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Food For Your Soul
The Expository Teaching Ministry of Dr. D. Richard Ferguson 

Spreading & deepening delight in Christ

Matthew 6:7-8  
Prayin’ like a Pagan

    Jesus’ Pattern for Prayer  part 2
How would you naturally finish this sentence: “God already knows what you need before you ask him, therefore ____.” The conclusion Jesus finishes that sentence gives us great insight into how to pray in a way that truly communes with God, rather than just saying dry words. What kinds of things can you do to cause God to be more inclined to answer your prayers? And what can you do to disincline him? You may find the answers surprising.
This message will provide you with principles that will deepen and enrich your prayer life—and your marriage and other important relationships as well (especially if you’re a man).
  Prayin’ like a Pagan
 Jesus’ Pattern for Prayer  part 2
 Matthew 6:7-8    9-5-10
Matthew 6:5-8 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Introduction: The blessed excurses
It is a comfort to those of us who are preachers to discover that even Jesus went on rabbit trails sometimes. Today we get to go down what has to be the greatest rabbit trail of all time. We have been studying verse by verse through the Sermon on the Mount and in Matthew 6 Jesus is giving three examples of hypocrisy: hypocritical giving, hypocritical praying and hypocritical fasting. He has the exact same pattern each time. Each time He says “Don’t be like the hypocrites who do it for self-glorification, but do it in private and your Father will reward you.” He says that about giving in verses 2-4, and then He says it about praying in verses 5-6, but then He does not say it about fasting until verse 16. You would expect verse 16 to come immediately after verse 6, but Jesus wants to go on a rabbit trail about prayer first. And so in between verse 6 and verse 16 Jesus goes on a little excurses on the topic of prayer. That rabbit trail ends up being one of the most precious treasures that ever dropped from the lips of our Savior – the Lord’s Prayer, which sits almost[1] in the exact middle of the whole sermon like a diamond at the center of a pendant.
The errors of Pagan Prayin’
But before getting to that prayer Jesus wants to give us one more warning. He says, “Not only should you avoid praying like the hypocrites.., I also want you to avoid praying like the pagans. The word translated pagans in verse 7 is actually the word normally translated “Gentiles,” and in this context it simply refers to anyone who does not worship the true God – the heathen. When people who do not know God pray it generally ends up having two very serious problems. The first one Jesus calls babbling.
1. Mindless Babbling
The KJV translates that word “vain repetition,” and the ESV says, “heap up empty phrases,” but I think babbling is a good translation because it is just one word in the Greek. The word is battalogeo (βατταλογέω). Logeo means “to speak.” You are familiar with the word logos (“word”), the verb form is logeo (“to speak.”). So the second half of the word means “to speak.” The first half of the word is batta. That word does not mean anything. It is most likely an onomatopoetic word (a word that sounds like what it means – like “buzz” or “zip” or “thump.” When the pagans would pray their payers were often long on noise and short on meaning. And if you heard it from a distance it just sounded like “batta, batta, batta, batta, batta…” So the word battalogeo just means “batta-speak” (babbling). It is kind of like our word “yada” Their prayers were just “Dear God, yada, yada, yada.”
What was it that the pagans were doing in their prayers that makes Jesus use a word like that to describe it? The most obvious thing that comes to mind is speaking in tongues. That was a very common thing in the mystery religions of Jesus’ time – ecstatic, unintelligible babbling that was thought to be a special communion with the gods. It was prayer that had no meaning. They were just making sounds that conveyed no actual cognitive ideas or thoughts, and they believed that practice was a special connection between them and the gods.
That is one thing Jesus may have had in mind, but I would not restrict it to that. I think He is probably also including any kind of thoughtless prayer. In most religions prayer is a ritual. It is not communication between two persons – it is just a religious practice of reciting words into the air. People who do not know God “say” their prayers. If you are going to have a conversation with someone you usually do not use the word “say.” You do not say a conversation. Pagans do not usually think of prayer as an interaction with another person. It is just a religious procedure. And so the prayer itself is thoughtless. They are verbalizing some words, but those words do not reflect what is in their heart at all.
