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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am Worship service, 2017-10-29

Text: Matthew 6:7-8

 

Today is Reformation Sunday, the day in which we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. This was a great movement that God used to restore the divine truths of Scripture which had been obscured from the Church for centuries and replaced by man-made traditions.

 

The Reformation began on the 31st of October 1517 when a monk in Germany by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg. Within 4 weeksthese theses were copied out and sent throughout Germany and to surrounding countries. Many became bold to follow Luther’s courage. God raised up many more Reformers who joined in the movement. With one voice they all sounded forth the battle-cry of the Reformation: ‘By Grace alone, by Faith alone, by Scripture alone, in Christ alone, and glory to God alone!’ Many of them were persecuted for their stand and some were burnt at the stake. Though they faced unimaginable odds they triumphed and left behind an important legacy that still stands today.

 

The question that we ask now is: What was it that enabled these Reformers to take a stand for God and His Word? What was the secret of their incredible courage, their patient endurance and their undying passion to restore the purity of the Church of Jesus Christ? Well, one thing that we know about the Reformers was that they were devout men of prayer. In a recently-published book on the “Prayers of the Reformers” Thomas McPherson wrote, “They believed that one must pray in order to understand the Scriptures, and that one must read the Scriptures in order to know how to pray.” So they prayed for wisdom, guidance, perseverance and protection. We are told that Hugh Latimer, an English Reformer, oftentimes prayed for so long on his knees that he was not able to rise without help. John Knox is known for his passionate prayer, “Give me Scotland or I die.” The Queen of Scotland is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”

 

Martin Luther wrote, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” It is known that Luther spent hours talking with God in prayer. One of his friends, Veit Dietrich, who spent time with Luther during a conference, wrote the following to Melanchthon in 1530 – “No day passes that he does not give three hours to prayer, and those the fittest for study. Once I happened to hear him praying. Good God! How great a spirit, how great a faith, was in his very words! With such reverence did he ask, as if he felt that he was speaking with God; with such hope and faith, as with a Father and a Friend. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘that Thou art our Father and our God. I am certain, therefore, that Thou art about to destroy the persecutors of Thy children. If Thou doest not, then our danger is Thine too. This business is wholly Thine, we come to it under compulsion: Thou, therefore, defend.’ ...In almost these words I, standing afar off, heard him praying with a clear voice. And my mind burned within me with a singular emotion when he spoke in so friendly a manner, so weightily, so reverently, to God.”

 

If we are to do the Lord’s work today, we need to have a strong prayer life like these Reformers. The Protestant Reformation was a movement that was accomplished with much prayer. Today God has given us a work to do which is no less important that the work He gave to the Reformers 500 years ago. We are to be engaged in making disciples through salvation, sanctification and service to the glory of God. And making any progress in this work requires much concerted prayer.

 

But not all the prayers that are directed to God are answered. Why is this so? It is because not all prayers are made in the right manner and with the right attitude. How then can we learn to pray aright? We can learn this from what our Lord Jesus taught on the subject of prayer in His Sermon on the Mount – in Matthew 6:7,8.

 

Here Jesus warns us against praying as the heathen do. The word ‘heathen’ that is used here in v.7, refers to people who are religious but pagan in their beliefs. It refers to those who worship idols. Now, the heathen are often quite sincere in seeking favours from their gods or idols. The problem is that they do not have the right knowledge of God. The right knowledge of God is very important to our prayers. Prayer involves the application of our knowledge of God. Every prayer that deserves to be heard and answered can only be made with the right knowledge of who God is. A prayer may be extremely sincere, fervent, and filled with tears, but it avails nothing because it is not based on the right knowledge of God.

 

When we understand the root problem of the prayers of the heathen, then we can understand why they often use vain repetitions when they pray, as mentioned in v.7. That is why some of them use prayer wheels and some use a string of beads for counting their repeated prayers. In fact the word ‘bead’ is derived from an old English word which means prayer. Prayer beads are still being used widely today to chant the same prayers over and over again.

 

Such repetitive praying is the result of a distorted knowledge of God. To those who do this, God is just like man who needs to be reminded again and again, just like the constant nagging that some give to their spouse or child. In heathen praying, it is also imagined that God can be forced to answer any prayer just by increasing the volume of prayer. According to v.7, “they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” Now, if we have the right knowledge of God we would know that such practices in prayer are utterly useless. The Scriptures reveal to us that God is omniscient. He knows all things, and that includes all our needs.

 

One illustration of this can be found in the book of Daniel, chapter 9. Daniel prayed that God would cause the Jews in captivity to be released soon, so that they might return and rebuild Jerusalem, and his prayer is found in vv.4-19 of this chapter. Then something interesting happened that is recorded in vv.20-23 “And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God; Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.”

 

Can you see what happened here? As soon as Daniel began to pray, God already sent him the answer. God did not have to wait until Daniel finished his prayer. Sometimes during our conversations with people we try to second-guess what someone is about to say only to get it wrong. But God never gets it wrong. He already knew exactly what Daniel was going to ask, and He answered immediately. Isn’t that amazing? And this account also reveals something very comforting to us: It reveals that God is more ready and willing to answer our prayer than we are to ask from Him.

