Sermon: Instructions For Private And Public Prayers: Philippians 4:4–7

New Testament Reading: Philippians 4:4–7

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, ESV)


I had a conversation with a brother this past week which made me realize that I need to address something with you all. It’s something that I’ve addressed in the past, but perhaps I haven’t been direct enough.

Emmaus Christian Fellowship is an ordinary means of grace church. What this means is that we believe God works powerfully through ordinary things, and particularly through the, so called, means of grace which he has prescribed in his word.

And what are the means of grace? The early church devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching (the word), the fellowship (the church bound together in Christ and by love), the breaking of the bread (the sacraments), and prayer. These are the things that we are to devote ourselves to as the church. These are the things that we are to be faithful in. And it is through these things that we expect God to work most powerfully.

We tend to make things very complicated, though. We (at least in our culture) tend to think that the more complex something is, the better. But God’s will for the church seems rather simple. Christians are to read and hear God’s word, and obey it. Christians are to fellowship together. They are to gather to worship in Christ’s name. They are to love one another, using the spiritual gifts and resources they have to encourage, edify, and care for one another. They are to partake in the sacraments that Christ has ordained – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And they are to be people of prayer. Simple, right? Very uncomplicated.

Ironically, Christians today often overlook and neglect these ordinary means of grace.

They neglect the word of God. They do not listen to it intently when it is read and preached on the Lord’s Day. They do not listen to it taught by the shepherds and teachers that Christ has given to the church (Ephesians 4:11-14). They do not read it themselves, nor do they seek to thoughtfully apply it to their lives. They neglect the fellowship, too. They may be present on the Lord’s Day, but the fellowship they neglect. Friends, true fellowship involves more than being here on a Sunday morning. It involves loving your brothers and sisters in Christ, developing relationships with them, and using your spiritual gifts and resources to build them up. And they neglect the Supper. Some are absent from the church altogether, therefore they do not partake. Others partake but remain unaware of the significance of it. And many are negligent in regard to prayer. They are not faithful in it personally nor with the church.

And ironically, it tends to be these folks – the ones who overlook and neglect the ordinary means of grace – who are most vocal, insisting that the church do more! What we need are more programs, more ministries, more events, more conferences, more vision – more, more, more.

May I suggest to you that God has given us all we need for health within the church itself as she devotes herself to the ordinary means?

Let me illustrate the principle using the family. There are some parents who believe that the key to raising healthy children is to have them involved in everything under the sun. And so the family is constantly busy, running this way and that. There they go, off to gymnastics, baseball, art, karate, football, and piano. They’re gone most weekends, and rarely at church. They’re out of the house most nights. Rarely is the family home all at once. Rarely do they share a meal together. Rarely do they talk about meaningful things.

You see, the parents have erred in that they have put their hope in the wrong things, while neglecting those things which really bring life, depth, and maturity to the family. Are they busy? Yes! Are they exhausted at the end of the day? Yup! Are the parents trying hard, investing greatly into their children because they love them? Sure! But they have set their hope in the wrong things, while neglecting the essential things which bring life.

Friends, churches can make the same mistake. There are some who assume that a church is healthy when the calendar is full, the people are busy, everyone with a job, a task, a “ministry”. A church is healthy, they think, when everyone is pouring themselves out to the max. And so there they go with the complex program, another conference, another crusade, another event, some new sophisticated plan that will fill the calendar and busy the people.

Why, friends? Why the busyness? Why not do what Christ has called us to do? Why not do a few things well, authentically, and from the heart?

Do you want a vision for the church? This is our vision – to slow down – to devote ourselves to these ordinary means of grace – to structure the church as Christ has structured it – and to call each member and each officer to do their part according the scriptures – nothing more, and nothing less.

The scriptures are clear concerning these things. The scriptures are clear as to what the nature of the church is, how she is to be organized, what her mission is, are what she is to devote herself to in the accomplishment of that mission.