2. Superstition
The second problem with their praying is also in verse 7.
Matthew 6:7 …they think they will be heard because of their many words.
They think the key to getting what you pray for is more words. More words equals more prayer, and the more they pray the more inclined God will be to hear them.
Persistent prayer is good
And at first you might think, “Wait a minute – what’s wrong with that?” Don’t we believe that God responds to persistent prayer?” Yes – that is exactly what Jesus taught. In Luke 11 the Disciples said, “Teach us to pray” and He told another parable about going to a neighbor’s house and asking for something in the middle of the night.
Luke 11:8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's persistence and boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
So Jesus taught us to persist in prayer. And He Himself persisted in prayer. In Luke 6:12 Jesus spent the whole night in prayer up on a mountain.
Acts 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer
Acts 2:42  They devoted themselves … to prayer.
Sometimes people ask if it is appropriate to repeat our prayers. They say, “Why should I ask more than once? God doesn’t forget.” It is true that God does not forget, but there are other reasons why repetition is good. And we know that because on at least one occasion Jesus repeated a prayer.
Matthew 26:44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
He prayed the same thing three times. So what are we to make of the fact that Scripture teaches us to persist in prayer – and that God responds to that? Jesus forbids us to be like the pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words, then He turns around and prays all night long. Should we have many words or not? Should we pray long or keep it short – which is it?
Many words is not the same as much prayer
The answer this – the problem with the pagans is not that they think God will respond to much prayer; it is that they think God will respond to many words. And many words is not the same thing as much prayer. Just because you say a lot of words does not mean you have prayed a lot. In fact it does not even mean you have prayed at all.
God can be influenced relationally – like a Father responding to the pleas of his beloved child, but God cannot be manipulated by the mere recitation of words. What the pagans do is turn God into a vending machine that takes words rather than quarters. And so regardless of what is in your heart, regardless of what your life is like, regardless of what sort of relationship you have with God if you just say the right words in prayer you can get a response. That is superstition, not prayer, and that is exactly how people who do not really know God pray.
Did you know that most people pray? According to a Brandeis University Survey in 2008, ninety percent of Americans pray every single day. Everybody prays. But for most people prayer is an act of superstition. When they get in trouble and pray for help, are they communicating to a specific individual whom they know personally and who has the power to help them? No – it is a rabbit’s foot. It is superstition. Ask a superstitious person, “Does it actually do anything if you cross your fingers or knock on wood or say a prayer?” “Oh – maybe, maybe not, but it couldn’t hurt.” That is how most people think about prayer. When people knock on wood do they think there is actually some intelligent person who sees them knocking on the wood and then is persuaded by that to cause things to happen differently than they would have otherwise? No – they just think maybe there is some unknown force out there that responds to various actions. Like the laws of nature. If you put a kite in the breeze it goes up. If you put a seed in the ground it grows. If you put a match to some paper it burns. And if you send up a prayer, it somehow helps things go a little more smoothly. The mere action of saying the prayer – regardless of your standing or relationship with God, has an effect.
And if saying words has an effect, then saying more words has more effect. Putting a kite in a strong breeze makes it go up much faster. And putting ten seeds in the ground gives ten plants. And saying ten Hail Mary’s has ten times the effect of saying just one. That is why pagans tend to say a lot of words.
And so you can see that the first error and the second error are connected. The reason they end up babbling and praying thoughtless prayers devoid of meaning is because they think it is the act of saying the words rather than the true expression of the heart that matters. And if it is just the act of saying the prayer that matters, why bother putting a lot of thought into it?
