Pray without Ceasing (Nehemiah 2:4)

We had set out early that morning, a van full of teenagers on the way to camp. Before we left we had prayed, like we always do, and asked God for safety as we traveled. We loaded the van and seven hours later we are almost at camp. We are just getting past Chattanooga, TN and the traffic starts to clear. For the first time in a long time we had a little open space on the road. I pulled over to the far left lane. There was no reason to do so, but as I decided in my mind I should pull back in the middle lane a tire on truck that used to be beside us went out pulling him into the middle lane! Fortunately no one was injured, but I reflected that we had been in that lane just seconds before, had we been there when the truck tire blew we would have been in a horrific accident. I prayed quickly in that moment a prayer of thanks but once we arrived at camp I reminded our students that we had asked God for safe travels and he answered our prayers. Sometimes we are able to pray small prayers in the moment based on larger prayers that we have prayed before.

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Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.(Nehemiah 2:4 ESV)

Have you ever had one of those situations where it seemed like nothing was happening, but then all of the sudden everything was happening? Nehemiah is in one of those moments. He has been in mourning for his people. He has been fasting, praying and asking God to use him, to use his position with the king, and then all of the sudden the king asks him a question. What do you do in a moment like that? When it seems like your whole future will swing or not swing on the hinge of the next few moments? You pray!

To be sure it wasn’t a long and drawn out prayer. He didn’t hush the king and ask for time to run to the chapel. He quickly and humbly in his heart prays to God. His prayer has been anchored in the foundation of intentional prayer where he has been for the last several months. Remember his emotion was brought into focus by prayer and fasting; now he sees the hand of God moving to answer his prayer. Nehemiah can’t help but confess his dependence on Him.

Nehemiah avoids every opportunity to declare himself a great man and instead has to declare that God is a great God! This is what humble leadership looks like. Before he will launch into any kind of four point plan, or share his dreams about a wall being completely rebuilt, or even ask the king for advice he goes straight to God and acknowledges that this could only be a work of God’s hand and so he moves forward holding on to that hand, not trying to navigate this alone.

More Than A One Man Plan (Nehemiah 1:11)

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:11 ESV)

When was the last time you prayed for revival? Did you place yourself in the center of the prayer? God use ME, use MY church, use MY denomination. Were you really asking for God to be revered in your town or were you asking for your own prestige? Sometimes our most holy prayers can be covered up in pride. We lasso our prayers short of heaven because we fill them with all sorts of selfish ambition. We are like James and John who approached Jesus and asked if they could be at the left and right hand of Jesus when He came into His kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). We want to be center stage… next to Jesus of course. Leadership isn’t there for the asking in the kingdom of God though; it is bestowed upon those whose chief characteristic is that of a servant.

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Nehemiah asks God not only would He hear his prayer, but the prayers of all those like him. Nehemiah recognizes that he is not alone in this task of prayer and asking God to do something great in Jerusalem again. He is part of a bigger plan. He is out for God’s glory and the restoration of his people, not his own name.

Sometimes we pray for revival and we are lazy. We ask God to move, but we want to sit back and ride the wave of success. We forget that sometimes God calls us to work. I think that is why when Nehemiah uses the term servant it’s important. He presents himself to God to take part, any part in rebuilding the wall. He is there to serve.

Think of it like this. Life is a drama. Everyone is an actor. God is the author and director. Nehemiah submits himself to God’s plan and says; place me where ever you will. Too often we try to tell God (the author and director) how his play should go. We try and take our minor rolls and pitch them to him like we should become the lead. We don’t understand that we have a place and a purpose if we would just listen to Him.

When God calls us to a task we are seldom ever alone in that task. We always have the Holy Spirit present but often He is working in the lives of other believers as well to bring about something great. Start looking around for others in your neighborhood, school, or workplace that God might also be calling to the same mission he is calling you too.

For me I began to seek to gather with our local student pastors for a time of fellowship and prayer. Overtime real friendships evolved and I saw relationships strengthened as we were all working for a common purpose on different fronts in our city.

He Knew God’s Will Because He Knew God’s Word (Nehemiah 1:8-10)

Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. (Nehemiah 1:8-10 ESV)

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Ever struggle with understanding God’s will for your life? Sometimes the prayers pour out quick when we are asking God for help in the midst of our troubles, but when we turn the corner and begin seeking his will we can run into another problem and that is trying to figure out what God’s will is. How many times have we prayed and said something like, “If it be according to your will?” We are uncertain and so we throw a disclaimer in there to be safe.

