I’d like to invite you to turn to Luke chapter 11. If you’re new to Grace Church, we want to welcome you to a study that’s been in progress for quite a while, now. We’re studying Luke’s Gospel, and we find ourselves in the eleventh chapter, which means we are embarking on a new study. For the next several weeks, we’re going to be looking at the subject of prayer. Prayer—it is a vital, vital subject.
Let’s look at the text—Luke 11, starting in verse 1, and we’ll read through verse 13. “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”’ And he said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and he will answer from within, “Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything”?’”
“I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The passage before us represents the highest privilege. The greatest gift that the believer receives from God after his salvation is the gift and the privilege of prayer. And through prayer, this is the privilege of access, the gift of all divine resources is there to meet the believer’s every need. The passage, here, begins with a simply, humble request from an unnamed disciple: “Lord, teach us to pray.” And the Lord answers, first teaching the basics of prayer in verses 1-4, providing a form or a pattern for praying. But then he takes the time to encourage us to pray, using multiple inducements that would seem intended to overcome any reluctance we have to pray.
First, in verses 5-8, Jesus tells us to come and pray boldly to God, to be persistent in prayer, even insistent, because God is not like a reluctant friend. So what might seem a lag in an answer is not due to any reluctance. That’s one encouragement to pray. The second encouragement, in verses 9-10, there are three staccato commands there, “ask, seek, knock.” And each imperative is then followed by a promise, again encouraging us to make a practice of praying by emphasizing the results of praying. “You will receive, it will be opened, you will find.” Then, third, verses 11-13, Jesus returns to the figure of fatherhood that started the whole lesson: “When you pray, say ‘Father,’” verse 2, because our Father not only knows how to give good gifts, but he actually does give good gifts to his children.
So Jesus’ teaching on prayer comes with several significant, profound encouragements to pray, and even, as we’ll see, we’re to make prayer a regular, habitual practice. Without going into full detail now, Jesus, here, is actually quite eager to teach his disciples to pray. It’s as if he’s just been waiting for somebody to ask. In his answer to his disciples’ question, “Lord, teach us to pray,” he is on it. He is eager to teach us to pray because prayer is the highest privilege for the believer. It’s of the deepest significance for the believer. It is that “good portion”—as we read in the previous chapter—that gift of access to God that the believer might enjoy the blessings of intimacy and worship. And that gift Jesus promised is that which will never be taken away.
More than anyone, Jesus Christ understood the privilege of praying to his Father, and he took full advantage of his access to God in prayer. Jesus’ prayer life receives repeated in emphasis in Luke’s Gospel, such that it is really a theme in Luke’s Gospel, Luke 3:21, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, and on it goes through the rest of the Gospel. Jesus would often withdraw to desolate places and pray, sometimes even continuing all night in prayer to God.
And now with this disciple’s request, “Teach us to pray,” Jesus leaps upon the opportunity, here, to teach us to pray. And the question is, are you as excited to practice prayer as Jesus is to teach you about it? Do your prayers reflect the kind of joy and intimacy that Jesus enjoyed in prayer, the privilege of access that he taught about, that he encourages us to practice? Or do you, like many, have a nagging sense of failure in prayer, that your prayer life is shabby at best, is wholly inconsistent and rather flat and powerless? Because if that’s your sense of it, you’re definitely not alone. Many Christians have felt the way you feel about praying—failing to pray, not prayer well. Many still feel that way, and perhaps you feel that way, too.
And I think that this has to be one of the greatest victories of our enemy the Devil, when he can make us feel discouraged in the use of what God has given to us, his children, as a precious, precious gift. Because when we feel discouraged about praying, this precious gift that we’ve been handed falls into disuse, neglect. Even to look at it reminds us of our failure. Friends, that ought not to be. But that is the Devil’s design, that the most powerful weapon in our arsenal, which brings omnipotent power to bear in our lives in spiritual warfare. It’s harmlessly over here on the shelf.
