Lesson 7: The Touchstones of Prayer
Note: This is a Sunday School lesson by Scott Carr, Jr. based on ch. 9 in Dr. Tim Keller's book, "Prayer".
* In this lesson, the goal is to try and take everything we have talked about and put it all together in a cohesive summary. In so doing, we need to understand that we are not finding the secret of prayer. Such a thing does not exist, but that does not mean prayer is undefinable. If so, Christ would not have so quickly taught His disciples how to pray.
* touchstones-rock containing silica that was rubbed against gold or silver so as to test the purity or genuineness of the material.
* All prayer is impure, but that does not mean we should not strive to do it correctly. Scripture does talk about impurities that keep our prayer from being effective.
1) What Prayer Is:
1) Work (duty/discipline)-it is to be done regularly, whether or not we feel like it. The goal is not to “get something out of it.” It is sinful to not address your Creator and Redeemer. So it must be done and we are not to give up. We must persevere in prayer. It takes work and we must keep doing it to enjoy the fulness of it.
2) Conversing with God-In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, mankind had free communication with God. Prayer is the restoration of that friendship. We are responding to God in prayer as He speaks in His Word, not inner subjective hearings of His voice. Meditation helps us transition from Scripture reading to prayer.
3) It is made up of praise, confession, thanks, and petition-these aspects of prayer are shown in the Psalter and the Lord’s Prayer. These are all to have equal places in our prayer lives. None is more important than the other. Is your prayer life typically made up of these three elements?
2) What Prayer Requires:
1) Grace-our access to the Father in prayer was won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and enacted by the Holy Spirit who assures us of our access. To pray in Jesus’ name is to recognize that we only come to the Father in prayer by the work of Christ. It is not improper to pray to the Son and the Spirit, but typically prayer is addressed to the Father through the Son by the Spirit.
2) Fear-the heart is important in prayer (Matthew 15:8). One sign of an engaged heart is awe before the greatness of God. We can only see His glory through Christ who has covered our sin. God’s holiness would kill us if God did not protect us from God (think of the Old Testament). We should never take this lightly when we pray. Before we pray, we should think about the magnitude of what is about to occur.
3) Helplessness-the point of prayer is that we are helpless without it. We can only receive salvation when we understand we ourselves our spiritually bankrupt. Despair should never keep you from prayer, but should drive you to it. It is meant for those who are utterly helpless. Jesus comes to us and invites us to friendship with Him and prayer. A desire to pray indicates the work of Christ in you. If you want to pray, you can have confidence that God will hear you through the work of Christ.
* How often do you take advantage of these three pillars when you pray?
3) What Prayer Gives:
1) Perspective-Prayer brings God into the picture. He forces us to think differently about our needs, wants, sins, and questions. See Psalm 73:17-20 which gives an example of how prayer changes our perspective.
2) Strength-In prayer, we take advantage of our union with God and receive His strength and power. Christ is the vine and we are grafted into Him by baptism so that we might receive His life. See Ephesians 6:10-20. It is through prayer that we are prepared for the battle with sin and the devil.
3) Spiritual reality-In prayer, all of our knowledge of God becomes real to us as we become aware that the God we confess is truly present with us. This is more true at times than at others. We will not always feel God’s presence, but we are not to be passive in this. We are to actively meditate as a means to experience these affections in prayer.
* How often have you received these benefits in prayer?
4) Where Prayer Takes Us:
1) Self-Knowledge-In prayer, we are to honestly expose who we are to God, including our fears, hurts, and sins. The more we see of God’s holiness, the more we see of our own impurity. As we know God better, we know ourselves better and as we know ourselves better, we know God better.
2) Trust-As we come to God with our helplessness, we will also learn of His great provision. Prayer starts with our wills struggling with God’s and moves to submission to His will. We see many examples of saints in Scripture doing both. All of this produces restful trust and confident hope. It helps us avoid the extremes of either not asking for things or of thinking we can bend God’s will to ours. In prayer, we strive with God and submit to His will, similar to Christ’s prayer in the Garden.
3) Surrender-Without right motives, we are using God and prayer to get our idols. For God to grant such prayers, He would be contributing to our ruin. See James 1:6-8. In prayer, our highest and sole allegiance is to be to God and as soon as we are aware of other competing priorities, we disown them. True believers, though they do not do this perfectly, want their sole allegiance to be to God. We begin prayer recognizing we have everything we need in God.
* How have you seen yourself grow in these areas through prayer?
* It is through prayer that we receive and have access to all we have in Christ. Through prayer, we can commune with Christ, just as we will in His future realized Kingdom.
1) Read ch. 10 of Prayer to learn about biblical meditation.
2) As you pray, use these touchstones to see how you are doing.