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Happy New Year and welcome to the “Year of Equipping.”My hope is that this year you will be equipped spiritually to become all God wants you to become and that we can supply practical help and training to enable you to be equipped to live your best possible life. We want you to parent well, to do marriage well, to study the Bible well, to plan your retirement well, to care for your loved ones well, to take care of your bodies well, and well . . . you get the picture. As I thought about what message could help us the most as we begin this decade, I’ll have to admit, I was tempted to preach a Perfect Vision/2020 kind of message, but I resisted. I will, however, share a few cheesy funnies with you as we get started today.

My friend asked me where I see myself in the new year. How would I know? I don’t have 2020 vision. (Laugh, please?)

The year 2020 is going to be filled with so many puns about perfect vision. I can’t wait to see them all. (Chuckle kindly?)

I can’t wait till New Year’s Day 2021. Then I can say hindsight really is 2020. (Try to hold it together. This is the last joke.)

Recognizing stand-up comedy isn’t probably my calling, I will stick with my “day job” and try to preach a message that will help us be equipped to pray. If there is anything we need to do more of it is pray. If there is anything that will bring revival to this country and peace to this world it is prayer. It is the one thing that Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them. Everything else they sort of “caught” as they watched Jesus minister to people, but prayer was the one thing they actually asked Him to teach them when in Luke 11:1 they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In response to their ask, Jesus said in Matthew 6:9-13:  9  “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11  Give us today our daily bread. 12  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

I want to help us understand this morning that while prayer, simply put, is a conversation with God, what it does for us is so strategic, so special, so supernatural, so sensational (I feel like I’m a commentator during March Madness about now) …What prayer does for us is undeniably powerful and we need to be aware of the benefits of prayer AS we are praying. The more we understand, the more we can be equipped or prepared to receive, or at least that is the way I see it. The first thing I would suggest to you from the Lord’s Prayer is that prayer provides spiritual nurturing for our hearts.

1. Pray to nurture your heart.

What I mean by this is that prayer centers us on the fact that we are in a relationship with God as our Father. It is this relationship that is life-giving. It is this relationship that is mind-settling. It is this relationship that is strength-building. We can know that no matter what happens to us, we are going to be OK because we have a perfect Heavenly Father who knows what we need and can provide what we need when we need it.

This is a real thing, this relationship with a perfect Heavenly Father. In fact, he is our Abba Father. There are many names for God, as He has revealed Himself in multi-faceted ways, but perhaps the name Abba Father is the most significant when it comes to understanding how God wants to relate to His people. This word, “Abba” is an Aramaic word that can really appropriately be translated as “Daddy.” This is a word that was commonly used by young children to call upon their fathers. This word helps us understand that we are to have a close, nurturing and intimate relationship with God, one that allows us to completely trust Him and not to worry, just as a child would fully trust a loving earthly father to take care of whatever was needed.

Sometimes we need to remind our hearts Who it is that is in charge. Prayer helps us do that, and when we do, it becomes a way to exhale all of the stress, fear, and worry and to receive the peace that our Heavenly Father wants to give us. I don’t know if you have ever thought about prayer that way, as a reminder that your Perfect Heavenly Father is in charge, but it is true.

So, here is a sample way you can start a prayer: Dear God, you are my Perfect Heavenly Father. You are always with me. You can see the future. You can see what I can’t see. You know what I can’t know. I can rest in You. You will never do me wrong. You will never mislead me or be unkind to me. I know you can be trusted to do what is best for me. I believe You will provide all I need. Just like any good parent, I know you see me as a work in progress. You know I’m not perfect, but You love me unconditionally and You see me as perfect in Jesus, just because I am Yours. Thank You for loving me like you do. Amen.

If you are in Christ, you have to remember there was a time when you were not a child of God. There was a time when you could not pray, “My Father” but if you have accepted Jesus as Savior, you have this great privilege. You can draw close to your Heavenly Father in prayer. Isn’t that awesome? Doesn’t that cause you to feel safe and secure? Allow that phrase, “Our Father who art in Heaven” to become, “My Father, My Abba Father, who is right here with me in whatever situation I am facing.” Teach you heart not only to fear God, but to trust God as you nurture your relationship with Him through prayer. Your heart, your soul, is going to be better off for spending time with your Abba Father in prayer.

2. Pray to center your heart.

We live in a culture with restless heart syndrome. Just my opinion, I suppose, but it seems many are looking for love or fulfillment or contentment in all the wrong places. Only when we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness will all these things be added to us (Matthew 6:33). Prayer centers our hearts on that which will fulfill, on that which will last for eternity. Look at verse 10 again: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Satan wants your heart, your affection, your passion to be focused on anything but God and doing His will. When you choose anything but the will of God you are playing right into Satan’s hands. You are falling into his traps. You are becoming a victim of his schemes. He wants your heart scattered because he wants your heart shattered. He wants your heart broken by the consequences of sin. Satan wants you messed up so that you can’t see straight let alone see the will of God.