So it’s no wonder that we struggle. It is a strategic target in our enemy’s assault on God and his children to break that line of communication, to sever us from power, to sever us from God’s care, concern, his love for us. Our enemy attacks this gift of prayer on two fronts in our day, coming from two approaches. First, he denies the reality and efficacy of prayer, on the one hand. Second, he creates a caricature of prayer, on the other hand. On the denial front, this is the radical skepticism of our secular age.
In almost every arena of public life, in our schools, in our politics, in the marketplace. We’ve become accustomed to this severing of the public and the private, the severing of the so-called “church and state,” to say, “You’ve got to leave all that stuff there, and don’t bring it here.” So we’ve become used to—we ought not to be, but we are—the scoffing and the eye-rolling, all accompanied by bold-faced arrogant denials of immaterial reality, the existence of the supernatural, the miraculous. Basically, everything that defines what we believe and stand on they deny in the public square. There is no place at the table for those who believe in an immaterial reality beyond the physical, observable world. Our world is dominated today by radical materialists, and they are filled with arrogance because they are unchallenged. “Keep that faith stuff private,” they say; “Don’t bring it here into the public square.”
Now there are many reasons that we’ve allowed this side-lining of faith in the public square, and it’s not our purpose to discuss all that now. There will be a time and a place for that. But suffice it to say that the outsized authority and influence that’s been granted to “science,” falsely so-called, has resulted in many Christians feeling embarrassed to discuss matters of faith, absolute truth, the reality of God, miracles, supernaturalism, and moral absolutes in public. Christians have allowed themselves to be pushed around by this neighborhood bully, failing to recognize that his power comes from your believing his lies. Namely, that he has good reasons for his radical skepticism and anti-supernatural bias. Behind the bravado, secular humanism is just another form of sinful rebellion.
It is folly. It is inconsistent and arbitrary, but it’s been pushing believers around because believers have let it. Now, the illegitimacy of the bully’s public power notwithstanding, the arrogance of scientism overstepping its place and pushing believers out of the public square has been very effective. The enemy has silenced Christians and kept them from learning and discerning and from correcting and from maturing.
Because Christians have felt a sense of shame talking about faith in the public square, they’ve taken two contrary positions with regard to spiritual things. On the one hand, Christians have embraced the world’s attitude of suspicion about the supernatural. That’s obviously had a devastating effect on prayer. If you don’t believe in supernatural things happening, then why pray? On the other hand, Christians have refused to think critically about things that they ought to be critical about. They’ve refused to give open rebukes and provide public corrections.
And that brings us to the second front of the enemy’s attack on prayer. He distorts the practice of prayer by making it look ridiculous, by making a caricature of belief in the supernatural working of God in the world that makes us feel somewhat ambivalent in the face of that caricature. I’ll give you just one glaring example of this. Consider the aberrant theology and shameful behavior of the televangelists over the past four decades. Scandal after scandal after scandal unfold. These are well-known, often well-respected evangelical figures. The head of the National Association of Evangelicals and all the rest are charlatans, mostly representing Pentecostal and charismatic traditions.
But even taking it a bit further, they are audacious in what they teach and in how they act. They are professing Christians—all of them—and they are unashamed in talking about the supernatural, believing in the miraculous, and encouraging the practice of prayer. So whenever another scandal breaks, and there’s another opportunity to talk openly about faith in the public square, many Christians tend to mute rather than amplify faith in the supernatural. Mute, rather than amplify their affirmation of miracles, like the resurrection. They fail to provide a reasonable critique and apologetic of religious matters of faith and healing, and instead, many Christians tend to stand alongside an unbelieving culture, taking easy shots at bad behavior.
“We have access to him in prayer. ”Travis Allen
And that’s not entirely wrong, but it is when they fail to engage the bad theology at the heart of it, when they fail to provide a proper public rebuke that is well-informed by a biblical corrective. Many Christians today really lack the theology to provide a biblical corrective, so they just fall silent, or condemn what’s obvious, agreed-upon in the public square.
