I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Prayer that is Genuine
Warren Wiersbe, in The Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, told this interesting story. He said:
Mr. and Mrs. Dwight L. Moody often had guests in their Chicago home. One evening, after a very demanding day, Moody asked a visiting Christian to lead in family devotions. The man waxed eloquently as he expounded the symbolism in a difficult chapter of the Bible. Then he prayed at great length. When the worship was over, Mrs. Moody and the guest got up from their knees, but Moody remained bowed in prayer. The guest thought that he was praying, but Mrs. Moody soon detected that her husband was--asleep!
Sadly, when many people think of prayer today they thing about people like this who have these long drawn out uninteresting mini-sermons that put you, or the praying person themselves to sleep. But that is not what prayer should be like. It is an intimate conversation with someone you love and someone you want to spend time with regularly. Jesus Himself would often slip away to a secluded spot to talk with His Heavenly Father while on this earth.
And in His Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, there is a section in which He deals exclusively with how to pray and how not to pray. Much of the sermon has dealt with correcting the religious leaders of His time and how they interpreted various aspects of the law of Moses. In Matthew 6:1-14, He begins again to tell them not to act like the hypocrites do and then goes on to teach what genuine prayer looks like.
As we delve into this passage of Scripture we want to be careful not be lured into the folly of using prayer as a public display of our own greatness before crowds of people. We want, rather, to realize what a true privilege it is to be talking intimately with the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe who has graciously allowed us to come into His presence.
Lets look at this passage and glean from it what a genuine prayer life, that brings glory to our Father in Heaven, should be look like.
I. Genuine Prayer Begins in Private (6:5-6)
Jesus begins His talk on prayer by showing them that a genuine prayer life begins in private. He isn't saying anything against public prayers themselves but rather those public prayers that are given by people just to show how holy they are. Genuine prayer begins with a proper heart toward God. That is why Jesus tells His followers:
"When you pray, your are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full. 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." (6:5-6).
Once again Jesus tells them not to be like the hypocrites. This Greek word, hupokrités, as we stated in a previous message, came from the theatre referring to a character in a play who wore a mask in order to pretend to be someone he wasn't. A hypocrite is one who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion, or one who acts in contradiction to their stated beliefs or feelings.
Jesus gave His worst condemnation to the Scribes and Pharisees because they acted hypocritically ( Matthew 23:13-36). God hates the sin of hypocrisy and He wants His people to have a genuine love for Him which compels them to communicate with Him.
One of the ways that we can tell if a relationship is having trouble is the fact that the people cease to communicate with one another. A good love life always has a good communication life. It is true between husband and wife, as well as between friends and others whom we love. And it is just as true between us and our God. We must always keep the lines of communication open if we want to grow in our relationship with the Lord.
II. Genuine Prayer is Done Meaningfully (6:7,8)
The next thing that we can learn from our Savior is that true prayer is always done meaningfully. Jesus tells us:
"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetitions as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what your need before you ask Him." (6:7-8).
Many of us who grew up in the Christian faith learned prayers like:
"God is great, God is good. And we thank Him for our food. By His hands we are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread."
"Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake; I pray the Lord my soul to take."
These may or may not be good ways to teach children how to pray but they definitely are examples of meaningless repetitions as adults today. Prayers are not to be merely recited as some kind of formula that gets Gods attention or repeated thoughtlessly and automatically.
Many of the pagans in Jesus' day would mindlessly repeat empty phrases over and over again. They used babble and robotic-like chants instead of sincerely talking to their gods. Many saw the words themselves as some magical spell that had to be 'just right' in order for their god to hear them. They believed that the prayer itself had some sort of independent power to cause the gods to do what they desired.
None of this is true when it comes the our God and Heavenly Father. We sincerely speak to Him directly as we would with any person that we loved and respected. Not flippantly, and disrespectfully however. We do have to remember that He is God and not just some cosmic buddy out there somewhere. However, we address Him like we realize that He is someone who knows us, cares for us deeply, and desires to have a relationship with us, which He does.
He is a God who is already acquainted with our needs but wants us to come to Him humbly asking for what we want from Him. He won't push Himself upon us but allows us to use our free will to acknowledge Him. And He isn't one that we have to beg to give us what we need. He will provide just as any good earthly parent will do that knows what a child has to have in order to survive and thrive.
