As followers of Christ, we know we’re supposed to pray when the church gathers, but it’s all too easy for prayer to become a thoughtless routine in which we don’t even stop to think about Who we’re praying to. We rarely have a sense of desperation for God’s help; we lack zeal for his beauty; our confession, if there is any, often misses the seriousness of our sin; our prayer and praise tend to be lukewarm. In this message, David Platt uses Psalm 27:4 and other passages to point us to the kind of prayer that ought to characterize God’s people. The church should come to God humbly, expectantly, and zealously, calling out for his grace and strength as we seek to enjoy and proclaim his glory.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open with me to Psalm 27. It’s good to gather together before God and hear from His Word.
Today I want to do something very different. We’re in week three of 12 weeks on why you need a biblical church. Why you need a biblical church, a specific kind of community that God has designed for you to experience life to the full—right where you’re sitting now, no matter how young or old you are, no matter what age or stage in life you are, no matter what your background is or what your present or future looks like.
Two week ago we saw that you and I need biblical preaching and teaching in our lives. We need to gather together as a church with other brothers and sisters in Christ, sons and daughters of God, and to listen to Him in His Word. This is what God’s people have done for literally thousands of years. What we’re doing right now is carrying on a pattern that has been taking place for thousands of years among God’s people.
Then last week we saw that you and I need to commit to a church—a local body of believers in this big global body of Christ—to look in the face of other people and say, “I’m committed with you to being and doing all that a church is and does together with you.” So now we’re getting into all God says a church is and does.
This week I want to show you that you need a church that prays. As soon as I say that, you might thing, “Well, thank you Captain Obvious. A church prays. I hadn’t thought about that before. I need prayer, I guess. Yeah, I need prayer.” I have been so convicted this week and don’t think we really pray. Maybe I can put it this way. Most of us—and I include myself in this—are nowhere close to praying the way we have been created to pray in our lives and as a church.
I’ve shared before about the last trip I took to South Korea where I was preaching in a church. I was sitting at the front of this church, looking at my notes, as their pastor got up on stage to speak. I didn’t understand what he was saying in Korean, so I was just looking over my notes. Then all of a sudden, without any warning, a roar of voices filled the room. I looked around when everyone yelled what sounded like “Jooyoe!” Some of you are Korean and you’re thinking, “That was horrible.” You probably know exactly what I’m talking about. They yelled that, then started speaking and shouting at the same time. Some of them had their heads bowed, others had their hands raised. Most of them had their eyes closed. They were all crying out with passion—all ages, from young to old, men and women, all of them. It was almost like they were pleading or crying out in desperation.
I turned to the guy next to me, who was translating for me, and I asked, “What is happening?” He said, “They’re praying.” He told me that what sounds like jooyoe in Korean is “Lord” in English. I said, “What did the pastor share that led them to pray like this?” He said, “He just told them to pray. This is how they pray.”
Then he started translating what different people were saying. He said some were praising God. Others were thanking God for His grace in their lives. Some were in tears. Some were confessing sin. Others were praying for people in need. I said, “How long is this going to last?” He said, “Until they’re finished.” He told me some of them gather at 4:00 every morning to pray for an hour or two or three like this. Many of them gather all night on Fridays to pray. That’s when it hit me: I have spent my whole life in a church culture that just plays around with prayer.
I remember hearing my seminary professor when I was in graduate school telling me about his trip to South Korea. He stayed in a hotel and about 4:00 in the morning he was wakened by this loud noise outside. He was frustrated, so he went over to the window, opened the blinds and looked out. There was a stadium full of people and they were shouting. What sporting event do they play at 4:00 in the morning, and why was this not advertised with this hotel so he would know this would be the case. So he tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. A few hours later, he ended up going downstairs to the hotel lobby and asked at the front desk, “What sporting event was happening at 4:00 this morning?” The person at the front desk told him, “Oh, that wasn’t a sporting event. That was the church gathered together to pray.”
