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Prayer Shaped By Theology / Discipleship and the Church

As taught by Zach Thompson.

In this lesson, the fourth in our series on Discipleship and the Church, we cover how theology influences the way we pray, and what our prayers tell us about our theology.

This morning, our time may feel like a slight shift from what we have been doing in our Equipping time.

But let me give some direction here at the beginning that ties it together.

We want to take theology seriously. Theology matters.

My chief goal today is to give you a diagnostic tool for your soul. I believe the tool we will talk about today is an excellent window into our soul. It can help you repent from bad beliefs in your heart and lean into the truth as you live.

And while we do this, we are going to specifically dwell on our practice of prayer and how we should think about it.

SLIDE: Theology Shaped Prayer

A diagnostic is a test that you can run to try and find a problem. A diagnostic helps you identify a diagnosis.

Maybe you have been to a mechanic or had a friend who was really handy with cars. If you’ve ever watched them work, you’ve probably seen them plug a small device that looks like a fat calculator into your car. That device connects to the computer in the car and it generates codes that help determine what might be going wrong with the car.

It’s a diagnostic tool.

This morning, I want to teach you a tool that is a helpful diagnostic for your heart.

Let’s get into it.

SLIDE: Theology circle

First, let’s start to think about who God is. Take out a piece of paper and write down at least 5 true things about God. Or if you are typing on a phone or something do it there.

If you don’t have any paper, borrow some from someone around you. Or get out your phone and make a quick note.

Who is God? Where did God come from? What is God doing right now? Who has God revealed himself to be? What does he have control over?

[Wait a few moments to give everyone time to write]

Do you have your 5? What are some of the attributes you wrote down? I want some audience participation here.

SLIDE: List of attributes.

Here are a few attributes of the Biblical God. Feel free to jot a couple of these down. We won’t dwell here too long because we are going to revisit these in a few minutes.

Read the Attributes.

We’ll consider these a bit closer in a few minutes.

But no, let’s consider another question.

SLIDE: Prayer Circle

Now consider your prayer life.

I want you to make a list again here, even if it’s just in your head.

What characterizes your prayer life?

Write down a few things that come to mind.

Give a few moments to think on this.

SLIDE: Prayer Questions

Let’s ask a few questions to try and dig into this.

How do you speak to God? As a father? A king? A judge? As a grandfather in the sky who is only there to give you gifts?

What do you say when you speak to him? What kinds of things do you pray for? Do you only ask for things? Do you only pray for yourself? Do you try not to deal with your own soul and you always end up praying for other people?

Do you spend time just praying in adoration of who God is?

How frequently do you pray? Do you only pray at meals? Do you pray spontaneously throughout the day? Do you pray for extended periods of time? Do you only pray in front of people? Do you pray when you are alone?

Are your prayers different if you are with people than they are if you are alone?

Hopefully by this point, you are thinking honestly about your prayer life.

So lets move to the next point in this reality.

SLIDE: Theology should inform our prayer.

We have these two different categories that we have dwelt on. A big part of what I want us to recognize this morning is that these two categories are intimately connected.

What the Bible says about God should inform how we pray to God.

Theology should shape the way you pray.

Think of the way Moses intercedes for the Israelites. Or how Abraham prays for the sake of Lot. Or how David prays in the Psalms. Or Solomon at the Temple. Or Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount or in John 17, his high priestly prayer. Or Think of the sermons and prayers throughout the book of Acts.

If you can call to mind any of these, then you can see biblical examples of pointing to the character of God, then praying in light of that reality.

George Mueller was a man who was renowned for being a man of earnest and consistent prayer. He ran an orphanage and through prayer, he trusted God to provide for all of his own needs and for all of the orphans. This was a man who really trusted in the power prayer and the faithfulness of God.

For the earlier part of his adult life, Mueller started his morning with prayer then he would spend time in the word, but he found it to be a struggle. This was a man who was renowned for his prayer life, and he found it difficult to pray. He would get distracted and have to fight just to continue praying. And as an experiment, he changed his practice and it revolutionized his personal time with the Lord.

He started reading the Bible first, and then he would pray—Bible open. He found that if he first soaked his heart in the word of God, that prayer became a more natural conversation. When theology is the basis for our prayers, we will pray more and we will pray more faithfully.

So what are some examples here? What are some specific ways that theology should inform our prayers? Let’s look at those attributes of God again. You should be able think through this for any other ones that you may have written down.

SLIDE: Examples of Theology Informing Prayer

Theology clearly has an impact on how we should pray. And this is just a few examples. We could dwell more on the character of God and find more attributes to add to this list. Or we could even just dwell on this list and think of more ways that these attributes should inform our prayers.

I commend this practice to you. Consider who God is, and intentionally pray in light of who he is.

But we don’t want to stop here. We don’t just want to recognize that theology should inform our prayers.

The way that we pray reveals our real theology.

SLIDE: Prayer reveals theology

What we mean by this is that your actual practice of praying reveals what you truly believe.