So we’ve been effectively distracted by the caricature, embarrassed by the misrepresentation, on the one hand; we’ve been silenced by denial, on the other hand—silenced by the scoffing of an unbelieving age. We haven’t thought deeply, critically, or carefully about God or about the way we relate to him. We haven’t practiced communicating openly about matters of faith in public, and therefore our practice of faith, both public and private—there should be no distinction between the two, by the way—our practice and habits of prayer have become a casualty in this spiritual warfare.
And so, beloved, I just want to sound a call. It’s time to wake up and realize that we have been robbed in this whole affair. All of us collectively as Christians, but each of us singularly as well, have been robbed. Whether we’re reticent to pray because we are shaky in believing in its efficacy, or whether we pray erroneously or in ignorance, the result is the same, isn’t it? Ineffective prayer. For the devil, he rests well, knowing that the prayers of the saints will not be employed, used—won’t harm him. But listen—we are the ones who suffer. We are the ones who are being denied the joy and the efficacy of the gift that we’ve received from God—we have access to him in prayer.
So we’re going to approach this subject of prayer, as we always do, by listening carefully to Jesus, by returning to the Master and hearing him teach. We want to slow down so we can follow his teaching carefully. Our growth and maturity in this vital matter of prayer will happen, and I promise you it most certainly will happen when we understand the truth, when we embrace it in faith, and when we submit to the truth in our lives, our practice, our thinking, and our hearts. And that will be a consequence of our learning what made Jesus rejoice in praying—what made him rejoice in teaching us about praying.
When we learn what prayer is—the kind of gift that we hold in our hands, this gift of access to the very throne room of our majestic heavenly Father—well, there’s going to be no keeping us out after that. That’s where we’ll be inclined to spend the very best hours of our days—in that Holy of Holies—because we’re going to rejoice in the practice of a prayer that builds intimacy with our God, conforming us to his heart, his will, his wisdom. That’s what we stand to benefit from this teaching of our Lord.
Having said all that, though, we need to stop and acknowledge how much damaging teaching there has been on the subject of prayer and how it’s affected our prayer lives. There is a danger that I have every time I come into the pulpit—but there’s a danger particular to this subject—of teaching over the top of false views about prayer, never addressing false expectations that many have developed because of errant and even outright heretical doctrines. Our habits of prayer are inextricably linked to our theology, and specifically to our theology proper—that is, the doctrine of the person and the work of God. So if we have wrong thoughts about God, we will have wrong habits of praying to God as well. But if we clear away our false views about God and correct our misunderstandings about the way he works in the world, and set proper biblical expectations about prayer, then we’ll stand a really good chance of praying well.
So rather than teach over the top of any misconceptions you may have about prayer, and rather than add yet another layer of prayer doctrine on top of many layers that you may have received from other sources over the years, I think it’s important to confront erroneous teaching about prayer head-on. Doing so is going to allow you to give Jesus’ teaching on prayer a fresh hearing. And to do that, I’m going to do something that I don’t often do in the pulpit. I’m going to read a rather large portion of a testimony of a very sincere man who practiced the most popular form of Christianity in the world today.
What I’m about to read to you is teaching that forms the substance of most popular-level evangelical books, DVDs, podcasts, conferences, and all the rest. This is, in fact, what many professing Christians are hearing from pulpits Sunday after Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, every week of our lives. In our own town they’re hearing this stuff. So I want you to hear the doctrines that this man believed, practiced, taught to others, and the logical consequence of these doctrines. I want you to consider perhaps how you, too, may have absorbed, perhaps in subtle ways, the same errors, the same false expectations. Because these errors—even when we embrace them subtly—will destroy our understanding of prayer, they will undermine our motivation to pray, and they will nullify our desire to practice the habit of prayer.
Here’s the start of this man’s testimony. “My name is Elly Achok Olare. I’m a pastor in a small village called Mumius, about 500 kilometers west of Nairobi, in Kenya’s sugar-belt region. I first heard the Gospel as a young man, message about a Jesus who would meet all my needs and fulfill all my dreams. I was told that to be unsaved was to sign up to a life of misery, sickness, and poverty. To embrace Christ was to step into a world of limitless blessing. I made then what appeared to be a practical and most logical decision to accept Christ into my heart.” So far, it sounds like a very typical evangelical experience, doesn’t it?
