Matthew 6:5-15 (13)
Jesus moves to the second aspect of the ‘religious’ life of the Christian, prayer, beginning with two negatives before going on to the pattern for prayer.
“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. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (vs 5-6)
Two monks went to see the abbot to ask his permission to smoke. The first asked, ‘Is it all right to smoke while I am praying?’ The abbot slapped his face and ordered him to do 40 days penance. The second after asking, to the first`s astonishment, came out smiling saying he had been congratulated. ‘How did you manage that without a slap or penance?’ asked the first. ‘Simple’, replied the second, ‘You asked him whether it was all right to smoke while you were praying. I asked him if it was all right to pray while I was smoking.’ The ‘religious’ people of Jesus day had set times for prayer and would make sure that they were in very prominent places at their prayer time so they could be seen. This raises two questions. Is Jesus saying it is wrong to pray anywhere? And is only solitary prayer acceptable? No! on both counts. What he is doing, as in everything else in this sermon, is talking about our attitude. The critical phrase is “to be seen by men”. In Billy Graham`s book, ‘Just as I am’, he recalls his first visit to ‘The Whitehouse’ to see one of the US presidents. When he came out he, and those with him, knelt on the grass in front of the media glare and prayed. As he said ‘How foolish.’
Prayer is first of all communion with God. We are speaking to Him and He alone must be our focus. ‘The real danger for a man who leads a congregation in a public act of prayer is that he may be addressing the congregation rather than God.’ (D M Lloyd-Jones). We can all be guilty of this so that instead of speaking to God we preach to those who are listening, perhaps even having a crafty dig at someone, all in the guise of prayer. Or maybe we like others to hear our eloquence, our knowledge, our prayer language that they might be impressed. It doesn`t impress God. We want people to acclaim us as someone who prays. ‘Their obituary notices will refer to them as wonderful people in this matter of prayer, but, believe me, the poor heartbroken soul who cannot frame a sentence, but who has cried out in agony to God, has reached God in a way, and will have a reward, the other will never know.’ (D M Lloyd-Jones)
“They have received their reward in full.” This is why Jesus tells us to go into the secret place where there are no such distractions. It is just God and us. There we find out what our prayer life is really like and it can be a shock and we often have little to say.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (vs. 7-8)
The Greek word, ‘battalogeõ ’, translated ‘heap up empty phrases’ or ‘vain repetition’, with the emphasis on ‘vain’, is unknown in contemporary literature and is probably an onomatopoeic term for empty ‘babbling’ as NIV. Unfortunately it is not only pagans who babble on. I remember the Lord saying, ‘In the multitude of your words where am I’. I am often amazed how we think that what can seem like mindless chatter is an acceptable way of addressing our heavenly Father. I think we should listen to ourselves more and speak much less. We are not giving Him information, He knows all things!
‘There is too much praying without thinking. Making proper requests of God demands prior consideration. It is small wonder that so little happens in the area of answered prayer when one considers the lack of intelligent asking.’ (D Mains) Before looking at the Lord`s Prayer we should remember that to repeat even this mindlessly, or ‘parrot fashion’, is still classed as ‘vain repetition’. Having given the two negatives, hypocrisy and babbling, Jesus moves now to give the positive pattern for prayer.
“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (vs. 9-13)
It gives us ‘a model for fashioning our attitudes of worship, petition, forgiveness, and dependence on God`s power.’ Who, but Jesus, could produce a prayer that covers every aspect of life, leaving nothing of importance out, and in so few words. The kingdom citizen begins prayer by acknowledging their relationship to God. What an amazing thought to be able to refer to God as ‘Our Father’, ‘Abba’, daddy, but without the childish connotations. Only those who are born again can know God as their Father. It also shows that it is not just something for me but by saying ‘Our’ we recognise our part in God`s far greater purpose. The next phrase, ‘in Heaven,’ is vitally important because by it we declare we are not coming to a mate or a buddy but to the creator and sustainer of life. ‘He combines fatherly love with heavenly power, and what his love directs his power is able to perform.’ (J Stott)
The next three phrases focus on God. ‘Hallowed be Your name.’ Our desire is for God be exalted, glorified, or magnified. ‘The ‘name’, means all that is true of God, and all that has been revealed concerning God. It means God in all His attributes, God in all that He is in and of Himself, and God in all that He has done and all that He is doing.’ (D M Lloyd-Jones)
‘Your kingdom come,’ ‘The kingdom of God really means the reign of God; it means the law and rule of God.’ (D M Lloyd-Jones) ‘Your will be done,’ or as Jesus said in the garden, ‘Not my will but yours.’ I sometimes think we should pause after each phrase and ask ourselves some questions, ‘Am I doing this in my life? Does my life honour His name? Do I let God reign fully in my life? Is His will my chief desire?’ It is only then that we truly pray aright.
These next three phrases look to our needs. ‘Daily bread.’ God cares for even the smallest things. ‘To decline to mention them at all in prayer (on the ground that we do not want to bother God with such trivialities) is as great an error as to allow them to dominate our prayers.’ (J Stott) ‘Forgiveness of sin’ Notice the caveat ‘as we also.’ At the end of the prayer Jesus emphasises this point. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (vs. 14-15) Knowing, in Christ, we are forgiven such a huge debt, (Matt 18:23-35) what can we do but forgive others? To hold unforgiveness in our hearts shows we do not truly understand how much we have been forgiven. ‘Deliver us.’ God knows our frailty better than we do so we are asking Him to guide us away from temptation and to bring us out of it before it overwhelms us.
There is no wonder that someone added ‘for yours is the kingdom the power and the glory for ever. Amen.’ It is not in the original but after such a prayer can we blame them for wanting to return all the glory to God and to do that always.