Text: Matthew 6:5-15, CSB
Prayer for Illumination
Guide us, O Lord, by your Word and Your Holy Spirit, that in Your light we may see light, in Your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Last we started a series of messages on some spiritual disciplines. We started with fasting, this morning we’re going to talk about prayer, and next week we’ll talk about giving. We’ll break for Palm Sunday and Easter, and then we might revisit this idea of spiritual discipline off and on throughout the year.
- Spiritual discipline comes from the idea that as you live you’re always being formed into something. No one lives in static. Every time you make a decision or a choice, it contributes to your formation. How do you interact with God? How do you interact with the people around you? What do you think of the Church? How do you view the world around you?
- The answers to these questions reflect what you’re being formed into. Now, the ideal goal is for us to be formed into the image of Christ. That’s what Paul says in Romans 8 when he tells that we, as believers, have been predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ, and then Paul describes that process in detail in 2 Corinthians 3 when he says that as we continue to look to Christ we are transformed from glory to glory into His image.
These ideas of fasting, prayer, and giving help us reorient our lives in such a way that we are more aware of God’s presence and activity in the world and in our lives.
“Each moment of our days–our meals, our conversations with friends, our escapes, obsessions, romances, and distractions–is what we make of our lives. Our habits and rhythms of life are formative not only of who we are but how we know the world, including whether we know it to be a place where God is present or absent.” ― Mike Cosper
So, as we look at how Jesus taught us to pray it’s clear that He intends for us to believe what we pray and act on it. We can’t pray for God’s forgiveness and then withhold forgiveness from someone else because as long as we withhold forgiveness, all we’re doing is building up bitterness in our soul.
- People who remain in unforgiveness and bitterness do not get formed into the image of Christ unless God actually comes in and delivers them from that.
All that being said, I want us to look at our passage today under three headings:
- How We Shouldn’t Pray (v. 5, 7-8)
- How We Should Pray (v. 6, 9-13)
- How to Live What We Pray (v. 14-15)
How We Shouldn’t Pray (v. 5, 7-8)
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward… 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.”
– Matthew 6:5, 7-8, CSB
All throughout Matthew 6, Jesus is teaching this same principle of not letting people see our righteousness. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus tells that when we give, we should do so so secretly that our left hand doesn’t even know what our right hand is doing.
In verses 16-18, our fasting should be private as well so that no one can tell we are fasting by looking at us.
- Which brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves. I love Ash Wednesday services. I love what the partaking of ashes on our foreheads means. It means that we were made from the dust and to the dust we shall return, and that we are mourning over our sin. However, there are people who will wear their ash on their foreheads from Ash Wednesday out in public, and they’ll take Ash Wednesday selfies and post them on social media. They’re missing the point!
- The point of Ash Wednesday is to mourn over your sin and wear your ashes as sign of your repentance. No one gets on social media and says, “Hey guys, I begged God for forgiveness because I’m self-centered and ignore the needy! #Blessed” Why would you do it for Ash Wednesday?
The point of doing these disciplines in private is because who you are behind closed doors is who you really are. We’ve always heard that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. If that’s true, then how integral is our prayer life?
If we look at this portion of our passage, we’ll see that there’s two indictments against the hypocrites and the Gentiles. They love to be seen, and they love to be heard.
Jesus tells us that we shouldn’t be like them because when we seek to be seen by people, then we have our reward, and when we pray, we don’t need to use long, repetitive prayers in public because our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask Him.
- I see verse 5 and verses 7 and 8 as parallel statements meaning that Jesus is pretty much saying the same thing twice, and if Jesus is repeating Himself then we need to listen, and listen good!
The temptation to want to be seen and heard by others is very real.
- We like looking good. We like it when people see us as a spiritual authority. I loved when I would walk up to a group of people I knew at work or school and someone would say, “Logan knows a lot about the Bible, let’s ask him.”
- However, if man’s glory is all we long for then when we get it, that’s our reward. Also, If man’s glory is all we long for then we’re settling for a lesser glory.
- The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that man’s chief end (his highest purpose) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and what happens sometimes we end up living as if we’re trying to glorify ourselves and enjoy ourselves forever.
What Jesus describes for us in verses 5-8 is nothing more than religious activity that’s rooted and grounded in the self.
A few weeks ago Brittany had mentioned something about a megachurch that she knew about in Texas, and I was curious so I looked them, and I knew their theology was off when the first thing I saw on their website was, “We’re all about people.” If you claim to be apart of the body of Christ, then you better be all about Jesus and let Him deal with people, otherwise we’re essentially worshipping ourselves, we’re essentially praying to ourselves. And that’s the best we can do because as we saw last week when looked at Isaiah 58, God doesn’t hear these kinds of prayers.