But Nehemiah didn’t pray like that. He prayed a deeply emotional but focused prayer and he didn’t have to throw any disclaimers because he knew the will of God. He knew the will of God because he knew his bible. In his request he quotes two passages of scripture that are actually promises of God (Deuteronomy 30:1-5 & Exodus 34:6-7).

I think this lays down an important principle for us. We should know God’s word well enough to ask him for his will. The closer you read the bible with a heart to understand God, the more you will understand God and the more you will want to pray and ask God to do what he has already promised to do. Nehemiah has simply turned God’s promises into petitions (Petitions are when you ask for something). This is how we should pray. We should take the promises of God and turn them back to God in prayer.

Picture it like this. I’ve got two children and I promise them a trip to their favorite coffee shop if they read me a book. Both read me a book and so both begin asking, “When can we go to the coffee shop?” As their father I am delighted to take them to the coffee shop, it is something I have already promised. I am not annoyed that they have asked and they are asking with a lot of brashness and boldness because they know it was already promised to them. [1]

When it comes to our community what are some of the promises from scripture that you might pray?

One of my favorite scripture passages to pray over the churches in my city is John 13:34-35. This is a commandment that Jesus gave his disciples. I pray especially over my church but also over churches in town that we would love each other as Christ loved us and that Christians in our city would be known for Christ-like love to the Glory of God.

[1] It is important to note here that all promises in scripture are not to all believers. For example many of God’s promises in the Old Testament are to national Israel. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is often misapplied to America when it was actually promised to Israel. Those are God’s words given to King Solomon in a dream they are meant for the Jewish People (who bear his name) about their land (Israel), there is no promise there for America. At best we could ask God to act in a similar way for us, but we cannot claim that promise. Americans cannot claim the promises that Nehemiah makes either for those are for national Israel. But God does make many promises to his people that are beyond the scope of national Israel (for example Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 5:16, etc. etc.)

Confession of Sin (Nehemiah 1:6-7)

let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:6-7 ESV)

We often want to see God move, but seldom ever are we willing to address the offenses that have caused our situation to begin with. We don’t mind confessing the sins of others to God. It is rare to see someone own their sin and even rarer for them to own the sin of someone else.

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Here in his prayer Nehemiah not only addresses the reason for Jerusalem’s wall-less situation (Israel’s sin). He confesses that it is his sin too. He wasn’t alive when all of this took place so he actually owns the sin of his ancestors. They are most likely dead and gone so he brings a petition before God confessing their sin and his sin. The wall is in ruins because that was a prophesied outcome for a nation who rejected their God by rejecting His commands.

This is where revival begins! When religious people care more about the character and nature of God than they do about what others think. They confess their sins and they confess the sins of their ancestors.[1] The illusion of control is totally removed from Nehemiah’s hands. He confesses that he is not in a position to make bargains with God, manipulate God or even compel God to act. He throws himself on a part of God’s character he knows to be true from the scriptures (as we will find out). He throws himself on mercy. It is only by God’s mercy that these sins would be forgiven and the wall restored.

We are good at pointing to the poorer communities and slums or those riddled with crime saying, “They need revival!” It is easy to look off and say, “They need revival!” Nehemiah didn’t do that here. He offers his prayer from perhaps the nicest section of Susa, a city with walls. Before revival would come and a wall would be rebuilt in Jerusalem, revival had to come in Nehemiah’s heart in Susa. Perhaps our desire to see others repent and turn to God is often a deflection from the issues that need to be addressed in our heart rather than a reflection of our heart. We should be primarily concerned that God should be honored and obeyed in our house! When real revival comes to our house, perhaps it will also come to the city.

Take a moment to confess your sins and the sins of the people around you. Be specific, don’t hold back or be general. What is it that is happening in our city right now that you know displeases God?

As I have studied more modern movements of Revival there seems to be a reoccurring theme of genuine repentance and confession of sin. I confess that too often pride has held me back from following the Spirit’s guidance in confessing my sin before God and others. Too often I have cared too much about what other people would think of me. But if we would really see God move, we must acknowledge and address the issues that are in the way, including our pride. We must own our part and perhaps even the sins of those before us in order to see real restoration and revival.

[1] I think at this point that it is fair to note that confessing the sins of your ancestors is necessary before holy God. Even if you are not guilty of such sins, you have an opportunity to distance yourself from sinful behavior and acknowledge before God that though you come from such stock, you desire something greater for you and your generation.

