Pastor Craig Carter
In recent weeks we have been looking at how we can become great in God’s eyes. This should be the desire of every believer because being a great Christian, rather than settling for just being a good Christian, enables us to bring great glory to God and accomplish great things for His kingdom.
We have observed that our journey toward greatness begins with thinking great thoughts, dreaming great dreams, and surrounding ourselves with great people. We’ve also learned that God wants us to enjoy great moments with Him and those around us.
Starting today we’re going to get down to the weightier matters of following Christ; specifically, what are some things great Christians do?
When I think of individuals I consider to be great men and women of the faith, one characteristic seems to stand out – they are persons of prayer.
All Christians pray. But great Christians pray great prayers.
So what are some common ingredients of all great prayers? Let’s start by looking at the greatest prayer ever uttered by the greatest man who ever lived. It is what we commonly refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. Here’s what Jesus had to say about prayer in His Sermon on the Mount.
So when you pray, you should pray like this: “Our Father in heaven, may your name always be kept holy. May your kingdom come and what you want be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the food we need for each day. Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us. And do not cause us to be tempted, but save us from the Evil One. The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13 NCV)
Let’s look at what the Lord’s Prayer tells us about great prayers.
1) Great prayers are intensely personal.
At its essence, Christianity is a relationship (versus a religion). And every relationship requires good communication. So prayer is a conversation between ourselves and God.
That why the Lord’s Prayer begins: Our Father…
We can address God in all sorts of ways, but Jesus suggested the best and highest way is by referring to Him in an intensely personal manner. “Father” may seem quite formal to us, but the word Jesus used would have caught the attention of His listeners and been considered quite radical.
The Old Testament people of God referred to Him as Elohim (God Almighty), Yahweh (LORD), or Adonai (Master). But Jesus used an Aramaic word, Abba, that can best be translated as “daddy” or “papa.”
Great prayers begin with a great relationship. They are birthed in a passion to know God, not just to know about Him. Great prayers are intensely personal – intimate and heartfelt.
It’s worth noting that Jesus taught us to pray, not “my Father,” but “our Father.” God as Father suggests that each of us is His child.
We must always remember that none of us is an only child; we all belong to a family. So we may relate to the Lord in a personal way, but not an individualistic way.
Christianity is not a “God and me” religion, but a “God and us” one.
You and I are not alone, we’re all in this together because God is my Father, God is your Father, God is OUR Father.
2) Great prayers exhibit a deep reverence for God.
While we may refer to God in a personal way, we must never forget who He is: The Lord of lords and the King of kings. So prayer also exhibits a deep reverence for this One who rules and reigns.
…who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Our prayers recognize not only what God can do but who He is. He is “our Father,” but He “art in heaven,” a place of glory and grandeur. As such, He deserves our worship and adoration.
And even His “name” is to be reverenced. It’s why Scripture teaches us to use God’s name carefully and wisely (see the 3rd of the Ten Commandments).
When someone’s name is honored, it means we talk to them with respect. So while we can relate to God in an intimate, personal way, we must treat Him with honor and dignity.
Great prayers remind us that God is the Creator and we are mere creatures. Awareness of God’s absolute holiness produces a sense of desperate dependency.
3) Great prayers promote God’s agenda.
Many times in prayer we come to God with our own agenda. But great prayers recognize that God’s agenda takes precedence over our own. So we pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The focus of great prayers is not so much on the needs in our own little world as it is on God’s plan for the whole wide world. The emphasis is not on what we want God to do, but on what God wants done.
Great prayers look through a macro-lens rather than the microscope we typically employ. They are “big picture” prayers that ask for big things from a big God.
When we pray in a way that acknowledges what God already wants for the whole world (namely, redemption and salvation for all), we can be confident that our prayers will be answered.
It’s also worth pointing out that when we pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done, we oftentimes become the answer. So if you feel compelled to pray about an issue again and again (such as the homeless, poor, at-risk teens, foster kids, etc.), God wants you involved.
The danger in praying great prayers is that when we intercede with God on behalf of others, He typically asks us to intercede with others on His behalf. Yikes!
4) Great prayers express faith in God.
Every prayer is ultimately an affirmation of faith. We are talking to an unseen God who usually speaks with an inaudible voice. Prayer believes in the reality of this Person and trusts in Him and His ability to provide.
But it also goes one step further: It expresses confidence, not only in His ability to provide, but His desire to provide as well. It’s the expression of our faith in a loving Father who wants to give good gifts to His children.