- So, what kind of prayers does He hear?
How We Should Pray (v. 6, 9-13)
“But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6, CSB
First of all, we should get alone with God. Jesus invites us into solitude because He doesn’t want us to be tempted to make this about ourselves. He wants us to be sure that this time is between us and Him.
- I probably won’t devote an entire sermon to it, but one of the spiritual disciplines in addition to prayer, fasting, and giving is solitude.
- Have you ever thought about solitude as a spiritual discipline? We have a lot of things around us that are calling out for our attention, and all the while God wants us to get away from everyone and everything around us for a little while and be alone, in a state of solitude, with Him. And when we do that, we can hear from him.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is on the run from Jezebel and he doesn’t really know what to do next. The angel of the Lord comes to him, ministers to him, and then tells him to go out and stand on the mountain, and then there was a great wind, and the Bible says that God wasn’t in the wind, and then there was a great fire, and the Bible says that God wasn’t in the fire either, but then there was still, small voice, and that’s where God was.
In an article that he wrote for Desiring God, David Mathis says:
“Getting away, quiet and alone, is no special grace on its own. But the goal is to create a context for enhancing our hearing from God in his word and responding back to him in prayer. Silence and solitude, then, are not direct means of grace in themselves, but they can grease the skids — like caffeine, sleep, exercise, and singing — for more direct encounters with God in his word and prayer.” – David Mathis
So, our place of prayer is one of solitude, but what about our pattern for prayer?
Look at verses 9-13. I’m going to read this from the King James Version because this is how I memorized it as a child.
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” – Matthew 6:9-13, KJV
One of the challenges of preaching a text like this is that there’s so much here. If you were here last year, we did a study on the Lord’s Prayer with a series of lectures from Dr. Al Mohler. It took us 12 weeks to get through all of it because there’s just so much in there.
- First of all, notice how Jesus tells us to address God – “Our Father which art in heaven.” One commentator notes that this is a prayer based on a familial relationship. Contrary to how we might normally think, the Jews would have been familiar with God being referred to as their Father, but they would rarely have called God “Father” in their prayers. For them, everything had to be formal.
- Jesus teaches the disciplines that this God who created the infinite and expansive universe in which we live, is in fact, their father.
It kind of reminds be of a story I read about a Roman emperor who had come home from a battle.
As he was coming in through the gates, a little boy was seen burrowing his way through the cheering crowd to get to the emperor. Immediately a burly soldier scooped him up and scolded and said, “Hey kid, you can’t do that! Don’t you know who is in that chariot? That is the emperor!” The boy replied, “He may be your emperor—but he is my father.”
God is more than an emperor to us—the majestic, cosmic God, through Christ, has become our Father. And Jesus commands us to pray that way.
As we continue to look at this prayer, it’s remarkable to see how God is displayed as grand and glorious, and yet He’s also presented as personal and approachable.
- He’s our Father, but His name is holy.
- He’s the king of the kingdom, but He also gives us our daily bread.
As Pastor Ron Hutchcraft put it, the Lord’s Prayer moves “from the galaxies to the groceries.” The Lord’s Prayer is long-term because we’re praying for a permanent and eternal kingdom, but it’s also short-term because we’re asking for bread for today. The God that we worship rules a kingdom that fills the cosmos and yet, He gives us what we need when we need it.
When we pray this prayer, not only are we asking God to fill our physical need for daily bread, but our spiritual need for forgiveness for our sins or our debts, our communal need to forgive others of their sins or debts, our moral need to be delivered from evil.
- Any kind of need we have, our Father stands ready to fulfill according to His riches in glory as Paul eloquently says in Philippians 4.
Also, think about every single word in the Lord’s Prayer for just a second. Not once do you say, “I” “Me” or “My.” Jesus assumed that when this prayer was prayed, it would be done in community with other people or at the very least this prayer would be prayed for other people.
- It’s very easy to be individualistic in 21st Century America. Ayn Rand, my favorite Libertarian philosopher, said that the individual is the world’s smallest minority, and to some degree I agree with that, but praying the Lord’s Prayer demands that we forget ourselves on an individual level and embrace the idea that we are a part of a collective group of people that has been established in the world by God Himself to be a covenant community.
We’re praying together for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done.
We’re praying together for our daily needs to be met.
We’re praying together for forgiveness for ourselves even as we forgive others.
There’s power in praying together in community and I think we sometimes forget that.
- I think I have a hard time praying spontaneous prayers in public because I’m so honest with God in my personal prayer life that I’m afraid that someone will get offended at something I say or something I might forget to say, but the beauty of prayer is that it’s not about us individually.
