LORD TEACH US TO PRAY
A Study of Matthew 6:5-15
Prayer offers us a chance to directly communicate with God, but did you know that there are effective and less effective ways of praying? Jesus taught that there is a hierarchy of approaches to prayer, and showed how the most intimate connection with God can come from the least public form of praying. The important thing is to not consider prayer as a means to ask God for this and that, for He is all-knowing, and is already aware of our legitimate needs and desires. Rather, we should use prayer to focus our thoughts on God so that we may see the path He has created for us to follow. To help us to pray in this way, Jesus even supplied us with a “model” prayer, which is the Lord’s Prayer. The text introduces us to the “model” prayer, and shows how its components may be applied to all praying situations.
Pastor Paul from the pulpit
How do you talk to your friends? How do you talk to your parents, if they are still alive? Do you speak openly and share your inner most thoughts and feelings? Do you talk about things that interest them? Perhaps, you only talk about the things that interest you. When it comes to prayer, both personal and corporate, many feel as though they are at a loss for words.
A father took his young son into town one day as he ran errands. At lunchtime, they went to a familiar diner for a sandwich. The father sat at a counter stool and lifted the boy onto the seat beside him. They ordered lunch, and when the waiter brought the food, the father said,
– “Son, we’ll just have a silent prayer.”
The father finished his prayer first, and waited for his son to also finish so they could begin their meal. The boy sat with his head bowed for an unusually long time. When he finally looked up, his father asked him,
– “What in the world were you praying about all that time?”
The little boy answered,
– “How do I know? It was a silent prayer.”
Being at a loss for words in prayer is understandable; it is also understandable when people are not sure what to pray for.
As a boy, Robert Louis Stevenson, once said to his mother,
– “Momma, you can’t be good without praying.”
His mother asked,
– “How do you know, Robert?”
– “I have tried!”
This brings to mind a story about another little fellow who had been sent to his room because he had been naughty. He emerged a short time later and said to his mother,
– “I have been thinking about what I did and I said a prayer.”
His mother responded,
– “That is fine, if you ask God to make you good, He will help you.”
The little fellow replied,
– “Oh, I did not ask God to help me be good, I asked God to help you put up with me.”
In Matthew 6 of Scripture’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches the matter of prayer. He begins by distinguishing between prayers that are sincere and those that are not. Jesus says,
– “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth they have received their reward in full.”
Jesus is referencing the custom of devout Jews who prayed three times a day reciting the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6&11 and Numbers 15. It was also Jewish custom to pray at nine in the morning, noon, and three in the afternoon. Jews not in the temple at these times were to stop wherever they were, turn toward the temple, and pray. Many Pharisees planned their day so that they would be in a conspicuous place when they prayed. They would make elaborate showy presentations. Jesus took aim at this group and the ritualistic nature of their prayers. They repeatedly recited the same prayers. They would continue until it just began to sound as if they were babbling.
Jesus points out that because these folks were so focused on being noticed, the recognition they received was their reward from God. Conversely, Jesus instructs His followers to go into a room, close the door, and pray. It’s not that He wanted them to pray in secrecy, though this is a good practice during personal prayer time. Rather, they were to accept that …
… personal prayer is a time to be intimate with God.
Jesus expands on the Old Testament concept of prayer being a conversation with God. Prayer was a means to draw closer to God.
By contrasting various approaches to prayer, Jesus informs His listeners that God is not interested in the length of our prayer, or how eloquent we recite it. Rather, He focused on the condition of our hearts.
What and how much we say does not get God’s attention, but what we think and how we feel about the things of God does.
This view of prayer was radically new to the Jewish community. Still in place was the priestly system, where people would present their prayer requests to the priest, who would represent them before God. This is why Jesus refers to the fact God already knows our needs before we articulate them. Since God is all-knowing, providing Him with a laundry list of things we think we need is unnecessary.
Using prayer to focus solely on God, what He wants us to do, and how He wants us to go about His business, is the most beneficial approach to prayer.
To help His listeners, Jesus offers an outline for personal and corporate prayer. What we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 was designed to be only a blueprint for how we should pray. It was not meant to be taken as a prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is also reflected in John 17, where Jesus Himself is actually praying.
By definition, the Lord’s Prayer would be any prayer Jesus prayed.
There are two basic elements inherent in Jesus’ model prayer that distinguish it from the ritualistic rote prayers Jesus discouraged:
– Making prayer personal in approach
– Using specific language in our prayers
These two elements transform the stiffness of “canned” pre-printed prayers into genuine warm conversation with a loving God and a caring Savior. Jesus presents an approach to prayer that fosters an intimate expression of relationship with God, who is our Father. He also provides a summary of the beautiful relationship the believer has with God.
When we examine the structure of the model Jesus offers, it is divided into two parts:
– Thy Kingdom Come … The future consummation of God’s Kingdom (vs. 9&10)
– Thy Will be Done … God’s current action in our lives (vs. 11-13)
These two statements summarize the focus of the model Jesus offers us …
We should pray with one eye focused on the future fulfillment of God’s Kingdom, where all of God’s people will be gathered in the safety of God’s presence.
This will be a time of no more threats of global terrorism, cancer, HIV/Aids, H1N1 virus, or anything else that can compromise our existence on Earth.
We should keep another eye on God’s present activity in our lives as He prepares us for entry into His Kingdom by molding us into the image of Christ Jesus.
How then should we pray? Following the pattern Jesus provided, we can employ the following guiding points as we converse with God:
Approach God as “Our” heavenly Father – All children who love their parents also adore and honor them. We pay homage to presidents, heads of state, athletes, and celebrities. Is not God worthy of a higher and greater honor?
Express intent to submit to God’s divine will, whatever it may be – If our true desire is to experience the coming of God’s Kingdom, then it begins with our desire to see the will of God done in our lives and on Earth.
Pledge total dependence on God for our material and spiritual sustenance – Martin Luther once said, “Pray as if everything depended on God and then work as if everything depended on you.”
Seek forgiveness and the willingness to forgive – The best way to learn forgiveness is to ask God to apply to us the same standard we should use for forgiving others: “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.”
Turn the reins for directing our lives over to God – God, Our Father, wants to provide us with the guidance and direction we so desperately need. However, He can do so only if we let Him, by ceding control of our lives to Him: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from….”
Jesus teaches us that prayer does not – and is not intended to – change God. Rather, prayer changes us. As we think only of God in prayer, God through prayer lifts us out of self and out of the narrowness of our selfish thoughts, feelings, hopes and desires.
Jesus teaches us that prayer is surrender – surrender to the will of God and a pledge to cooperate with that will.
If I throw out a boathook from a boat, catch hold of the shore, then pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore?
Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.
How can we align our will to the will of God? We can only do so through Jesus Christ, our anchor. If you do not know Jesus, please take a moment to acquaint yourself with Him.
I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.
You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.
I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.
In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer.
Sunday 15 November 2009
May God Bless You