January 26, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Jesus on Prayer
#4—Pray for…

Introduction:

We want to bring to God in prayer whatever is in our hearts—whatever sorrow or sickness or promise—and leave it in His hands.  The past few weeks as we’ve talked about prayer, I’ve encouraged you to ask God for what you want, and let Him sort it out.  Leave it in His hands.

This is part 4 in our series, Jesus on Prayer.  We are looking at the teaching of Jesus on prayer in the gospels.

Have you ever wondered what to pray about?  I’ve had times when I started to pray for an hour, and after a couple minutes, I was done.  I had prayed for everything I could think of—in two minutes!  Obviously, I hadn’t prayed for much!  I just ran out of ideas.  Has that ever happened to you?  During our prayer times on Sundays, have you ever drawn a blank?  Uhhh…

So the question is, did Jesus ever say what we should pray for? Yep! That’s what we’re going to talk about. 

The Big Idea: Jesus teaches that we can pray about anything, and also gives us some specifics to pray for.

1. Pray for anything you wish.

Here’s the first thing you can pray for, and it’s a Big Thing—it’s anything! Whatever!

Prayer is a conversation with God; it’s a relationship.  You can be religious without praying, but you can’t have a relationship with God without praying. You can talk with Him about anything. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is too large or too small. You can talk with God about anything, and He actually wants you to.

Last Sunday, we looked at Jesus’ amazing promises about prayer.  I believe Jesus gave these promises to encourage us to pray, to teach us that our prayers are powerful, that God works when we pray. So pray—ask God for what you want, and leave it in His hands. Don’t underestimate the power of your prayers. God is at work.

In these promises, Jesus uses the words “anything” and “whatever” repeatedly, indicating that we can pray about anything.  Nothing is off limits.  Here are a couple of those promises.

John 14:13–14 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

“You may ask me for anything.” Let that sink in. Jesus says, “You may ask me for anything.”   

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

“Ask whatever you wish.”  Let that sink in.  Jesus says, “Ask whatever you wish.” 

You can pray about anything, whatever you wish, and should.  The measure of a relationship is how honest you can be with each other.  How much can you share?  What can you talk about?  What is off limits? God wants the closest possible relationship with you, in which you can talk with Him about anything.

Kids are really good at this.  They are so honest—they just say what is on their minds. 

ILL: A woman invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?”

“I don’t know what to say,” the little girl replied.

“Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the mother said.

The little girl bowed her head and said, “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

ILL: A little guy named Ryan was 5.  He offered the following prayer during his family devotions: “Dear Jesus, sorry for the mess we made in the yard today.” After a slight pause, he concluded, “Thank you for the fun we had doing it.”

We could learn from our kids. You can ask God for anything—just be honest. 

Jesus taught that we can pray about anything, and the apostle Paul picks this up and wrote:

Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Notice the anything and the everything. Don’t worry about anything.  How many of you are worriers?  Everyone worries some, and some of us worry a lot.  But Paul teaches us to turn our worries into prayers. Here’s a great insight: if you don’t know what to pray for, start with your worries.  What’s on your mind?  What are you concerned about?  What makes you anxious?  Let every worry be a catalyst to prayer.  When you catch yourself worrying, turn it into a prayer.  Tell God, and see what He says.  Look at the NLT translation of this verse.

Philippians 4:6 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. Nothing is off limits. Here, Paul, like Jesus, reminds us that you can talk with God about everything.

So what’s your anything right now? What are you worried about? What is the cry of your heart?   I want to remind you of something I said last week.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “It’s no use to ask God with earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with the desire for B. We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” (Letters to Malcolm, pg. 35)

Some of you will be tempted to hedge your bets and tell God what you think He wants to hear, rather than be honest and tell him what you really want.  You’ll be tempted to ask for “B” when your whole heart wants “A”. Please be honest. You’re not fooling God. Remember, prayer is an honest conversation.  Tell God what you want, how you feel, and let Him sort it out.  Just ask, and leave it in His hands.