But he sincerely put this message to the test, and here’s what he discovered. “Zealous and wanting all that God would have for me, I quickly rose through the ranks to become a herald of the message which I received, which I later learned is Word of Faith teaching that some call the ‘prosperity gospel.’ I knew of no other gospel. I believed God was good, and this meant nothing negative or uncomfortable came from him. From the beginning I learned how to deal with Satan, the one who caused all the negatives in my life in what I later came to know as spiritual warfare.”
“It was engrained in me that I was in the ‘God class,’ as Creflo Dollar and Kenneth Copeland would insist, and therefore had absolute authority in and of myself to create my own world by positive thinking and faith-filled confessions. It was God’s will for me to be healthy and wealthy, and anything less than health and wealth should be repudiated in faith. Instead, I should call the opposite into existence by my positive confession. If all else seemed to fail, I could engage the heavenly language of angels, praying in tongues to bypass Satan and the hosts of darkness.”
“In 2003 my wife and I lost our first child, Whitney. I believed the spirit of death had prevailed over me. Turmoil ensued for me, and for my equally Word-of-Faith-filled wife. How could a good God, who we served faithfully, let the devil overrun us like this? Well-meaning church people suggested our calamity could be due to sin in our lives or to a curse or, as I firmly believed, to a lack of faith. My grieving wife and I spent months repenting of possible hidden sin. We also sought answers from our families in case of a generational curse—a dominant teaching in the Word of Faith movement—something known as ‘spiritual mapping’ and ‘identificational repentance.’ In this painful ordeal of inner turmoil and in the context of bereavement, we became pregnant again. This time, we’d get a boy-child from the hospital that sunny afternoon. My wife and I, jubilant in our final triumph, took Robin home.”
“But the next 24 hours would become the darkest time of our lives. When baby Robin developed complications, we went into a frenzy of prayer, spiritual warfare, a wide net of intercessory prayer. Appeal went forth. This time we would not be caught off guard by the enemy. Our faith assured us that the devil would not take Robin. We called on others to give us prophetic assurances, such as, ‘Only life is permitted!’ and ‘Death is not your portion!’ But despite all our bravado, the night only grew more intense.”
“At the time, my wife believed that she, too, had a prophetic gift. In one of her visions that night, Robin played happily in the mud. In another vision, a grown-up Robin was an international preacher, addressing thousands as his father taught him by example. In tears, she shared these images with me in the presence of prayer warriors gathered in our small house. At midnight, when Robin’s condition grew worse, we were given a new prophetic word that told us our baby’s healing had now been placed in the hands of a doctor.” Just a footnote at this point: In Word of Faith doctrine, seeing a doctor is a defeat. Relying on science is indicative of a lack of faith.
So a prophecy that sent them to a doctor was actually a judgment prophecy. But, like any desperate parents would, he says, “I left home, clutching my baby and seeking the hospital. At 3:00 a.m. the doctor looked into my determined eyes to declare the worst news I could hear. Robin was dead. To say my world collapsed around me is a huge understand. I still don’t know how to give words to the chaotic feelings that assailed me. I know I screamed, ‘I am tired, Lord!’, once again disappointed at God for failing me. And as far as I knew, I had done everything right, exercised tremendous faith. How could God let this happen to us?”
“I felt like a fraud for preaching what never worked for me. Hurt and confused and angry at God, I vowed I would quit the ministry. I had officially stepped into a crisis of faith. God became an enigma to me, and issues of faith an impossible labyrinth. Coming home to my wife, she was drained to the bone. She looked up to me and called me by a term of endearment she never had used before and that she has never used since. ‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘he’s all right, now. Bring him. I want to feed him.’ She couldn’t have chosen worse words. From the deepest recesses of my being, I found myself screaming out loud as my wife and I literally fought over the child as my wife madly sought to wrench our son’s lifeless body from my hands.”
