Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

3 Cautions before Preaching on Prayer

prayer hands against black background

They invite you to bring a talk, a lesson, or a sermon on prayer. Your first thought, if you are normal, is, “Who me? What little I know about prayer you could put in a thimble.”

We all believe in prayer. We try to do it. We do not look upon ourselves as role models.

Truly godly men and women who are known as prayer warriors will tell you they feel they have just enrolled in kindergarten.

I doubt if our Heavenly Father is happy with any of His children claiming to have the inside track on how to approach Him, how to get things from God, how to make prayer work for your benefit, and how to get on His good side.

Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for us to enter the Throne Room of Heaven. See Hebrews 4:16.

Jesus Christ has opened the divider between man and God and we have an open invitation to “come on in.” See Hebrews 10:19-22.

If you and I are not entering God’s presence and lifting up our needs and petitions and interceding for those in our hearts, it’s not God’s fault. It’s not the fault of Jesus, who did everything necessary to make it possible for us to pray effectively.

Everyone may pray.

So, come on in. Enter humbly, for this is the Throne Room of the Universe. Come in worshipfully for He who sits on the Throne is the Lord of Lords. It’s fine to enter boldly because your Authority is the Blood of Jesus. You should come regularly because you live in a needy, fallen world. Come through the Lord Jesus: in His Name, by His blood, for His sake.

That and a few other things are what we want to teach others about prayer.

But there are some things we do not want to teach, no matter how great the temptation is.

Here are three cautions for anyone about to teach prayer:

I offer these cautions carefully and humbly, as one who knows precious little about prayer. Any authority I possess for saying anything at all about prayer is more from having prayed for so long – I came to know the Lord in 1951 – and having served Him for so many years (I was called into the ministry in 1961).

1. Be careful about making your experience the norm.

We can be grateful for the example of the New Testament writers in this regard. After his Damascus Road experience, we might have expected the Apostle Paul to announce that the way to be saved is to see a blinding light that knocks us down, hear a voice from Heaven that turns us around, and receive the laying on of hands that restores our sight.

Instead, Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). It doesn’t get any simpler or purer than this.

The Apostle Peter does not counsel us to go boating in a stormy sea to experience the power of Jesus, but that’s where He saw it on display. He does not order us to go fishing to learn Jesus’ wisdom, yet he knew it there. To overcome prejudice, it’s not necessary to have a vision of unclean animals being lowered from Heaven on a bedsheet, yet that’s how Peter was taught that lesson.

God loves variety – in creation, in people, in churches, in His methodologies, in everything. He will not be confined to something we found works best for us. He will not limit Himself to our “tried and proven” principles of prayer or stewardship or anything else.

2. Be careful about telling others what works in prayer and what does not work.

I’ve not counted the number of books on prayer I own, but they occupy two full shelves. Many go into detail with recommendations for procedures of prayer. Some call The Lord’s Prayer “God’s Roadmap of Prayer,” and discover outlines in this well-known and greatly loved passage such as Praise, Priorities, Provisions, and such.

Others adopt the ACTS form: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

Are those helpful? Sure. Are they required? Not at all.

A pastor I know has written that “praying while walking” should not be considered authentic prayer. Genuinely entering Heaven’s Throne Room to offer worship and petitions, he believes, requires the solitude of one’s room and quietness. My response is that this must be news to the Lord and His disciples, who often, we feel sure, communed with the Heavenly Father while walking the dusty lanes of Galilee and Judea. (I do a lot of praying during my daily walks. But that is only one of five thousand ways of approaching the Father.)

3. Be careful about insisting prayer must be done a certain way.

Rigidity on any subject is questionable, but particularly when it comes to prayer.

Now, we say upfront that our prayers should be offered in the name of Jesus Christ. We get this from Scriptures such as John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in My Name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (See also John 15:16 and 16:23-24, for starters.) However…

We need to be careful about blanket announcements that “Almighty God does not hear prayers that are not offered in Jesus’ name.”

Some will recall a leader in our Southern Baptist Convention who set off a theological firestorm some years back by uttering that very statement in a public religious/political setting. His words were received by a chorus of “amens,” which I expect was all he was seeking. But for the next year, our people were having to defend and explain and apologize for his statement.

Was he wrong? someone asks.

Well friend, I for one am not going to tell God which prayers He can hear and which ones He cannot. “Our God is in the Heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Psalm 115:3 should be the cornerstone of everything we say about God. He will not be penned up by our theology, He will not be hemmed in by our denominational pronouncements, He will not be limited by our understanding.

I cannot find anywhere in Scripture that tells us God does not hear prayers offered a certain way. Isaiah 59:1-2 is one of several places identifying “sin” as the culprit when our prayers do not get through. James 1:7 calls “doubt” another problem for unanswered prayer.

But if there is a place in the Word identifying certain forms (the inclusion or absence of keywords, phrases, etc.) as essential in prayer, I haven’t found it. After all…

A quick look at the prayers of the New Testament shows they do not have to be offered literally “in Jesus’ name” to be accepted and received and heard. Even the one we call “The Lord’s Prayer” does not contain those words! Case closed, I should think.

Does this mean we have nothing to say to believers who look to us for teaching on pray?

No, we have much to teach. Mostly, however, what we teach are lessons involving….

…faithfulness in doing it. “We ought always to pray and not to lose heart and quit” (Luke 18:1).

…perseverance in staying with it. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

…praising and worshiping God through prayer. “Hallowed be Thy name” (Matthew 6:9).

…humbling ourselves before God in repentance and faith. “O God, be merciful to me the sinner” (Luke 18:13).

…interceding for others. “Praying…for all the saints and for me….”(Ephesians 6:18-19).

…getting specific in what we ask. “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41).

…and trusting the Father with the outcome. “Nevertheless, not My will but Thy will be done” (Luke 22:42).

These are basic aspects of prayer every beginning and veteran believer can agree on, can benefit from, and should devote themselves to learning and practicing.

They are the principles we need to be teaching and repeating.

They are certainly prayer-truths many of us have to keep learning and relearning every year of our lives.

It helps to note that even the Apostle Paul, possibly the best of the lot, said, “We do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26). If he didn’t, it’s no stretch to conclude none of the rest of us should put ourselves forth as experts on this business of entering Heaven’s Throne Room to communicate with the Lord of the Universe.

We are children, helping the other infants along the way.

This article originally appeared on joemckeever.com. Used with permission.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Lemon_tm 


Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.




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