When you pray, pray for the ability to know the will of God, the wisdom to choose the will of God, and the power to accomplish the will of God. That kind of prayer keeps your heart anchored to what matters most. Praying “Your will be done” will keep us from living “My will be done.” How many of you would agree this morning that if you get to the end of your life and you can look back and say, “I did God’s will,” that you would have accomplished significantly more than if you had tried to accomplish your own will? If you want to make your life count and impact countless people, pray to do the will of God.

Jesus never taught His disciples to do anything He wasn’t doing Himself. He was someone who prayed, “Thy will be done.” We find that phrase in His prayer in Matthew 26 in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was under incredible pressure in that moment. Think of a time in your life right now when you were under incredible pressure. All you wanted was for the circumstances to change, for the pressure to stop, to wake up and have “IT” all be over, whatever “IT” was. That was the kind of moment Jesus was facing, only it was intensified beyond belief. He didn’t see how He could bear the cross. He wondered if there was a different way, and yet He prayed, “Your will be done.”

Why? Because Jesus knew that His life wasn’t about Him or His comfort or His pleasure. It was about the will of God. It was about a bigger plan. Because salvation could not be accomplished any other way than for Jesus to go to the cross, because God’s will had to be accomplished if salvation was going to be secured, Jesus surrendered His will to the will of God.

I’m not saying it was easy. I’m saying it was worth it. Doing God’s will won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it. Aren’t you glad that Jesus prayed, “Your will be done?” And here is what I know with all that is in me: When Jesus prayed, “Your will be done,” when He surrendered to the will of God, the power of God was poured upon Him that enabled Him to do what God was asking Him to do. Look at Luke’s account in Luke 22:42-43 42  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

Oh Brothers and Sisters in Christ, when we pray for God’s will, we can count on God’s power to accomplish it. When we do our will, we will do it in our power every time. It will be limited, it will be flawed, and we will be depleted of our human strength. But when we pray for the will of God and submit to the will of God, it will be perfect, will accomplish miracles that change lives, and we will be filled with supernatural strength.

In Jesus’ humanity, He didn’t “want” to go through what He went through. No one in their right mind would, but ultimately, He wanted to do the will of God more than He didn’t want to go to the cross. And where did Jesus settle what He was going to do? It wasn’t in the midst of conversations with His friends. It wasn’t in the quietness of some solitude where He made a list of pros and cons. It wasn’t in a poll on Twitter. No, my friends, Jesus settled whose will would win in the place of prayer and because He chose God’s will, we all have won! For it is prayer that enables us to breathe out self, and to breathe in God.

It was prayer that enabled Jesus to do what He didn’t want to do. How many of you know this morning that there are times we don’t “want” to do or we don’t “feel” like doing what we ought to do, but if we will submit ourselves to God’s will in prayer, centering our hearts on His eternal will, others will win because of our obedience. The spiritual discipline of prayer, every day, gives us the opportunity to center our hearts on the will of God.

  1. Pray to express your heart. I am so glad Jesus inserted verse 11 into His model prayer: Give us today our daily bread.

Prayer gives us a way to think about what we truly need. It helps us probe our hearts so that we can appropriately express them to God. What do you need today? Prayer gives you a strategy whereby you can ask what you need. I pray regularly for my family to be kept safe on the roadways, to be healthy and strong in our physical bodies, to always love and value one another, and that we will all remain safe inside of God’s love. Those are probably pretty regular requests from many of us.

I also pray to grow old gracefully. I do. I know I am riding a downhill slope. Prayer and Avon’s wrinkle reducer cream can be a winning strategy…at least I am hopeful! I pray about my future because I want to serve the Lord as long as I possibly can and minister to others. I pray to keep my mind as I age. (My kids might say I need to pray to recover what has already been lost, but . . .) I pray for enough resources to retire when the time comes. I pray for my kids to make good decisions about who they will marry and what kind of life they will establish. I pray I will be an attentive and loving grandparent if given that privilege. I pray that God will keep our cars running and our house from needing repairs. I pray when I am going shopping that God will help me find the deals that fit my budget. Is anyone else with me this morning? Guess what? God is interested in all of it. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen God at work in the tiniest of details. I’ve tried praying calories out of the food I eat, but so far God hasn’t answered that one!