So we pray: Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Let’s observe several things in these petitions:
First of all, they all focus on the power of God’s promises rather than on the size of our problems. People who pray great prayers actually believe God will do what His Word says He will do (“My God will supply all your needs…God’s grace is sufficient…If we confess our sins, God will forgive…I will never leave you or forsake you…”)
Second, prayer addresses the totality of life – physical, relational, and spiritual needs. Great prayers trust God for the present (food for today), the past (forgiveness for old transgressions), and the future (help in the days to come).
These simple, daily petitions acknowledge that God can do much more for us than we can do for ourselves.
When we work, we work. When we pray, God works. Which would you rather have?
Great prayer is not wishful thinking or emotional moments with God. It is bringing our biggest needs and greatest struggles to a willing and loving God. Therefore, we can be honest with Him, present our requests to Him, and then trust Him for the results … and marvelous results they are.
5) Great prayers expect God to do great things.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.
In his book, Good to Great in God’s Eyes, Chip Ingram makes this bold assertion:
“Great prayers ask the improbable, expect the impossible, and receive the unthinkable.”
Is that true? The Apostle Paul suggests it is in our “It Factor” prayer that we’ve been praying as a congregation: “Now all glory to God, who is able through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NLT)
Do we really believe that? Do we ask God for the improbable and expect Him to do the impossible? It’s only if we do that we’ll receive the unthinkable.
I’ve discovered in studying the lives of great missionaries that most weren’t great preachers, they didn’t possess extraordinary talents, nor did they attain lofty academic achievements. But what they did do is pray great prayers and expected God to do great things in and through them.
Let me tell you about two of them:
John Hyde, missionary to India in the early 1900’s, had few ministry gifts. He was shy and partially deaf, which made it hard to learn the native languages. After years with little success, he began to pray for hours each day, sometimes waking up three to four times a night to pray. He became known as “the apostle of prayer” and “praying Hyde.”
After nearly a decade of persistent prayers, he had the audacity to ask God for one convert a day. Others scoffed at the notion. At the end of one year, Hyde had led 400 people to Christ. The next year, he asked for two souls a day. That year there were more than 800 converts. Ultimately, thousands were saved, leading to millions more.
George Muller, minister in England (1805-1898), saw the need for orphan care as he pastored a small church. He and his wife opened up their rented home to 30 girls.
Within ten years, he had built five homes housing approximately 2,000 kids. Over the course of his lifetime, Muller cared for more than 10,000 orphans, started 117 schools, and educated 120,000 students. It’s estimated that he raised and disbursed $113 million in today’s dollars.
But what’s more phenomenal is he never made a single request for donations (from people anyway). Instead, he prayed great prayers that God would provide … and did He ever. On one occasion, all of the children were seated at breakfast with no food. They asked the blessing and heard a knock on the door – it was a baker with enough bread for everyone and the milkman whose cart broke down in front of the orphanage.
A great God did great things through the great prayers of a great Christian.
What can you imagine the Lord doing in your life, your family, our church? The good news is that God can and will do infinitely, exceedingly abundantly more! For His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen!
“Amen” is not a sign that the prayer is over. It literally means “so be it” or “let it stand.”
Amen is the ultimate statement of faith. It is a resounding affirmation that our great prayers will bring about great results because we serve a great and mighty God.
E.M. Bounds was a prominent Methodist pastor and author in the late 1800’s. He has written some of the best books I know of on prayer. In one of them he penned these challenging words, “What the world needs most is people who pray – not people who talk about prayer or explain it, but who actually do it.”
Great Christians don’t talk about prayer, study it or try to explain it, they pray great prayers. If you need somewhere to start, pray this paraphrased version of The Lord’s Prayer:
“Abba, Father; holy is your name. We want your kingdom, your agenda, to come and your will to be done on earth with the same effectiveness and power that it’s done in heaven. We want you to provide for our daily needs, but we’re not going to stop there. We want you to forgive us and do a work in our hearts so we can forgive those who have offended and wounded us. And we want your kingdom, your rules, your power, and your glory to be paramount. We want that so badly that if you tap us on the shoulder and say, ‘The answer to this one is you,’ then we’ll step up to the plate. We believe that you’ll give us what we need – in your timing and in your way. Today you’ll give us what we need today, and tomorrow you’ll give us what we need tomorrow. And as you do, your Word, your agenda, and your glory will be fulfilled. Amen.”
If you want to be great in God’s eyes, just keep praying. Remember, there is no right or wrong language. All you need is a deep desire to know God. Amen!