Sermon

How to Pray (Matthew 6:5-8)

man kneeling in front of cross
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Last week we learned that selfish giving (even if generous) is not pleasing to God. A selfish attitude pollutes everything it comes into contact with. This week, we will learn how selfish prayers are not pleasing to God. We must be very careful about how we pray and to whom we are speaking. A little boy was kneeling beside his bed with his mother and grandmother and softly saying his prayers, “Dear God, please bless Mommy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night’s sleep.” Suddenly he looked up and shouted, “And don’t forget to give me a bicycle for my birthday!!” “There is no need to shout like that,” said his mother. “God isn’t deaf.” “No,” said the little boy, “but Grandma is.” Jesus said that when we pray, we must not be like the “hypocrites” (5) and the “idolaters” (7). The hypocrites pray “to be seen by people” (5) and the idolaters “babble…since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words” (7). Both of these types of individuals are praying selfishly. The hypocrites want people to praise them and the idolaters want to manipulate their so-called gods into getting what they want. Jesus said, “Don’t be like them (8). Let us consider in more detail: 1) What is prayer? and 2) How do we pray?

What is Prayer?

One of Jesus’ disciples once asked Him “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). He saw Jesus praying and wanted to pray like Jesus. What is prayer and how do we do it? Prayer is communication with God. More specifically, prayer is an act of worship in which a person communicates with God the Father, through the access provided by God the Son, and by the prompting of God the Spirit.  

Prayer is Communication with God

Prayer is communication with God. It is the intentional act of speaking to and listening to the Creator of the Universe (God). Because prayer is an act of worship, prayer must only be directed to God. You cannot and must not pray to anyone or anything other than God because that is idolatry. A Christian may ask a fellow believer to pray for them, but a Christian never prays to a fellow believer (living or dead). Being an act of worship, the audience of prayer is first and foremost God.

Prayer is Possible because of God

Our prayer is not possible because of good works. Our sin/disobedience may hinder our prayers (Psalm 66:18, 1 Peter 3:7), but prayer is possible because Jesus Christ has reconciled you with God (2 Cor 5:18). Jesus has provided the satisfactory sacrifice (1 John 4:10) for our sins. Jesus is the One who provides peace between us and God and access to God (Rom 5:1-2). Hebrews 4:16 tells us that through Jesus Christ, “let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.” Through Jesus Christ, we have complete access to the Father in prayer.

Prayer is Prompted by God

Christians’ prayers are “in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18). In other words, our prayers must be led by the Spirit who “helps us in our weakness [and who] intercedes for us with unspoken groanings” (Rom 8:26). Praying in the Spirit (1 Cor 14:15, Eph 6:18, & Jude 1:20) has less to do with what words you say than the attitude of your prayers. Praying in the Spirit is a humble declaration of your dependence on Him each day. It is also a recognition that the Spirit of God is preserving us. Don’t despair if you don’t know what to pray or how to pray. Confess to God your need and He will help you through the Spirit.

How Do We Pray?

Genuine Prayer is Personal

Jesus does not want His disciples to pray “like the hypocrites.” The hypocrites love to pray as long as they have an audience. They love to be seen by people. Jesus does not rebuke public prayer, but prayer that is solely intended for the public. Remember, prayer is an act of worship that must be directed to God. Praying for the approval of others is not genuine prayer. Jesus said, “Go into your private room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret.” If you are not praying in private, you should not be seeking to pray in public. Our prayers should be heard by others, but we are not praying for the praise and approval of others.

Genuine Prayer is Specific

Jesus does not want His disciples to pray “like the idolaters.” The idolaters pray but they think they have to impress their so-called gods with “their many words.” Jesus does not rebuke long prayers, but prayers that are intended to manipulate. Jesus said, “Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.” Our prayers should be given with the belief that God knows about us and knows more than we do about what we need. Let us move away from vague, generic prayers. The more involved we get with others, the more we care about others, the more we love others, the more specific our prayers become. The more specific our prayers, the more powerful our prayers become. Be specific in your prayers.

Genuine Prayer is Expectant

When you pray, do you believe God is listening? Are you praying with an expectation that God will answer your prayers? Jesus said, “your Father knows the things that you need before you ask Him” (8). Knowing that God knows what we need, “let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Heb 4:16). Don’t pray for the praise of others or to try to manipulate God into giving you what you want. Pray to your Heavenly Father who delights in you and knows what you need. He is gracious and merciful.