“Sadly, things got even worse. Since we believed we had power over death itself, the undeniable fact of Robin’s death now became an occasion to ask God for a miracle, for resurrection from the dead. The whole thing turned into a huge circus, which only deepened and strengthened our pain. Answers were in short supply, and our consternation and perplexity at God were indescribable. A series of miscarriages followed all of this, and without answers we were even further dismayed with God, whose ways no longer made sense to us. Though faith became a mirage to us, we kept up outward appearances for the sake of others, trying to pretend we didn’t despair. Yet inwardly we felt doubtful, hopeless—even cursed.”
At this point, he’s looking upward from the bottom of a deep, deep pit. He’s feeling despair, hopelessness. It’s at this point that God helped this dear, suffering couple to start asking hard questions about the truth—questions that they’d never really considered before, questions they’d never gone deep enough to ask and find answers for from the Word of God. They started to question doctrines that they had been taught—which was very healthy. They started to question what they’d received, what they had tried valiantly and faithfully to practice to no avail.
They started asking questions, like, quoting again, “How could we understand issues of evil and good that seemed to coexist in our world? [That’s a good question!] How could we reconcile the reality of these bad things with the existence and the working of a good God? Word of Faith teaching had taught and conditioned to dismiss Job’s suffering as a consequence of his negative confession, namely when he said, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away,’ Job 1:21. They told us that Job had failed in his faith, but now we began to wonder.”
“How could we make sense of Paul himself falling sick—Galatians 4:13—and yet rejoicing in his afflictions—2 Corinthians 12:10? How could we continue to reconcile this portrait with the modern “super-apostles,” those who market health and wealth in their books, DVDs, and mega-meetings? Could we legitimately expect “our best life now” and still hold a genuine hope in the hereafter?” He’s asking some really good questions now, isn’t he? It’s a very tragic story, isn’t it? But it ends really, really well. It’s a powerful testimony of the grace of God to save and change a man like that into a true minister of the Gospel. Perhaps his words of testimony will help you to untangle some false views that you may have inherited about who God is and how he works in the world.
You need to know, though, that the bad theology that Pastor Olare had believed, embraced, and tried to practice was exported to Africa from America. Toxic theology from this country has been lapped up by a greedy world—people in other parts of the world. After all, they want what made America so rich and so successful. They’re desperate enough to try anything, so we have polluted millions exporting our brand of false doctrine, the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, out to the rest of the world. And all that to say, folks, it is impossible to grow up in this country within a protective bubble, entirely insulated from that kind of false doctrine, which is so pervasive. It is impossible to be unaffected by aberrant views about God and the futile practices of popular religion.
All the stuff I just read used to live at the fringes of Christian religion, but it has now become the evangelical mainstream. False teaching of charismatic pastors, television preachers, conference speakers enters into our homes through books, devotionals, DVDs, web sites—enters into our churches through new programs, catchy campaigns, sermon series in the pulpit. And, by the way, this is the stock and trade of the many conferences, many of the conferences are marketed to evangelical women. Marketed to them, it has a benign and light-hearted feel. It’s dripping with sappy emotionalism covered with sequins and pink fluff, soothing stories filled with sticky-filled good sentiment, funny feel-good stories, inane humor. It may seem on the surface to be harmless, but in its essence, it is pure poison.
“It’s about your personal empowerment when we pray, “Your kingdom come.””Travis Allen
But poison happens to sell in America. It is a multi-million-dollar industry, a highly marketable religious commodity. And the message is simple. This is the message that Pastor Olare believed, that Kenneth Copeland taught, that Creflo Dollar teaches. It’s the message that you hear all throughout our country. It’s this: God wants you to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. God wants you to have your best life now because, after all, it is all about you.
That message is completely contrary to the language and the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer, and yet many false teachers point to the Lord’s Prayer as justifying their doctrine. Take another look at the text. The statement we find in Luke 11:2: “Your kingdom come.” That’s a distillation of the expanded version of Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Prosperity preacher Joel Osteen interprets that text this way: “God longs to give you a glimpse of heaven while you are here on earth. He wants to show you his wonderful plan and to bring it to pass in your life. His will is activated in our lives when we receive Jesus and then choose his will on a daily basis, stand against the forces of darkness, refuse those negative, self-defeating thoughts that come against his will.”