A great example of this today is the Buddhists, with their ridiculous prayer flags. If you go to Boulder you will see these colorful flags hanging out in the breeze. And the idea is when the breeze moves the flag it sends out a prayer. So they have come up with a way of automating their prayers – it is a prayer machine. Not only does your heart not have to be in it; your mouth does not even have to be in it.
What is the point of all that? Well, if you get enough prayers sent up God will listen. They think they will be heard because of their many prayers. They think God can be used like the impersonal laws of physics, or manipulated like a machine. And Jesus says, “No, none of that is what inclines the heart of God to answer your prayer.”
Examples of pagan prayin’
So what does? We will get to that in a minute, but first let’s ask ourselves - are we ever guilty of pagan praying? Remember, when Jesus was talking about hypocrisy He did not speak to the hypocrites. He spoke to us and told us not to be like the hypocrites. And it is the same thing here. He is not talking to the Buddhists or the Roman Catholics. He talking to us, His children, and tells us, “Don’t be like them.” So in what ways are we tempted to pray like pagans? We are not so extreme that we are putting up prayer flags or rattling off “Hail Mary’s.” Our paganized prayer takes more subtle forms. And it is different in different styles of worship.
Mindless Tongues
In Charismatic circles it can come in the form of speaking in tongues. I realize there is debate over the question of whether the gift of tongues is still in operation in our day. But aside from that question – if we assume for the sake of argument that tongues do exist in our day, there is a great temptation for those who are involved with tongues to slide into mindless, paganized praying. I am not saying all Charismatics do this, but there are some who just shut their minds off and just let their mouths go. So their prayers are thoughtless. That is not pleasing to God.
1 Corinthians 14:13-15 anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind…
If you are not praying with your mind, you are lapsing into pagan prayer. And that goes for our singing as well. Paul goes on in verse 15: … I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. One of the problems in some Charismatic circles is the tendency to babble thoughtless words during corporate worship. “Oh Lord Jesus, Ooooh Lord Jesus, yes dear Jesus…” – almost chanting a mantra with no real thought behind what they are saying. Now, I am not trying to slam on Charismatics. Some of you remember when Phil Cruz was part of this church – we just loved having him in the worship service. Phil is Charismatic, and he was very expressive in worship. Between every song you would hear his voice. We would sing, “I will glory in my Redeemer” and before we sang the first word he would be saying something like, “Glory and power and honor to the Lamb who gave His life to redeem us – we bless Your name…” It was always genuine and biblical and rich and edifying and so healthy and beneficial to the church. That sort of thing is wonderful.
But just like any good thing it can become paganized. And I have many times heard people in Charismatic circles do that same sort of thing, but what they say is just mindless chanting: “Oh thank You Jesus, thank You, Jesus, Oooh Lord Jesus...” It is never “Thank You for…” and then some specific thing. Thank You for being our refuge and fortress and deliverer. Thank You for conquering death and raising us to newness of life. It is just “Thank You Jesus thank You Jesus” And it becomes little more than mindless, paganized prayer.
Mindless liturgy
And it is not just a problem in Charismatic circles. In high church circles – in the more liturgical churches – pagan prayer slips in with the liturgies. They recite prayers out of a prayer book, and instead of using all the procedures and forms as tools to express their love for God they just fall into thinking those rituals are pleasing to God in and of themselves, and the heart and mind become disengaged. They crank out the ritual – stand, sit, kneel, recite, bow, say “amen” and they are out the door and on their way and they never even paid two minutes attention to God.
That was a problem for the Jews of Jesus’ day. Their prayers were mostly formal, pre-written prayers. In fact I read about one rabbi who was bucking the trend when he decided to invent at least one new prayer a day. And so they were susceptible to this.
And again – I do not say this to ridicule liturgical churches.  I am not against liturgy at all. There is a lot to be said for some of the more formal kinds of worship. The catechisms and some of those written prayers are so rich and so deep and profound and biblical they put many of our prayers to shame. And some of those more formal styles of worship can evoke feelings of awe and reverence and trembling before God that is rarely experienced in less formal styles of worship. So I am not condemning any style here – I am just pointing out the various ways pagan praying tends to worm its way in to each style.