Know Who You Are Talking Too (Nehemiah 1:5)

And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, (Nehemiah 1:5 ESV)

There once was a young boy at the Louvre Museum in Paris who came up to the world famous painting, the Mona Lisa. He started to comment to no one in particular and then to a crowd as people began to gather around him. He said things like, “look it’s got lots of tiny cracks in it. The artist obviously wasn’t very good.” And “look at that smile, have you ever seen such a hideous half-way smile in your life?” The boy thought he was doing good as he continued to make his comments about the painting, but then the curator to the museum showed up. He gracefully said, “I’d like to correct some of your misconceptions about the painting. It is THE most famous painting in the world. It was painted by the master Leonardo da Vinci. There is much mystery surrounding this painting but one thing we know for sure… It is a master piece.

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oo often when we pray we talk to God like we have a full grasp of the situation, like what we see is all there is to the world! We pretend to educate God rather than being educated by him about the world he created! Instead of coming to him and asking, “God what is your plan,” we come to him with a plan in mind. Our list of petitions (requests) come off more as like a wish list at best or demands at worst. We totally forget who God is.

Biblical prayer starts with a recognition of who God is. It’s hard to petition God with my petty list of wants and desires after I have recognized who he is. My prayer turns from “me” focused to “God” focused. That’s how Nehemiah prays here and it is how Jesus teaches us to pray in the model prayer (Matthew 6:9). Beginning with reverence and honor for God helps us remember who we are talking to and the nature of prayer.

Too often the first word in prayer is “I,” “I need this” or “I want you to…” We are reflecting on the wrong person in prayer when we do that. We don’t have the power to accomplish anything otherwise we wouldn’t be praying. We are going to God to see how he will act and move in this situation. We are asking him to do what only He can do.

Take time today to reflect on who God is and ask Him for His will to be done in your life. Use the model prayer (Matthew 6:9-11) and pray it in your own words as you wait on Him to reveal His will for your life.

The Model prayer was a game changer in my personal prayer life. I used to come to God with a wish list of things I wanted Him to accomplish. I had prayer all wrong. When I started coming to him and asking Him to do his will in my life and submitting my life to Him I began to see God work in ways I never thought possible. There is a huge difference between asking God to do what you want and asking God to do what He wants in your life.

Rescuing the Blessing

I grew up in a Christian home and so we always had a blessing before our meals. Somewhere along the line I became a bit antagonistic towards the blessing. I thought for sure that it was just a cruel and unusual way for our parents to delay a much anticipated meal for a few more moments. In those days I was hitting growth spurts and consequently was experiencing what I thought was “hunger” in a whole new way.

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Part of me wondered why we brought out this tired old ritual three times a day. We thanked God for food that I had seen my mother purchase at the grocery store. We often said the same tired prayers weather rhyming or just very short like, “Thank you God for our food, Amen.” We went for short whenever we could get by with it… After all we didn’t want our food to get cold.

When I was on my own I admit, I let the blessing slide, except for a few occasional pious moments in the college cafeteria, but that was mostly for show or obligation. In my coldness I never could really wrap my head around why we were thanking God for food that I picked up off a shelf or out of a cafeteria canister. And maybe that was part of the problem. Maybe calloused blessings come from those who don’t really know about their food.

In my mid-twenties things began to change. I was awakened to the reality that food doesn’t magically appear on a grocery or pantry shelf. While reading Genesis I came to the realization that God was the inventor of some pretty cool stuff… like taste buds. Not only had he invented taste buds but all the stuff that they can taste. I really enjoy coffee now (an aquired taste I know). Part of me chuckled at God hiding the coffee bean inside of berries like a well hidden Easter egg… can’t wait till they figure this out. Then there are things like tree nuts, peanuts (which aren’t true nuts), strawberries, and other fruit, not to mention bacon, steak, bacon, fish, bacon, etc. (oops almost forgot… bacon).

Not only did God invent all of these flavors that we can mix and match creatively in our dishes, but he also sustains them. Do you know how difficult it is to grow some of these things? I got into gardening back when I thought it would be easy… you almost need a chemistry degree if you want to get your soil PH just right. Then there are bugs you have to worry about and if not bugs, disease (my squash plants were almost wiped out because my neighbor’s squash had a disease… It was a sad year).

Even though fruit literally grows on trees, trees are complex systems in and of themselves that often require diligent provision and maintenance. If the frost hits middle Florida at the wrong time of year the Wall Street Journal will report it and your orange juice will cost you more. When hail falls from the sky, pro-longed droughts occur, and other “acts of nature” we see it reflected on the super market shelves both in cost and volume (supply and demand I guess). You stop eating your sandwich with tomatoes because Wendy’s can no longer sell it to you at a decent price with a tomatoes slice on it. 

