Abiding in Christ: Prayer

January 15, 2023 ()

Bible Text: John 15:1-11 |


Abiding in Christ: Prayer | John 15:1-11
Brian Hedges | January 15, 2023

Let’s turn in our Bibles to John 15. This morning we’re going to be talking about prayer.

Prayer is the most basic movement of the human soul towards God. There is a great variety in the kinds of prayer, the ways of prayer, the intensity and the focus that we have in prayer.

I think of prayer similar to physical motion in the human body. Just as there’s a great spectrum of motion and movement in the human body, from the very first steps of a toddler to the physical feats of a marathon runner or a mountain climber, so there is this spectrum in prayer, from the first movements of the soul towards God with the simple prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” to those great flights of ecstasy and contemplation where the soul is “lost in wonder, love, and praise,” to use the words of Wesley.

James Montgomery, the great Scottish hymn-writer, put it like this:

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.

Prayer can be very simple, and for many of us it is. But prayer also takes us to the very heights of communion with God.

I confess that in coming to this message this morning I feel both great excitement and joy in talking about these things with you, and I also feel like an infant that is just beginning to learn to walk. So I speak to myself as much as to you this morning, but with an earnest desire that we would all learn the joys of prayer.

I think all of us who are Christians would confess that we do not pray as much as we could, as much as we should, as much as we would like to pray. We would acknowledge that we need to grow in this area of prayer, but that we struggle. I want to talk this morning about some of those struggles and try to help us learn to pray.

Let’s look at John 15. We’re going to be reading John 15:1-11, with a special focus on verse 7, but let’s read the passage together. John 15, beginning in verse 1.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

This is God’s word.

We’re continuing this morning in the series called “Abide: Spiritual Practices for the Christian Life.” As you can see, we’re trying to take this passage from a number of different angles. We’ve talked about abiding for the sake of fruitfulness; the goal of the Christian life is that we are flourishing and we are fruitful in a way that gives glory to the Lord. Last week we talked about Scripture as one of the means that helps us to do this, and today the focus is on prayer.

I want to ask three questions this morning: 1. Why is prayer necessary for abiding in Christ? I’m going to only spend a couple minutes on that, but show you in the text the connections. 2. What tools do we need for building a prayer life? I’m going to spend most of the message here and try to give us some practical help. And, 3. What does it mean to pray in Jesus's name? So, three questions, or an alternate outline might be this: the necessity of prayer, the practice of prayer, and the privilege of prayer.

1. Why is prayer necessary for abiding in Christ? 

Question number one: why is prayer necessary for abiding in Christ? The necessity of prayer.

I just want you to see how, in the farewell discourse, the upper room discourse, this sermon, this instruction from Jesus to his disciples from John 14-16, that prayer is a thread that runs through. It’s something that Jesus teaches his disciples. He teaches his disciples about prayer in connection with abiding and in connection with this great goal of glorifying God and bearing fruit in the Christian life. So it’s easy to see that prayer is a means by which we abide in Christ and therefore bear fruit, which brings glory to God.

I thought it might be helpful for you to see this in the three chapters, so there’s a chart here you can follow and see how each one of these passages gives us prayer with a result or a purpose or a promise that is attached to prayer.

Brad pointed out a couple of weeks ago that John in his writings is somewhat cyclical. He’s giving us the same ideas but in slightly different ways. It’s sort of like a kaleidoscope, when you read the Gospel of John, and especially in this upper room discourse. You turn it and you see things in slightly different ways, slightly different configurations. But all of this is meant to drive home some very basic truths.

The basic truth that Jesus is driving home here is that when we pray in his name, this leads to great fruit and joy that glorifies God.

You see it in John 14:13-14. In verse 13, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Do you see it? Asking (that’s prayer) in his name, and here’s the promise attached to it. Jesus says, “I will do this so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

Here’s the goal. The goal of prayer is that the Father may be glorified in the Son. That’s also the goal of abiding, as we’ll see in chapter 15.

In John 14:14: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Then in chapter 15, the verses we’ve already read, verses 7-8, Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish . . .” That, of course, has to be defined by what he’s already said about asking in his name. We ask, and here’s the promise or the purpose or the result, “. . . and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you may bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

There’s another verse, John 15:16. This one you have to read from right to left back to right. So, the purpose or the promise comes first, then the prayer, and then back to the promise. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide . . .” Once again, this is the goal: it is fruit-bearing that gives glory to God. Jesus says, “. . . so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

Two more verses in chapter 16, John 16:23-24. “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Fullness of joy—Jesus has already mentioned that in John 15:11. That’s also one of the results of abiding.