Mindless spontaneity
And we are not exempt. In Charismatic circles it is mindless tongues or mindless verbiage during worship. In high church circles it is mindless liturgy. But what about in evangelical circles? How does paganized prayer creep into a church like Agape Bible Church? For us it is not usually through mindless tongues or mindless liturgy, but through mindless spontaneity. Our prayers are almost all spontaneous. We rarely read our prayers – we just come up with them off the top of our heads. And that is supposed to guard us against mindless liturgy. But spontaneity does not prevent mindlessness. Some of the most mindless prayers you will ever hear are spontaneous prayers in an evangelical church.
I know I am guilty of that. We are going to have a meeting, I say, “OK, let’s open with a word of prayer: Lord, we ask that You would bless our meeting and guide us and direct us, blah blah blah…” and I get to the end of the prayer and realize the whole time I was just thinking about what to say – but I was not paying attention to God at all. We pray before a meal, “Dear Lord thank You for this food, bless these French fries to the nourishment of my body, yada, yada, yada, amen.” We might as well just say, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub” and start eating. We are not thinking about God at all. We are just cranking out a spontaneous, empty ritual.
So whether it be the Charismatics with mindless tongues or mindless verbalizations during worship, or the high church formalism with mindless recitation of a liturgy, or people like us with our mindless spontaneous prayers – Jesus throws it all out there on the same junk heap of pagan prayers and then rattles us with this statement:
Matthew 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Christian Prayin’
A hard saying
That is a hard statement to understand. “What do you mean – sounds straightforward enough to me. God knows what you’re going to pray before you pray it – a child could understand that.” Yes, that part is easy to understand. What’s hard to understand is that word for.
Matthew 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Jesus does not explain His logic. He expects of us to stop and figure out how God’s foreknowledge of my prayer should keep me from ever falling into the error of pagan prayer. Remember – if you cannot see the logical flow of thought through a passage, you do not understand the passage. And Jesus’ logic is, “God already knows what you are going to say ahead of time, therefore do not pray like the pagans.” So how does thinking about God’s foreknowledge help me avoid mindless or superstitious praying?
Therefore…why pray at all?
In our natural, human thinking what would be the most natural way to finish this sentence: “God already knows everything you are going to say in prayer before you say it, therefore…” Isn’t our natural response to finish it this way: “God knows what you need before you ask, therefore – why pray at all?” What is the point of praying at all if God already knows every thought in your brain?
The part of communication that comes after the informational part
If somebody did conclude that, they would be wrong. But why is it wrong? I think if we can answer that question we can figure out Jesus’ logic in this passage. If God already knows what I am going to say, why does He still want me to pray? Or to word it a little differently, if God already has all the information in His mind, why does He want me to talk to Him?
Think about the various reasons why we talk. When you have a conversation with someone, one purpose is to inform that person of some things. But that is not the only purpose. Aren’t there other purposes behind conversation? If I tell you about my day it is for informational purposes. You do not know how my day went, and so I have to inform you. But if you and I are close friends the informing should only be the beginning of the conversation. From there we move beyond just informing each other. I share my joys with you and turn them into double joys as you rejoice with me. I share my sorrows and turn them into half sorrows as you weep with me and comfort me and help me carry the load. As we have our conversation I experience some of the wonderful things about your personality, and my love for you grows. And I experience your expressions of love for me, and that is delightful. Informing each other about what we are thinking is a part of the conversation, but it is a very small part of the communion.
Suppose your child comes home from school, you ask about his day, he gives you the information about how things went, and from there it develops into this great conversation. Later you say to your spouse, “Man, I had a really good talk with little Jimmy today.” Your spouse says, “What was so great about it?” You don’t say, “He gave me the order of events of the day.” No – the really great part was the part that came after the informational part. It was the part where he was really opening up and sharing his heart and confiding in you and asking some really good questions and you had a chance to instruct him or encourage him, and you both came away with a greater love for each other. When you have a really good conversation with someone you love, it starts with the informational part but from there it moves to the really good part. And the fact that God already knows all the information but still wants us to pray means it is the “good part” that God is after – not the informational part.
