Church of the Good Shepherd

Don't Waste Your Prayers (The Five Features of Unwasted Prayer)

1.  What Is Wasted Prayer?

A.  Bad Practice

-          Yummy Sounds  / Christian Tourette syndrome

-          Long / Monk-ish

-          Talk like someone else

-          Talk to the people around you

"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. - Matthew 6:5-8

B.  Bad Theology

Richard Foster

"God has graciously allowed me to catch a glimpse into his heart, and I want to share with you what I have seen.  Today the heart of God is an open wound of love.  He aches over our distance and preoccupation.  He mourns that we do not draw near to him.  He grieves that we have forgotten him.  He weeps over our obsession with much-ness and many-ness.  He longs for our presence."

Three Year Old, when you say "no" "You Don't Love Me!"

Practical Atheists

- Reduced the promises of God down to our experience

2.  What is Un-Wasted Prayer?

A.  The Scene in Revelation 8

  • Altar in Heaven
    • Bronze altar in Temple
    • Where sacrifice was offered.
  • Twice (2x) a day, an OT Priests would offer incense at the altar
    • once in the morning and once in the evening
    • Morning sacrifice and at the Evening sacrifice.

§         He would go to the bronze altar

§         get fire

§          mingle it with incense

§         And take it in right before the Holy of Holies, right by the veil, put it on the golden altar, and he would ignite that and it would send the incense upward and it was symbolizing exactly what the people were doing outside. 

o       While he did this, the people would be outside, praying

  • This is what happened to John the Baptist's dad. He was doing this when the angel spoke to him and struck him mute.

B.  The Heart that Wants / Needs to Pray

Our Problems in Prayer is really a GOSPEL PROBLEM

Calvin quotes:

  • "The principle exercise which the children of God have is to pray; for in this way they give a true proof of their faith."
  • Prayer is "the perpetual exercise of faith."
    • It is the inevitable outcome of the presence of faith
    • Where faith exists, prayer exists
    • "Prayer is faith uttering the love and desire towards God which is natural to it."
  • Prayer is also way faith is kept alive and active.

Like two chambers of the heart.

  • Pray because you have faith
  • Pray so that you may have faith


 - "God does not give us theological abstractions. He gives us invitations."

- Prayer is not a discipline of the Christian life.  It is your life!

Have to vs. Want To

Beethoven - had to listen to it in college.

            Goal was to get a good grade and therefore make good money

            Completely self-serving for selfish gain

Keller took a class like that.

  • Contrast listening to Beethoven to make money
  • vs. paying good money to listen to Beethoven today

3.  The Five Features of Unwasted Prayer

#1 Realize that Prayer is Not Answering God's Needs, Prayer Answers Yours

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon on this very topic and called it "Robinson Crusoe's Text." He began like this:

Robinson Crusoe has been wrecked. He is left on the desert island all alone. His case is a very pitiable one. He goes to his bed, and he is smitten with fever. This fever lasts upon him long, and he has no one to wait upon him-none even to bring him a drink of cold water. He is ready to perish. He had been accustomed to sin, and had all the vices of a sailor; but his hard case brought him to think. He opens a Bible which he finds in his chest, and he lights upon this passage, "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."

That night he prayed for the first time in his life, and ever after there was in him a hope in God, which marked the birth of the heavenly life.

God and the praying man take shares ....

  • First, here is your share: "Call upon me in the day of trouble."
  • Secondly, here is God's share: "I will deliver thee."
  • Again, you take a share-for you shall be delivered.
  • And then again it is the Lord's turn-"Thou shalt glorify me."

Here is a compact, a covenant that God enters into with you who pray to him, and whom he helps. He says, "You shall have the deliverance, but I must have the glory...." Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and all that God getteth is the glory which is due unto his name.

From Desiring God by John Piper ...