- Prayer is about connecting with God, and when we connect with God corporately then we may not set the world on fire, but we will establish that our life as a church is not possible without God, and I think that makes a world of difference because there are many churches right here in the Bible belt some of them even small, rural churches like ours that act as if they could go on functioning as they do as if Jesus never rose from the dead and God never existed.
- They come in sing a couple of songs, listen to someone talk about the good ol’ days and then they go home and eat fried chicken, never making a difference in the world around them. I pray that we never reach that place.
- If the day should come, God forbid, that we have to close our doors, then there should be a noticeable void in the community. There are plenty of churches that close all the time, and no one in the city notices because they haven’t served their community in years.
And then finally, The Lord’s Prayer ends with an affirmation that the kingdom that we’re praying to come belongs to God – “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.”
We should pray knowing that God is our Father, He will meet our needs, and the kingdom belongs to Him.
Of course, all of this being said, we can’t disconnect any of this from how we live when we leave our prayer closet. You’re gonna have to get up from the altar sometime. You’ve got work to do, groceries to buy, and trash to take out.
You can’t stay at church forever. Monday is coming. So, how do you connect what happens in your prayer closet to what happens when you leave your prayer closet?
- All throughout the Old Testament (particularly in Isaiah, Amos, and Malachi), God’s people would go into the temple and worship, and then go out and treat other people like garbage. They would oppress their workers, and they would ignore the marginalized as we saw last week in Isaiah 58.
- And then Jesus comes along in Matthew 23 and tells the Pharisees that they’re tithing off their spice rack, but they have neglected the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
- As we’re getting through Lent and approaching Easter what I would challenge us to do in addition to our normal Bible reading is to do a slow read through Matthew 23, and see if Jesus might be speaking to us the same way that He was speaking to the Pharisees, maybe we’ve neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness in our own lives.
- “I tithe on the gross and not the net.” Okay, but do you love your neighbor who is a staunch Democrat?
How to Live What We Pray (v. 14-15)
In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus demands on no uncertain terms that if we’re going to come before God and ask for forgiveness for our sins and debts then we had better be darn sure willing to forgive someone else’s sins and debts.
- We know that God is a God of justice and mercy, but we seem to want mercy for ourselves and justice for people who have offended us, but that doesn’t fly in God’s kingdom.
“For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.” – Matthew 6:14-15, CSB
This is pretty straight forward. Our entire identity as children of God is predicated on forgiveness. We can’t rightly claim to be someone whose whole life is predicated on forgiveness and then withhold forgiveness because we’ve been offended.
- That’s not to say that forgiveness is easy. Sometimes it’s a very difficult and painful process, but there’s never a time when forgiveness is optional.
Part of reason I think we wrestle with forgiving someone is because we believe, in some way, that we’re hurting them. We’re afraid that if we forgive them then that will just enable them to keep on hurting us or hurting other people, but in the end, all we’re doing is hurting ourselves.
It reminds me of a little boy who was sitting on a park bench and it was obvious that he was in pain. A man walked by and asked him what was wrong. The young boy said, “I’m sitting on a bumble bee.” The man urgently asked, “Then why don’t you get up?” The boy replied, “Because I figure I’m hurting him more than he is hurting me!”
I think that’s how we handle forgiveness, and Jesus tells us in these two verses that that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable for a people whose lives are not possible without forgiveness.
- Now, think about that for just a second. Your life would not be possible without forgiveness. Think about everyone in your life that you interact with on a regular basis. Your friends, your family, your co-workers. Imagine if nobody forgave you. Ever. The first time you messed up, you were done. You would go through life with people hating you.
- Imagine if God never forgave you. The good news is that God in Christ has forgiven us, but sometimes I wonder if we don’t take that for granted.
- When we try to live life on our own terms, then we’ll always be prone to failure because there will be a gaping void in our souls, and because there’s a gaping void, we will try to fill it up with everything other than God, and then that’s when we sin against God and sin against everybody else in our life, and then if no one forgave us, we would just be stuck.
If you don’t get anything from this message, just listen loudly and clearly: your life isn’t possible without forgiveness, and when you live in forgiveness, then you’re free to forgive others.
If your prayers are patterned after this prayer in Matthew 6, then this how you live what you pray.
The point of this entire passage to teach that how pray matters, and how live after we leave our prayer closets matter just as much. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for allowing us to open Your word and hear what You have to say to us. We ask You to forgive where we have failed You, and let us never take Your forgiveness for granted. If there is anyone here who hasn’t yet known Your forgiveness, I pray that You would let Your love be known to them in special way. In the name Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
- Cosper, Mike. Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World. IVP Books, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2017.
- “Take a Break from the Chaos.” Desiring God, 20 Mar. 2019, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/take-a-break-from-the-chaos.
- “Search.” Center for Excellence in Preaching, cep.calvinseminary.edu/non-rcl-starters/matthew-6-5-15/.