Now a few things Osteen says in that entire quotation, which I’ve distilled, would pass the “sniff test” with some undiscerning evangelicals, but when he injects Word of Faith doctrine, you know he does it with a smile. Quoting: “Declare what God says about you. Be empowered to overcome opposition. Stand strong in faith. See God’s will come to pass in your life, just as it is in heaven.” “Activating the will of God”? “Canceling negative, self-defeating thoughts”? “Declaring what God says about you”? “Personal empowerment”? All of that phraseology comes directly out of the Word of Faith, “positive confession” playbook, which is what comprises the prosperity gospel. He tries to legitimize and justify this false teaching by an appeal to the Lord’s Prayer, to say that that what it’s teaching. That’s what Jesus is saying. It’s about your personal empowerment when we pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Bill Johnson is the influential charismatic pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. His Jesus Culture band and music make it all over the world. Students from all over the world come to Bethel in Redding and listen and learn in the School of Supernatural Ministry. He shares Osteen’s emphasis on positive confession. He writes this, “The will of God is simply this: ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Isn’t that refreshing? When we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done,’ we’re praying for the King’s dominion and will to be realized right here, right now. This is a life-transforming, paradigm-shattering way to do normal Christianity. What is free to operate in heaven should be free to operate here on this planet in your home, your church, your business, and your school. What is not free to operate there, sickness, disease, spiritual bondage and sin, should not be free to operate here, period.”
In case you missed the emphasis, Johnson goes further to make it clear, but he mutes the older Word of Faith emphasis on physical healing. He believes it, but he mutes it, and he creates a more palatable message for suburban America. Johnson writes this, continuing, “When we make this our mission, lives are set free, bodies are restored, darkness lifts from people’s minds, the rule of the enemy is pushed back in every way imaginable”—and then this—“businesses grow healthy, relationships flower again, people reconnect with their calling and purpose in life, churches grow, and cities feel the effect of having the kingdom flourishing within them. Energy is freed up for kingdom works in ways I have never seen before. This is the lifestyle for which we were made.”
That’s an excerpt from Johnson’s 2014 book “The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind Study Guide: Access to a Life of Miracles.” Johnson and Bethel-Redding, you may know, made national news at the end of last year when the two-year-old daughter of Bethel music’s songwriter died, and they tried in vain to raise her from the dead—publicly. It was a horrible thing for a family to live through—the same stuff Pastor Olare lived through. Exactly the same.
But in addition, and especially marketed to outsiders, it’s the message of personal empowerment. It’s about wealth production. It’s about relationship success. It’s about overcoming your chronic fatigue syndrome and hormone deficiencies. It’s things that seem popular today promised to you—freedom from the modern demons of anxiety, depression, insignificance—to experience fulfillment and meaning and happiness in life. It’s all the same message rewarmed and served on the plate.
Is that Jesus’ point in Luke 11:2, or in the parallel form in Matthew 6:10? As Johnson said, “That the will of God is simply this: ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’” Is that what Jesus is teaching here? Are we to set our expectations to be free from sickness and disease and sin here on earth? Are we to set our expectations to have all negativity out of our lives? All bad reputation issues taken care of? Any impediment in our upward mobility in our businesses and our social spheres? Are we to cancel all that in the “power of positive confession”? Ready to reap the blessings of freed-up energy? Healthy, growing businesses, harmonious relationships, reconnection with our life’s calling and purpose, growing churches in thriving cities so that all the cities look to us and say, “Wow! What’s going on with you?”
How does that fit in with what Jesus said in Luke 9:23?—“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself. Take up his cross and follow me to death.” False teachers deny that. American religion denies that. They lead unstudied, gullible pastors astray, who then in turn teach and preach that stuff from their pulpits, hand out their books, and then, armed with an invincible ignorance, they ignore the point of the most basic instruction in Luke 11:1-4 and rush headlong into destructive error.