But does that register when we pray? Do we see all of these things as in the hands of God? Do we thank him for the taste of bacon (because I don’t know if it’s really that smart to ask him to bless it to your body). Do we thank him for inventing this really weird beast with four stomachs that makes really tasty meals like steak and brisket (sorry if you’re a vegetarian)? Do we thank him for the ability to work and provide for those we love? Do we thank him for those who have provided for us, when we were too young or unable? Do we thank him for the ability to taste?

Recently I read Psalm 104 as part of my devotional reading plan. Part of it stuck out to me and reminded me to rescue the blessing from becoming a hurdle to get past to a divine moment to be savored:

	You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
		and plants for man to cultivate,
	that he may bring forth food from the earth
		and wine to gladden the heart of man,
	oil to make his face shine
		and bread to strengthen man's heart.
(Psalm 104:14-15 ESV)

 

The First Thing You Should Ask When Approaching God

The first petition in the prayer is “Hallowed by your name.” This is not in the language of a statement, but a request. Everyone knows that we pass around petitions when we want folks to sign their name to something that we will be presented to a governing body. It can be a petition to remove the coke machine from the cafeteria lobby or it can be a petition for congress to address an issue. The idea is the same. It is a request. After the introduction the model prayer becomes a list of six petitions. These are the sorts of things that should be at the top of our prayer list. These are the sorts of things that we should ask from God.

The first thing Jesus lists has to do with the name of God. The word “hallowed” simply means holy, set apart, special, revered, honored. Perhaps the best synonym for this word is “glorified.” You could read this petition as, “May your name be glorified.” The implication of this are profound. The very first thing that we are to ask God for is more glory for his name!

I don’t think you can utter this with sincerity without first looking inward and asking, “do I glorify God?” Do my actions point to Him? Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already told those in attendance:

Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

There is a contrast here between the deeds of a disciple and the deeds of a hypocrite. Hypocrites perform their works in the hopes that you will give THEM praise. Those who follow Jesus recognize that all Glory, all honor, belong to GOD ALONE!

We should honor God with all that we do in His name. There has been much done in his name that does not bring Glory and Honor to him. Folks have picketed funerals, held up signs that “God hates fags.” Armies have waged wars in the name of God. We should be careful what we say and do in the name of God. Just because we use his name, it doesn’t guarantee that God is with us. Many people who have done things in his name will find themselves kicked out of the kingdom because they never really knew the king (Matthew 7:21)

One of my favorite phrases is, “I don’t have the answers, but I know who does.” This simple response to a friend in crisis has a way of pointing them back to the truth. This was what Joseph said to Pharaoh when he had a dream that needed an interpretation. This is what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar when he had a vision that needed interpreted. Both men put the glory back on the father and said, “We are powerless, but we know the one who has the power.” This was a way of bringing both kings to glorify God.

By the way, there is something in our hearts that rebels against this notion. Apart from the wonderful work of Jesus in our lives we are very self-centered individuals. We want the glory. Often we make ourselves the center of prayer. The first petition out of our mouth is for something we want. It’s not even for something we need. We beg God for a raise, a promotion, peace to cover over the anxiety in our hearts, we come upset over how we’ve sinned against him again. We offer prayers to him like he is a genie and he has to grant us wishes. I think a large part of our population miss God because they have this preconceived notion that God is like a generous grandpa who is supposed to give us what we wish for without asking too many questions. And so those kind of prayers go unanswered they give up and assume God isn’t real because he didn’t clean up the mess they made. It’s not a prayer aimed at Heaven, it’s not a prayer centered on God’s glory rather it’s focused and motivated on an exchange. “I pray, you give.” It’s how a consumer mindset hijacks prayer. It’s also arrogant because we assume that this is how God operates. We don’t consult him. We don’t go to his book. We don’t seek him out. We simply make demands. We’re like children accusing our parents of unusual cruelty because we’ve been ordered to eat our green beans or even worse we’ve taken a gun and blown a hole in our leg and complain to the surgeon that it’s his fault that we are in so much pain.