At Christ Fellowship we talk a lot about what we believe. I think that this church is very theologically informed. If we were to take a test, I really believe that we would do pretty well. But one of the things we say a lot is that just because you can answer it on a test doesn’t mean you actually believe it.

There is an element of heart submission when we talk about belief. It isn’t just intellectual assent or mere recognition that something is supposed to be true.

So take a few moments here.

What does your current prayer life say about God?

Think on that list you made a couple of minutes ago.

If an objective third party could observe your prayer life, what would they infer about God? Think about this scenario.

This is ridiculous, but humor me for a minute. What if someone didn’t have the Bible. They didn’t have access to all of the information that we assume is available to the people around us. The only way they can learn about God is by listening to you pray.

What would they assume about God from your prayers?

If someone listened to the way you pray, would they think that God is a grandfather in the sky who is only there to give you gifts and make you comfortable?

Would they think that God is only concerned about you? And that God doesn’t care for anyone else because your prayers are so self-focused?

Would they think that God doesn’t care about your sin because you try to ignore it when you talk to God?

Would they learn anything about the glory and faithfulness of God from the way you pray? Do you spend time adoring and praising God simply for who he is?

Would they think that God only cares about our food being blessed? Or that he only likes conversation in small doses because you only pray throughout the day?

I hope the point is made. The way you pray reveals heart beliefs about God. And there is a good chance that all of us need to repent of something here.

What we believe about and God will inform how we pray. But how we pray reveals what we really believe about God. We can look at our theology and change how we pray. But we can also look at a prayer and see what needs to change about our theology.

Thinking this way helps us to be intentional about how we pray. And it’s a tool that can actually change how we pray.

Earlier, I mentioned several examples of this reality from Scripture. Let’s look at one closely.

SLIDE: An Example from Scripture

In these verses, Jesus shows us that bad prayer is informed by bad theology. So he uses good theology to correct the bad prayer habits.

Look at the different sections here.

Verse 5, prayer informed by bad theology. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.”

Then Jesus corrects it with good theology. Look at verse 6. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Then he gives another example of prayer informed by bad theology. Look at verse 7. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

Then in verse 8, he corrects it with good theology again. “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Then in verses 9-15, he gives us an example of praying in light of good theology. “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 this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Jesus is speaking in really clear terms isn’t he? Be honest about who God is, and if the way you pray doesn’t line up, then repent. Turn from that bad theology and turn to what is true. Don’t engage in a practice that points to what isn’t true.

There is more we could say here, but we are coming up on the end of our time, and there are a couple short points I want to make before we get there.

First, this diagnostic tool that we have worked through today isn’t just for prayer.

This is where we landed today for the graphic we are using.

SLIDE: The prayer chart.

But this is where we could go.

SLIDE: Not just a test for prayer.

And I want to be sure to point this out. This dynamic between our theology and the way we live is a reality that applies to the entire Christian life.

Friends, we need this. We need tools like this so that we can look at our life and see clearly whether we are really believing what we say we believe.

How do you share the gospel? How do you show hospitality? How do you work? How does theology inform the way you suffer? Or parent or budget or play sports or rest or vacation or whatever it is. How does theology inform our practice?

And what does your practice reveal about what you truly believe?

If you can’t remember the last time that you shared the gospel with someone, what does that reveal about your true beliefs about Sin and Hell and the justice of God?

If you point an accusing finger at God the instant that you meet any hardship, what does that reveal about where your heart stands up to the biblical teaching that God is sovereign and good and wise?

If you think that the only way to rest is to neglect those who are in your care, what do you think that reveals about the fact that the Bible says that God is resting right now? Do you think that when God rests, he is neglecting his people? Do you serve a God who winds up the clock of creation and walks away?

There is a lot of room for reflection here.

But it brings us to one more reality that I want to highlight

And it’s the reality that this isn’t just for us to do as individuals.

SLIDE: Fruit

In Matthew 7, Jesus says that you will know them by their fruit. We can see each other’s lives. We can see the fruit that is being born by our beliefs.

For those who are living in real community. Everything on this chart is visible. We can see the way we live. You can ask me what I believe, and you can look at my life to see if there are inconsistencies.

I think that what we have done today is really healthy. It is so good for us to reflect on our theology and our practice and to see if there are areas where they just aren’t lining up.

But this doesn’t need to be done alone. Because the sad reality is that we are really good at deceiving ourselves. We are so good at deluding ourselves into saying, “This is okay! I’m being consistent here.” Or even if we aren’t deceiving ourselves, we may just have gaping blindspots where we have no idea that we are acting in a way that is inconsistent with the good confession that we have made.

We NEED each other to keep watch. Because it might just be that you can see the log in my eye better than I can.

This is what we have been doing in our Equipping time this semester. It’s actually what we do every time that you hear one of us preach. It’s what we do in our small groups, and in Bible studies, and every other time that we interact. We say it every week when we start the service. We want to hear the word of God and respond to it.

And the real call this morning is just pay attention to where you need to apply the word, then apply it.

Let’s take questions.


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