Introduction: We all have different gifts and different abilities within the Lord’s church. Paul tells us some of the different gifts that we’re given. We all will excel at one or more of them in varying degrees.
In Romans 12, he tells us this –
For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Elsewhere, he gives other lists of the gifts we may have and he gives explanations of their use and the conduct we should exercise along with them. One aspect of the Christian life, which is surely a gift and yet not specifically described as one, is the gift of prayer.
Prayer is something everyone can do and something everyone is instructed to do. And there are as many theories on how to pray successfully as there are pastors who preach on what a successful prayer is. There are many model prayers in the Bible, but even model prayers need to be looked at carefully.
The Lord’s prayer is the most well known model prayer. “Lord teach us how to pray” His disciples asked, just “as John also taught his disciples.” After asking this, we read –
2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one. Luke 11
Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “When you pray, say…” Some people take this as a command and faithfully repeat the prayer word for word – day after day. But in Matthew Jesus says to pray “in this manner” before giving the Lord’s prayer. In other words, use this structure but not necessarily the exact prayer.
Is that it then? Pray a prayer like the Lord’s pray and that’s all you need? The answer is that the Lord’s Prayer was given to the disciples under the Old Covenant. Our sins have been forgiven, past tense, so that part doesn’t really apply. “Forgive us our sins” would be redundancy; He already forgave us at the cross.
We can acknowledge our sins, we can ask to be kept from committing more sins, but concerning forgiveness, we should thank Him for having received it once for all time. In all, using the structure of the Lord’s prayer makes much more sense than a rote repeating of it.
It glorifies God, it looks for His coming kingdom, it looks for His will and guidance in our lives, it asks for His provision, it reminds us to be merciful as we have received mercy, and it asks for Him to be with us and keep us from temptation, and to deliver us.
An important point about the Lord’s prayer is that it is lacking something. For us the Lord’s prayer is lacking. Did you know that? It lacks any mention of Jesus. We are told time and time again in the New Testament that we are to have our contact with God through Jesus. Here’s an example from Colossians 3:17 –
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
As always, understanding the context of a passage, who the addressees are, and under what dispensation it’s presented helps us to understand how it applies and how we should apply it. The Lord’s prayer is no different.
Paul tells us in Romans 1 that “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, 10 making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.
It doesn’t sound like he was using the format of the Lord’s prayer at all. He is praying for the needs of others and himself. He tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5 to “Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Paul’s idea of prayer is continuous, filled with thanks, and it is overflowing in joy. Praying without ceasing then is a state of life. It goes beyond getting on your knees one or several times a day. Rather it is something that can and should happen at any time and in any situation.
Soldiers pray in the middle of battle. Athletes seem to love to pray before competing. People pray when someone gets sick, when they need money, or when they’re in trouble, but for the most part people don’t pray without a specific reason.
The key is to know that there is always a reason. Paul thought about the Romans, or the Ephesians, or the Thessalonians continuously. And anytime they came to mind, he was in prayer for them. In the same way, we can look up and see a beautiful white cloud and pray a quick prayer of thanks to God.
When we get a green light on a day that we’re running late, we can thank the Lord when we zip through it. If an old friend comes to mind out of the blue – say a prayer right then for them. No matter what enters your thoughts, pray about it. If it’s a good thought, let it be a prayer of thanks.
If it’s an evil thought, let it be a prayer that it will be taken away and not return. If it’s something which causes anxiety, then pray that the Lord will relieve it. In any or all of these prayers, ask that the Lord be glorified through the granting of it.
Praying without ceasing is actually having God on your mind at all times. If He is there on your mind, then every thought that goes through your head will include Him; it will be a prayer.
This is the life of the Spirit filled believer – being constantly in tune with the Lord. As I say from time to time, “If you’re saved, you have all the Spirit you will ever receive at the moment you accept Jesus. But the Spirit can get more of you.” One of the ways this can happen is through that state of constant prayer.
I’d like to give you an example of a good prayer and an example of a bad prayer. The good prayer honors God, is directed through His Son Jesus, and is in line with the prayer we’ll see Jacob give in our verses today. The bad prayer on the other hand dishonors God, is directed to a created being, not God, and is completely out of line with anything ever found acceptable in the Bible.
One of the prayers was given by our first President, George Washington. The other was given by a previous pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Listen to them and see if you can tell which is the good one and which is the bad one –
Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb and purge my heart by the Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of thy son, Jesus Christ. George Washington; his prayer book.