We know nothing of this in this church culture. Now, we do know about gathering in stadiums. We’ll do that all weekend long. We’ll shout and our affections will be united over a bunch of guys running around with an oval pigskin in their hand, trying to cross a white line. What are we doing? Where have we totally missed it? Look at the story of the church in Korea; this is not the mark of the church.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Korean peninsula was less than 1% Christian. At the beginning of the 21st century, 100 years later, there were ten million followers of Jesus in South Korea alone. That doesn’t even include underground believers in North Korea. How do you go from less than 1% Christian to ten million followers of Jesus? Can you imagine that happening? Imagine another country today that’s less than 1% Christian—Yemen. Can you imagine, a hundred years from now, there being ten million followers of Jesus in Yemen? Is that possible? Well, apparently it is, when people actually realize what prayer is.
Why don’t we pray like that? Why don’t we pray for hours at a time, alone or together like this? Don’t we need God in our lives? Don’t we need God in our families? Don’t we need God in our city? Don’t we need God in our country? Don’t we need and want the glory of God among the nations? Then we’ll really pray. If we’re not praying like this, it’s a pretty clear picture. We’re saying we don’t need God in this way.
I was just talking before this service with a woman who happens to be a Korean sister in this church family. She and the group she is a part of are doing this together. They were here yesterday morning for two hours—8:00 to 10:00. She said she comes at 8:00 because that’s what time the church opens. She’d rather come earlier, but the building isn’t open. I’m so sorry.
I have another picture in my mind, based on an article I read this last week. Before I show you the picture, let me give you a little background. Months ago I was preaching at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, where Tony Evans is pastor. It was a pro-life event on a Friday night. I took Isaiah, my nine-year-old, with me. We flew down there, went to the rental car place, and it was one of those situations where the rental car company said, “You can pick any car from this area.” Usually that area is filled with just your normal mid-sized vehicles. But right in front, the first car—I think it had just been pulled around—was a silver Ford Mustang. Isaiah saw it, looked at me and smiled. I looked at him and smiled. I said, “Buddy, you want us to get that one?” He said, “Absolutely, Dad. This is going to be epic.”
So we hopped in this Mustang. Now I have never driven a sports car like this before. It was amazing. In the confines of the law, it was amazing. We had a blast. That thing could go from zero to a lot in a little. Our favorite moments were when we stopped at a red light, the first in line. We would go super-slow at a green light, so it would turn red and we could accelerate again. This mega-horsepower engine took us for a ride.
So with that background, here’s the picture. This Harold who is 101 years old. Ford did a promotional story on him because he’s one of very few people alive today who drove the first Model T when it came out. So they brought out a Model T for him to ride in again, then he got to ride in the new Ford Mustang Mach-something. Those were two very different experiences! One just kind of putting along; the other one could really get up and go.
I share this story because I think I’ve spent most of my life in church treating prayer like a Model T. I’m just kind of putting along, it’s a nice ride, but God has designed me to experience the rush and thrill of a Mustang.
I believe this is what God is saying to us today: “I’ve created you to experience the thrill of communion with Me, of conversation with Me, of crying out to Me, of Me hearing your cries and answering your prayers, of Me involving you in what I’m doing in your life and others’ lives, and people around the world. I’ve created you to live through prayer.
Individually, God has created you to experience the thrill of being with Him in prayer. Then for us as the church together, God is saying, “I’ve not created you to putter around in a casual, monotonous, religious, cultural way, just going through the motions of church life, just bowing your heads, praying at different points, but not thinking about Who we’re talking to. I’ve not created your minds to go in a million different directions, while heaven is shouting, ‘Do you realize Who you’re talking to? Do you realize Who you’ve gathered together before right now—the holy, holy, holy God of the universe?’”
So that’s why I want to do something a little different this morning. I don’t want to just talk about prayer. I want us to experience God in prayer. I don’t want to spend 45 minutes telling you about an engine in a Ford Mustang. I want to get in the car with you, put the gas pedal down to the floor, and to feel what it’s like to commune with God. He is saying, “I want you to experience something with Me that you can’t experience anywhere else in the world.”
