Stewardship of Prayer

Dr. Rob Green November 10, 2019 Matthew 6:5-15
Outline

4 Key Principles of Stewardship

God owns everything, you own nothing.

God entrusts you with everything you have.

You can either increase or diminish what God has given you—He wants you to increase it.

God can call you into account at any time—it may be today.

#1 Every act of righteousness must be done for the Lord and not for the approval or praise of others.

#2 Every act of righteousness that is done for the approval and praise of others receives no other reward.

#3 Every act of righteousness done for the glory of God is rewarded by God.

3 actions that we can take to help us be a good steward of prayer

I. Pray with a Mind Focused on the Lord

Matthew 6:5-6 - When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

A. When we pray in public there is a tendency to focus on the people around us

Luke 5:16 - But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.

B. When we pray in private there is the danger of losing concentration

II. Pray with Meaningful Words and Concerns of the Heart

Matthew 6:7-8 - And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

Mark 1:35 - In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.

Mark 6:46 - After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.

Mark 14:35-39 - And He went a little beyond them and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, He went away and prayed, saying the same words.

“Each prayer is at night and in a lonely place, each finds the disciples removed from him and failing to understand his mission, and in each Jesus faces a formative decision or crisis.” James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2002, 197

- Praying for our Christmas ministries

- Praying for our mission

- Praying for the big issues in our lives

III. Pray According to the Model Provided by Jesus

Matthew 9:9-13a - Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

A. The opening reminds us of community

B. The opening reminds us of our relationship with the Lord

1 John 3:1a - See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.

C. Three petitions related directly to God

1. That we would revere God and His name

2. That we would desire His coming Kingdom

3. That we would follow His will

D. Three petitions related to man

1. That God would provide for our needs

2. That we would be a forgiving person

3. That we would be led away from temptation and toward righteousness

This is the third week of Stewardship month. As Pastor Viars explained, this is one of our church’s defining characteristics. For 40+ years our church dedicated a time to challenge ourselves to properly prepare for the judgment seat of Christ by emphasizing different aspects of our stewardship.

  • After 4 weeks of self-examination we gather as one body (one church at 3 campuses) to give thanks to the Lord at the Stewardship Celebration. This year, the Celebration occurs at Faith East at 6:00pm on November 24.

The 4 stewardship principles will help you in every aspect of your life. They are:

  1. God owns everything, you own nothing.
  2. God entrusts you with everything you have.
  3. You can either increase or diminish what God has given you—He wants you to increase it.
  4. God can call you into account at any time—it may be today.

This year we are using a portion of the Sermon on the Mount to guide our stewardship conversation. We saw first, the issue of love. Therefore, we have attempted to apply these principles to the stewardship of love. It is hard to learn to love people. It seems easier and more enjoyable

  • if we either keep our love to ourselves … hold it in and avoid the risk.
    • As long as I do not try, I cannot be hurt.
  • Or if we use people in order to feed our own idolatrous self. We don’t love them; we tell them what they want to hear in order to encourage them to give us what we want.
  • Both cases represent poor stewardship of all the love given by the Lord. If God has loved us through his son, then we have the stewardship responsibility to pass it on.
  • I for one have fallen victim more than once to that temptation.
  • There may be times when the Lord did not answer those “prayers” because they were not prayers at all. They were public displays of so-called spirituality that resulted in nothing more than the praise of people.
  • They are afraid that they will say something that sounds childish or foolish.
  • Thus, they would rather not pray at all.

Last week, we attempted to apply these principles to the stewardship of giving. Unlike many aspects of stewardship, giving (or the use of finances generally) is objective. Pastor Viars challenged us to be people who apply grace giving.

Today is our third sermon on stewardship. I invite you to turn to Matthew 6:1. That is on page 4 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you.

We are going to think about the Stewardship of Prayer.

Jesus provides three overarching principles in Matthew 6:1 that are very important for us to understand and apply directly to the instructions he provides about prayer.