Most holy Virgin, who pleased our Lord and became his mother, Virgin Immaculate in your body and soul, in your body and soul, in your faith and love, at this solemn jubilee of the promulgation of the dogma which proclaimed you to the entire world as conceived without sin, look kindly on us unfortunate ones who implore your powerful protection. The infernal serpent, upon whom the primeval curse was laid, continues, alas, to attack and tempt the hapless children of Eve. Ah! Do you, our blessed Mother, our Queen and Advocate, who at the first moment of your conception did crush the enemy’s head, do you gather together our prayers and we beseech you (our hearts one with yours) present them before God’s throne, that we may never allow ourselves to be caught in the snares laid for us, but that we may reach the portal of salvation, and that the Church and Christian society may once more chant the hymn of deliverance, of victory and of peace. Amen. Pope Pius X, 8 Sept 1903 Mediator, Perfect being, Redeemer, Savior, Avenue to God.
I’m guessing you know which prayer was proper and honoring of God, and which prayer was blasphemous and out of line with any precept found in the Bible. If not, you have a serious defect in both your theology and your prayer life. Let’s get that corrected today.
The Bible is filled with model prayers. These are occasions where specific attention to a particular situation is needed. The occasions vary and so the prayers vary, but from each model prayer, we can learn how to form our own special prayers for our own special times of need.
Text Verse: Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer. Psalm 4:1
Today we’ll look at just four verses which form the first model prayer given in the Bible. Jacob is about to encounter his brother who previously intended to kill him and he doesn’t have either the manpower or resources to defend himself. He is, like Israel has always been, completely at the mercy of the Lord’s protection.
He acknowledges this today and shows us how we too can pray in a similar situation. Let’s take a look at his words and see why God included them in His own word and what He can therefore teach us, and… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. Obeying God’s Directive
Jacob’s prayer is given in four verses and contains several key points. The first is who the prayer is directed to. The second is a reminder of the Lord’s direction which is what actually brought him to the need for the prayer.
The third is a deep sense of his unworthiness. The fourth is an acknowledgement of God’s favor upon him and what God has done for him. The fifth is his petition for protection. And the sixth is that his plea is based on what has already been promised by God, restating those promises as a reminder that they were made.
9 Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac,
The Lord told Jacob to return to Canaan and Jacob obeyed. He packed up his belongings and headed off. Laban chased after him and finally caught up with him, but the meeting turned out peaceful because, as Laban said,
“…the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’” 31:29
So the move was at the Lord’s direction. Protection after he headed out came from God as well. Jacob is relying on God to continue to accomplish His word and so he begins his prayer as “O God of my father Abraham and God my father Isaac.” Jacob prays to God. Not anything or anyone else.
He is bringing to remembrance the covenant which has been passed down two generations already and of which he is the most recent recipient. This God, who transcends time and exists throughout the generations is the same God who was there with his fathers – Abraham and Isaac.
Because the promise given to Abraham is based on the promise given to Adam, it implies that He was there at the very beginning and He is therefore the Creator. The One true God. Because He is, He is sovereign over time and over all that happens within time.
Introducing Abraham and Isaac is for the purpose of bringing to remembrance the covenant established and passed down through them. Notice that Jacob isn’t praying to the idols that Rachel brought along, and he’s also not praying to the angels that he saw in the camp of God.
Never once in the Bible is prayer allowed to or through anyone but God. Prayers to Mary, to the saints, to angels, or anyone or anything else is not only frowned upon, it is forbidden. Jacob knew this and we should too. A prayer to other than God is a failure to give Him the credit and glory that He alone is due.
LIFE APPLICATION – horoscopes, zodiacs, knocking on wood, etc.
9 (con’t) the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’:
After calling Him “the God of Abraham and the God of my father Isaac” he addresses Him by name – Lord or Jehovah, and he reminds him of what He told him – “Return to your country and to your family and I will deal well with you.” This serves two purposes.
The first is that he has been obedient in leaving and heading home, and secondly, that it was by the Lord’s direction. This doesn’t mean Jacob thinks the Lord forgot, but that he is calling it to remembrance. “You have spoken, now fulfill your word.”
This is exactly what David does in 2 Samuel 7. He calls to remembrance the word of the Lord as a reminder of both His faithfulness and as an assurance that He will fulfill it –
“Now, O Lord God, the word which You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house, establish it forever and do as You have said. (2 Samuel 7:25)
LIFE APPLICATION – know what promises apply to you in the Bible and repeat them back to God.
II. Our Unworthiness
The fact that we are here at all testifies to the Lord’s mercy. It is we who neglect Him, who sin against Him, and who turn our backs to Him. We are unworthy of the least of His favors and what we deserve He is slow to give in hopes that there will be reconciliation first. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us this is so –
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
The promise Peter is speaking about is the Lord’s coming. One might wonder why the Lord’s coming is being connected by Peter to people perishing. Well, the reason is that when He comes, people will perish. There will only be two categories of people then, just as there are now – the saved and the unsaved.
His coming is delayed because He is merciful. Were He to have come in the year 2000, I would have perished. Were he to have come a bit earlier, others of us would have perished. But His timing is planned and designed so that those who will repent will have the chance.