III. Genuine Prayer Includes Praise (6:9)
As we look further at the next two verse, (9), we see Jesus beginning to give a model of genuine prayer which has become known as the Lord's Prayer. Unfortunately, many in the Christian world today have used this prayer in the same way as Jesus just warned His disciples against. They mindlessly repeat it without much thought.
While there is nothing wrong with memorizing it, or any Scripture for that matter, we must be careful not to make it into a liturgy that we recite in the place of genuine heartfelt prayer to the Lord.
Jesus tells us:
"Pray then in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name." (6:9)
Genuine prayer from the heart always includes some kind of acknowledgement of what the Lord has done and who He is. We focus on Him as He reveals Himself, acknowledging His attributes, including His holiness. We realize that He, His Kingdom, and His glory are the focus of our lives and not ourselves.
People who seek their own glory don't really understand who they were before the Lord saved them. Without Him we would all be lost and on our way to Hell, separated from a holy God for eternity.
Now our identity is in the fact that we are sons and daughters of the living God through faith in Jesus Christ. So our main focus is always to be on Him, including His plans for us which will lead to our ultimate good no matter what the situation is that we may now be facing. This brings us to the next section of the pray of our Lord. And it teaches us that genuine prayer includes submission to God's will.
IV. Genuine Prayer Includes Submission to God's Will (6:10)
Jesus goes on to tell His disciples to pray:
"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (6:10).
The will of God being done on this earth as it is in heaven begins with God's own people obeying Him and putting Him first in every aspect of our lives. And we demonstrate that fact to a lost world who puts no one first but themselves.
We completely trust our lives into His hands. We are to submit to His will as we learn it from His Word. Then we ask the Spirit to guide us to live out His priorities in our lives and in the lives of our family. Finally, we seek the Spirit's counsel before we make any major decisions. A Christian must not listen to their 'inner voice' but the voice of the Spirit as He speaks to us from His Word and the godly people that He places around us.
By these things we can better assure that God's will is done on earth through us as it is in heaven.
This brings us to another aspect of genuine prayer. Genuine prayer includes godly requests.
V. Genuine Prayer Includes Godly Requests (6:11)
There is nothing wrong with requests as long as they are not the only things that we ever pray about. Some people never come to God unless they are in a crisis or have something that He can give them. I wonder how parents would feel if their children never came to see them or talked with them unless they needed something from them? That is exactly how God feels when His children do this with Him.
However, God, the perfect parent, wants us to have what we need as well. And He will not withhold the needs from those who ask. Our problem is that we sometimes confuse our needs with our desires.
That is why we must check our requests with the will of God. They must be within biblical values and principles. And we must be tenacious with our requests. God honors persistence. Also we must realize that this earth is not all that there is to reality. Ultimately, our needs are permanently provided for us in heaven when we spend eternity with God. Then all the struggles and problems here on earth will seem to be as nothing compared to the glory that we will experience there.
VI. Genuine Prayer Includes Confession of Sin (6:13)
Jesus further tells His followers to ask:
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (6:13).
Here Jesus is teaching His disciple to hold short accounts with God through confession of sin. Genuine prayer includes confession of sins. But what does this mean when He ties His forgiveness to forgiving others?
Whatever, this means it does not tell us that one's salvation is based upon forgiveness of others. Other Scriptures make it clear that this isn't the case. And we don't have to leave the gospels to find this.
In the book of John it tells us:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16).
And John 3:36 tells us that:
"He that believes on the Son has everlasting life. And He that doesn't believe in the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on Him."
I like what Gotquestions.org has to say about this section. They tell us:
"Matthew 6 does not teach that our eternal destiny is based on our forgiving other people; however, it does teach that our relationship with God will be damaged if we refuse to pardon those who have offended us. The Bible is clear that God pardons sin by His grace based on Christ’s work on the cross alone, not on man’s actions. Our right standing before Him is established on one thing only—the finished work of Christ (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). The penalty for the sin that is rightly ours is paid by Christ, and we obtain it by grace through faith, not by any righteous deeds of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). No one will be able to stand before God demanding that his sins be forgotten simply because he has forgiven others. Only when we are born again and given a new life through God’s Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ are our sins forgiven. Therefore, Jesus is not referring to God’s initial act of forgiveness (reconciliation) that we experienced when we first believed the Gospel."
I would add that those who teach different ways of salvation in the Old and in the New Testaments are wrong. Some say that people were saved by following the works of the law in the Old Testament and those in this dispensation are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone now. To say this is to say that Christ's death was meaningless. Why did He have to die if man could be saved by works at all.
