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Oct 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 15, 2017 – Matthew 6:5-8

Is Saying Prayers the Same As Prayer?

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. Matthew 6:5

Intro: Prayer is the vital function of our life in God

It is our heartbeat and respiration
– break this connection and the lights go out
• like unplugging an appliance–it simply will not work
• God did not call the temple a school house, but his “house of prayer”
◦ whatever else took place there, people were to meet with him
– it is possible to construct a religious lifestyle without prayer
• but it is an empty shell – it will not be filled with God

Even when people pray, their prayer can go wrong
– under certain conditions God refuses to listen
• for example, God told Jeremiah the prophet regarding the people of Judah:

They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear My words, and . . . have broken My covnenant which I made with their fathers.  . . . though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them (Jer. 11:10-11)

• in our passage, Jesus tells us two ways that prayer can go wrong
◦ these are prayers that never reach God
– this is his second negative example of inferior righteousness
• it begins like first, When you give and now, When you pray

V. 5, The first way prayer can go wrong

This way of prayer we learn from the “hypocrites”
– I mentioned last week, the Greek word was used of stage actors
• but for these hypocrites, it wasn’t an act–they were not pretending
• they were devout and their prayers were sincere
◦ but still, there was a disconnect – a contradiction
◦ something between their hearts and action did not add up
– remember, the spiritual life Jesus describes is a whole person

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Mt. 22:37)

• the complete devotion of a united internal and external life
• hypocrites engaged in godly activity with ungodly hearts

What was in their hearts? They love to stand and pray . . .
– the driving force of these public prayers was not prayer itself
• but to be seen or “to shine” – to make people notice
they love doing this – it wasn’t only a religious practice
• or an unconscious attempt to meet an emotional need or ego need
◦ they loved the attention they got from these theatrics
◦ that was what motivated them; to be known for their piety

Jesus’ assessment of that type of prayer: they have their reward
– one concern of every Christian has to do with getting answers to prayer
• I hear Jesus saying, “They have their answer”
• they received the response they wanted
◦ they prayed to people and got their answer from people
◦ no other response would arrive from heaven
– as soon as someone is impressed with our piety, when they say,
• “That guy isn’t afraid to pray anywhere” or
◦ “Her prayers are so lovely, so moving and eloquent”
◦ we have our reward
• these prayers do not reach God because they are aimed at different target

V. 6, How Jesus wants us to pray

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you Matthew 6:6

Hypocrites go public, Jesus wants us to go private
– I do not think it is possible to pray publically and not be aware of our human audience
• in some way, we are also speaking to them
◦ we tailor our prayers to their ears
• it makes sense that we would want them to understand what we say
◦ and to be able to agree–to say, “Amen” at the end of our prayer
◦ but it must be that for them it is like overhearing a conversation
– it is not that we’re never supposed to pray in public
• Jesus did, and gave insight for us when doing so (Mt. 18:19)
◦ but there is always a risk involved and he wants us to resist it
◦ he wants us to be aware of our attitude, motivation and what is in our hearts

The inner room of a home was used for storage or privacy
– guests were not allowed there
• and Jesus tells us to take an extra precaution, close the door
– there we are to pray to your Father
• this is the whole point of prayer, its primary objective
• this is what defines prayer
◦ prayer is our connection with God and our interaction with him
◦ it is not rattling off our grocery list

Regarding our Father, Jesus says, who is in secret
– this has bothered a few biblical scholars
• that Jesus would describe God as being in secret
(or hidden, which translates the same Greek word as we saw last week)
• nevertheless, this is a truth affirmed in scripture
◦ God transcends human sense perception

You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live! (Ex. 33:20)
No one has seen God at any time (Jn. 1:18)

– so, if we’re told to seek God, where do we go looking?
• not in any geographical place like Jerusalem or Mt. Sinai
◦ and we do not look for him with our eyes or ears
◦ or even our critical thinking skills
• the very essence of prayer is not mind-to-mind, but Spirit-to-spirit (Jn. 4:24; Ro. 14:16, 26-27)
◦ this is why the discipline of silence is so important
◦ yes, it’s a challenge to get our minds that like to wander spiritually focused
◦ but the more we train our minds to return, the stronger our focused awareness becomes

