SECRET RELIGION – PRAYER by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: Today we’re in the second message in our series – “SECRET RELIGION.” Again, Jesus calls us to be the salt and light of the world but He warns us not to do it for public praise but for the praise of our Heavenly Father who sees in secret.
Matthew 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. 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.
Overall Background: In the passage we just read, once again, Jesus is taking the hypocrites to task. Just like in the previous passage where some people gave charity in order to be applauded by others, these people prayed in order to be admired by others. For e.g. Growing up we knew a man who made long prayers but it was all a show. He wanted people to flock around him and call him spiritual. Listen to what Jesus says – “For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.” In reality, these hypocrites were not praying to the Almighty but they were praying to their audience. What is the result? “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” Meaning: some gullible people may love these prayers but God sees the heart. He knows the real intent and He refuses to answer all such prayers.
Listen carefully – Prayer is vital to our daily life. Prayer is central to our Christian life. Prayer is essential to everything that happens in this life. But, prayer that is misused and prayer that is misdirected is artificial before people and remains unanswered by God.
Question: Do you pray? Do you pray for show? Do you pretend to be more spiritual than you really are? Are your prayers going unanswered? Are you saved? Someone may say – “That’s right – God doesn’t hear the prayer of the unsaved.” Not true. Psalm 65:2 “O You who hear prayer, To You all flesh will come.” If a homeless child says, “I’m hungry,” will I say, “No. You’re not my child?” Of course not! But there’s a big difference in what I would do for my child. If he needed my heart, I would give it to him. God answers the prayer of everyone but that doesn’t mean that everyone is a child of God. If you’re lost, the first prayer He is longing to hear from you is the sinner’s prayer.
Today, we will learn 3 things from this passage about Secret Religion and Prayer:
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUE PRAYER
5 “And when you pray…”
Background: Again, it is important to remember that Jesus did not say “if you pray” but “when you pray.” God expects us to pray to Him daily. Prayer, by definition is a daily conversation with God. It’s a daily dialogue with God in which we ask Him and receive from Him. Prayer has been around since the beginning of time.
- Adam and Eve prayed everyday. It was a little different than our prayer today where Adam and Eve actually saw and felt God’s presence. We’re not sure if it was the actual presence in a human form or a strong whirlwind. Either way, God talked to them. (Genesis 3:8)
- Abraham prayed overlooking Sodom and interceded for His nephew Lot. “God, would you destroy the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, and 10?” (Genesis 18)
———-I don’t have time to go through every example in the Old Testament———-
- Moses The Bible says – “the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)
- Hannah was “in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish.” (I Samuel 1:10)
- David prayed and many of his prayers are recorded in the psalms. One of the famous ones is Psalm 51, his prayer of repentance. Listen to verse 10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Wow!
———-For time’s sake, let’s jump over to the New Testament————-
- Jesus 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.” We went up the Mount of Beatitudes to film for the video and there was a cave on the side of the hill known as “Eremos cave” which is considered the place where Jesus often prayed on the mountainside.
————–I can go on and on—————-
The point is this – prayer is extremely important in the Christian life.
Jonathan Edwards said, “Prayer is as natural an expression of faith, as breathing is of life; and to say a man lives a life of faith, and yet lives a prayerless life, is every bit as inconsistent and incredible, as to say, that a man lives without breathing…he that lives a prayerless life, lives without God in the world.
Application: Is prayer important to you? Do you complain rather than pray? Do you make decisions and then pray or do you pray before you make any decisions?
II. THE DISTORTION OF TRUE PRAYER
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,
Background: To understand this passage, we have to understand a little bit of the historical context. After the Jewish people had returned from their exile, they were serious about religion. So, the priests and the scribes created this elaborate ritual of prayer and liturgy. For example, the Daily Prayer was a list of petitions. Each of them opened with the statement “Blessed are You, O Lord” and ended with the statement “The whole world is full of His mercy.” All these petitions became standardized, even before the coming of Jesus, into 18 petitions known as “Shemoneh Esreh.” The first 3 expressed praise, the next 13 expressed requests (6 personal, 6 communal, and 1 that God would accept the requests), and the last 3 were thanksgiving. 3+13+3 =19. One more was added for the Jewish people of Babylon. You 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 begin by taking 3 steps backwards and then 3 steps forwards. The steps backwards symbolize moving away from the material world and the steps forwards symbolize approaching the King of Kings. During the prayer there is a certain way of bowing – Baruckh Atha Adonai. Make sure to come back up when you say Adonai. Then when you say Kadosh, you have to get on your tippy toes about 3 times, with each time rising a little taller. Again, not everyone follows this. There are many variations. When it’s over, you bow to the left, then to the right, and then to the front and say – “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.
How does this tie in with this passage? Listen again to what Jesus says, “For they love to pray standing in the synagogues…” Can you imagine Jesus watching this ritual with their tallit and tefillin and thinking, “What a show…You’ve lost the purpose of prayer. It has become a game as to who is more pious and who prays the loudest and who is more spiritual.” Then Jesus also adds, “For they love to pray…on the corners of the streets…” Jewish people were not expected to pray in the streets. What is happening here? They would be on their way to the synagogue and be running late. It was time for prayer and it must happen right now. So, they would stop in the street corner and start their Amidah. Many times they would be running late so they could stop at the street corner and put on their show. It was forbidden to interrupt praying the Amidah unless it was a safety issue or you had to go. It was forbidden to interrupt someone praying the Amidah. You can use your imagination how they would jab the listeners in their prayers – Looking at the shopkeepers – “God, we have sinned with greed!” Looking at the prostitute – “God, we have sinned with adultery.” Looking at the young people – “God, this generation is so foolish and immature and ungodly.” Jesus knew their hearts and confronted their hypocrisy. “You’ve lost the significance and seriousness of prayer. You are doing it for show. You are doing it to jab people. You have your reward. God will not answer your prayers.”
Having been to Israel twice, I’ve seen it many times. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that they are doing it for show or jab others. But it’s not what prayer was originally intended to be. Someone asked me – “Doesn’t that just inspire you? Don’t you want to do it too?” Not really…it amuses me. Listen to Paul in Colossians 2 16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Ever seen a child play with shadows? It’s not inspiring, just amusing! Colossians 2:23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 3 1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Application: Are you pretending to be more spiritual than you really are? Are you more interested in what people think than what God thinks of you? Are you really praying to your Father in heaven when you bow your head?
III. THE RESTORATION OF TRUE PRAYER
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.
Background: Now, don’t misunderstand. Jesus was not saying, “Don’t pray in public.” In He prayed in public many times. What He was saying is – “Before you pray in public, make sure you’ve prayed in private.” Public prayer is like the edifice, the visible part of a building, and private prayer is the foundation. You don’t start building an edifice before you have dug the foundation. Before you can jab the rich man for bring greedy or the prostitute for being lewd or the young soldier for being violent or the person who did something wrong to you, have you prayed for them in private?
Don’t use your public prayer to pat your pride or to settle your personal score. Instead, handle those issues in private with God. In fact, here are some questions to consider: Have you prayed for that person before you spoke about them in public? Have you prayed for the person before you tore them to pieces before others? Have you been to the secret place?
Coming up in a month we will be having a 24-hour prayer vigil. We will set up a room for prayer and you will be able to sign up a 30 min slot for prayer for yourself, your family, your children, our church, our community, our nation, and our world.
Do you believe we need it? How about starting right now? Are you saved