Matthew 6:5-15 New International Version (NIV)
5 “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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
but deliver us from the evil one.[b]’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Tonight we are going to talk about prayer; Jesus in this passage on the sermon on the mount gives a brilliant explanation and poem that will direct our prayer in a way that truly engages us with God and the mission of the kingdom.
So Jesus tells us here in this passage that there are effectively 3 types of prayers; the hypocritical prayer, the religious pagan prayer and Christian prayer. So, let us dive in; Jesus says when we pray don’t fall into one of two traps, but then afterwards says when you pray you should pray like and he tells us.
So in our prayers what should we avoid? Well, firstly avoid;
1. The prayer that is no prayer
Jesus starts off on warning us of the prayer of the hypocrite. Jesus identifies the type of person who prays for the praise of others. This type of prayer is obviously missing the mark; it is a prayer effectively to yourself and for yourself. You have no desire to seek God or to seek a reward in Him. You are praying as to be seen. Jesus answers clearly; they have received their reward. I would argue that in this Jesus makes a claim for this kind of prayer being no kind of prayer at all. It is a farce, they are not coming to God they are using God to make people think better of them. Now, again, this is an obviously incorrect way to pray.The next two types of prayers are more nuanced because these two are more to God than that of the hypocrite.
These two are the prayer of the heathen and that of the Christian.
2. The prayer to God
Now here, in these two types of prayer God is still the focal point; it is not about seeking your own praise; but about seeking God. The question is what is the fundamental difference between these two prayers? You might think it is the content; one babels and uses many words and the other is structured our Father. But, this is not what Jesus is emphasising.
These two prayers are the exposure of the heart of the person praying.
The content of the prayers reveal the heart of the person praying, As Tim Keller puts it;
“One comes to God as consumer, the other comes to God as a child.”
What does he mean; well, one comes to God, not out of intimacy and trust, but in a relationship with God that expects him to work and act because they have done their part. While the other comes to God for the sake of God himself.
So let’s look at the pagan who shows us the;
a.) The prayers of a consumer
Jesus says don’t pray like pagans who use empty and many words. Now Jesus is not saying we must just be brief with God. For example know what you want and just declare it and leave it there. No, Jesus was identifying the heart behind these kind of prayers; It is an anxious mechanical prayer. In other words, your prayers are said so that you could be recognised for doing your part. It was praying to pay your way so God owed you an answer. Again, this kind of prayer does not seek God, but rather uses prayer as a means to get God to owe you stuff. It is almost a consumer relationship.
A consumer relationship is always give and take you give someone money and they give you a service or a product. Now no one really loves their local Spar; even if they say they do, and you know how I know? Well if your local Pick n’ Pay starts offering a better product at a better rate, guess who you are going to start taking your money to.
And this is how the pagan prays; they pray in order to illicit a trade with God, I do my part of prayer, God you do your part in giving me what I want.
Do you see the heart of this? And it is why when these people pray there is no peace and rest, they are wretched because if God doesn’t answer their prayers, because it is a consumer relationship they feel hard done by; “But God I did my part!” or they feel restless because, “Maybe I didn’t pray right. Maybe I did something wrong. That is why God is not answering my prayers.” We must not, and will not come to God like this if we know that we are not a consumer, give and take, we are a child which is my next type of prayer.
b.) The prayers of a child
Jesus spends the rest of this passage describing how the Christian should pray and the whole basis; the start and the understanding of every other statement starts with;
“Our Father, in heaven”
When we understand the significance of this we understand the very heart of prayer itself. And when we understand this; we will see just how Christian prayer is fundamentally different from any other prayer of any other religion in the world.
So what is the significance of this statement and how does it change prayer and make it different? Well, Jesus says; when you prayer pray our father, not our Lord – although God is our Lord, Or any other title for God, he starts with our father.
The fundamental reality of Christian prayer is that we come to God as His children! And this cannot be understated, because if we don’t come to God as a child we will come to him as a consumer. So, what is the difference between a child and a consumer? Well Tim Keller gives a beautiful depiction of this when he says;
“In a business relationship the basis is I have something for you. In a family relationship it is what I am to you.”
In a business relationship the basis is performance - i perform for you and you give me something
In a family relations the basis is commitment.”
In other words, in one we come to God because of love, and the other we come to God because He is useful to us.
In fact if we do not get the fact that prayer is predicated on a father-child relationship, the rest of the Lord’s prayer (in this passage) is completely impossible.
You see someone who is not a child cannot see into the heart of the beauty of God because God is always seen as a mean to their own ends. It is only a child that perceives his/her father to be an irreplaceable reward in Himself.
Someone who is a consumer would never come to God just because He is to be adored, it is always to get something; to engage in an exchange. I guarantee you have never phoned Vodacom/mtn/cellC to chat, you know to get to know them better. No! you go to them because you want an upgrade, or the service is bad and you want them to do something about it. Children go to their father to receive; absolutely, but a child can just be with their father. And given the choice between the Father’s stuff and the Father, the child would choose the father every time. Unless there is a broken relationship, but that is not what we are talking about here, we are talking about good fathers. We don’t come to God for any other reason than we are his children. This is the start and basis of all our prayer.
Now, the poem that Jesus uses here to guide our prayer is predicated on this fatherly idea, in other words everything that is said in this prayer finds its start and end in the grace of the Father. I believe, Jesus gave us in this prayer poem a beautiful depiction of what our prayer life should look like, so we will quickly run through this; remembering the whole time this starts and end with the idea that we are coming to our father. We come from acceptance and not to receive acceptance.
So when you pray, it should look like this:
Our Father – as we have said the basis and premise of all prayer
In heaven, hallowed be your name – may your name be pure and holy in my life and how I live my life. In other words, may I in my mediations and prayers and life see more and more of the true holiness and purity of your character and being.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – Lord because I am your child may I live out the fact that your will is the most important thing; and may I be a part of the extension of your goodness and rule in the world.
Give us this day our daily bread – Daily we are to recognise our dependency upon God for everything our very sustenance, God himself as our good father is the bread we need.
Now if you concentrate you will see that everything we have just talked about falls into a recognistion and rest in God himself – in other words we start our prayers in loving God!
Next we move on to;
Forgive us as we forgive others – Here we see that in loving God the outpouring of this is a love for others, our forgiven received is a forgiveness given to others!
Lead us not into temptations, but deliver us from evil – Father make us an instrument in your hands, but in my going protect me from the many temptations to fail and dishonour you and protect me from the forces that are going to be against me.
Now all of the second part of this prayer is praying to our father for the strength and power to love others!
So, prayer – real prayer – is about recognising who we are, we are a child, and the in our seeking him, we do this in the great command, love God and love people!
This is the wonder, security and beauty of Christian prayer, church. Our prayers are a secret safe place where we come to our father, not on our own merit, but the merit of Christ to enjoy Him as our father, and then love him in our worship of him, our enjoyment of his goodness to us, our longing to see Him rule in the world and understanding our part in his mission in the word as we love others as we love ourselves.
So, church when you pray, are you praying for the sake of others – like the hypocrite? Or are we praying like the pagan that treats God as a means to their own end? Or are we church coming to God as real children of the father, letting that wonder become our enjoyment of Him?
If we come as a child, welcomed in the grace of Jesus Christ we will find and endless stream of wonder and satisfaction because we were made for Him and He longs for us to seek Him!So, go to Him as a child and not a consumer.