  • #1. Every act of righteousness must be done for the Lord and not for the approval or praise of others.
  • #2. Every act of righteousness that is done for the approval and praise of others receives no other reward.
  • #3. Every act of righteousness done for the glory of God is rewarded by God.

These truths applied to giving (vv. 2-4) which is why even your own left hand is not fully aware of what the right hand is doing. Your father rewards what is done in secret.

Now, we are going to see the same ideas related to prayer. I would like us to consider 3 actions that we can take to help us be a good steward of prayer.

I. Pray with a mind focused on the Lord (Matthew 6:5-6)

Matthew 6:5-6 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The point about focus is clear. Focus on the Lord, but how this plays out is also important to think about …

A. When we pray in public there is a tendency to focus on the people around us.

Some may struggle with wanting people to recognize them as great persons of prayer. That apparently was true in Jesus’ day – especially among the religious leaders. Even today, when you are asked to pray at CFN, in your ABF, or during some other public service it is always possible to focus more on the people you are leading than on the Lord.

However, it might be as common for people to feel shy about praying in public because they are afraid of being embarrassed.

Ever been in an ABF where the leader asks people to pray and all the sudden the heads go down and there is silence?

In either case, there is a focus on people.

What the Lord did and what the Lord encourages his followers to do is to be released from that pressure. Go into your inner room and close the door.