Isaiah lived in a society that had experienced decent economic growth for its time. Then when the king died he saw a vision of God in the temple and all he could utter in his presence was:

Isaiah 6:5 ESV “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

The first thing he could utter from his mouth wasn’t, “Man this is awesome!” but a very real prophet of God all he could think was that his mouth had not done justice to the holiness, the glory, the worthiness of God. I wonder if we were to truly grasp the glory of God if we would not have the same utterance. It’s not like Isaiah cussed. He was a prophet and he had treated the name of God casually and when we saw a very real manifestation of the presence of God he couldn’t help but utter a curse on his own head.

Does it surprise you that God cares so much about his name? I mean you care about your name right? I’m fortunate to have one of those simple names that almost anyone can say, but I remember this one time when my wife and I had started dating we went to go see her grandmother. And for the life of me, she could not get my name right. She kept calling me “Jeremy.” At this point a little back story is helpful. Jeremy was the name of one of her’s Ex-boyfriends. Every time this sweet lady said Jeremy part of me was very offended. I had to take a moment to calculate whether or not she was doing it on purpose or if she was truly a forgetful woman. (Now that I know her, there is a very good chance that she did it on purpose).

If you and I can get that way over our name being misrepresented, pronounced wrong, or forgotten, how do you suppose God ought to be over his name that is to be the most highly respected name in the whole universe? Do you think he’s glorified when we let his name slide like a curse word? Is he honored when we use his name to mock others? Especially the name of Jesus when the bible says that at His name every knee will bow and that there is no salvation in any other name.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to coach students on how to impact their campus with the gospel. I’m at three or four schools each week. One week I was at one of our local schools and a student was in the club and he was saying things like, “Oh my G___” and using Jesus’ name as a cuss word. We quickly jumped into a conversation about what it means to “Not use the Lord’s name in vain.” Which is also one of the ten commandments. This particular day was a leadership meeting and we were meeting to establish which students would lead in prayer, and the other various aspects of the club. This student wanted to pray. And we quickly got caught up on the Model Prayer. I said, “Man you can pray, but only if you are repent of how you use have used God’s name. When Jesus teaches us to pray the very first thing we are supposed to ask God for is that his name would be glorified and I don’t see how you can do that while using his name as a cuss word.”

True Prayer Is Aimed At Heaven

This is one of those things that may be difficult to grasp because technically God is spirit and has the capacity to be everywhere at once. He is not limited to space-time as you and I are. He is an unlimited being, yet he has limited himself for our sake. Heaven is his abode. The place where he resides, but if we know our Old Testament we know that God created Heaven and Earth together (Gen.1:1). He used to walk on the Earth with Adam and Eve in a paradise known as the Garden of Eden. But when Adam and Eve sinned against God they were expelled from the Garden and the presence of God.

Our sin has caused God to separate himself from us. The world that God created and blessed has become infected with sin. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light and so too sin cannot exist in the full presence of God. Moses spoke with God face-to-face, but in a limited way (Ex 33:11) . Much like the world experienced when Jesus became a man and took on flesh (Phil 2:6-7). When Moses asked to see God in all His glory, God said it couldn’t be done without killing Moses (Ex 33:20, John 1:18, 1 John 4:12). So in a sense what we see and experience of God is a veiled experience. We have yet to fully experience Him. Hold on, we will. There will be a new Heaven and a new Earth and God himself will be the shining light. Sin will be dealt with once and for all and we will all be in the full presence of God (Rev. 21:23, 22:3-5, IS. 60:19-22). Until that time there is a separation. We pray to God in Heaven because Heaven has yet to come down to earth.

Think of it this way. In WWII the Germans advanced on France and took it fairly quickly. France was under German occupation. However, there were still several men and women, boys and girls who operated as the French resistance. Resisting the German occupation and working to get information to the Allies. They had a vision of seeing their country liberated. The reality was that their country was overrun by Germany and so they were living in a German state, but they took bold risks and sacrificed everything to see their liberty restored.

Earth is a seized state. It has been given over the prince of the power of the air, aka Satan or the Devil (Eph 2:1-2, Mat 4:8-9). But Christ has come to liberate us from the tyranny of sin. Once we have been set free, we still live among a sinful people. Christ has given us the mission to share the good news of liberation with the world. The Earth will become a truly free state once again.

Our Prayers now are offered up as a message from behind enemy lines. They help to focus us in on the mission. They line us up with where God is working. They empower us to see a better day. They give us opportunity to offer hope. It’s a phone call to the liberating force. We don’t have the power to free ourselves, but we know who does.

We come to God in prayer simply, relationally, in community, and with a view toward Heaven. This is completely different than how the Pharisee/ hypocrites of the day were praying. They were praying profoundly, non-relationally, in a fashion designed to show that they were superior to others and for personal benefit. Their prayers weren’t heard by God because they never fully intended them to be.