So, set these things next to one another: prayer in Jesus’ name, for the purpose of glorifying God, bearing fruit, fullness of joy. Prayer is a means to that end.

Andrew Murray, in his great book Abide in Christ, says, “Prayer is both one of the means and one of the fruits of union to Christ. As a means, it is of unspeakable importance. All the things of faith, all the pleadings of desire, all the yearnings after a fuller surrender, all the confessions of shortcoming and of sin, all the exercises in which the soul gives up self and clings to Christ, find their utterance in prayer.”

To get straight to the point, prayer could not be more important. The only danger right now is for me to understate it. Prayer could not be more important. It is the key to the Christian life. It’s the key; this is how we abide in Christ. We abide in Christ through prayer.

Calvin called prayer “the chief exercise of faith.” We live by faith, Paul says, not by sight. We live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. But how do we live by faith? We live by faith by prayer. Prayer is how we exercise faith, prayer is how we move towards God, prayer is how we communicate with God, prayer is how we have fellowship with Jesus, prayer is how we abide in Jesus. Prayer is the means. The weakness of our Christian lives—I include myself in this—is due to weakness in prayer.

So, prayer is absolutely crucial.

2. What tools do we need for building a prayer life?

The real question, then, is how do we do it? How do we build a prayer life? I want to be as practical as possible this morning, so question number two, what tools do we need for building a prayer life? I want to talk about the practice of prayer.

Let me just start this point with two caveats. First of all, almost all of this I got from other people, including our wonderful staff. This last week in our staff meeting we talked about this sermon—what are the things that we need to talk about, how do we make this as practical as possible for everybody. There were lots of great ideas from everyone. So that’s one caveat; this is not from me, this isn’t original with me. This is stuff that I am learning from other people

The second caveat is that this is a toolbox with tools. You know how a toolbox works. A toolbox has an assortment of different tools that are helpful for different purposes. A hammer has a different function than a screwdriver, has a different function than a wrench or from a hacksaw. You don’t use each tool to accomplish every task; you choose the tool that is most useful for the task at hand.

What I’m giving you right now is going to be a lot of tools, and there’s a slight danger, perhaps, of information overload, of giving you more than you actually process. Please don’t feel like you have to apply every single thing I’m about to say. What I’m going to try to give you is an assortment of tools that you can use as needed. All of this will be available online in a transcript, so you don’t even have to write it down. But just see if, in the next 15 minutes as we go through these tools, if something strikes you as particularly helpful for where you are right now.

I want to look at four different things, each one of which has a subset of tools or ideas or helps.

(1) First of all is just to address the common obstacles to prayer. I think all of us sometimes struggle with prayer, and there are a number of reasons why we struggle with prayer. I want to give some responses to that.

Here’s number one: “I don’t feel like praying.” It’s a motivation problem. This is our problem a lot of the time. We know we should pray, we believe in prayer, we believe the Bible teaches prayer, but “I simply don’t feel like praying,” so we don’t pray, because we don’t feel like praying in the moment.

I think the question you have to ask is, why do you not feel like praying? There can be both physical reasons for it and spiritual reasons for it. It may be that you don’t feel like praying because you’re exhausted, because you’re tired, you don’t feel like doing much of anything, and what you need is rest before you can actually engage in any kind of prolonged sort of prayer. That’s occasionally the problem.

But I think most of the time when we don’t feel like praying, that itself is a warning light on the dashboard of the spiritual life telling us that something is wrong. The reason we don’t feel like praying is because already the soul is somewhat estranged from God. Sin hinders prayer, and when we don’t feel like praying it is a signal that something is off. It means that there are some symptoms in your spiritual life that are showing that you need a physician, you need a doctor.

In those moments when we don’t feel like praying, to then refuse to pray is to be like a sick person, or a person who has really severe physical symptoms—maybe they have severe chest pains or maybe they have vertigo or dizziness or can’t keep down any food; something like that—they have really severe ongoing symptoms, and somebody says, “You need to go to the doctor,” and they say, “I don’t feel like going to the doctor.” The right response is, “That’s why you need to go to the doctor, because you don’t feel like it! You have some problems right now.”

What I want you to get is that if you don’t feel like praying, that in and of itself is a symptom and it is a signal that shows how much you need prayer.