  • Pray when no one else is looking and when no one else is around.
  • If you were a friend, a brother, a parent, or an adult child you would do whatever it took in order to get them to Jesus.
  • When he instructed the crowds about prayer, he explained the importance of private prayer as our first priority.
  • Or what about the times you start praying for one person and all the sudden your mind creates four tangents all which have implication for your life.
  • I mean this … you pray for a family … then you remember that the family’s children are friends with your children, so you start praying with for your children, and then you remember something you need to talk to your children about, and you begin to think through the questions/responses. Before you know it, you are not praying at all!
  • What makes this possible is that God is the one who sent Jesus so we can be reconciled to him.
  • Our sin separates but His grace unites.
    • Give the gospel here
  • There are times in the Christian life when the Lord decides to bless a person, and no one knows what those private requests were but the person and the Lord.
  • He is our loving heavenly father who graciously gives in the midst of our hurts or in the midst of our joys.
  • But it is also joyful to think of times when God answered a prayer that only he and I knew about.
  • You may need to say no to some things in order to say to yes to praying. Jesus dismissed the crowds. In one case, he did not return. He went somewhere else. Time is one of the few things that you cannot borrow or save.
  • You may need to build a routine. If prayer does not come easily and naturally for you, then you will need to structure that time with the Lord.
  • Watch for God’s blessings. Sometimes he rewards what no one else knows about.
  • Because your prayers are focused on the Lord, you are able to endure when the Lord does not provide an answer that brings comfort, pleasure, or ease.
    • Some of you are struggling because only one of you cares about your marriage.
    • Some of you are struggling because you care about your children far more than they care about you.
    • Some of you are struggling because the issues in your life that make it hard are not going away.
    • Focus on the Lord keeps the right purpose in front of you.
  • Every pagan religion has a foundation of manipulation. If I say the right things the gods will be happy with me and bless me. [Elijah and the prophets of Baal]
  • But Biblical Christianity is not about manipulation. It is about a loving, caring God who is interested in a meaningful relationship where we share our fears, concerns, and needs.
  • After all, the text says the Lord knows about our needs anyway.
  • His ministry was starting.
  • People were tempting him to forsake his servant mission and take on their mission.
  • He was about to go to the cross and asked three times for reprieve from the cup of suffering.
  • Praying for our Christmas ministries.
    • The leadership team met to make assignments for the Living Nativity. Thank you for your willingness to serve. Our focus now turns to the issue of prayer. Asking the Lord to work in the hearts of people.
    • Christmas for everyone. We want gifts for children to result in softened hearts toward the love of Jesus. We want a gift to result in a conversion.
    • Winter break ministries. We want Lauren Garner’s children cared for so she can keep her job. That Mackenna Folden is one tough business owner. They did a skit at CFN that reminded us of the need for childcare for families of single parents or families where both parents are required to work to survive.
    • We want excellent ABFs and Faith Groups. Sunday morning service is a great start to Christian growth, but it will never be enough. We were designed to live in community.
      • If you are an ABF teacher, FG leader, or team leader … are you praying that God would give you a fruitful and effective ministry? The title means nothing if there isn’t the heart and work behind it.
      • Maybe you have been avoiding ABFs or FGs because it represents another level of commitment. Have you been asking the Lord to lead you to the places where you could serve others and be impacted the most?
  • Praying for our mission.
    • It serves to move us from the things that waste our time and take our energy and puts us back on the right track.
  • Praying for the big issues in our lives. There was no bigger issue in Jesus’ ministry than the cross. It is one of the three times that Mark’s gospel emphasizes Jesus prayer. As you think about your life, can you identify a few areas that are particularly important.
  • That what prayer does … it helps us adopt the mindset of dependence before the Lord. It says that whether I have done this a 1000x or whether I am doing it for the first time I recognize Lord I need your help.
  • Instead, it is a request that the Lord would help us (as a community) acknowledge him as holy, to want to honor him, to want God to be the center of the universe so that he always gets the glory.
  • When Jesus came to earth, he first sermon was “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Rather than accept Jesus as the king, the nation rejected him and requested the Romans to crucify him on the charge that he was a fake king.
  • The rejection resulted in a delay of the kingdom, but it is a kingdom still promised. I think this prayer request reminds us that our desire should be for the time when Jesus comes again to rule.
  • We would rather have time to see our children trust Christ.
  • We would rather have time to get to a particular stage in life and THEN Jesus can return.
  • We are asking that righteousness would be the standard even in the evil world in which we live.
  • At a minimum, it suggests that we should know God’s will. There are several places in the Word that explain God’s will and desires for our lives.
  • But more than just knowing it, this request is asking the Lord, by his grace, to help us live it.
  • There is a battle there.
  • It is yes, Lord I want your will. But sometimes your will is really hard, and I don’t want to be in it.
  • One day it seems easy to follow the Lord while the next day is incredibly difficult.
  • Every single time is a refocusing on God’s will.
  • There was a temptation to do valuable things, but not the mission he was given.
  • Even after his prayer in the Garden and God clearly reveals that the cup of suffering will not pass, Jesus then pursues God’s will. He does not simply accept it, he pursues it.
  • We might be concerned about our retirement, we might be concerned about paying for college education, but most of us are not wondering if we will eat today.
  • We can recognize that every gift we have (health, intellect, job, finances, friends, family) is a gracious provision of the Lord.
  • Throughout Christianity people have confessed the many ways that God provided for them. In the NT period, many people were paid daily and the amount they were paid barely covered the food for the day. One day out of work was a day that food would be difficult to come by.
  • But one of the things that I am especially thankful for is that while we are in a position of plenty, where unemployment is so low that you basically have to not want a job not to have one, and the privilege we have of making a difference in people’s lives.
  • We would rather have something to hold against someone rather than to free them from it.
  • Even if it teaches us that our faith is not very real (vv. 14-15)
  • We have to go before the Lord by ourselves and cry out to him about our hurts and ask for his grace not to allow those hurts to define us. A man named St. Francis of Assisi understood the essence of this request. Notice carefully his words….
  • It requires a recognition of our own weaknesses and our propensity to move in certain directions of evil.
  • The response to that knowledge is to ask God to move us toward righteousness instead.
  • We pray that we would treat his name holy, that his promised kingdom would come, and we would want to do his will in our lives
  • Then our focus turns to acknowledging his gracious hand in our provisions, our need to be forgiving, and our need to move away from temptation and to righteousness.

Maybe the struggle with public prayer is partly due to the fact that we have not spent enough time in private prayer.

