On Prayer (Matthew 6:5-8)Nov 22, 2022
“Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul.” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones).
What is prayer?
It is helpful to know how prayer should work. Prayer is not a gift that we are born with or received from God, but a discipline that we learn (Luke 11:1), develop and need a conscious effort to practice. Without it there is no way to relate to God and without a relationship with Him there is no point in being a Christian. A relationship is only developed through dialogue, and prayer is nothing more than that - dialogue between man and God.
Matthew 6:5 - “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.”
The word “hypocrites” means performer, actor. They are looking for people's applause, approval, and they have already received the reward: people's applause and approval.
See, for example, Luke 18:10-12 - “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”
A hypocrite is someone who pretends. That's why we don't like hypocrisy. Hypocrisy creates false relationships. Do you realize the depth of what Jesus is saying? Jesus is exposing pretenders (those who cultivate pretended relationships with God).
Jesus knows the truth about us. We are needy people, but usually we like to pretend that we are good, complete, we don’t need anyone. So, here's the problem. We don't pray because, deep down, we are hypocrites. We don't pray because we pretend that we don't need God. We think we can live life our way and solve things with our own strength. And this is absurd!
It is fundamentally hypocritical not to pray. As well, it is fundamentally hypocritical not to go to church. Because we pretend that we don't need others. We think: I don't need the preaching of the Word of God; I do not need the fellowship of the body of Christ; and when I was saved, I was saved alone in a kingdom where I am the only person in it. This is hypocrisy: putting on a mask and pretending to be more than we really are.
Matthew 6:6 - “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.”
Jesus does not prohibit public prayer (as in corporate prayer); on the contrary, it prohibits praying for the purpose of public recognition. When Jesus says to pray in the secret of our room, he wants to eliminate every motivation to show or expose piety before others.
Matthew 6:7 - “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.”
In Greco-Roman religions, repetition was used to bother the gods to grant someone's request. Some of the rabbis of Jesus' day taught that repeated prayers were effective. This type of prayer was an imitation of the pagans of the day, who were known for repetitive prayers.
When Elijah challenged the worshipers of Baal, they invoked their god; "they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted." (1 Kings 18:26).
When Paul excited Demetrius' wrath, which in turn created an uproar in Ephesus, Acts 19:34 says that the angry crowd “But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:34).
It seems that the more people moved away from true spiritual worship (spiritual life), the more they valued these vain repetitions.
Now ... this prohibition does not contradict the principle that someone should continue to ask God for what is believed to be his will (Luke 18), but it corrects the idea that God is impressed with the number of words, with eloquent speeches, voice imposition and so on.
Matthew 6:8 - “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
What a vision of God is given here, in sharp contrast to the pagan gods! We are not facing any pagan god, who does not know all things and is impressed by vain repetitions.
We are before the Almighty God, sovereign over all things, creator of heaven and earth, who has the whole universe in his hands, who has absolute control over everything and everyone.
And when Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer he says that we must address God as “Our Father in heaven ...”. While he is the all-powerful, sovereign, majestic God, king over all things, he is also a Father. He is our Father. It is our Father who knows us completely and knows all our needs.
This teaches us that our prayers do not change God. They change us. Our prayer life cannot change who God is, but it can change who we are and how we see and relate to God, our Father.
Prayer is much more than simply presenting our orders and requests to God as a grocery list (even though he already knows what we need ...). Prayer includes this, but it is much more than that. Prayer is a dialogue; we speak, and we also quiet the heart to hear the voice of God. "Be still and know that I am God," says Psalm 46:10.
Prayer is a relationship. When we pray “Our Father”, we pray with our older brother, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
(1) Has my relationship with God been intimate, as a Father – son/daughter relationship? Or has it been a superficial relationship?
(2) Has my prayer been a dialogue or a monologue?
Through prayer, we confess at the same time the weaknesses of our resources and the greatness of the resources of God's power and love. Prayer is one of the most extraordinary means of grace that we have. J. I. Packer once said that the men who know their God are before anything else men who pray.
This week I challenge you to seek to hear God's voice in prayer. He speaks to us through the Bible and he listens to us and speaks to us through prayer. Prayer (as well as reading and meditating on Scripture) is a discipline; develop the habit of having a daily prayer life, not just to speak and make requests, but to hear the voice of God and contemplate the greatness and goodness of God.
Pastor Thiago Silva