Prayer Involves Community

We are not alone. We do not get to call God, “My” Father as if we had an exclusive relationship. He has saved many sons and daughters. Those who have come to him in faith, belong to him in community. There are no lone-ranger Christians. We are compelled even when we pray to recognize that we belong to God…together.
The “our” here is a large collection of folks. In the context of this prayer it encompasses people from every tongue, tribe and nation (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). It includes men and women (Gal. 3:28). It includes those who have been outcast (Lk 16:19-31). Those who were sexually immoral, those who worshiped idols, those who have committed adultery, those who were homosexuals, those who were thieves, those who were alcoholics, and former con-artists… anyone who has died to self and picked up to follow Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
This is precisely the point where Christianity and radical Hinduism are extremely different. We say there is no karma, just sin. Repent and be saved. They say there is karma and what you’ve done in a previous life has set you up for whatever suffering you get in this life. So the high cast and the low cast people are not equal. Within Christianity everyone is equal. We were all sinners. We all come by the blood of the lamb.
Realizing this we acknowledge that we do not act in isolation. Our actions have consequences that affect the greater body of Christ. We will give an account to our Father about how we have treated our spiritual siblings and others. Earlier in this larger section of scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mat. 5:23-24).

When we pray, we are to recognize that we are not in isolation, our actions for and against our spiritual siblings count. Some of you have hindered prayers because you have grievously sinned against your brothers. It doesn’t matter how great your speech is, or how eloquently you can present your requests to God. When your fellowship is broken with your brother/sister in Christ then you will have difficulty in real prayer… I’m sure you could still get out a bunch of words, but authentic prayer comes from the heart. The Apostle Peter writing in first Peter pleads with husbands to honor their wives so that their prayers won’t be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). There is no us vs them in the family of God…just us.

Model Prayer: Prayer Begins With a Relationship

When Jesus teaches us how to pray, the first thing off of his lips in the model prayer is the word “Father.” When we pray, we get to call God, “Father”. The word for father here is “pater” which is a special term. It’s one of the first names a baby will learn to say with meaning. Many language groups tilt the things in the dads favor and we have words like “papa,” “da-da,” and in the Hebrew “ab” or “abba.” So in these languages the word is reduced to even the first syllables a child can pronounce.

We know from the very beginning that prayer is simple. We begin by calling on God like an infant learns to call on her daddy. She can’t say much, but she is thrilled to say it and her father is thrilled to hear it.

It’s popular these days to talk about “all of God’s Children,” assuming that we all belong to Him. But the bible is abundantly clear that you don’t become a child of God by just being born into the human race. You have to be born again! You have to be adopted. You have to be brought in. This is a personal title! Only those who belong to God have the right to call him father. It’s not a right afforded to those who do not know him. I know this sounds harsh, but It’s not my idea. Jesus makes the distinction. Check out what he says to the Pharisees in John 8:

John 8:42-44 ESV Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. (43) Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (44) You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

By the way, this was a message delivered to the religious insiders. The Pharisees in this passage were far from God! They were putting on a mask, a façade. They had all the forms of godliness in their language, but they didn’t know God. Their deeds, their giving, even their prayers were for show. They didn’t love God, they loved themselves. They had taken worship that was meant to be given to God and made it a commodity to curry favor or prestige with others. Even while they were calling out to God with pomp and energy, their prayers did not reach Heaven, because they were not aimed at Heaven. Jesus repeatedly warns his audience that there will be many religious insiders on the outside of the kingdom and many outsiders will come in.

The problem is that we are too often like these Pharisees. We take good things and pervert them. We turn giving from an act of worship to a form of control. We turn the leadership aspects of church into a pride issue. We take a few verses about wives submitting to your husbands and use that to get our own way. We have all believed lies, even the most religious among us. We have all embraced a different father. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 says that we were all by nature “sons of disobedience” and “Children of wrath.”

So who can call God father? Only those who come to him in childlike faith, get to call God, father. The apostle John tells us in the gospel of John:

John 1:12-14 ESV But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (14) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

From this we learn that Jesus was God’s son in a special way (ie he is the very essence and being of God) and those who belong to him by faith are adopted sons and daughters. The Apostle Paul states:

Galatians 4:4-6 ESV But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (6) And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

The first real question we have to ask ourselves when we go to God in prayer concerns our relationship to God. Have we embraced the gospel? Have we responded by faith to the work of Christ in our lives? Do we approach him simply as a child approaches her father?