 

But the most important point we want to observe is in v.8: God already knows exactly what we are going to pray for even before we ask Him. In Psalm 139:4, David expressed it as follows:“For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.” God knows if you are in sorrow, or if you are in pain, or that you have a particular need, long before you ever thought of bringing these things to Him in prayer. We can say that God has already heard our prayers long before we even prayed them.

 

During a prayer meeting in our church twelve years ago one sister shared a wonderful testimony that brings out the reality of our Lord’s teaching on prayer. Her testimony goes like this: “A few weeks ago, I attended a conference with one of my teachers, Jane. There were about 450 pre-school teachers at the conference. At the end of the conference, Jane realized that someone had left behind a bag of newly bought teaching materials. When Jane tried to hand over the bag to the event organizers, they were reluctant to take it as they knew it was impossible to find its owner. Jane had two options – to just leave the bag there and not be bothered about whether it is returned to its rightful owner or to bring the bag home and look for the owner herself. She chose the second option.

 

When Jane took the bag home, her husband who is a staunch Buddhist reprimanded her for taking home something that was not hers. He assumed that she was just being greedy and wanted to claim the teaching materials for herself. Jane explained that she was going to look for the person who had left it behind. Her husband scoffed at her words and said it was not possible to do so as she did not even know what the person looked like.

 

A week after the incident, Jane and another teacher, Hui Zhu went for a conference for Chinese Language teachers at NTU. That morning Jane prayed to the Lord to direct her path and help her to return the bag to its rightful owner. She did not know how she was going to do it but she brought the bag along anyway. Hui Zhu is a non-Christian teacher from China. She has always been cynical about Christianity and constantly challenged us to prove that God is real. When she saw Jane with the bag of teaching materials, she questioned Jane about it. Jane told her that she wanted to return it to the rightful owner. Hui Zhu laughed and said in Chinese, “Is your God really that real?”

 

Upon reaching the auditorium, Jane was taken aback that there were more than 900 people at the conference. Due to the large number of participants, the participants were housed in two auditoriums. Jane and Hui Zhu were in the main hall. They were seated in the front row. Jane was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the conference.

 

She asked herself how in the world she was going to find the person she was looking for. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. She cried out to the Lord Jesus and asked Him for directions. During the interval, Jane looked around her but could not see any familiar faces. She told herself that she had to start somewhere, so she decided to start with those seated near her. She turned to the row behind her and started talking to the people seated there. She asked them if they had attended a conference two weeks ago.

 

Lo and behold, a lady spoke up and said that she was there and that she had left behind a bag of things – teaching materials that her Principal had asked her to purchase. Her Principal was so upset, she refused to speak to this lady for two weeks! Jane casually asked her what was in the bag and the lady accurately described the bag’s contents. Jane then handed over the bag to the lady and said, “Here. I think this belongs to you.” The lady was shocked and couldn’t believe her eyes. She asked Jane how she knew where to find her. Jane said she had no idea who she was or how to find her but she had prayed that morning to God for help. She thanked Jane profusely but Jane said to her, “Don’t thank me. Thank my God.”

 

Oh, what a wonderful feeling it was to know that the Lord Jesus watches over us so intently. Jane was very sure that it was the Lord who placed the lady behind her. Otherwise, in a conference this size, it would be virtually impossible to look for someone, especially if you have no idea what she looked like. Hui Zhu was totally amazed throughout the exchange. She said to Jane, “Your God is indeed real!” Jane told her it was a real miracle that had taken place and only the Lord Jesus has the ability to make it possible. Oh, what a wonderful testimony. For the next two weeks, Jane could not stop sharing this testimony with everyone she met. It was a declaration of God’s omniscience, a God who sees all and knows all.”

 

This testimony brings out a really amazing truth: At the time long before this world was created, when God determined the whole course of human history, He had already taken all our prayers into consideration. Hence He has included all His answers to our prayers in all that He ordained to happen in history! Now that we understand this glorious truth, we can go on to answer the question: Why should we pray when God knows our needs?

  1. God has promised to hear us when we pray.

He says this in Jeremiah 33:3– “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” This means that God listens to every word that is uttered in prayer. Let me ask you: How many people are willing to listen to all your pleas and petitions? Not everyone. But God is always willing. He bothers to listen to your cries. Nothing is ever too small for you to bring before Him.

 

And since God is omniscient, He fully understands everything we say. Therefore we never have to fear being misunderstood when we pray. This is quite unlike our communication with people here on earth, where misunderstandings arise so easily by the things that are said, as well as the things that are not said. When we communicate with others we often need to spend so much time carefully explaining and clarifying exactly what we mean. If we don’t do this, a breakdown in communication is likely to happen, and this can sometimes be very costly and distressing to us.

 

It is a therefore a very comforting thought that God not only hears us, but He will never get our message wrong when we pray. But someone may then ask, “If God really hears me when I pray, then how come I do not always receive what I asked Him for? I asked Him for A & B, but He gave me C & D instead. Did God not understand my prayer?” The answer to that is that God knows exactly what we need, but what we ask for may not be what we really need.

