a thankful,

purposeful, free life

when the Lord commands us to:

love God, love neighbor, and love church.


But as we’ve hinted at,

because of sin,

forgiven tho we are

guilt, shame, regret and disobedience

still stick to us.

‘The good that I want to do I don’t do,

the evil I don’t want to do I find myself doing.’


Tho we are what we love,

because of sin,

our love gets distorted, de-formed.

We are what we love – and the problem is:

we might not love what we think we love.


“Pray that you will not fall into temptation,”

Jesus says to his disciples,

while also saying it to himself in Gethsemane

before the cross.

And when he has finished praying

he says again to his disciples,

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation,”

because you are tempted

to love something other than what you should.

We might not love what we think.


There are a couple of times in the Bible that Jesus asks:

what do you want?

What do you want me to do for you?

Do you love me?

Could you answer Jesus right now if he asked you that?

What do you really love?

What do you long for?


We know the right answer to that question.

But do you want to submit that answer to Jesus?


The Holy Spirit helps us face this broken desire within us head on thru prayer.

Helping us because we don’t always love

what we say we love.

With each prayer request we offer we

submit our heart to the re-forming of the Spirit

into the image of Jesus.

This is what the Spirit is doing in prayer.


What we love is tied directly to the purpose of our lives.

Jesus, our King,

has gifted us for that kingdom purpose.

So pray knowing that as you open your heart’s desire

to the Lord

in that submission and desire

your true purposes are being shaped and crafted:


Like Jeremiah,  

4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

    before you were born I set you apart;

    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”


His purpose, His true love.

Not the sort of thing we think to pray for.

But in our requests the Spirit directs an answer.


Joseph said to his brothers after all those years of hurt, abuse, slavery, imprisonment, abandonment:

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.


Not the kind of life he would have chosen.

But now he sees his life fulfilled,

God’s answer to all those prayers.


Mary responds to the angel:

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.

“May your word to me be fulfilled.”


Are we starting to think there is

a deep down love for God and kingdom

put within every life

that can rise only through prayer?


And then there is Paul:

the Lord said of him –

Acts 9: This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim

my name to the Gentiles and their kings

and to the people of Israel.

16 I will show him how much

he must suffer for my name.


How often do we pray to have the honor

to suffer for the name of Jesus?


And to Peter: John 21 - Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted;

but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you

and lead you where you do not want to go.”

19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death

by which Peter would glorify God.

Then he said to him, “Follow me!”


We think we love independence,

doing life our own way,

freedom meaning I can do whatever I want

whenever I want to do it.

And I will even love God on my own terms.

Jesus says no, that won’t help you answer

that question on your heart,

that won’t lead you to your true love.

You do not love what you think you love:

so follow me,

for all your life, even your death, is for my glory.


I hope this enlarges both our hopes

and expectations and desire for prayer.

Let me sum up our study and call to prayer this way:

WE are made to respond to God.

Kids, teens, young adults,

at some point in your life your faith

is something you have to choose to act on;

your parents can’t believe for you.

Prayer is our first response of faith

to our Heavenly Father.

And prayer awakens our thankfulness to God,

our joy in Christ,

and our generosity in the Spirit.

In the mystery of prayer –

bringing our requests to God

but also praying ‘your will be done’ –

we not only experience that our relationship

with the Triune God in faith

cannot be on our own terms,

we come to desire such a belonging in Christ.

And the Father promises to hear us

and respond in the love and power of Jesus.


So let us pray:

exercise – the worship team will lead us in song,

then pray bringing your heartfelt requests to the Lord

one physical need

one spiritual need

and then one physical need

and one spiritual need for another


then the worship team will lead us again,

and after that I will pray

beginning with a blessing from Psalm 37.


Psalm 37 - Trust in the Lord and do good;

    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Take delight in the Lord,

    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;

    trust in him and he will do this:

6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,

    your vindication like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the Lord

    and wait patiently for him;

do not fret when people succeed in their ways,

    when they carry out their wicked schemes.