So what’s your anything right now?  We’re going to take a couple minutes and pray.  Let’s pray for your anything.

Prayer for anything: Phil 4:6.

So first, Jesus teaches us to pray for anything.  But He also gives us some specifics to pray about. There are several of these in the Lord’s Prayer, but we’re going to save those for the final message in this series in two weeks.  Outside of the Lord’s Prayer, there are three specifics that Jesus told His disciples to pray for.  Here they are.

2. Pray for your enemies.

Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Luke 6:27–28 But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Pray for your enemies and those who persecute or mistreat you.  Wow! That’s radical praying! That’s hard to do! When someone mistreats you, what do you naturally want to do?  I want to get even!  I don’t want to love them, do good for them, bless them, and pray for them.  I want to be the Terminator!

Instead, we’re to pray for them.  And what are to pray for them?  I think Jesus makes it clear that we’re to pray good things: forgiveness, love, blessing, good.  I have to admit that at times, my Terminator self comes out and I want to pray the imprecatory psalms.  Those are the ones in which the psalmist basically asks God to nuke his enemies! Like this one:

Psalm 3:7 Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.

That’s a nice prayer. There are a number of these prayers in the Old Testament that ask God to strike the enemy, kill him and his children and his wife, and on and on.  And it’s not just a few of these prayers in the Old Testament; it was very common for people in those days to pray curses on their enemies.

ILL: John Ortburg, in his book, Who is this man? writes:

In Bath, England, at the hot springs that formed a combination spa/Roman worship center two thousand years ago, scores of prayers have been excavated that ancients paid to have written down and offered there. They are called “curse tablets” because by far the most common kind of prayers was a curse. People would give the name of someone who hurt them, tell what their crime was, then specify how they wanted the gods to harm them.

“Docimedus has lost two gloves. He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and his eyes in the temple at the place where the goddess appoints.”

No matter how much you love your gloves, this seems a tad harsh.

A more eloquent example of these prayers discovered all over the ancient Mediterranean world comes from a curse tablet in Rome: “I invoke you, holy angels and holy names…tie up, block, strike, overthrow, harm, destroy, kill, and shatter Eucherios the charioteer and all his horses tomorrow in the arena of Rome. Let the starting-gates not open properly. Let him not compete quickly. Let him not pass. Let him not make the turn properly. Let him not receive the honors…Let him not come from behind and pass but instead let him collapse, let him be bound, let him be broken up, and let him drag behind. Both in the early races and the later ones. Now, now! Quickly, quickly!”

This was about a chariot race! A modern version of this might be, “Lord, let the Broncos all get sick with the flu so that the Seahawks can crush them!”

That was how people prayed for their enemies. Curse tablets!

Then Jesus came along and changed everything.  He taught us to pray blessings and forgiveness for our enemies. When He was dying on the cross, He prayed for the ones who crucified Him:

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

That’s how we’re to pray for our enemies.

But what about being honest?  What if what I really want is for God to smite my enemies?  Or deliver me from my enemies?  There are many “deliver me from my enemy” prayers in the Bible—nothing wrong with that.  And of course you should be honest with God and tell Him what you really think and feel.  If you just want vengeance or judgment, admit it.  And then pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive me for my sins, even as I forgive those who sin against me.”  Let God adjust your attitude.

ILL: I’ve been praying these four prayers this week, including this one for enemies.  I couldn’t think of a personal enemy.  Then I thought of a friend who has disappointed and frustrated me.  He’s not an “enemy”, but when I think of him, I don’t get warm fuzzies either.  So I’ve been praying for him.

Who is your enemy?  Or who, when you think of them, makes your blood pressure rise?  Who has disappointed or frustrated you?  Let’s pray for them now.

Prayer for enemies.  Luke 23:34.

Heavenly Father, help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in
traffic last night is a single mom who worked nine hours that day and
was rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and
spend a few moments with her children.

Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, and disinterested young man who can’t make change correctly is a 19-year-old college student, worried about final exams and afraid of not getting his student loans for next semester and losing his dream.

Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum begging for money in the
same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to
addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

Remind us that annoying phone calls and emails are people reaching out to us that need to be loved.

Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this
moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last
week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.

When we get disappointed, frustrated and annoyed, help us to remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle.  Let us be slow to judge, quick to pray, quick to forgive, and quick to show love. Amen 

3. Pray for workers for the harvest.

Matthew 9:36–38 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Luke 10:2–3 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.

Pray for workers for the harvest. Jesus saw crowds of people, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd—vulnerable. They needed a shepherd. They needed Jesus! It’s still true today: people need Jesus.  And how will they find Him?  That’s up to us. We help people find and follow Jesus.

Jesus’ response to the great need He saw is to tell us to pray for workers.  He uses the metaphor of a harvest.  The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.

ILL: Every farmer will tell you that when the harvest is ripe, you have a small window of time to get the harvest in.  Washington is the apple capital of the US; 60% of all the apples grown in the US are from here. In 2011, we grew $1.83 billion worth of apples!  Every grower in Washington depends upon an army of workers to pick the apples in that narrow window of time. This picture comes from an NPR article in October, 2012, “In Washington State, picker shortage threatens apple boom.”  Growers were worried that because of a shortage of workers, many apples were going to be left to rot on the trees.  One grower said, “There are quite a few of us that aren’t sleeping through the night.”  I’m not sure if he meant he was out picking all night, or praying all night! “Please God; send workers!”

That’s the picture here, except Jesus is talking about people, not apples.  People who are far from God, lost and dying and suffering.  The harvest is plentiful!  In our own community less than 18% attend any kind of church. The vast majority of our neighbors are far from God, like sheep without a shepherd.  Broken families, addictions, poverty, crime, unemployment or underemployment, illness, financial catastrophe, and no knowledge of God—all these things leave a wake of “harassed and helpless people, like sheep without a shepherd.”  If we understand that, if we can see it like the grower about to lose his harvest, except it’s not apples, but people—then we’ll pray with a sense of desperation. “Please God, send workers!”

The harvest is plentiful.

But the workers are few.  Sadly, many Christians are just consumers, not workers.  They come to church when it’s convenient, get a God-fix to meet their immediate need, and go with their own lives, with little or no thought of the needs around them. 

That’s not what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus intended that every follower be a worker.  So He calls us—all of us—to pray for workers. 

ILL: I think of the story Jesus told in Luke 16—we read it this week in our Bible reading plan—about the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man died and went to hell. There he begged Abraham to send someone to his five brothers to warn them so they wouldn’t end up in hell. He was desperate. “Please send someone.”

If you have someone you love who is far from God, struggling, and seemingly beyond your reach—a lost son or daughter, a parent or dear friend—what do you pray?  Don’t you ask God to send someone to them?  Someone who will love them, share the good news with them, and help them find and follow Jesus.  

What you feel for that special someone, God feels for everyone.  And He wants you to feel it too.  So He says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord to send more workers.”

Then the clincher.

Luke 10:3 Go! I am sending you!

Warning: When you pray this prayer, you will become part of the answer to your own prayer! If you will pray this prayer every day, your heart will begin to change.  You’ll begin to see people like God sees them.  Your heart will begin to break.  And instead of praying, “God send someone,” you’ll start praying, “God, here am I, send me.” 

There are about 10,000 people who consider Life Center their church.  I’m praying for 10,000 workers.  I’m praying every one of you becomes an answer to that prayer: “Lord, send workers.”

ILL: Two weeks ago, I read the story in Luke 15 of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go find the one lost sheep.  He was in all out search mode—he didn’t have long or that lost sheep would be wolf-cuisine.  I read about the woman who lost one of her ten coins, and turned on all the lights and deep cleaned the house until she found that lost coin. She was in all-out search mode.