And these pastors tell their people, in ignorance, to “pray with an impetuous faith, making a positive confession of what you want from God,” and they cite Jesus’ words there in verses 9 and 10: “[A]sk, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” “If you doubt your ability to blow doors open, it’s your faith, it’s your failure in believing, that is the issue.” Folks, this is predatory stuff. Predatory. Preying upon the ignorance of people who don’t know the Word. Why don’t they know the Word? Because for decades they haven’t been taught it. They’ve come to believe, after all, that “God is our Father, and he’s indulgent, therefore, and he loves to give good gifts to his children—even giving him the Holy Spirit to name it and claim it in faith.”
So that puts you, as Pastor Olare learned,in the “God class.” “So make your ‘positive confession.’ Declare it in faith, and it will be so. God will do your bidding.”
Folks, Word of Faith doctrine is not as far out of the mainstream as you might think. There is a line of continuity drawn from Kenneth Copeland to Joel Osteen to Bill Johnson to evangelical mainstream teaching on prayer. The older, garish Word of Faith televangelists—they’re simply the early pioneers, the early adapters. But the aberrant theology and the bad religion practiced in America is popular, mainstream stuff. The so-called “extreme” simply represents a more cartoonish version of what many Americans actually believe and practice in prayer: “God want me to have a happy life, free from suffering, free from anxiety; and prayer is how I get it from him.” Word of Faith teachers have simply vocalized the private thoughts about prayer that carnal think naturally, and they pray like pagans pray, thinking they’ll be heard because of their many words or their right words, or their “enough believing.”
That’s why it’s so important, beloved, to expose these thoughts and correct them with what the Bible actually teaches, starting with what Jesus teaches here. It provides a welcome and blessed contrast—looking back to what Jesus actually taught us about prayer in Luke 11:2-4. What he teaches about prayer is at the same time a lesson about God, especially in the first set of petitions. And in the second set of petitions is a lesson about how we relate to God. If we ignore the way false teachers have taught so many to read those verses, it is self-evident that this prayer is centered on God and his interests, especially in that first set of petitions.
And even when we get to the second set, there, too, our concerns are framed in the light of God’s interests. Frederick Godet says, “This absolute priority given to divine interests implies an emptying of ourselves, a heavenly love and zeal which are not natural to man, and which suppose in us the heart of a true child of God, occupied above all things with the interests of his heavenly Father.” That is profoundly true. The Lord’s Prayer is not man-centered. This is a fundamentally God-centered prayer. This is the prayer of every true child of God, the prayer of every true believer, every true and real and sincere disciple of Christ. Unbelievers recite prayer all the time, don’t they? You hear it all the time at public events. False teachers appeal to this prayer all the time. But it’s only the true Christian who knows what these petitions mean, and they pray them from the heart.
In the opening address, Jesus “said to them, ‘When you pray, say, “Father.”’” “Father.” It speaks of reverence and devotion. That first petition—“hallowed be your name”—is about honor and adoration, the worship of the true and living God. The second petition—“Your kingdom come”—is about our highest loyalty, fidelity, and submission to the will of God, that God is sovereign, and we rejoice in that. It’s in the context of a first set of God-centered petitions that we frame our daily needs, and—get this—contrary to what the false, health-wealth-prosperity preachers are teaching, this second set of petitions, you’ll notice, is framed within and assumes the daily stresses and sorrows of life in a fallen world, doesn’t it? It doesn’t deny the existence of that. It doesn’t even tell us to try to escape it—the daily need for bread, for forgiveness, for protection from sin. The prayer does not take away my need for daily bread, forgiveness, protection—but rather cares for me when I need those things.