As tough as this sounds, it’s reality. If nothing else clues us in to our own unworthiness, the cross certainly must. If the death of Jesus was necessary for us to live, then how unworthy we truly are.
Jacob was on the other side of the cross and even he could figure this out. It’s amazing that so many of us still can’t. Without the cross, you too will perish. Choose wisely in how you deal with it.
10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant;
Some people simply know. They can look around the world at all of God’s splendid creation and the wisdom it displays and they can tell that God is a great God; a majestic and wise Creator. Jacob, like his fathers, knew this. It’s not by chance that the more religious people in the world are those that live closer to nature.
When your hands are in the soil, your mind considers the creation. It’s a seemingly self-evident fact because the seasons are so perfectly timed that year after year the animals know when to mate, the crops know when to start coming out of the earth, the sun knows when to head north or south.
The balance and precision of nature invariably leads people to ponder the wisdom of the Creator and the intricacy of His creation. As people move away from the country and congregate in urban areas, they quickly lose these thoughts and God becomes an after thought in the busy life of the city. Eventually, He’s no longer even an afterthought; He is first denied and then despised.
If you’ve ever looked at a political map of the United States, it’s abundantly evident that the liberal, anti-God crowd is generally centered in the urban areas and the more religious and down to earth people are in the more rural areas.
Those who experience God’s handiwork appreciate the mercies of the Lord more directly. Every meal is a gift and every breath is a blessing. To the others who ignore Him, they look to what they think they deserve – “I have done this.” “I have a right to this” “It is all about me.”
Jacob has been a man of the land and has been wholly dependent on God for everything he has. He acknowledges it and reminds the Lord of it. It is all about Him and it was undeserved. Adam Clarke gives us his thoughts on this verse –
“A man who sees himself in the light of God will ever feel that he has no good but what he has received, and that he deserves nothing of all that he has.”
And Matthew Henry adds in his thoughts as well when he says, “Those are best prepared for the greatest mercies that see themselves unworthy of the least.”
10 con’t for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies.
When we pray, do we remind God of the comparisons in our life?
“Lord, I started out with a little loan and through your blessing I now have a great company.”
“Lord, I was a geeky girl in school and now I have a husband and a child.”
“Lord, I could have died in that car accident when I was young and yet here I am all these years later.”
It’s good to remind the Lord where we were and where we are now. It shows Him that we know where everything we have came from and that He gave it to us. Jacob crossed the Jordan with his staff, meaning he had very little of his own. And now, before crossing the Jordan again and returning to Canaan, he has become two entire companies of people.”
I tell the Lord may times as I speak to Him that if I were to acknowledge every blessing He’s given me, I wouldn’t have time for anything else. My life has been filled with abundance and it has all been His grace. I can take credit for none of it. How about you?
Tell Him the comparisons, not because He needs to know them. He already does. Tell Him because you are acknowledging to Him that YOU know them.
III. Our Complete Dependence on God
11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau;
Time and time again in the Psalms the writers use these same words to the Lord, “Deliver me.” David says in Psalm 25 –
Keep my soul, and deliver me;
Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in You. Psalm 25:20
David says “let me not be ashamed” not because he feared people would say bad things about him because he was somehow above reproach. If you follow David’s life, he couldn’t have cared when other people spoke ill of him. Often when they did, others went to defend him and he turned around and stopped them.
He would tell them that if someone was cursing him, well… maybe the Lord told them to do it. That wasn’t his concern at all. When David says, “Let me not be ashamed” he gives the reason – “for I put my trust in You.” In other words, “My shame would be if someone thought they prevailed over You because of my defeat.”
David had the Lord’s honor in mind when he looked for his deliverance. It wasn’t for the sake of his own skin at all. Jacob isn’t worried about himself either. Like David, he is concerned about the Lord’s honor. He’s told Him as much already by bringing the covenant to mind.
If he and his family is destroyed, then the covenant promises will be made void and it is the Lord’s honor that would suffer. This is Jacob’s concern; this is Jacob’s reminder.
11 (con’t) for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children.
Jacob feared, David feared, and any person concerned about the integrity of God’s promises will fear as well. Not for themselves, but for the honor of the Lord. If Esau attacks Jacob, the women, and the children and he prevails, then what will Esau think?
“I – yes I have prevailed. I have nullified the prophecy given to my mother before I was born, and the blessing given to my brother. I have prevailed over God and man.” This is Jacob’s concern.
In 2 Chronicles 14, a million man army came against little Judah. An immense and overwhelming force was set to annihilate God’s people. King Asa knew that if this were to happen, the promises of the Lord would have been nullified. And so to remind Him of His honor and that He alone had the power to save, we read this account –
9 Then Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and three hundred chariots, and he came to Mareshah. 10 So Asa went out against him, and they set the troops in battle array in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. 11 And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!” 12 So the Lord struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. 13 And Asa and the people who were with him pursued them to Gerar. So the Ethiopians were overthrown, and they could not recover, for they were broken before the Lord and His army.