Maybe the Lord encouraged us to pray alone so that we would develop the mindset that prayer is first and foremost a desire to connect to our father more closely.

In the ministry of Jesus, we often find him retreating alone in order to spend quiet time in prayer with his father.

The gospels present Jesus as having a very busy public ministry. He was able to cast out demons, he could give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.

That is why he actually had to slip away, that is why he had to send the crowds away. One such passage says …

Luke 5:16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.

Even Jesus who was one with the Father nevertheless ensured that he spent time praying to the father by himself.

Friends, if we are going to be good stewards of prayer then we must have a meaningful private prayer life.

Bill Hybels wrote a book Too Busy NOT to Pray. It is such a vital part of our spiritual life that Jesus himself took the necessary time to step away from the busyness of life and pray to the father.

While Jesus never condemns the right use of public prayer it seems that most of our prayer time should be alone where we are not distracted by others.

B. When we pray in private there is the danger of losing concentration

How many of you, when praying privately, have actually fallen asleep? I know I have done it many times.

The Lord encourages us to go privately away from others and steward this wonderful gift of prayer by focusing on the Lord.

The value is not restricted to our relationship with the Lord … as good as that is. We also see that the Bible tells us that the Father rewards what is done in secret.

I enjoy seeing God answer corporate prayer. Sometimes when we pray together (like CFN) we see God do amazing things.

Let me suggest a couple of possible implications:

But Jesus’ alone times for prayer were not for meaningless purposes

II. Pray with meaningful words and concerns of the heart (Matthew 6:7-8)

Matthew 6:7-8 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

At times, it would appear that Jesus’ prayers were fairly short. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane he speaks of one hour and part of that time was not actually praying but interacting with the disciples. Yet other times, the Lord’s journeys into prayer took many hours including an entire night.

But regardless of the length of time that Jesus spent in prayer what was included in the Lord’s prayers was substance. They were meaningful. There were important concerns on his heart that he wanted to express to his father.

The warning of v. 7 is that words that do not come from the heart are meaningless, void of value, and only for show and manipulation.

The gospel of Mark which includes only 3 passages of Jesus praying.

Mark 1:35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.

Mark 6:46 After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.

Mark 14:35-39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 36 And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” 37 And He *came and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.

In each case, the prayers come during a very important time of ministry.

  • Mark 1:35 is the prayer at the start of Jesus’ public ministry
  • Mark 6:46 is the prayer where the Lord reiterates his mission to the Father as opposed to the mission to be king that the people want him to take
  • Mark 14:35-39 is the prayer prior to his suffering

Edwards writes, “Each prayer is at night and in a lonely place, each finds the disciples removed from him and failing to understand his mission, and in each Jesus faces a formative decision or crisis.” (James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2002, 197)

When Jesus prayed there was something important to pray about.

Friends there are a number of implications for you and me. If we follow Jesus’s example praying mostly alone and certainly with a mind focused on the Lord and praying about important decisions and issues of the heart, then it is reasonable for us to consider using some of our prayer time along these same lines …

If Jesus is praying for his ministry then we can pray for ours.

There are about 3 areas in my life that trip me up regarding my mission. They are roadblocks in accomplishing the mission God has given me. Jesus after feeding the 5,000 is tempted with the wrong kind of kingship. The people were ready to revolt and make Jesus king by force.

Jesus dismisses everyone and prays. The very next scene in the text is the servant Jesus doing what he came to do. Prayer reorients us to our mission.

If you are looking at your life and seeing a little mission drift maybe that mission drift is a result of a lack of prayer that reorients your life in the right direction.

As I was writing this sermon there are a few very significant issues in my life. Frankly, these issues could be paralyzing. They are not life ending, but each of them represents its own stage of life alteration. What about you? What are your big issues? Maybe you could write them out on your program before this sermon is over.

Then, the next question … and one that I have been asking myself this week … is how much have I been praying about it?

The beauty of this passage is that the Lord already knows what I need. My prayer does not provide the Lord with information. It acknowledges my dependence.