So you have to start where you are. You have to start with that. You start with the hardness of heart, you start with the guilty conscience, you start with the distance from God, and you start by praying, “Lord, I feel far from you. Lord, I’m out of fellowship with you. Lord, I don’t feel like talking to you.” Just start there, and you pray it through.

I’ll never forget the great advice I heard from that great 20th-century preacher Stephen Olford. He talked about how his mentor taught him about prayer. He told his mentor one time—his mentor was Graham Scroggie—he told Dr. Scroggie, “I don’t feel like praying.” This was Dr. Scroggie’s advice to Stephen Olford. He said, “Stephen, pray when you feel like it, pray when you don’t feel like it, pray until you do feel like it!”

That’s simple advice. It’s that simple and that difficult. If you don’t feel like praying, you have to address that problem and get to the heart.

Second obstacle: “I don’t have time to pray.” This could apply to Bible reading as well, any aspect of the spiritual life: “I don’t have time to pray.”

I would simply say that this is a smokescreen. This is an excuse. It’s actually a lie. You do have time. You have the same amount of time as anybody else. You have 168 hours a week, you have 24 hours a day. Time’s not like money; we earn different amounts of money and have different stores of money, but time’s not like that. If you’re alive, whatever time you are alive you have the same amount of time in any given day as anybody else. When you say, “I don’t have time to pray,” what that really is is a confession of a lack of discipline and a priority problem. It is a priority problem.

I just want to speak as forthrightly and directly as I can. If you have time for TV, you have time to pray. If you have time for social media at all, you have time to pray. I just looked it up: the average person in America in 2022 spent two and a half hours a day on social media. Even if you beat the average and you only spent 15 minutes, you have time to pray.

If you have time for gaming, young men, you have time for prayer. If you have time to eat, you have time to pray. If you have time to sleep, you have time to pray. You have time to pray! You have time for God.

The reason you don’t pray is because you don’t want to pray. You have to go back to the last obstacle, and then you have to build some discipline into your life. Don’t make the excuse that you don’t have time to pray. If you’re not praying and you are a Christian and you know in your conscience that you should pray, it’s time to do some heart work and get priorities lined up. It’s that simple. You have time.

Here’s another obstacle: “I can’t focus when I pray.” This is a concentration problem. This one’s actually pretty simple as well. If you struggle to focus when you pray—if your mind wanders (and whose doesn’t when we try to pray?)—there are two things you can do that will help. First of all, you can pray out loud. Even if it’s just a whisper, just pray out loud. Or secondly, write down your prayer. You’re able to focus when you text a message to someone, so write it down, addressing God. Write it in a journal or write it on an app on your phone or wherever you need to, but just articulate the words, either out loud or on paper, and you will find that you are able to concentrate enough to pray.

The fourth obstacle is, “I don’t know how to pray,” or, “I don’t know what to pray for.” That’s what the rest of this point is going to help you with, is to try to give you some hooks for hanging your prayers on.

Those are the obstacles for prayer.

(2) Now, the second thing: you need to learn the ABCs of prayer. There are some very simple forms of prayer that even a child can practice. Here they are. It’s as simple as this. Take these sentences and fill in the blank.

“Lord, I praise you because you are—” and then fill that in with some characteristic of God. “I praise you because you are good. I praise you because you are righteous. I praise you because you are loving.”

“Please forgive me for—” and then you fill in the blank with whatever you need forgiveness for.

“Thank you for—” fill in the blank with your blessings and the things that God has given you.

Then, “Please help—” fill in the blank with whoever it is you want to pray for.

Those are the ABCs. Those are four basic forms of prayer that a three-year-old can master, and each one of us throughout our lives never outgrows them. If you want the theological words, these would be the ACTs of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. But you don’t have to use the theological words. In fact, when you’re praying you’re not using those kinds of words. You’re just saying, “Lord, I praise you because . . . .” “Lord, please forgive me for . . . .” “Lord, thank you for . . . .” “Lord, please help.” Those are the simple ACTS of prayer, the ABCs of prayer.

Now, these are not all the same kinds of prayer, but they are all aspects of prayer. I love how C.S. Lewis put this in The World’s Last Night, as he talks about praying to God. He’s speaking here about prayer being an engagement between ourselves as somewhat incomplete persons with God, who is the most concrete, complete person in existence in the universe; but he includes all these different aspects of prayer. He says,

"Prayer is either a sheer illusion [that is, if God doesn’t exist] or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons [ourselves] and the utterly concrete Person [God]. Prayer in the sense of petition [asking for things] is a small part of it. Confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision of God its bread and wine. In it God shows himself to us."