 

The prophet Elijah was a man of effectual fervent prayer. In fact, his prayer life is presented in James 5:16-17 as a model for us to follow – “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.”

 

But in spite of this, there was at least one prayer he made that God did not answer according to what he asked for. This was the prayer Elijah made when he was running from Jezebel: “O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4). Instead of taking Elijah’s life God gave him what he really needed: Rest and refreshment. God provided two very sustaining meals that enabled Elijah to proceed on foot to Horeb where he could be ministered to by the Lord Himself.

 

How comforting it is to know that God knows what we need, and that even when we ask for the wrong things, He is still so gracious to give us what we need! A Christian writer named Annie Johnson Flint wrote a lovely poem that brings out this comforting truth. It is entitled “The Answered Prayers”, and goes like this:

 

I prayed for strength, and then I lost awhile

All sense of nearness, human and divine;

The love I leaned on failed and pierced my heart;

The hands I clung to loosed themselves from mine;

But while I swayed, weak, trembling, and alone,

The everlasting arms upheld my own.

 

I prayed for light; the sun went down in clouds,

The moon was darkened by a misty doubt,

The stars of heaven were dimmed by earthly fears,

And all my little candle flames burned out;

But while I sat in shadow, wrapped in night,

The face of Christ made all the darkness bright.

 

I prayed for peace, and dreamed of restful ease,

A slumber drugged from pain, a hushed repose;

Above my head the skies were black with storm,

And fiercer grew the onslaught of my foes;

But while the battle raged, and wild winds blew,

I heard His voice, and perfect peace I knew.

 

I thank Thee, Lord, Thou wert too wise to heed

My feeble prayers, and answer as I sought,

Since these rich gifts Thy bounty has bestowed

Have brought me more than I had asked or thought.

Giver of good, so answer each request

With Thine own giving, better than my best.

 

  1. God uses prayer to deepen our relationship with Him.

This is the real purpose of praying. Our prayers are not meant to inform God about our needs. They are not meant to tell Him all about what is happening to us as if He does not know about them yet. God knows the situation we are in very well. It would not be wrong to say that God knows us even better than we know ourselves. And hence there is no need for us to provide elaborate detailed descriptions about ourselves and our circumstances when we pray. He already knows them very well. There is also no need for us to instruct God on how our prayers should be answered.

 

How then should we pray? We should be praying that God will deal with us graciously according to what He knows. Our prayers are meant to express our full trust and confidence in Him. Prayer gives expression to our faith in God: faith that He is able to answer our prayer, and faith that He is willing to do it. Now, if that is what prayer is all about, why then does God want us to pray? Why is it so important to Him that we should express our faith in Him?

 

Because it is this that deepens our relationship with Him and brings us much closer to Him. It is just like a father telling his child, “I know exactly what you need, and I am already prepared to give it to you, but I will not give it until you realize that you need it and you come and ask me for it.” It is because the father wants the child to build up a personal relationship with Him, a relationship of trust, love and dependence. In the same way, our relationship with our Heavenly Father matters so much to Him, that He has made us dependent upon Him through praying.

His fatherly goodness toward us makes Him take great delight whenever we who are His children turn to Him to express trust and confidence in Him. As expressions of trust in God, our prayers therefore serve a very important purpose: They glorify God’s goodness. So let us do this, as Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” And let us remember that we come to Him not to inform Him, for He already knows our needs very well. But we come simply to express our confidence and trust in Him.

 

What we are really doing in prayer is to commit all our cares and burdens to Him and express our full trust and confidence that He will work all things out very well.

  1. God wants us to trust Him to do what is best.

There may be times when we do not know what we should pray for. For example, if a dear brother in Christ is very sick and suffering and the doctors have already tried everything they can to keep him from dying, what should we pray for? Should we pray for him to be healed? Should we pray that he will not die? Or should we pray that the Lord will take him home to his final rest in heaven?

 

Sometimes we really do not know what to pray for. But should that discourage us from praying? No, because we believe that God knows what is best. And He says our perplexed hearts,“Just leave everything to Me. I know exactly what to do.” All that we need to pray is: “Lord, I want to commit all these things into Your care, please do what You know is best.” And God will know exactly what to do.

 

This kind of praying is mentioned very clearly in Psalm 37:5 – “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.” And so whenever you ever have a need or problem, but do not know how you should pray for it, just commit it to the Lord and rest in the assurance that you have done your part in prayer.

 

This morning we have seen that there are no less than three reasons why we should pray even though God already knows our needs. Firstly, God has promised to hear us when we pray. Secondly, God uses prayer to deepen our relationship with Him. And thirdly, God wants us to trust Him to do what is best.

 

From these reasons, we see that, far from discouraging us to pray, the knowledge that God already knows all our needs even before we pray should actually encourage us to pray even more and more. May this be the impact of God’s Word on our lives today.

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

January 7 & 14 - The Power of Faith

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. Matthew 21:22