V. 7, The second way prayer can go wrong

And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words Matthew 6:7

This way of prayer we learn from the Gentiles
– in Matthew, Gentiles is typically a generalization
• it refers to people who have no knowledge of the true God
◦ and who have never been exposed to his revelation
• however, when they meet God, their faith is exemplary
◦ so with the great faith of the centurion (Mt. 8:10) and the Gentile woman (Mt. 15:28)
◦ these converts will fill heaven, while the self-righteous are locked out (Mt. 8:11-12)
meaningless repetitions is better translated, don’t babble on (New Living Translation)
• don’t cram a bunch of words into your prayers
◦ so many that it becomes tedious and you stop making sense
◦ when a person talks too much, their words become “yada, yada, yada”
• I don’t think Christians realize how much they fill their prayer with cliches
◦ though cliches are ready at hand and save time, there are two problems with this:

  1. Cliches do not require any thought
  2. Using cliches means we have not made the prayer our own

I grew up in a tradition that prided itself on the fact that our prayers did not come from a book
– we rejected liturgy, and were taught instead to rely on Holy Spirit
• what happened is that eventually we prayed same “spontaneous” prayers over and over
• we created our own liturgy of praying the same prayers
◦ it was, in fact, an “inferior liturgy”
– and another thing! You do not have to use King James English
• that does not make prayer any holier or more acceptable to God’s ears

Why do Gentiles fill their prayers with words?
– because they do not know if the gods are listening – or if they care
• they have no assurance that they’re heard
◦ so they just keep on talking

In 1 Kings chapter 18, Elijah challenged the prophets and priests of the Baal god to a showdown. They were to build an altar to their god/s and he would build an altar to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Then they would pray to Baal and Elijah would pray to Yahweh, and whichever deity responded by sending fire to the altar would prove to be the true God. All agreed and after gathering a crowd to Mt. Carmel, Elijah let the Baal prophets go first. From morning until noon they cried out to Baal, but got no response. So Elijah began teasing them, Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened. And and they fell for it! (1 Ki. 18:25-28) They cried with a loud voice and cut themselves . . . and raved all day. They did this for the same reason other Gentiles like them prayed long prayers.

• if we are talking to someone and determined to get our point across,
◦ but the other person isn’t listening or doesn’t understand us
◦ we keep on talking, hoping to finally get a meaningful response
– to avoid this trap and for prayer to be real, we have to know God and trust him
• and we have to trust him to know our prayer has been heard
• these babbling prayers do not reach God because they are not combined with trust

V. 8, Jesus encourages and reassures us

So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him Matthew 6:8

Do not be like them, because you are not in the dark like them
– our simple, child-like prayers are sufficient
• and when we make them,
◦ our Father smiles, because he already knew what we would ask

Your Father knows – prayer is not telling God, he doesn’t know already
– it is not necessary to argue with him or get him to feel sorry for us
• we simply open our hearts to him
◦ he was there with answer before the need arose

Or, as Helmut Thielicke interpreted Jesus, “Don’t you see that all your efforts, your chattering of empty phrases, your crying is like battering down a door that is already open?”

– the beauty of our Father’s love for us
• is that once we connect with God, words are optional

Conclusion: We read the gospel of Luke about a time when Jesus told a parable

It’s purpose was

that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart (Lk. 18:1)

– not lose heart over our circumstances or over our violent, unsettled world
• the solution Jesus offers us is found in prayer
• here, if we become aware of our Father hidden in this present moment,
◦ all worries and fears melt away in his perfect love
◦ this is something the hypocrites and Gentiles have not discovered

So pray to God, who is here
and pray simple prayers,
knowing his loving eyes are on you,
and do not lose heart!

One Comment

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  1. Eliot / Oct 16 2017

    The things Jesus teaches in this passage are before he actually went to the cross and died there. In a sense, his words are inferior to the ones he gave Paul to write after the cross, after the resurrection.

    The point of Jesus in Matthew’s account, was to call out those enamored with a system meant to be temporary. Children hanging onto childish spiritual possessions were intellectually reproved by Paul, for not moving on with God in the process of His Exposure. God is only hidden to the degree we are not gradually allowing Him into our ever broadening resurrection lives, brought about through baptism by the holy spirit.

    Reading God’s Word with respect to His Order and Design of Composition is the only way to know how to pray — listening first so that the content of prayer is about asking for understanding of the writing, then being better prepared for doing the real work of communication in ministry.

    It just occurred to me that a way to see baptism is like the trans identities getting so much attention these days. Once sex or race is altered, there’s no going back, and our prayers should simply reflect that reality. Prayer language, more carefully than casually worded, can be an honest hearing of one’s faith, yielding in need to ultimate love and patience.

    Silence can also be a form of self-conscious piety, if only used instead of cliches, and can lead to a sort of conjuring up more than opening up to God.
    In Paul’s prayer preaching to the Philippians, he is verbally passionate, and confesses that he is always learning more by listening more to the voice that called him and amazingly, all of us.

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