As you can see, there is a whole cathedral of prayer to discover, but the threshold is simply to confess your need for God, enter in, and then begin getting to know him.

(3) Here’s a third set of tools that could be helpful for you: build variety in your prayer life. Here I’m using John Piper’s acronym FADES, and the idea is that prayer fades when you don’t have these different aspects of prayer. He gives us five pairs of words following this acronym that show the variety of different forms of prayer.

Prayer, he says, should be both free and formed. Free prayer—that is, stream-of-consciousness prayer, where you’re just kind of praying impromptu the words that come to mind in the moment.

But also formed. Formed prayers are structured prayers. A formed prayer is a prayer where you follow a particular model. So, for example, you might pray through the Lord’s Prayer, or you might pray through one of the psalms or the book of Psalms sequentially over the period of a month or a year. You might use a book such as The Book of Common Prayer or The Valley of Vision, a wonderful collection of Puritan prayers. It’s on our book table, and I highly recommend it. You might use something like Operation World to give structure to your praying for missions and for the unreached peoples of the world. You might use patterns for prayer, such as the ACTS acronym (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), and there are many, many others. But you’re taking a structure, an outline of some kind, and you are letting that guide your prayer. That’s formed prayer. Praying through a prayer list is a formed kind of prayer. Piper is simply saying that we need both. We need free prayer and formed prayer.

We need alone and assembled prayer. To pray alone—that’s private prayer, secret prayer, what the old Puritans used to call closet prayer, based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6, where he talks about going into your closet and shutting the door and there praying alone. Private prayer should be a priority, and it is one of the basic disciplines of the Christian life.

But then also corporate prayer, where we are praying together. Let me just say a word. When we gather on Sunday morning, a part of what we are trying to do in corporate worship is pray together. One way to do that is when a pastor is up here praying, you join in your heart with the prayer. You hear the words and there’s something in your heart that’s just saying, “Amen. Yes, Lord. Please, Lord. Do it, Lord.” You’re joining in with the prayer. You’re joining in with the prayer of confession, so that your heart is confessing to the Lord, and then you’re ready to receive once again the good news and assurance of God’s pardon and grace.

Even our singing together—much of our singing is prayer. When we were singing this morning, “I will arise and go to Jesus,” that should have been a prayer from your heart. “Lord, I’m coming right now. I’m rising and going to Jesus right now.” That’s part of corporate prayer.

Prayer should be both desperate and delighted. These are the different emotional states of prayer. Sometimes the prayers are just prayers of absolute desperation: “Lord, help me!” That’s all you can say. “Lord, help me!” And sometimes your prayers are more relaxed and joyful and there’s more delight in a prayer, but both kinds of prayer are appropriate depending on where your heart is at any given moment.

Prayer should be both explosive and extended. I think what Piper means by this is that explosive is kind of a burst of prayer, extemporaneous prayer; a burst of prayer in the moment, where you just kind of burst out with a prayer to the Lord in the moment, but then also extended times of prayer.

Along with that is the last one: prayer should be both spontaneous and scheduled. Hear what he’s getting at, and I think this is very helpful: we need different kinds of prayer in terms of our schedule and the length of time we spend in prayer.

I think of it sort of like marriage. Holly and I have been married 26 years now. We have a good marriage, a healthy marriage; we love each other deeply. There are lots of kinds of communication in our marriage. Every day we text during the day. She’s at work, I’m at work, and we text. We often do something like a five, maybe seven or eight minute phone call during the day. It’s just a brief check-in. Sometimes those texts are jokes, sometimes it’s humor, sometimes it’s reporting, sometimes it’s exchange of information; but we’re in contact.

Almost every night we spend about an hour together, and maybe more. Sometimes that’s in conversation, sometimes that’s in enjoying something together, sometimes it’s prayer, sometimes it’s problem-solving. But every day there’s communication that is more lengthy.

Then we try to go on a date about once a week, and that’s a time where we sit down, usually over a meal together, and it’s a little longer, and it’s more private—we’re not being interrupted by the kids—a little more focused time together. Then once in a very great while we get several days together. We don’t get that very often.