When you talk to God, tell Him what your longings and desires are. Tell Him what you need. Is it healing? A new job? A better relationship with your spouse? A friend? Do you need to pass a certain test? Do you want your future to be different from your past? Pray about it, and pray about it daily. We’re talking “daily bread.” Until God answers—whether yes or no, pray about it. Your heart isn’t meant to simply hold your dreams or your emotional stress. Those things are meant to be expressed to a loving, Almighty God, who can give you what your heart desires. Psalm 37:4 tells us God will give us the desires of our hearts as we express them to Him.

4. Pray to clear your heart. Verse 12: Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Confession of sin is a super important component of prayer. If we will do it regularly, daily, we will walk in unbroken fellowship with God. If we don’t incorporate confession into our prayer life, we will minimize stuff and it will become a major problem between God and us. We’ll start to drift spiritually. We’ll start to care less and less about the will of God until we couldn’t care less. I have seen it so many times. And let’s be honest, who is going to be concerned about doing the will of God if they are consumed by their own will and by the vices of sin?

If you want to get married and stay married, you are going to need to confess your faults and pray to forgive your spouse for stuff because neither of you is perfect. If you are going to parent and parent well, you are going to have to confess your shortcomings as a parent because neither you or your child is perfect. If you are going to be a productive employee and contribute to a peaceful environment in your workplace you are going to need to confess your attitude about the co-worker that is on your last nerve and forgive them for their naivety or their ineptness or their lack of social skills or whatever.

If you don’t, your heart gets filled with frustration and anger. If you don’t, bitterness gets deposited, and my friends, Anger and bitterness will change who you are and who you were meant to become. I am trying to help us understand that prayer will make us nicer people. We’ll be easier to live with if we pray to clear our hearts!

The reality is, you can’t receive anything good from God when your heart is cluttered with sin and with damaging emotions that come from unforgiveness. The Bible tells us when cherish sin in our hearts, our prayers won’t be answered (Psalm 66:18). If you wonder why your prayers aren’t being answered, ask yourself when the last time was that you confessed anything to God and that your prayed to forgive those who have done you wrong.

  1. Pray to protect your heart. Verse 13-And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

This verse can be a bit confusing at first read. Jesus isn’t suggesting that God would lead us into temptation as if He was somehow trying to get us to sin. There is only one being who wants us to sin and that is Satan, the evil one. Life is full of temptations where sin is concerned. You can’t watch a commercial without being tempted to sin. You can’t scroll social media without being tempted to sin. You can’t watch a movie without being tempted to sin. Temptation is everywhere.

The focus here is on the protection and deliverance that can be ours through prayer. If we will pray to resist the devil, we will gain spiritual strength to say “No” to the temptation. If we will pray to avoid the addictive behaviors that are being dangled in front of our nose, we will gain power to turn and go the other way. If we will pray for spiritual protection and help, God will send His angels to help us in our time of need. He will work out situations and circumstances to reroute the enemy and the demons that are chasing us.

Listen, if you are always feeling attacked and pressured and chased and if you are always feeling a victim of your circumstances, there is a way out! It is the way up as you pray for God to intervene on your behalf. The God who shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was in the lions’ den, the God who stepped into the fire with the three Hebrew children who were placed in the fiery furnace for their faithfulness to God and delivered them so that they didn’t even have the smell of smoke on them when they were lifted out is the same God who walks with you. Why don’t you just talk to Him and ask for a little help? Why don’t you just plead the blood of Jesus Christ and the victory of the cross in your prayer time and tell the devil to get behind you? You have a right, as a Child of God, to live protected from the devil’s schemes. There is too much Scripture that tells me it is so for me to believe otherwise. But you have to ask. You have to pray.

Good things come to those who pray. God-things come to those who pray. Prayer nurtures our hearts, bringing an awareness of God’s perfect love for us. Prayer enables you to know and do the will of God in the power of God. Prayer gives you the opportunity to tell God what you need. Prayer clears your heart of stuff that weighs you down and cuts you off from God’s favor. Prayer protects you from Satan’s attacks. Do you need to come and pray today for one or more of these reasons?

Prayer is that which is done in the natural, but is that which produces supernatural results. Isn’t that awesome? God has given us something we can do, prayer, that if we are faithful to do it, it opens the way for us to receive that which we could never acquire. We get supernatural benefits from the natural exercise of prayer. Everyone can do it. You don’t have to have experience or special skills to pray. You only have to have a heart that wants to seek the Lord in prayer. Parents, teach your kids these facets of the Lord’s prayer to help them grow in their prayer lives. Share these tips with friends on your social media. Let’s equip ourselves and others to experience God, to live free, to do God’s work, and to kick the devil out of our families, our community, our country, and our world as we seek to do the heart work of prayer.

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