PRAYER – PRACTICE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: How many of you have ever said, “Lord, have mercy?” If you grew up in the south, I’m sure you have either said that or heard that at some point. It’s a prayer, but it’s really a stress relief or an exclamation of happiness, surprise, or anger. It’s like the other one – “Lord, help me.” Again, not a real prayer, just a colloquialism. Unfortunately, they are no different from some of our “real” prayers, which are a little longer, but they have also become just an extended colloquialism. Here’s the main point of today’s message: Just because we begin with “Dear God” and end with “Amen,” it does not mean that we are really praying. Prayer is a conversation with the living true God as our heavenly father. We come to him in sincerity and speak from our hearts. As we recognize who he is and express what we need, we receive the assurance that our heavenly father is already working the best answer for us. Last weekend, we focused on the doctrine of prayer. Today, our focus is on the practice or the mechanics of prayer.
Matthew 6 5 “And when you pray…”
Before we go any further, notice that Jesus did not say “if you pray” but “when you pray.” God assumes that we will pray to Him. He expects us to pray to him. Prayer is our daily dialogue with God in which we ask Him for our needs and receive from him the answers. Since the beginning of time, men and women in the Bible have prayed daily. Even Jesus had a daily time of prayer. Mark 1:35 says, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” It’s like the song “What a friend we have in Jesus,” where it says, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer.” Many of us are not praying. How do we know that? You don’t return from God’s presence fearful, hopeless, defeated, doubtful, and discouraged.
Application: Do you come to God in prayer? What comes first? Plans or Prayers. Are you bearing needless pain?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered 3 important guidelines for prayer:
- Avoid prayer as a show.
6 5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”
Context: After the Jewish people had returned from their exile, they were serious about religion. The priests and the scribes created an elaborate ritual of prayer and liturgy. Their daily prayer was a long list of 19 petitions known as the “Shemoneh Esreh,” each starting with the statement “Blessed are You, O Lord” and ending with “The whole world is full of His mercy.” They had to pray this prayer standing up. Hence, the daily prayer is also called “Amidah.” You had to pray facing the “Aron Kodesh,” the ark that houses the Torah scrolls. Observant Jewish people would begin by taking 3 steps backwards and then 3 steps forwards. The steps backwards symbolized moving away from the material world and the steps forwards symbolized approaching the King of Kings. During the prayer there was a certain way of bowing – “Barukh Atha Adonai.” You had to come back up when you said “Adonai.” Then when you said “Kadosh,” you had to get on your toes about 3 times, with each time rising a little taller. Again, not everyone followed this and there were many variations. When it was over, you bowed to the left, then to the right, and then to the front and said – “He who makes peace in the heavens, may He make peace for us and all Israel, and let us say, Amen.” Then, you had to do the same stuff after the prayer – take 3 steps backwards and 3 steps forwards.
Some of the people would be on their way to the synagogue and be running late. So, they would stop in the street corner and start their Amidah. Keep in mind that the Jewish people were not expected to pray in the streets but some would do it anyways. It was forbidden to interrupt anyone praying the Amidah unless it was a safety issue or you had to go. It was a big show! Jesus knew the hypocrisy of their hearts. 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Don’t misunderstand. Jesus was not saying, “Don’t pray in public.” Instead, he was saying – “Don’t pretend to pray only in public.” Imagine if your kids only talked to you in public with grandiose words! At home, “Get out of the way, old man!” Jesus knew their hearts and he confronted their hypocrisy. One antidote for hypocrisy in public prayer is private prayer. Public prayer is like the edifice, the visible part of a building, and private prayer is the foundation.
Application: Do you pray for a show? Are you pretending to be more spiritual than you really are? How is your private prayer life?
- Avoid vain repetitions.
7 “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do…”
Background: The word for “vain repetitions” is a Greek word battalogew, which is a very unique word. It is not found anywhere else in the New Testament or in ancient Greek literature or the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament). It was a description of the worship of heathens. Listen to what Jesus said about it in verse 7 “…For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore do not be like them…” We may not be heathens but it is not much different than what we do even today. We mumble unnecessary words in prayer that add nothing to our conversation with God. Imagine if your kids talked with you and repeated your name and used unnecessary words! Sometimes, we even use “magical formulas” like “Plead the blood of Jesus” or “In Jesus Name.” Other times we repeat the Lord’s Prayer or the Doxology or the Apostles Creed. I’m not suggesting that any of this is sinful or wrong but the point is this – “Do we really mean what we say in prayer?” 8“…For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” Here’s the whole point – Prayer is family talk. It is a loving conversation between a father and a child. You cannot fake it.
Application: How do you see God when you pray? Can you see Him as your Father?
- Approach God as your Heavenly Father.
9 “In this manner, therefore, pray…”
Now, we come to what’s known as the Lord’s Prayer or the Pater Noster or sometimes even known as the Disciple’s Prayer. It is found twice in the Gospels – one here in Matthew 6 and a shorter version in Luke 11. It could be that Jesus taught the same prayer several times or it could be that Luke placed it at a different point in his gospel, as he often does. What is interesting about Luke’s version of the prayer is that he gives us the context in which Jesus gave this model prayer. Listen to Luke 11:1 “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’” What is very interesting to me is that the disciples did not ask Jesus – “teach us to preach” or “teach us to evangelize” or “teach us to do a miracle” but “teach us to pray.” Why? Because they witnessed how important prayer was to Jesus. Everything in this prayer has to be read with the mindset of God as our heavenly father.
9 “…Our Father in heaven” = God is our Father—Creator, Superior, and Redeemer.
“…Hallowed be Your name.” = God’s names are His character and His work in our lives. He will hallow his name. But, how about in my own life?
10 “Your kingdom come…” = It is the sovereign eternal rule of God over His world. It begins in our hearts when we are saved and will be completed when Christ returns.
“…Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” = God has a revealed will (what God expects) and a secret will (what is God up to). Here the prayer is for the secret will.
We’ve come to the midpoint in the Lord’s Prayer and, so far, we have looked at the first 3 lines known as the “Thou Petitions” – “Hallowed be thy name,” “Thy kingdom come,” and “Thy will be done.” Now we will look at the next 3 lines known as the “We Petitions” – “Give us this day our daily bread,” “Forgive us our debts,” and “Lead us not into temptations but deliver us from the evil one.”
11 “Give us this day our daily bread.” = Daily we should come to God as a little child looks to his/her parent for sustenance. But, the bread is not just physical but also spiritual.
12 “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” = This is probably the hardest line in the Lord’s Prayer, if not the whole Bible. E.M. Bounds said “A heart all love, a heart that holds even its enemies in loving contemplation and prayerful concern, a heart from which all bitterness, revenge, and envy are purged—how rare! Yet this is the only condition of mind and heart in which a man can expect to command the power of prayer.”
13 “And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one…” = Even though God allows us to go through trials to purify and humble us, he wants us to come to Him as a child to his/her father and plead for “mercy and grace to help in time of need.”
“…For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” = He is the rightful owner, now and forever. He can change circumstances, now and forever. He gets the glory now and forever.
Invitation: How is your prayer life? Is it a show? Is it filled with vain repetitions? Is it a child coming to his/her father? Have you said the sinner’s prayer? Have you prayed to ask Jesus to be your Savior and King?