You and I need biblical prayer. Using the acrostic PRAY, I’m going to give us one text for each of these letters. Then I’m going to lead us to pray along the way, all together. I know some of you here are just exploring Christianity. This might feel kind of different for you, or maybe even awkward for you. But I have prayed specifically that God might use this time to open your eyes to the reality that you were created for relationship with God. Here’s the background, for those of you who are exploring Christianity. The Bible teaches us that all of us are created by God for relationship with God. Think of Adam and Eve in the garden, walking and talking with God, just enjoying God. This is what you were made for. The problem was they—and all of us—sinned against God, which has separated all of us from relationship with God. We’ve turned aside from God to our own ways.
The Bible teaches that if we die in this separation from God, we will spend eternity separated from Him in judgment due our sin, eternally separated from His love, grace and mercy. But God loves us. The significant news of the core of the Bible is that He’s not left us alone in this state. God has come to us in the person of Jesus. Who lived the life none of us could live, a life with no sin. Then even though He had no sin to die for, He chose to die on a cross to pay the price for sinners, for anyone who will trust in Him.
The good news keeps getting better because He didn’t stay dead for long. Three days later He rose from the grave, so that anyone, anywhere, including anyone in this gathering right now, who turns from their sins and puts their trust in Jesus will be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God, to be with Him for all of eternity. You will know and enjoy God forever and ever and ever.
So we invite you to put your trust in Jesus today and pray with us. If you’re not ready or willing to do that though, then just observe during this time. I hope you will see what it looks like for people to spend time with God, to speak to God and for Him to speak to our hearts.
If you’re a follower of Jesus and have a relationship with God, this may even feel awkward for you at times. But it should not. Not prayer. Allow yourself to be stretched. We’re just going to touch the surface today.
Here we go—PRAY. We use this acrostic a lot, so let’s start.
P stands for Praise. Psalm 27:4. Just one verse: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”
What a verse. One thing I have asked of God—only one. I only want one thing. That’s all I’m asking for. I just want to dwell in the house of the Lord. That’s all I want. I just want to be with God. I just want to see Him, gaze upon Him, all the days of my life. It’s the one thing I want. I just want to gaze upon the beauty of God. I just want to see Him, talk to Him and inquire in His temple.
This is the foundation of prayer. Most of us miss this one thing. We usually pray because we want things, right? Why do we pray? Because we need this, we want that, we ask for things. Now that’s not wrong; we’re going to see that in a minute. God actually tells us to ask for things, so, yes, that’s part of prayer. But don’t miss what Psalm 27:4 is telling us. The primary purpose of prayer is not to get something, but to be with Someone.
Realizing that changes the way you pray. Dwelling with God is what it’s all about. It’s about gazing upon the beauty of God. So just ask yourself if this is the one thing you want. Is God the one thing you want, over every other thing? It’s almost like David is an addict, writing, “I just want this one thing. I’ll be happy if I get this one thing” —to be with God. “Everything else can be gone. I need nothing else. If I have this one thing—gazing upon God—then I’m great.”
Is that true in your life? This is so important. I think we’ve created a whole concept of Christianity in American culture, that instead of making God the addiction in our lives—the one thing we want—we seem pretty content to make God an addition in our lives, along with a lot of other things we want. We’ll tack on God on Sundays, and periodically maybe during the week. But we want a lot of other things. Is He the addiction in your life, or an addition in your life? How you answer that changes the way you pray.
Do you pray because God is useful to you or because God is beautiful to you? How you answer that question will affect the way you pray. I want us to pray because God is beautiful. I want us to seek God because we want to see Him, know Him, love Him, thank Him and ascribe praise to Him. Like a lover who just wants to be with their beloved, who wants their beloved to know how beautiful they are.
The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind (Matthew 22:36-40). This is why life is found in a loving relationship with God. You’re missing life if you’re missing a love relationship with God. So let’s do this. This is not just for us to sit back and talk about. Again, if you’re not a follower of Jesus yet, we invite you to trust in Jesus. If you’re not ready to do that, just observe during this time.
If you are a follower of Jesus, let’s give Him the Mustang keys here, even if that stretches you some. Let’s stand up for this part. If you want, feel free to kneel down on your knees, on your face, go into the aisles if you want. Feel free to lift up your hands which is appropriate.
