Paragons of Prayer

Introduction: Have you ever watched a Hallmark movie? It’s OK. There will be no judgement – especially if you are a guy who watches them with your wife (Scott Lockwood). If you haven’t, I’m about to spoil them all for you. So if you don’t want to hear this deep, dark secret, please cover your ears.

The deep, dark secret about all Hallmark movies is…(pause for affect)…there is only one storyline in every Hallmark movie! I’m sorry you had to hear it like this from me but it is necessary as we move forward with our lesson.

What is that singular storyline you may ask? Here it goes:

  • The protagonist, or hero, has a wonderful life in a big city doing something cool, but they are not happy.
  • Next, something happens to cause the hero to venture back to the little town they grew up in.
  • In that small town we find close family members, one of which is having the crisis, an old flame and an antagonist, or villain. The old flame and villain are probably dating or engaged and the villain is jealous of the hero.
  • The story leads to a single event to which the hero is working to fix and villain is working to defeat.
  • The old flame is caught in the middle of feelings for the hero and the struggling relationship with the villain.
  • But everything is miraculously resolved as the event is a success, the hero and old flame reconnect and the villain, reluctantly, realizes the old flame and hero should have been together the whole time and ends up befriending the hero.
  • The camera pulls back with the group enjoying each other’s company and smiling or singing. And SCENE!

Boiling it down even further, any Hallmark movie is comprised of a single heroic figure who is key to the success of the story, actions surrounding the hero that lead to a seminal moment and a happy ending.

I’m not belittling the predictable storyline of Hallmark movies. Truth be told, I enjoying watching them with Karen — especially during the holidays. I enjoy the fact that liberal bias, homosexuality, profanity, lasciviousness and other popular themes of our wayward society are not present. A Hallmark movie is simply a nice little story of admirable characters  who strive for happiness. And in today’s world, it is a refuge from the filth that is modern television.

My favorite parts of a Hallmark movie are when the boy and girl finally have that moment that they realize their true feelings. At that point I always glance over at Karen. She is just smiling without even realizing it.  

I would highly recommend you watch Hallmark movies. But what does that have to do with our class?

There are three correlations we can glean from Hallmark movies:

  • A constant storyline
  • Admirable characters
  • A happy ending
  1. The storyline of the Bible is similar to that of a Hallmark movie because, no matter how many times you read it, the story is the same. 
    • Man sinned (Romans 3:23) For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
    • Jesus was crucified to redeem us (1 Peter 3:18) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
  2. Just like the characters of a Hallmark movie, there are characters in the Bible we can admire.
    • One of the great takeaways from the Bible is that there are many characters we can juxtapose with our own lives. When we compare these characters with ourselves, we see that they are either paragons (perfect examples of something) we wish to pattern after or pariahs with want our lives to look nothing like.
  3. When it is all said and done, there is a happy ending, just like the story of the Bible.
    • If we follow him, we can be saved (Romans 6:23) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let’s take a look at some paragons or prayer