If you have a relationship with someone and one hundred percent of your conversation consists in just giving information – you do not have much of a relationship. If a husband and wife do nothing but convey information in their speech, that is a sick marriage.
“What did you do today?”
“Went to the store. What about you?”
“Worked all day then stopped for gas.”
“Dinner’s on the counter.”
That is not much of a relationship. Imagine you came home from work early tomorrow and found that your house burnt to the ground. So you call your spouse. Your spouse answers and says, “I’m already aware that our house burned down.” Do you say, “OK, no point in talking then” and immediately hand up the phone? No. Calling your spouse when something big just happened is not just for the purposes of informing him or her. And if it is then you do not have much of a relationship.
And that is exactly the situation when people descend into mindless prayer. The pagans pray in ways that have no significance beyond the informing aspect of a conversation because they have no real relationship with God, so they never can get to the good part. Instead of crying out to a person they pray to a cosmic computer somewhere that just logs how many words you speak into the air.
Suppose a couple came to me for marriage counseling and the wife says, “I would give my right arm if he would just talk to me. If he would just come home from work and sit down and talk to me – that would make all the difference.” So I give the husband a homework assignment: “Every day when you get home you must say at least five hundred sentences.” So every day he comes home, sits down on the couch and just starts speaking. No eye contact, never pausing to listen to her, not even really aware that she is sitting there in the room. When he is feeling guilty about neglecting his wife he makes them all really long sentences, but never actually looks at her. There is no actual personal interaction. No relational exchange. Just words and the “click, click, click” of his little sentence counter so he knows when he has hit his five hundred sentences. Is she going to come back and say, “Oh, thank you, Darrell – our marriage is everything I ever dreamed now”? I don’t think so.
More than mere words, but not less
However, on the other hand, what about the husband who sees that guy and thinks, What a moron! He thinks communication is just a matter of the number of sentences he speaks? That is ridiculous! Communication has nothing to do with how many words you speak. And so when he gets home from work every day he says two or three sentences to his wife and then gets on with his evening. And then he congratulates himself for not being such a ridiculous legalist like that first guy.
That second guy is just as bad as the first. When God calls us to pray it is like the wife inviting her husband into her world to commune with her in conversation. Communication is more than mere words, but not less. Words alone are not enough, but words are essential. There is no real difference between the man who is not interested enough in his wife’s heart to listen to her for more than thirty seconds and the guy who disciplines himself to listen for an hour a day but he is so bored his eyes glaze over. Neither one is engaging in any real communication.
When God calls us to prayer He is not calling us to mere words, He is not calling us to empty ritual, He is not calling us to some legalistic duty, He is not calling us to grudging performance of something we dislike, He is not calling us to show off. But He is calling us to commune with Him – to personal and relational interaction with Him, which requires intensive, zealous, earnest seeking after Him.
I think that is why God says, “I already know the information in your brain; therefore don’t pray like the pagans. Don’t talk to me like an estranged spouse who never goes beyond just conveying information, but do pour out your heart to Me. I already know the information, so the only reason to talk to Me at all is to get to the good part – so come, and let’s get to the good part.” But if all you have is the informational part - if the communion and fellowship and personal interaction are not there, then the whole exercise is a complete waste of breath.
That is why Jesus condemns “many words” in this text but in other places He commands us to persist in prayer for a long time. God does not respond to many words, but He does respond to much prayer. So we should be like the persistent widow and the persistent neighbor. We should follow Jesus’ example and pray for extended periods of time and even repeat our earnest prayers. God is more responsive to persistent prayer than to prayers we offer once or twice then give up. The time spent and the number of words uttered are not enough in and of themselves to move the hand of God. However if the time spent and the words uttered come from the heart then they can be used as tools that touch the heart of God, and when His heart is moved, His hands move too. Prayer is more than mere words, but not less.
