Lesson 6: Prayer Masterclass
Note: This is a Sunday School Lesson by Scott Carr, Jr. based on ch. 6, 7, 8 in Dr. Tim Keller's book, "Prayer".
* Prayer is a response to what God has said in His Word. The character of prayer is determined by the character of God. We have a definition and a theology of prayer. Now it is time to work out the practicalities of those ideas. We will begin answering these practical questions with the help of three great teachers of the Church.
1) St. Augustine-Letter 130 (412):
* This is a letter written by Augustine to Anicia Faltonia Proba who was a believing Roman noblewoman who knew Augustine and John Chrystostom. She had been widowed in her early thirties and was in Rome when it was sacked in 410. She and her granddaughter, Demetrias, fled to Africa where they met Augustine. This letter is Augustine’s only full text on prayer. He wrote the letter to her as a response to questions she had asked and set out for her how she should prayer.
1) You must become a kind of person, one who is aware that before Christ, you are desolate, despite what you have in this world (disordered and reordered loves).
2) Pray for a happy life. In light of point one, what brings us happiness is being in the presence of God. That is the highest of prayers and it reorders all other prayers so that we can see all we have in Christ.
3) Use the Lord’s Prayer to guide your own prayers.
4) In dark times, we can pour out our desire to be freed from the trial, but also must recognize God’s goodness and wisdom and submit to Him.
2) Martin Luther-A Simple Way to Pray (1535):
* This is one of several texts by Luther on prayer including various devotional writings, a Personal Prayer Book, and his commentaries on the Psalms. The present text is his most famous work on the subject. It was composed as a letter to a friend, Peter Beskendorf, Luther’s barber, who asked him how to pray. Beskendorf struggled with alcoholism and once, while drunk, killed his son-in-law. He was exiled, but in his exile, he took Luther’s letter on prayer. Luther himself was known for praying three hours a day and his advice is nothing less than a treasure to the Church.
1) We are to do it as a discipline and get into the habit of doing it, ideally twice a day, whether in private or in public worship.
2) This point balances the previous one. He recommends several ways to focus our thoughts and prepare our affections. His advice is to recite Scripture to yourself and meditate on it. This bridges Bible study and prayer. It is no longer Bible study, but not yet prayer. It is thinking in the presence of God.
1) Discern the instruction of the text.
2) We ask how the instructions leads us to praise God, repent of sin, and appeal to God in supplication. Doing this reorients your thinking so that all of your life becomes oriented towards God. It moves the text from the mind to our being.
3) Use the Lord’s Prayer as a guide to start you in prayer. This keeps us from distracting thoughts and forces us to use the full language and forms of prayer. It also brings boldness as we use Jesus’ actual words.
4) While doing all of this, keep in mind the work of the Holy Spirit.
3) John Calvin-Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.20:
* Calvin’s Institutes is his definitive work. He first wrote it at the age of 27 and while the content never changed, he expanded and restructured it up until 5 years before his death. His treatment on prayer is in the third book of the finished work, the section of the book dedicated to the work of the Spirit and how we are made partakers of the grace of Christ. It takes up nearly 50 pages, making it one of the longest chapters in the book.
1) We start with a sense of how serious prayer is. It is an audience with the Almighty God and we should come with a sense of awe and fear before God.
2) We have a sense of need, recognizing our complete dependance on God and aware of the faults that exist in us. In God’s presence, we see how we fall short and are driven to God for His help.
3) We should have a submissive trust of God. In prayer, we give God all our cares and entrust them to His will and goodness.
4) We are to pray with confidence and hope. We go to our heavenly Father who will not do anything that is not good for us. We do not have to be afraid to pray for the wrong thing.
5) Doing these things does not make our prayers worthy, nor will we keep them perfectly. Our prayers are heard because of the mercy of God found in Christ Jesus. Through the “rules”, we experience that grace as we are aligned more and more to His will. Praying in Christ gives us confidence in and dependence on His grace.
1) What do all these teachings on prayer have in common?
2) What is different about them?
3) What does it tell you about the spiritual life of these men?
4) The Lord’s Prayer:
* All three of these teachers saw the Lord’s Prayer as the greatest of prayers as it was given to us by Christ Himself. They all agreed that there was nothing more we could pray for. If we tried to get beyond it, we fell into sin. What role does the Lord’s Prayer play in your spiritual life?
* The Lord’s Prayer is an untapped resource. People have not recognized the power it contains as they have become so familiar with it.
1) “Our Father who art in Heaven”-This is the address. Calling God “Father” is to pray in Jesus’ name as we are only sons of God in Christ. It gives us a chance to remember our standing in Christ before we begin prayer.
2) “Hallowed be thy name”-Our use of His name is often not holy. As Christians, we bear God’s name. This request allows us to ask that we would not dishonor His name. It is also a prayer that more people would call on His name throughout the world. It also indicates that our hearts are to be grateful and joyful towards. Him.
3) “Thy Kingdom come”-God is reigning now, but there are those who reject His reign. All problems in our lives come from a rejection of His rule. God’s Kingdom comes to us us through the Spirit (reshaping of desires) and the Word (reshaping of thoughts). This request asks God to extend His rule over our entire lives. It is also to yearn for the final consummation of the Kingdom when Christ returns and rights all wrongs.
4) “Thy will be done”-We can trust our Father to do what is best for us, even in our trials. Jesus prayed this request Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane before He bore the full cup of God’s wrath for our sin. Because of Christ’s work, we can trust Him. This trust in Him brings us peace. Note, these first three petitions focus on God, reordering ourselves towards Him and showing that worship of Him is more important than our needs.
5) “Give us this day our daily bread”-This is a metaphor for necessitates, not luxuries. As the first three petitions realigned our hearts to God, Jesus now shows us how to bring our needs to God out of this new frame of heart. We can bring these things to Him and then trust Him. It is also a prayer against those who exploit the poor and enact injustice.
6) “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”-Confession should increase our confidence as we recognize the salvation of God. If we understand His forgiveness, we ourselves will be forgiving. If we do not forgive, in this prayer, we should recognize our hypocrisy.
7) “Lead us not into temptation”-We will be tried and it is a good thing. It is something we should desire. What we are praying against is being lead into temptation, the place where we consider giving in to sin.
) “Deliver us from evil”-Calvin combined this with the previous request, while Luther and Augustine sought it as separate. It is to pray against all things that come from the devil’s kingdom. It is to pray against the evil outside us that wants to harm us.
9) “For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever”-We have just turned in prayer to our own needs, but at the end, we return to think of God. At the end of the prayer, we are reminded that all belongs to our heavenly Father and we can trust Him.
* The form of the prayer: “Give, forgive, and deliver-us.” Notice, we pray in the plural, not the singular. Prayers are to be done in public as much as possible, together. The public, corporate worship of the Church shapes our private devotion. Getting to know God best happens in community. Assignments:
1) Utilize these principles and the Lord’s Prayer in your own prayer life.
2) Read ch. 9 of Prayer.
3) Continue summarizing the Psalter.