We are about to begin a new sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer called “Pray Then Like This.” We will be spending nine weeks going through the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew 6:5-13. Many of us know the prayer from memory, but we might not stop and think of the riches found in this prayer. Often prayer is the least important part of our life, and we can see that from our planner. Prayer is a last resort but should be our first line of defense. This week we will be looking at the preceding verses found in Matthew6:5-8.
Matthew 6:5–8 (ESV)
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.
6But 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.
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.
8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
The section is found in the sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), and this section of the sermon (Matt 6:1-24) looks at how a Christian should live. Giving, Praying, Forgiving, Fasting, and Looking eternally. Verses 4-8 give us two ways that we should not pray and also two ways and reasons we should pray.
1. Don’t Pray Like the Hypocrites (vs. 5-6)
The hypocrites, typically pious religious leaders (Matt 7:5. 15:7, 23:13-29), love to stand on the street corners to have their prayers heard by others. A hypocrite is a masked actor who hides behind a self-made perception that desires to have people see them as they wish to be seen. It was common for Jews to pray in the morning, afternoon, and evening (Ps 55:17). However, some would stop and pray in a pretentious manner drawing attention to themselves. The hypocrite loves to pray publicly because they are seen by others, boosting their self-made perception of piousness. The hypocrite is like the Pharisee that prays in Luke 18:9-14, which compares himself to others. Jesus warns his disciples not to pray like the hypocrite who prays only to be seen by others.
Does this passage forbid Public prayer? No (cf. 1 Tim 2:8). Jesus prayed publicly (John 17), the early church prayed corporately (Acts 1:4, 12:12) and the church was commanded to pray (Eph 6:18). If you would like more references, please let me know. Public prayer is not praying to the public; public prayer is praying to God publicly. Prayer is not preaching to others but supplication, confession, thanksgiving, and doxology to God.
Unlike the hypocrite who prays to be seen by men, a Christian prays to be seen by God. We do not pray to be heard by men but rather to be in communion with God. This is in great contrast to the hypocrite; we pray in a secret place, not a public arena. We follow the example of Christ as he withdrew to pray (Luke 6:12, Mark 1:35, etc.). Andrew Murray said, “What a difference it would make in the life of many if everything in the closet were subordinate to this one thing: I want through the day to walk with God.” What a prayer that we should have daily to walk with God today. We pray in secret because God is in secret; nothing is hidden from God. Prayer should be the silent motor that drives the church forward. Charles Spurgeon said that the prayer room is the engine room and “if the engine room is out of action then the whole mill will grind to a halt. We cannot expect blessing if we do not ask.” We cannot expect people to come to Christ, nor the church to grow unless prayer is the backbone. We should all seek to have prayer an essential part of our lives. “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is—and no more,” Robert Murray McCheyne said. What would your closet say about your prayer life? Do you pray in secret? Do you see prayer as communion with the living God? I need to grow in this area as well.
2. Don’t’ pray like the gentiles (vs. 7-8)
The second instruction Jesus gives is not the pray like the gentiles. The gentiles pray copiously and hopefully. They pray many words too many gods, hoping that maybe one of the gods might hear them and answer their prayers. They babble in the hope that few words might stick from the many they utter. Like throwing a handful of spaghetti in the hope that one might stick. We should be cautious about using many words (Prov 10:19), but also in prayer (Mark 12:40, Luke 20:47). The longer the prayer does not make it more holy. A long prayer that is praying for your own will to be done, and not God’s will can never be answered. Maybe we, with a prayer with eloquent words, is holier than prayer with simple words. Some of the simplest prayers are the most meaningful; often, Stella will pray, and her childlike prayers cut me right to the heart. Simple prayers, “give me Jesus,” “Forgive me,” or “Come, Lord Jesus, take big steps.” The Tax collector in Luke 18 prays, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This does not then mean we should only ever pray five-word prayers because we see many different prayer lengths within the Bible, from Peter’s prayer “Lord, save me” (Matt 14:30) or longer prayers of John 17 or Nehemiah 9.
Christians pray knowingly. God knows everything for he is omniscient (All-knowing); he knows the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7, Matt 10:30). The Psalmist writes, “before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely” (Psalm 139:4). No creature is hidden from his sight (4:13). However, a Christian can pray to their Father in heaven because he knows them personally (Luke 12:29-30, John 10:14-15). Even in our prayers, we can pray, knowing God knows what we need before we pray. When we have no words, the Spirit intercedes for us on our behalf (Rom 8:26). A great book on the topic is “If God already knows, why pray?” by Dr. Douglas Kelly. John Bunyan says, “When you pray, rather let your hearts be without words than your words without a heart.” We would be better to pray from the heart with few words. This should motivate and invigorate us to prayer, that we have a Father in heaven who knows our needs, and we can ask him (1 John 5:14, John 16:23). We should be praying people because we know the God we pray to, unlike the gentiles, their prayers based-on merit, and getting the right formula. Our prayers are based on praying to God, our Father.
We will be looking at the Lord’s prayer as we learn how to pray, and especially as we pray to God, our Father, next week. Let us be reminded that prayer is effective and powerful, able to change the stone hearts of men into blood-pumping hearts devoted to God. Let us pray that we might be able to gather together soon and joyfully worship our God. Let us also pray for revival in this area that many might come to know God and pray to Him as their Father.