All of that is helpful, and if our marriage lacked any of those components it would be not as healthy. Your life with God needs all of that. You need those five minutes of connection with God at any given point during the day, just quickly turning to the Lord for just a few moments. But you also need those extended times of prayer, where you’re setting aside 30 minutes, you’re setting aside an hour for Bible reading and prayer and communion with God in an undistracted space.

I’m sure that most people probably haven’t tried this, but I would suggest to you also that it could be really, really helpful for you to occasionally do a retreat, where you spend an extended time away from family and everyone, a retreat time with the Lord. It took me a long time to learn this and adopt this, but once a quarter I try to spend one night away and about a 36-hour period of time that is just for reading, praying, resting, thinking, and planning. It has been immeasurably helpful for my spiritual life.

Think of your prayer life in tiers, with all these different aspects. If you don’t have time in a given day—well, you do, but if you have an unusually busy schedule and you’re not getting the full hour, at least get those five-minute connection points with the Lord. Keep the relationship strong.

(4) Let me give you one more tool, and these are just short Bible prayers that you can make your own. These are great prayers. These are some of my favorite prayers in the Bible.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” It’s the great prayer of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee. Here’s this man who cannot even lift his eyes up to heaven, but he comes to the temple to pray and he simply says as he beats on his breast, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” If there’s ever a moment when you don’t feel worthy to go to God, there’s your prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Or take the wonderful prayer of blind Bartimaeus on the road right outside Jericho. Jesus is coming into town, and blind Baritmaeus in Mark 10 says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” That’s a prayer. That’s a beautiful prayer. You could adopt that prayer for your own.

Or take Peter’s prayer in Matthew 14. You remember when Peter and the disciples are in the boat, there’s a storm, and then they see Jesus walking on the water. And Peter asks if he can come out and if he can walk to the Lord on the water. Sure enough, Peter steps foot on the water and he’s walking on the water to the Lord, but then he begins to look at the waves and he starts to sink, and what does he say? “Lord, save me!” There are times when that’s the prayer to pray; when you’re in a crisis, when you are faced with a situation of danger or need or temptation, you simply pray, “Lord, save me! Lord, help me! Lord, help at this moment!”

Or take comfort from the prayer of the leper in Mark 1:40. If you’re struggling with sin, the prayer of the leper: “If you will, you can make me clean.” That’s a good prayer to pray.

Or if you’re struggling with doubt, the prayer of the man with a demon-possessed son in Mark 9. He comes to Jesus with this need, and Jesus says he can heal the son if the father believes, and the father says, “I believe; help my unbelief.” If you have doubts about God, doubts about Christianity, doubts about yourself—whatever—pray that prayer. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Again, these are tools. Take the toolbox, find which things will help you, and start building a prayer life.

3. What does it mean to pray in Jesus's name?

Question number three: what does it mean to pray in Jesus’s name? The key verse here that we are looking at in John 15 is verse 7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” As I said earlier, that has to be understood in light of all the other places where Jesus talks about asking in the upper room discourse, and he says, “If you ask in my name.”

What does that mean? What does it mean to pray in Jesus’s name? I just want to say, this is not simply a formula. It’s not an incantation. It’s not some magic words that you just put on the end of a prayer that in and of itself changes anything. It’s something more than that.

We might think of this as both an authorization for prayer, a privilege for prayer, and also as some biblical parameters for prayer.

(1) We could put it this way: first of all, to pray in Jesus’s name means to pray for things that are consistent with his character, word, and will. The name of a person in Scripture often represents their character. Do you remember in Exodus 34 when the Lord showed his glory to Moses on the mountain? He came and said, “I’m going to proclaim the name of the Lord.” When the Lord proclaims his name, if you read that in Exodus 34, it’s actually a rehearsal of the attributes, the characteristics of God. That’s how the name of the Lord was proclaimed. God reveals his character, full of steadfast love and faithfulness, to Moses. So to pray in Jesus’s name means to pray in accord with his character.

How do we know what that is? How do we know what the character of God, the character of Jesus, the will of Jesus is? We know through his word. To pray in Jesus’s name means in part to pray in accord with the word of God.

Let me give you another little tool that fits into praying in Jesus’s name. This is from Martin Luther. In 1535 Martin Luther wrote a letter to his barber, named Peter Beskandorff. It was a 34-page letter with instructions for prayer. It’s been published now as A Simple Way to Pray. Luther structured this letter on prayer around his shorter catechism, using the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, giving that as a basic structure for prayer. He said that we should use Scripture as “a flint and steel to kindle a flame in the heart.”