In 1948, five major forces came against Israel – Egypt, Jordan, Syrian, Lebanon, and the Palestinians. There were 43.3 million citizens in these countries and 2.2 millions Jews. The total comprised forces were 710,000 soldiers against Israel’s 140,000.
The number of actual fighting forces was less, but the numbers were heavily in favor of Israel’s enemies. Despite the overwhelming odds, Israel prevailed.
In 1967, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, along with Iraqi expeditionary forces came into conflict with Israel. They were supported by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Kuwait, Tunisia, Sudan, and the PLO.
The total combined forces coming against Israel were 547,000 with 247,000 deployed along with 957 combat aircraft and 2,504 tanks. Israel had only 50,000 active troops and 210,000 reserves. They possessed 300 combat aircraft and 800 tanks – hugely outmatched.
In just 6 days, Israel had decisively defeated the overwhelming force. They had about 5500 casualties with less than 1000 dead and a loss of 46 aircraft. The Arab forces lost over 49000 killed, wounded, or captured, hundreds of tanks lost, as well as 452 aircraft.
Only six years later, in 1973, came the Yom Kippur war. Even greater numbers engaged in battle and again, Israel prevailed. The overwhelming numbers of her enemy’s personnel and equipment which were destroyed was seen for the third time.
There are those Israelis who credit all three victories to the hand of God, and there are those who claim it was Jewish supremacy and/or the incompetence of the enemies for the victories.
The truth of the matter is that God’s name and His honor is tied up in this nation and just as at the time of Jacob and King Asa, it is right to remind Him of this during such times of crisis.
IV. Reminding God of His Promises
12 For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”
Jacob calls to remembrance God’s promises and thus is strengthened in the assurances. If God makes these promises and He is in fact God, then He will keep His promises. But a point we shouldn’t miss is that the Bible never records this promise being spoken to Jacob.
The only time descendants are likened to the sand of the sea is when Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah as a sacrifice. After his trial, the promise was made in Genesis 22 –
15 Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
Because the promise was to Abraham, and because Isaac was the chosen son, and because Jacob is now the son of promise, the promise spoken to Abraham is also as if directly spoken to Jacob. Like bookends on Jacob’s short prayer, the line of covenant promises is invoked.
What belongs to Abraham belongs to him as well. God’s faithfulness to Abraham ensures God’s faithfulness to Jacob. Jacob’s prayer is that of a loving father, a caring husband, an assured heir, and a steadfast and devout believer in God’s faithfulness.
LIFE APPLICATION – our right to remind God of His promises; Jesus is His Son and we are His sons through adoption.
Our prayer lives are a reflection of our walk with God. But it can’t be a general walk with an unknown God, nor can our prayers be honoring of God if they’re offered to Buddha, Allah, Mary, or Krishna. There is one God and one Creator and He has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. In John 5:23 we read –
“He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
The Bible makes it clear that He is the one and only Mediator between God and man and so our prayers are to be directed to God through Jesus Christ. They should be honoring of Him, thankful to Him, and show our dependence upon Him. Yes, we are unworthy of the least of His favors, but because of Jesus, we are called His children.
If you’ve never made a commitment to this wonderful God who sent His Son to die for your sins, please let me take a moment and tell you how you can have a close and personal relationship with Him. It is the only prayer He desires to hear from you until you become His child. After that, He will hear every prayer…
Closing Verse: Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity;
For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my supplication;
The Lord will receive my prayer.
10 Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled;
Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly. Psalm 6:8-10
Next Week: Genesis 32:13-21 – (Preparing for an Encounter) (80th Genesis Sermon)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.
Deliver Me, I Pray
Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham
And God of my father Isaac, yes him too
The Lord who said to me, “Return to your country
And to your family, and I will deal well with you
I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies
And of all the truth which You have to me shown
For I crossed over this Jordan with my staff
And now I have into two companies grown
Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother
From the hand of Esau, for I fear him – yes I do
Lest he come and attack me, yes me and not another
And the mother and the children I pray for them too
For You said, I will treat you well surely
And make your descendants as the sand of the sea
Which cannot be numbered for multitude, truly
This is the promise which has been handed down to me
I know you are attentive to my prayer
And that You are with me through every test and trial
And in my struggles you are right with me there
Through every difficult day and each wearisome mile
I know of your love and tender care for me
Because you sent Your Son Jesus to die in my place
And because of His work and the cross of Calvary
I shall walk in Your presence and my eyes shall see Your face
Thank You, O God for the love you have lavished upon us
Thank You, O God for the gift of your Son – our Savior Jesus
Praises belong to You and to You alone O Glorious God
For the splendid promises in our life as with You we trod
Hallelujah and Amen…