In Matthew 6 we find that we can steward our prayer well by focusing our minds on the Lord and ensuring that our prayers flow from a heart crying out to God rather than serving as a manipulative tool to get what we want.

Jesus did not stop there. He also explained what normal, everyday praying would include.

III. Pray according to the model provided by Jesus (Matthew 6:9-13a)

Matthew 9:9-13a “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Outside of this passage (and its companion texts in the gospels) we do not have a record of Jesus praying exactly like this. That reminds us that this is not a formula, but rather a guideline. It may be that one of the issues included in the passage is more meaningful on a particular day than another.

A. The opening reminds us of community (v. 9)

Biblical Christianity is a community affair. The opening line does not say “My Father” but rather “Our Father.” It reminds us that in our western culture we must not take individualism too far. Thus, many of these requests reflect an attitude I should have toward my brothers and sisters and not just for myself.

B. The opening reminds us of our relationship with the Lord (v. 9)

By using the term “Father” we are reminded that we have a special relationship to the Lord. While he is the sovereign king of the universe, we also have the privilege of calling him daddy.

1 John 3:1a See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.

C. Three petitions related directly to God

    1. That we would Revere God and His Name (v. 9)

God’s name is holy, hallowed, or sanctified. This request is not trying to give God a name that he does not already have.

Is this a normal part of our prayers in the quiet moments of our lives? Are we asking that God work in our lives to make more of him and less of us?

    1. That we would desire His coming Kingdom (v. 10)

This request is not about God’s universal sovereignty for that will always be in force. This request is more specific.

Yet sometimes we struggle wanting that … we would rather have time to get married.

This prayer reorients our thoughts about the future and reminds that the Lord and his coming kingdom should be the center of our priority.

    1. That we would follow His will (v. 10)

This request centers on God’s will being done. The ethics of the kingdom given throughout the sermon on the mount emphasizes righteousness.

Thus, this request places obligations on us.

Have you ever been in a situation that was difficult, but you also knew it was the will of God?

Friends, that is why we need to be praying. Earlier I spoke about the 3 times Mark records Jesus praying.

If the Bible records Jesus as needing to pray to do the will of God, then surely that is the case for us. Get in your closet and ask God to help you want and pursue his will.

D. Three Petitions related to Man

After we have thought properly about our great God then we turn our attention to our own needs and the needs around us.

  • That God would provide for our needs
  • That we would be a forgiving person
  • That we would be led away from temptation and toward righteousness

Let’s face it, we are living in a day and age where the concern for daily sustenance is hardly at the forefront of most of our minds.

But that does not mean we cannot live dependent lives on the Lord?

He does not owe us those gifts.

God would not be unjust to take us back to those days.

The reason that we have to forgive is that someone hurt us. But there are times when we, in moments of hurt, would rather have revenge.

That is why we have to pray. We have to ask God to give us this heart of forgiveness.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon; …

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The final request asks God to lead us away from temptation and thus in the direction of righteousness.

When is the last time you prayed for that?

Friends, stewardship involves so many things. This year we have taken a small portion of the sermon on the mount as said we are stewards of love, we are stewards of the resources God has given, and we are stewards of prayer.

We can steward our prayer by focusing on the Lord (rather than people or losing track of what we are praying), by praying with meaningful words and concerns of the heart, and by praying after the model Jesus taught us.

May God help us to be a good steward of prayer.

Dr. Rob Green

Roles

Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries - Faith Church

Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries - Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries

MABC Department Chair, Instructor - Faith Bible Seminary

Bio

B.S. - Engineering Physics, Ohio State University
M.Div. - Baptist Bible Seminary
Ph.D. - New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

Pastor Rob Green and his wife, Stephanie, joined the Faith staff in August, 2005.  Rob’s responsibilities include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry, Chair of the MABC program, and teaching New Testament at the Faith Bible Seminary. He serves on the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and as a fellow at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Read Rob Green's Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Green to Faith Church.