  1. We, of course, need to start with Jesus. He was our model in life, in death and in prayer. In the book of Matthew, he not only gives us an idea of what to pray, but also what our motivation should be and what we should expect. (Matthew 6:5-15) “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. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. 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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
    • Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 
    • For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
      • What is he saying to us? What is the lesson for our prayers today?
        • Verse 5 (do not be like the hypocrites) teaches us that prayer is not a performance that is to be given for the praise of others. When we pray to impress others, we have already received our reward. I believe, at that point, God stops listening.
        • Verse 6 (go into room and shut door) tells us that prayer is a private thing between you and God. It is a one-on-one conversation so that you can pour your heart out without having to stitch your words together to make a lyrical tapestry for the ear, much like we do in a public prayer. It’s real. It’s raw. It’s your heart spilling out and, with the help of the Holy Spirit and Jesus, becoming a sweet fragrance to God.
        • Verses 7 and 8 (do not be like the Gentiles – empty phrases) should help us understand that it’s not the words we utter that God is listening for, but the motivation in our hearts that cause the words to come out. Just repeating a prayer for the purpose of checking a box are the empty words Jesus is talking about. And verse 8 reminds us of previous lessons that tell us God knows our hearts and knows our motivation. We must consider this before praying.
        • Verse 9 (our father) gives God the respect He is due and is the pattern for all prayer.
        • Verse 10 (your will be done) is an admission that we are not in control. We can ask for everything but, only if we surrender ourselves to His will, can we hope to receive anything.
        • Verse 11 (give us daily bread) is trusting in God’s providence to see to our needs, not our wants. I’m sorry. Joel Osteen is wrong. You are not guaranteed wealth, just because you are a believer. The sad truth is, people’s belief in Joel Osteen have guaranteed his wealth on this earth…but stay tuned.
        • Verse 12 (forgive our debts) is a plea for us to forgive those who we have wronged and who have wronged us.
        • Verse 13 (lead us not into temptation) must be an admission of our own weakness and a resolution of God’s role in our lives.
        • Verses 14 and 15 (forgive those who trespass) entreats us that coming to the thrown of God in prayer with unresolved issues of forgiveness will not benefit us in the eyes of God. This is, perhaps the biggest hurdle for us to overcome. Sometimes we relish in not forgiving a friend or family member. We hold on to that hate (or grudge) and are determined to never relinquish it. But as the verse says, how can God forgive us if we can’t even forgive those around us? The story of the servant who was forgiven a great debt but would not forgive a small one, found in Matthew 18:21-35, puts us squarely in the middle of that story. We are the servant who has been forgiven the great debt of our sin but cannot find it in our hearts to forgive someone we know who tweeted something wrong about us on social media.
      • This model prayer is the prayer of a servant, not of a king. Let us remember who we are and what our role is on this earth.
  1. Another example from Jesus is when he asked to be released from his impending crucifixion. (Luke 22:42) saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
      • Although he asked, as we might during some stress in our lives, Jesus ended his prayer with, “not my will, but yours be done.”
      • Understanding God’s will doesn’t mean figuring out how to get our way, it means we understand the lesson God is teaching us in everything that happens in our lives. Good or bad. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
      • Have you ever been in a boat fighting the current? It takes more effort and more fuel with a smaller about of success. This is what happens with we try to bend God’s will to our own desires. 
      • How bad do we want something? How much effort and fuel will it take to try to reach some earthly goal? Is the reward worth the effort it took to attain it? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have goals. We spoke about that earlier. We need goals to motivate ourselves. But how many of our goal setting are based in vanity and how many are based in spirituality?
  1. When the children of Israel turned away from God and God wanted to destroy them, Moses prayed to God to spare them.  (Exodus 32:9-14) And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
    • As a leader of the people, Moses pleaded with God to change His mind. It worked. This was obviously part of God’s will but what if this was a test for Moses who, as we know from the burning bush incident in Exodus 3, was reluctant to take on the mantel of leadership.
    • The lesson for us today is that when we are called to be a leader, we must stand firm for those we lead. Pray for them.
    • Pray for those who we lead or have an influence over. We are all leaders in one form or another. Use that influence to do good and pray that our example will reflect the life of Christ.
  1. Elijah took on the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Elijah challenged Ahab, Jezabel, 450 prophets of Baal and and 400 prophets of Asherah to prove who was the true God of the land.  (1 Kings 18:36-39) And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”
      • After being directed to go to Samaria, Elijah’s faith in God helped him stand in front of a king, a queen and an army of priests and priestesses to prove God was the one true God and the people repented.
      • Just like Elijah, all we have is our faith in God and that He will provide for us.
      • Isn’t it wonderful when a prayer is answered in the affirmative. When God’s will and our needs line up together, it should give us strength to carry on during the times when that answer might not be “yes.”
  1. Paul asked to have a personal affliction removed. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
      • What a great example for us. We are not called to be perfect. We are called to be pursuant –– to keep trying. If God can take lowly sinners like us and use us to do His will, there is nothing that can stop us from taking the world in His name.
      • Look in your own life and see how the Devil tries to get you to focus on your scares while God wants us to focus on the healing. Don’t let a prayer that is answered with “no” cause us to lose heart.
      • We spoke about it in an earlier lesson. Through the work of the Godhead, God the father hears a perfect prayer. But even a perfect prayer can have a “no” replied to it.
  1. Hannah, Samual’s mom and wife of Elkanah, prayed so intensely  (fervently) for a baby that Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk. She was not and Eli said that her petition would be granted. 
      • Her prayer, however, was not answered immediately. Although she was hopeful after that point, she would not know for a time that she was with child. (1 Samuel 1:20) And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”
      • Make note that this verse says, “in due time.” We can pray earnestly for something and, because God knows our heart and knows our character, he says, “not yet.”
      • Maybe we are not ready for this prayer to be answered. Maybe others around us are not ready for our prayer to be answered.
      • We can’t know the mind the God, we can only know He loves us and wants what’s best for us.
      • Like children seeing through a tunnel. And parents’ view.

Conclusion: Who are you? Are you a Paul, with something that you feel is keeping you from becoming a stronger Christian? Pray about it. Are you a Hannah, who was missing something in your life? Pray about it. Are you an Elijah, who wants to do God’s will even surrounded by unbelievers? Pray about it. Or perhaps you are like Jesus in the garden, or wanting to face the truth of destiny but relenting to God’s will anyway? Just like Jesus, pray about it but make sure God is in control of it.

Today’s Takeaways

  • Whatever phase in life or situation we find ourselves in, there is an example in the Bible who we can emulate and gain strength from. 
  • We may not get the answer we are looking for, but we will get the answer that God wants us to have.
  • No matter what, keep praying.

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