  • We do not glorify God by providing his needs, but by praying that he would provide ours-and trusting him to answer.
  • God's insistence that we ask him to give us help so that he gets glory (Psalm 50:15) forces on us the startling fact that we must beware of serving God, and must take special care to let him serve us, lest we rob him of his glory.
    • The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. - Acts 17:24-25
    • "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. ...and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." - Psalm 50:12, 15

You are not praying to heal God's wounded heart.

You are praying so that He will heal yours.

#2 Be Honest With Frustration & Confusion

Keller - God answers every prayer if you knew what he knew - Jairus' daughter

-           wise

-           Gracious

-           Powerful

-           Father

#3 Talk Like God is Listening ... Because He Is

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith... - Hebrews 10:19-22


We believe that we have a personal relationship with God that impacts our lives, ministries and activities; therefore we pray because He hears and answers.

#4 Use Prayer as a War-Time Walkie-Talkie

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God." - Ezekiel 22:30-31

-          Who do we stand against?  We stand against GOD!

-          Prayer is warfare

-          It is spiritual warfare

-          In that war, a big role ... maybe the most important role ... is to stand toe-to-toe with God and remind him of His promises.

Dr. Marin Lloyd-Jones

I commend to you the reading of biographies of men who have been used by God in the church throughout the centuries, especially in revival.  And you will find this same holy boldness, this argumentation, this reasoning, this putting the case to God, pleading his own promises.  Oh, that is the whole secret of prayer, I sometimes think.  Thomas Goodwin uses a wonderful term.  He says, "Sue him for it, sue him for it." Do not leave him alone.  Pester him, as it were, with his own promise.  Quote Scripture to him.  Nd, you know, God delights to hear us doing it, as a father likes to see this element in his own child who has obviously been listening to what his father has been saying.

From Piper:

Could it be that many of our problems with prayer and much of our weakness in prayer come from the fact that we are not all on active duty, and yet we still try to use the transmitter? We have taken a wartime walkie-talkie and tried to turn it into a civilian intercom to call the servants for another cushion in the den.

In other words, following Jesus will inevitably lead us into severe conflict with evil. This evil will surround us and attack us and threaten to destroy our faith. So God has given us a transmitter. If we go to sleep it will do us no good, but if we are alert and call for help in the conflict, the reinforcements will come, and the general will not let his faithful soldiers be denied their crown of victory before the Son of man.

Life is war. And "we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities and against the powers, and against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Therefore Paul commands us to "take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, with all prayer and supplication praying on every occasion in the Spirit, and keeping awake for this with all perseverance" (Ephesians 6:12,17-18).

So we see repeatedly in Scripture that prayer is a walkie-talkie for warfare, not a domestic intercom for increasing our conveniences. The point of prayer is empowering for mission. "Pray for me that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19). "Pray for us that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ" (Colossians 4: 3). "Strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf . . . that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints" (Romans 15:30-31). "Pray for us that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified" (2 Thessalonians 3:1). "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest!" (Matthew 9: 38).  (From Desiring God, by John Piper)

How to do this?

-          Short Bursts

"I always feel it well just to put in a few words of prayer between everything I do." - Spurgeon

o       "...casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7 ESV).

C.J. Mahaney

I think if you overheard me pray, you wouldn't be impressed with the content of my prayers (and maybe that can be an encouragement to all who are listening). My prayers are simple because I am simple. When I think of casting all my cares, it is a simple acknowledgement that I am dependent upon God. At the conclusion of pastoral interactions, I must acknowledge that at best I can be a means of grace. They need the God of all grace, and I am insufficient in myself to care for them and provide for them the grace they need. Therefore I must humble myself and acknowledge my dependence upon God.

And I think that very act of pausing to pray is an act of weakening pride in my life, acknowledging that I am a dependent creature, I am not self-sufficient.

#5 Realize You Are Never Too Weak or Never Too Sinful To Pray

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Peter said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death." Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me." - Luke 22:31-34


When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me." - John 21:15-19


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