Those stories aren’t really about sheep or coins, but people. Jesus was in all-out search mode for lost people.  And He wants us to be too. 

So I thought about it and realized that I’m not. I’m ok spontaneously—I share with people I meet along the way—and that’s good.  But I’m not intentional.  I’m not in all-out search mode, making opportunities to help people find and follow Jesus.  So I resolved to intentionally create at least one opportunity a week to share Jesus with a friend over lunch or coffee or whatever. 

It’s got me praying that prayer—Lord, send more workers—and I’m part of the answer.  “Lord, send me.”  Would you pray that with me?

Pray for more workers. Luke 10:23. 

4. Pray for Christ’s return.

Luke 21:34–36 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Pray for Christ’s return.  This is a call to be watchful and ready.  Are you ready to meet Jesus?  If He were to come today, are you ready to meet Him?

In Luke 21 and Matthew 24, Jesus predicted a major catastrophe, understood by most Bible scholars to be the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. Along with that, He predicted His return.  He told His followers that He would come again, and when He did, it would be the end of this age, the final judgment, and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. I mention these two things—the destruction of Jerusalem and the second coming of Christ—because Jesus talked about them together and it’s sometimes difficult to sort out which He had in mind. 

Most scholars agree that in the verses we read, Jesus was talking about His return, and urging His followers not to be weighed down by the concerns of life and be caught unaware.  Pray that you will be able to escape and stand before Jesus. 

Pray for Christ’s return.  This is a call to be watchful and ready.  Are you ready to meet Jesus?

One of the prayers that seemed to be a regular in the early church was, “Come Lord Jesus.”

1 Corinthians 16:22 Come, Lord!  (Aramaic: maranatha) 

The fact that Paul used the Aramaic term maranatha with the Greek-speaking Corinthians most likely indicates that it had become a widely accepted part of the Christian vocabulary.  Other examples of this would be amen, hosanna, and abba—all Aramaic terms that passed into common Christian usage.  Maranatha means, “Come Lord” or “Our Lord has come.” Most take it as a prayer, “Come Lord,” that expressed the anticipation of the early Christians that Jesus could come any time.  The prayer is also found at the end of Revelation.

Revelation 22:20  He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

And it is found in a second century manual on church life called “The Didache” or “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” The Didache gives a detailed prayer to be said after the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, and the prayer ends, “Our Lord, come! Amen.” 

Paul ends his letter to the Corinthians with this prayer, John ends the Revelation with this prayer, and the Didache ends the Lord’s Supper with this prayer: Come Lord!  It’s likely that this was a common way to end a prayer, a letter, or a church meeting. Come Lord!

It’s a prayer that reminds us that Jesus is coming again.  It reminds us that this world and this life are all temporary, and that the Kingdom of God is coming and is eternal. And it reminds us to be ready. It is a prayer that changes us.

ILL: In Matthew 25, Jesus used the illustration of a wedding, and some members of the wedding party overslept and missed the wedding.  They weren’t ready.

That’s been one of my nightmares: that one day I’ll forget about a wedding I’m doing and not show up.

I haven’t missed a wedding, but I did miss a retreat where I was the speaker.  It was in the 80’s. A church in the Tri-Cities asked me to speak at their winter camp over Christmas break.  There was lots of snow that week after Christmas, and I had the week off, and we had family in town, and I didn’t look at my calendar. I spaced it.  When I realized, it was too late.  I called and they told me they were afraid my car had gone off in a ditch somewhere and I was dead.  I told them I simply forgot.  Strangely, they never invited me to speak again.

Maybe if I’d been praying every day for that retreat, I wouldn’t have forgotten.  I wouldn’t have been so caught up in every day life that I spaced it. 

And maybe if we pray this prayer every day, we’ll be ready when Jesus comes. So let’s finish by praying, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Prayer for the Lord’s return. 1 Cor. 16:22.