This brief sermon series on prayer has been an attempt to call you back to one of these essential, ordinary means of grace. I got a little fiery a couple of weeks ago. No one would talk to me after the sermon. You were thinking, “he’s mad…” But then I heard a number of people say, “I liked it!” Don’t expect it all the time, friends. I’ve always been put off by preachers who are constantly yelling and red in the face. It seems very disingenuous when it happens all the time. But do expect it from me when I sense some apathy within you, or when I believe that you are in some danger. I’ll raise my voice then.

And I do sense apathy when it comes to prayer. I see that some are a fearful. But I wonder if you are not running to other things to alleviate your fears rather than to God in prayer. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7, ESV) I see that some are anxious. But I wonder if you’re surrendering to the the anxiety, rather than fighting against it in prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7, ESV) I see discontentment in some. But we are to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4, ESV).

Friends, busyness is not what we need. We need to pray. And busy people don’t  pray. I hope that you are a hard working people – a diligent people – people who make the most out of every day – but never so busy that these ordinary means of grace become neglected.

In this sermon series we have considered the essence of prayer: Prayer is at it’s core communion with the living God. It is “communication between God and us whereby we expound to him our desires, our joys, our sighs, in a word, all thoughts of our hearts” (Calvin, Instruction in Faith, 57).

We have also considered the effectiveness of prayer: It is the means through which God accomplishes his purposes. Prayer works, therefore, we are to labor in it.

We’ve also briefly considered different types of prayers: There are prayers of adoration in which we worship God. There are prayers in which we make vows to God. There are prayers in which we confess our sins to God. There are prayers in which we give thanks to God. And there are also prayers in which we make supplication, or requests, to God. Intercession is when we make requests to God on behalf of others.

We’ve also considered the substance of prayer: What should our prayers be about? The Lord’s Prayer answers this question. In it the Lord provides categories for us. He takes our unfocused and often self centered minds and focuses them so that we might pray according to the will of God.

But what about the accidentals of prayer (accidentals being those things that have to do with prayer, but are not connected to the essence of prayer itself)? The questions I have in mind here are, when should we pray? Where should we pray? What should our posture be when we pray? With what attitude should we pray? And on what basis are we able to pray?

The answer I give is this: Christians are to pray at all times, in all places, on bended knee, with hearts washed pure, full of faith, giving thanks, in Jesus’ name.

At All Times

So when is a Christian to pray? The answer is, at all times.

It is important that we set aside time for focused and thorough prayer. If we are to labor in prayer, making supplications for ourselves and interceding on behalf of others, we need to devote time to it. Perhaps we should carve out time for prayer in the morning before we face the day or at night before we go to bed? Perhaps we could do both? The more time we invest, the more specific our prayers can be. It is here, during this time, that we should pray though the categories provided for us in Lord’s Prayer.

That said, we should also pray continuously. We should offer up spontaneous prayers to God throughout the day. Prayer may be offered to up while driving, while in the market, while we are conversing with others, while working, while playing. We are to pray without ceasing. We are ri “rejoice in the Lord always”.

Friends, we live in God’s world. God is not confined to the church, nor is he confined to your home. He is with you in the world. All things are from him and for his glory. Nothing in life is insignificant. Nothing in life is outside of his purview. We should continually commune with him, then – not just in the church, and not just in the quite place, but always. We should giving thanks always, rejoicing in his goodness. We should forever plead for his help. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, ESV)

In All Places

Where, then, should the Christian pray? In all places, of course!

It is important that we learn to pray alone in a private place. Jesus said, “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.” (Matthew 6:6, ESV)

When we pray in a private place we pray, not to be seen by men, but to commune with God. We pray knowing that he hears us and that he rewards those who seek him. When we pray in a private place, it is then that we are most free to bring our honest desires before God, and to make thorough supplication for ourselves and others. Our public prayers are typically guarded. But we are free to express the concerns and desires of our hearts to God when we have a personal appointment with him.