The idea was you start with Scripture, you start with the word, you start with these basic truths of the faith that were encoded in the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed; you start with those and you turn them into prayer.

Here’s a key paragraph. This is the meditation method that Luther gave to his friend Peter. He said,

"I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is, I think of each commandment [this could be any word of Scripture, okay—the Ten Commandments or any other part of Scripture; think of it in four ways] as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer. These are the Ten Commandments in their fourfold aspect: namely, a school text, a songbook, and penitential book, and a prayer book. They are intended to help the heart come to itself and grow zealous in prayer."

If you want to pray in Jesus’s name, that means praying in according with his character and his will, and you’re going to know that through his word. The simple way to do that is to take Scripture and use it in this way. Turn your Scripture reading into prayer. Learn to pray the Bible. When you read a command in Scripture, see it as instruction, use it as a point of confession of sin, turn that into thanksgiving and then into a prayer for God’s help.

If you want more help on that, I recommend Donald Whitney’s book Praying the Bible. It’s on our book table.

(2) Here’s the second thing that praying in Jesus’s name means. It means to pray in conscious dependence on his saving work.

This has been one of those sermons that has lots of instruction, lots of practicality, lots of things to do. But here’s the gospel piece, okay? The only way that you can go about the work of prayer with confidence is if you do it by trusting in the work of Christ for you. The only way that you can come to God with boldness is if you trust that the way has been opened through Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Praying in Jesus’s name is praying with a conscious dependence on that—his work, what he has done for us. It’s trusting in him. It’s praying not in your own name, but in his name. It’s praying not on the basis of your own righteousness, but his righteousness. It’s coming not in your own merits, but they’re his merits. It’s coming to God in and through Jesus Christ. That’s what gives us great confidence in prayer.

If prayer really is the chief exercise of faith, there is a sense in which every prayer you pray is like that first sinner’s prayer, where you’re calling on the name of the Lord to save you, to help you, to sanctify you, to bless you, to grant your needs, to give direction, to help in the lives of others. Whatever the matter is, you’re coming, and you’re coming simply because God has invited you to come through his Son, Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to pray in Jesus’s name. This is our great confidence.

I want to end with words from John Newton. It’s my favorite hymn on prayer. In fact, let me invite you to just close your eyes; I’m going to read this and then close us in prayer.

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before his feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea;
With this I venture nigh:
Thou callest burdened souls to thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to thee for rest.

Be thou my shield and hiding place,
That, sheltered near thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him thou hast died.

O Lord, thank you that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. Thank you that the way is open, that we can come before the throne of grace through the intercessory work of our great high priest, who has fully paid for all our sins and is now the mediator between God and human beings. Thank you for the great privilege of prayer, that we, sinners that we are, have audience with the great King of heaven; that we can communicate with the God who is the Lord of all creation, the Creator of heaven and earth; that we can come to you, our Creator, our law-giver, and our judge, and we can address you as our Father and our Redeemer.

O Lord, please forgive us, for we have neglected this great privilege. Please forgive us that we have prioritized other things over prayer, that we have wasted time surfing the Internet or doing innumerable other things, and then have said, “I don’t have time to pray.” Forgive us, Lord, for our lack of desire. Search our hearts this morning to help us see how that very lack is a symptom of a deeper spiritual illness and is a call for us to repent and to turn to you to find grace and pardon and cleansing and renewal and restoration.

Lord, we want to walk in fellowship with you. We want to abide in Jesus, your Son. We want to glorify you and to bear much fruit. Our problem is we don’t want it enough. So we ask you, Lord, to deepen our desire, to increase our faith, to give us eyes to see what we’re missing, give us hearts to desire what you have for us. Help us see, Lord, that fullness of joy is offered to us, and it’s there for the taking and the receiving if we will simply come and ask.

Lord, would you help us this morning, each one of us, to just take home some small practical thing that will help us this week to grow in our prayer lives? Most of us, Lord, are toddlers in this. We’re just learning to walk. But be pleased, Lord, with our efforts, and help us to grow.

As we come now to the Lord’s table, may we come in prayer. May we come with hearts that are hungry for Jesus Christ, the bread of life, and may we feast on him as he is offered to us in the gospel, for the strengthening and the nourishment of our hearts and souls. Teach us, Lord. We are your children, and we look to you for your help. We pray this in Jesus’s name—in Jesus’s name we pray—Amen.