Do all prayers need to be long? Of course not. If a man loves his wife sometimes he will have long, deep conversations with her and other times he will just say, “I love you honey – have a great day” and walk out the door. Different kinds of conversations have different purposes, and some require more time than others. Some conversations are for making things right after a relationship has been violated. Some conversations are a quick expression of thanks. Sometimes all that is needed is one word. Other times you need to get away for a whole weekend. Different conversations have different purposes, but none of them have the purpose of just saying words for the sake of saying words. The measure of prayer is not how many things you pray about or even how much time you spend praying. The measure of prayer is how much progress you make in drawing near to God and enjoying communion with Him.
Prayer & Desire
He wants you to get to the good part. And the first step in getting to the good part of the conversation is honesty with God. He knows everything that is in our heart before you pray, so it is pretty silly for us to say things that do not match what is in our heart. A prayer really is not a true prayer unless you actually desire the thing you are asking for at some level. Sometimes we think, “The more spiritual I am the longer my prayer list will be” so we put every name we know on a list, and every missionary and we pray for the President and Congress and our Governor and Mayor and Dog Catcher and everything we can think of, and then we rattle it off every day to God. If you pray for God to bless the President but that is not really an actual desire in your heart, your prayer is not a prayer. What God hears is not your words but your desires.
Psalm 10:17 You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted
God hears desires. When you pray, the sound of your voice travels a few dozen yards and dissipates, but part of your prayer that makes it all the way to heaven is the desires. Your desires make a sound in heaven. (That is one reason why evil desires are so evil – they become a kind of blasphemous prayer in God’s ears.)
So desire is the heart and soul of a prayer. If you desire something a little bit but wish you desired it more, talk to God about that. But we must never be content with weak or non-existent desire. I have learned this is an important key to praying for people. When I pray for my person in the prayer group, I spend a lot of time thinking about the request, and thinking about that person. I think through what life will be like if God says no to this request compared to what it will be like for them if God says yes. I put myself in his shoes until I get to the point of really, really wanting God to answer the prayer. And from there the earnestness of the prayer pretty much takes care of itself. The more you want something the harder you pray.
And that is what God wants from us when we pray for each other. What God is looking for is not just for us to remember to rattle off someone’s request once a day. What God wants from us is to love one another. When someone you really love gets sick you want that person to get better just as much if not more than they want to get better. And the same goes for spiritual needs. So very often, when I pray for someone, the first half of my prayer is, “Dear Lord, fill my heart with desire for this person’s wellbeing. Make me want the answer to this prayer so bad that I’ll be driven to prayer.”
So for prayer to be real prayer it must be an honest communication of what is in the heart. But if it is just words that are disconnected from the heart then we might as well be hanging prayer flags.
Your Father
So what does incline God to answer your prayers? The pagans are wrong to think they will be heard because of their many words, so if many words will not do it, what is it that will cause God to be inclined to answer your prayers?
Jesus answers that question by the word He uses to describe God. Who is it who knows what you need before you even ask? Your Father in heaven. What do you have to do to get God to be inclined to answer your prayers? Nothing – He is already inclined to answer your prayers because He is your Father.
Have you noticed how often Jesus refers to God that way in this sermon? Fifteen times in the Sermon on the Mount.
That is significant because outside of the Sermon on the Mount, in all the rest of the Bible you only see God referred to that way four times – three in the rest of Matthew and once in John. The vast majority of the time when Jesus wants to refer to God the Father He calls Him “My Father.” That is Jesus’ normal way of referring to God. But in the Sermon on the Mount He only calls Him “My Father” one time. And fifteen times “your Father.”