No man was ever saved by the works of the Law according to Romans 3:20. The Law was originally given to the people of Israel who already were in a covenant relationship with God. And they, like Abraham, according to Paul, were saved by placing their faith in the one true God, according to the knowledge that they had been given at the time. Romans 4:4,5 tells us that Abraham was saved by faith.. Ultimately the Old Testament saints were saved by the blood of Christ just as all men are saved. The law, rather than save, acted like a schoolmaster to lead believers to Christ (Galatians 3:20).
So what is Jesus talking about here when he ties forgiveness of sins to forgiveness of others. Gotquestions.org gives us some understanding of this as well. They say:
"What He is referring to is the day-to-day cleansing we obtain when we confess our sins in order to restore fellowship with our heavenly Father—the fellowship which is interrupted by the daily tarnishing of sin that affects us all. This is not the wholesale cleansing from sin that comes with salvation by grace through faith, but is more like the foot-washing Jesus describes in John 13:10. The “whole body is clean,” He told the disciples, but their feet were dirty from their walking in the world. Forgiveness in this sense is what God threatens to withhold from Christians who refuse to forgive others."
Yet another possibility of tying refusing to forgive to the Father's forgiveness of sin is that those who refuse to forgive may be demonstrating the fact that they were never redeemed in the first place. Anyone who has been saved should realize that what others have done to us is nothing compared to what we have done to a holy God. And He forgave us our sins when we were His enemies (Romans 5:8) So, we should forgive just as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).
Jesus just told His disciples earlier that His followers should not seek retribution against their enemies but love them and pray for those who persecute them in Matthew 5:44,45.
Now in chapter 6 He is making it clear that being a Son of God includes forgiveness of others' sins against us.
So a genuine believer confesses sins to God realizing that the Lord expects him to accept his brothers who sinned against him just as God accepts us when we sin against His holy will, as we humbly confess our faults before Him. We accept others as the Lord has accepted us.
V. Genuine Prayer Seeks God's Power Against Sin (13-15)
A final mark of a genuine prayer is seeking God's help or power in staying away from sin and Satan's influence. Jesus tells the disciples to pray:
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen."
James 1:13 teaches us that God Himself doesn't tempt men but He does allow them to have trials which may expose them to Satan's assaults and temptations. This happened with both Job and Peter, for example.
This petition is a believer's desire to avoid evil altogether if that is within the Lord's will. God has promised not to test us beyond what we can endure but will give us a way to escape (I Corinthians 10:13). However, it is not wrong to ask to be delivered from evil altogether, if at all possible, and still be in the will of God. Even Jesus asked His Father regarding the crucifixion:
“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Matthew 22:42).
We, like Him, should seek Divine power and intervention to bring us through every evil attack and temptation that we face.
The last part of this prayer is a doxology that leads us right back to acknowledging God, His Kingdom and His glory:
"For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." (6:13b)
And the final verse that follows the prayer in this section brings us back to the sin of unforgiveness which Jesus talked about earlier. And the Lord reminded His followers that their relationship with their heavenly Father is affected by that unforgiveness.
Once again, this verse can't mean a withdrawing of justification or our eternal relationship with the Father that comes from that justification. That kind of relationship is only achieved and kept by the death of Christ on the cross (John 5:24). It does mean that unforgiveness keeps you from the intimacy that a holy life brings a person. So if you are seeking God's power against sin and Satan, it begins by forgiving your brother just as God has forgiven you.
In conclusion, we can say that prayer is the intimate communication that one has with the holy God of the universe whom we have, through faith, received as our Heavenly Father. Prayer is not something that we do to make others see us. We don't perform to demonstrate how pious and holy that we are.
The God who created us and gave us eternal life, wants to commune with us. Not because He needs us. He doesn't have any needs. Rather we need Him for the very air that we breath and the spark which causes our hearts to beat. He simply wants to communicate with us and have us to do the same with Him, because He loves us.
May we never take the fact for granted that God even allows us in His presence. But may we, as long as we live, seek a time where we can privately and meaningfully praise Him, submit to His will, request our needs to Him, and confess our sins that we may have done that has hurt the relationship that we have with our Lord.
God is always available and He is never more than a prayer away. Let us thank Him for His availability to us by always being willing to come into His presence by our prayers.
© 2021 Jeff Shirley