Listen—as many and as wonderful as are the gifts and benefits of the modern world—food on the shelves in stores, convenience, abundance, excellence, unprecedented access to preventative medical care, education, opportunity, the kinds of creature comforts for the common man that used to fit only for kings—we’ve just come to assume and take that for granted in the modern world, haven’t we? But the modern world—with all of its gifts—can never liberate us from sin, from the curse, from our accountability before God, from our sense of guilt and shame, from all the things that wrack the human personality. The modern world can’t do that. There’s no pill you can take to fix that. Perhaps it’s our belief that the modern world ought to emancipate us from sin and the curse and judgment. Perhaps that false expectation has actually exacerbated human guilt, increasing our collective anxiety, accelerating manifold forms of enslaving sin.
But listen, if we’ll turn away from what we see with our eyes all around us, and if we’ll look squarely at the Scripture and the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we’ll learn to rest. We’ll learn to rest in him. And if we’ll simply rest in the loving and gentle arms of the one who tells us to address him as “Father,” we will find every reason for home and assurance and find all fear and anxiety and worry dissipate. Because this Father is the one who bears the glorious name, the name, which is hallowed, holy, sovereign, absolute, perfect, wonderful, majestic. He’s the one who’s will is being done without any change, without any interruption, without any hindrance whatsoever.
Our own inconsistency and lack of faith cannot thwart his will. Who are we to think our believing or not believing makes one bit of difference to him executing perfection and wisdom. And for his own glory, our Father has chosen to work out his perfect plan of glory through redemption, by using—yes, terrible things—but by using the Fall, by using Satan and demons, by using sin and temptation, and as I’ve been discovering lately, by using sickness and illness, by using disease, carrying out his perfect will by using our need for his glory. Like small children who must grow up to understand the wisdom of our fathers, so we, too, are in a position of trust, looking up to our heavenly Father, who is perfectly good and infinitely wise. And Jesus teaches us to begin our prayer in humility, and frankly, rationality—by acknowledging absolute right, the only right, to do all that he pleases, to do all things in his own perfect time.
And so we’re oriented from the start to submit to his perfect wisdom in things that we don’t fully understand. Looking up to God in the midst of our need, we pray, as it says there, “Give us each day our daily bread.” That expresses attitudes of humility and dependency. We pray, “Forgive us our sins,” giving voice to broken and contrite hearts, which Psalm 51:17 tells us, “God will never despise.” And we pray, “Lead us not into temptation” because for the believer there is no greater gift than holiness and a clear conscience before God. Holiness before God is our paramount pursuit, to please him by not sinning, to please him by being holy as he is holy.
Well, our time’s gone, but we succeeded, hopefully, in laying down a disjunctive break, stating clearly at the beginning of this study what prayer—this prayer in particular—is not about. This prayer in no way supports the false gospel of American religion—health, wealth, and prosperity gospel—in any form. This prayer is not for the support and service of the autonomous self. This is not a prayer about “self-actualization.” This is not about fulfilling your potential. It’s not about becoming the “best you possible.” None of that is true. Rather, this prayer is in the support and service of God’s children, teaching them how to draw near in intimate communion with their heavenly Father.
As we said at the beginning, this prayer is the highest privilege, the greatest gift that the believer receives from God after his salvation. It is the gift of access to the heart of God himself.
We’ll take it up from here next week. For now, please join me in a word of prayer as we enter into a time of communion around the Lord’s table.
Our Father, we are so abundantly grateful that you are God, and there is none like you. We’re so grateful that you have taught us about yourself by sending Jesus, the incarnate Word, your beloved Son in who you are well-pleased. “In him is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” He is the exact imprint of your nature, and in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
And Father, such a perfect one you sent for our redemption, such a perfect, unstained, spotless Lamb that you put on a cross and killed. He shed his blood for our sins. And Lord, we rejoice in the deep gravity of soul and humility to know what it cost, and we’re so thankful that you’ve made us a redeemed people, and that we can proclaim the excellencies of you, who called us out of darkness and into your marvelous light. We once were not a people, but now we are your people. Thank for this gift of prayer, of access to the heavenly throne room. Thank you for the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior, who taught us to pray. Thank you for this gift of the communion table, and we pray that we would have clear consciences as we come forward, confessing all known sin, and rejoicing in the truth behind these elements—the bread and the cup. In Jesus’ name, amen.