And that constant repetition was on purpose. I have no doubt that Jesus wanted to get our attention with that. What is it that makes God inclined to answer prayer? He is your Father! He is not a father to the hypocrites and the pagans – they do not even know Him. He is not moved at all by their many words; but He is moved by the cries of His own dear children. We come to a Father whose compelling desire is to give good things to His children.
Now, are there some things we can do that will disincline God to answer our prayers? Sure.
Psalm 66:18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened
Proverbs 28:9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.
Jonah 2:8 Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
1 Peter 3:7 Husbands … be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect … so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
When a father deeply loves his child that child does not have to do anything to incline that father to want to say yes to him when he asks for good things. The child can provoke discipline from his father through rebellion that will make the father have to say no sometimes, but the starting point in the heart of a loving father is to be strongly bent toward saying yes.
In fact, if you come to God assuming any less – assuming that He is fed up with you and mostly irritated with you and naturally disinclined to answer your prayers – if you approach God that way you destroy your own prayers. And if you want two full sermons on why that is, and why it is so important that we come before God in confidence and boldness, go back and listen to the sermons on 1 John 3:19-23. (The first sermon was titled “Self-Condemnation” and the second was “Confident Prayer”)[2] The bottom line from that study is this: if we fall into the error of self-condemnation[3] all that does is clog up the flow of loving interaction between us and the Father. Living under the feeling of constant disappointment in God’s eyes will eventually start to cause resentment in your heart toward Him. It will start to seem to you like He is a hard master – impossible to please, and unreasonable in His demands. And the effect of that will be spiritual paralysis – like the lazy servant in Matthew 25 who buried his talent in the ground instead of putting it to work for his master because he thought of his master as a hard man. So the importance of confidence and boldness before God is a huge theme throughout the New Testament.[4] Hebrews 10:35 says our confidence before God will be richly rewarded.
The best thing you could ever do to improve your prayer life is learn more about what it means that God is your Father in heaven. If you were going to attach one word to your conception of how each member of the Trinity relates to us, what word would you pick for the Father? What is the best summary of what it means to have fellowship with the Father? There is actually a verse in Scripture that does exactly that – gives one word for how each member of the Trinity deals with us. The verse is 2 Corinthians 13:14. The word that goes with the Spirit is…fellowship. The word that summarizes the main thing we receive from Jesus is…grace. And the word that most characterizes what comes to us from the Father is… love.
2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
The main thing to think about with regard to the Spirit is fellowship. He is the one that is interacting with us in the most direct, immediate way. The main thing to think about with regard to Jesus is grace. It is through Jesus that we receive all that God gives. He stands between heaven and earth and lays one hand upon God and one hand upon us and functions as the connection between us and the Father. And the main thing to think about with regard to the Father is love. Scripture is saturated with statements about the love of the Father for His children. He wants us to think of Him as having those powerful impulses of love that a father feels toward his son or daughter. In fact, Jesus once told a parable to describe the emotions God the Father has toward His children. A son had sinned horribly against his father and was in such desperate straits that he had to come back home and beg for mercy and ask if he could come back – not as a son but as a household slave. Now keep in mind – this story comes from the mouth of one who has lived in heaven with the Father forever. He knows the Father perfectly, every thought and feeling in the Father’s heart perfectly, and when He describes the Father to us here is what He says:
Luke 15:20-23 So [the son] got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate.
As a father has compassion on his son, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. Pray accordingly.
Benediction: Ephesians 1:3-7   Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  4  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love  5  he predestined us to be adopted as his sons

[1] The exact center falls in the sentence “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
[3] Self-condemnation is a bad thing, but isn’t it appropriate to grieve over our sin? Yes, it is. The difference between godly sorrow over sin and evil self-condemnation is the former drives you to God in repentance and the latter causes you to withdraw from God in shame or resentment.
[4] 1 John 5:14, Lk.11:8,9, 2 Corinthians 3:4, Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 3:14, 4:16 10:19,35