Don’t think about what anybody else is doing. You’re not the audience we’re speaking to. God’s the audience here and we’re speaking to Him. Let’s pray prayers of praise, like Psalm 27, just gazing upon God. This is not a golf event where people whisper; this is a stadium event, praising God.
What do the passages say?
- Read the four passages aloud as a group and take some time to let group members share observations about the passages. Try not to move into the interpretation of the passages or application of what you have read quite yet. Simply share what you all observe.
- What do you hear King David say in Psalm 27:4?
- What does King David seek from God in Psalm 51:1–2?
- What do you hear Jesus telling us in Matthew 7:7–11?
- What do you see prayer doing for us in Matthew 6:13?
What do the passages mean?
- God wants us to be in communion with Him. Dwelling with God, in communion with Him, leads us to praise Him. Psalm 27:4
- When we begin our prayer time by praising God, how might that focus our hearts? What might that do for our prayer lives?
- What does communion with God through prayer look like? How is it like dwelling with God, rather than merely being an opportunity to ask Him for things we think we need?
- Read Psalm 107:43, Psalm 108:1, and Lamentations 3:21–16. How do the writers of these passages gaze upon the beauty of the Lord? What are ways that we might gaze upon the beauty of the Lord?
- We confess and repent as a vital component of biblical prayer. In Psalm 51:1–2, David asks for mercy and cleansing.
- What is involved in biblical confession of sin? What do we do? What does God do? See Psalm 32:5.
- How do confession and repentance help lead to restoration? 1 John 1:9
- We are to confess our sins both to God and to each other. What is the relationship between confession to each other and prayer? James 5:16.
- It is right and good to ask God for things in our lives and in the lives of others. Matthew 7:7–11, Philippians 4:4–7, James 4:2–3.
- God is a good Father. What does Matthew 7:7–11 show us that God will provide for His children?
- What direction does the Bible give us about asking God on behalf of the needs of others? Matthew 5:44, 1 Timothy 2:1, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 1:9. Galatians 6:2, Luke 22:32.
- What direction does the Bible give us about asking God for our own needs? Hebrews 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Jude 1:20.
- As we seek God’s Kingdom, we yield our lives in submission as He leads.
- What does it mean to yield to God?
- As we seek to yield our lives to God, what types of things should we pray God will lead us from? Matthew 6:13. What might we pray God will lead us towards? Psalm 25:4, James 1:5.
What does this mean for us?
- Church Groups should be places where we can raise our needs to one another and to God. How can we P-R-A-Y more effectively as a Church Group? In other words, how can we go from a puttering ‘Model-T’ to a firing-on-all-cylinders ‘Racecar’ in our prayers?
- How does praying together unite us and draw us closer to God at the same time?
- Church Groups should be places where we can raise our needs for the world around us. What particular focus area(s) can we pray for over the next month?
- Let’s pause and pray together right now. We encourage each Church Group to take time for extended prayer this week in your gathering. Either in huddles or as a large group, pray for the specific needs of those in your Church Group.
- What praises can we raise? Take time right now to praise God together.
- What repentance can we seek? Allow time either in a large group or in huddles for confession.
- For what can we ask? Pray together for your own needs and for the needs of those in your group.
- Where do we need to yield? Ask God to lead you and submit to His leadership in your lives.
A church is characterized by biblical prayer. Members of the church pray both privately and corporately. In their prayers, they worship God, confess their sins, thank God for His blessings, intercede for others, and ask God to provide their own needs. A church prays fervently and frequently. Prayer must mark who the church is and undergird every single thing the church does. When we pray for that which can only be accomplished by the power of God, we will experience what can only be attributed to the glory of God. It must be said of our church what was said of the early church – “they devoted themselves to prayer.” If we miss this, we miss everything.
God created us to experience the thrill of communion with Him, of conversation with Him, of crying out to Him, of Him hearing and answering our cries, giving us what we ask, and Him involving us in what He’s doing in other people’s lives, here and all around the world. God has created us to commune with Him through prayer. An effective model for prayer is to use the acrostic P-R-A-Y:
- Praise – See Psalm 27:4
- Repent – See Psalm 51:1–2.
- Ask – See Matthew 7:7–11.