Lesson 2: The Greatness of Prayer
Note: This is a Sunday School lesson by Scott Carr, Jr. based on ch. 2 in Dr. Tim Keller's book, Prayer.
1) It is necessary.
2) It is great.
* Ephesians 1:15-19 “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him [that you may know Him better], having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.”
* Paul does not pray for better circumstances. His prayers do not contain the list of petitions ours usually include. That does not mean those petitions are wrong, for he does command us to pray for the betterment of the world in 1 Timothy 2. Paul is not giving a model for prayer like Jesus, but showing what he most frequently prays for his friends; to know God better. That is more important than a change of circumstances. Why? (p. 21)
1) If communion with God is their highest good, Paul’s main concern is for their public and private prayer life. Paul places the priority on the inner life with God, not our outward circumstances, the opposite of how our society approaches it. What typically takes priority in your life? What outward circumstances impact your inner life?
* We all know the danger of basing our lives on circumstances. God’s love is a sure foundation on which we can rest confidently. When our lives are based on our outward circumstances and we are filled with inner turmoil, we have to put on an external front and we find ourselves unable to deal with what is in our hearts. Focusing on outward circumstances makes us hypocrites. Who we really are is what we spend time thinking about when no one is looking. Who are you in your private thoughts?
* Matthew 6:5-6 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
2) Jesus gives us our private prayer lives as an infallible test of spiritual integrity. Those who have a true relationship with God as Father will want to pray, no matter the circumstances and no matter what kind of experience they have. What does your prayer life say about your spiritual walk?
* In talking about our private prayer lives, we are not talking about individualism. To know God, we need the Church to help us. Public prayer in communion with other believers is to inform how we pray privately, according to the Reformers. Pastor Jack Miller also taught that the sincerity of our public prayers comes from spending time with God in prayer privately and cannot be manufactured. Public and private prayer inform each other.
3) The greatness of prayer also makes it difficult. When we begin to study prayer and practice it, we are confronted with our spiritual emptiness. This is an important lesson to learn and is the first step in our communion with God, but it is a hard and frustrating lesson to learn (p. 25). When we get to a season of joy in prayer, we should also not expect it to be permanent. We will go through cycles of joy and dryness. The feelings of spiritual poverty will return; they are never permanently left behind. However, the greatness of prayer will bear fruit in our lives with time. What season do you find yourself in?
4) In prayer, we experience the glory and greatness of God in our lives, which makes it a central practice. The patriarchs of Genesis and Moses give us great examples of prayer. The Psalms are primarily records of David’s prayer life. A look at the lives of the prophets shows us how important prayer was to their ministries. Jesus’ earthly ministry was marked by constant prayer. Prayer played an essential role in the formation and spread of the early Church. Paul taught that our lives should be marked by continual prayer. When we fail to pray, we fail to treat God as God. See 1 Samuel 12:23.
5) Prayer itself is rich. The poem Prayer (I) by George Herbert, found on pp. 28-29 seeks to shows us the rich infinities and immensities in prayer. Even those who are not religious find themselves praying at some point, indicating that it is at some level, a natural instinct given to us by God. In Hebrew, the word for “Spirit” and “breath” are the same, indicating this. It is the source of strength. When we pray through Christ, we come prepared for the Kingdom. It is fellowship with God. It tunes our hearts to God. It can be a sweet experience of God and a long, difficult journey. It sustains us on our journey. In prayer, God does not just want our petitions, but ourselves and we learn who we are in prayer in order to become who we are supposed to be. It is rebellion against the evil of the world. It is a refuge from our sin. It changes how we approach our circumstances. It unites us to God. It helps us understand the truth.
Assignments: 1) Continue summarizing the Psalter.
2) Review the examples of prayer on pp. 26-28. The endnotes give Scripture references for them. Reading several of these Scripture passages and get a feel for how great prayer is portrayed in Scripture.
3) To begin understanding prayer, read ch. 3 in Prayer.
4) Of course, pray.