Of course we are to also pray with others. We should pray with our families. Husbands and wives should pray together. Parents ought to pray with their children. We should pray with friends and with extended family, if they are in Christ. And we ought to pray with the church. The church is to pray during corporate worship, in prayer meetings, and as Christians gather throughout the week. The early church devoted themselves to prayer.

On Bended Knee

What is the proper posture in prayer? Here I say we are to pray on bended knee.

I speak metaphorically, of course. I do no think that our bodily posture matters to God.  The scriptures contain a variety of examples of posture in prayer. It would be difficult to make a case for one posture to be preferred over another. Are we to pray with eyes closed, eyes open, or lifted to heaven? Are we to pray with hands folded, held out, or lifted up? Are we to lay prostrate, kneel, sit or stand? Should we pray facing east?

Friends, what matters is the posture of the heart. We are to come to God humbly. Our hearts should be bowed low.

Should we pray out loud, or in the quiet of our hearts? It matters little. God hears our verbal and non verbal prayers. I write mine. It helps me to focus.

Also, should our prayers be spontaneous or prepared? I would say that normally our prayers should be spontaneous. But there are times when prepared prayers are appropriate. You probably notice that Mike prepares the prayer that he prays before the sermon. I like that. I prepare prayers for weddings and funerals. It seems appropriate to me. Some might complain, saying, shouldn’t we be led by the Spirit in our prayers? My response: who’s to say that the Spirit cannot lead us in our time of preparation?

Friends, we ought to prepare our hearts for prayer.

With Hearts Washed Pure

It’s particularly important that we come with hearts washed pure.  Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling…” (1 Timothy 2:8, ESV) James said that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16, ESV) And Peter reminds us that husbands who fail to show honor to their wives have their prayers hindered (1 Peter 3:7). There is a connection, then, between our holiness and the effectiveness of our prayers.

Just as we would prefer to drink pure water from a clean cup, so to God is please to receive clean prayers from those who are pure. It is not that we are forbidden to come to God if we have sinned, but that when we come, we should come repentant. To sin, and to go on sinning in an unrepentant state, turns our prayers from a sweet smelling aroma in the nose of God to a stench.

Have you ever had a conflict with someone you love? Of course you have. What must happen before you get on with your relationship? There must be reconciliation! So it is with God. Do not sin against him and then go on as if there were no problem. That is an offense to God. Repent, brothers and sisters, and then pray.  We ought to come to God with hearts washed pure.

Full Of Faith

Also, there is a connection between our faith and the effectiveness of our prayers. James says,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5–8, ESV)

Do you remember the story from Mark 9 concerning the boy with an unclean spirit. The boy’s Father cried out to Jesus saying, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22, ESV) Jesus replied,

“‘If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’” (Mark 9:23–25, ESV)

It is not that praying in faith guarantees that we will have what we ask for. And it is not necessarily the case that a person who does not receive what he asks for be lacking in faith. What is clear is that we must pray in faith, believing that God is ready and able to help us.

Giving Thanks

Friends, our prayers should also be filled with thanksgiving. There really are two kinds of prayers – prayers of thanksgiving and supplications. We should set aside time in our prayers, not only for making requests, but also to give thanks for all that God has has provided. This is very good for the soul.

But really even our supplications should be peppered with thanksgiving. Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Let us give thanks to God in our prayers, and so guard against covetousness.

In Jesus’ Name

Lastly, we are to pray in Jesus’ name. This means that we are to pray through him and by virtue of all he has accomplished for us. We come to the Father in his name, by his power, and through his righteousness earned for us. Our prayers are Trinitarian, then. We pray to the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13, ESV)


Friends, these are basic things, I know. But there is power in them. Prayer is an ordinary means of grace. It should not be overlooked nor neglected. And it should be engaged in properly. I trust that the Lord will build his church strong and true and pure as we are faithful in those things that he has called us to.

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