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Newtown Bible Church

True Christianity & Prayer, Pt. 2 (Matthew 6:7-8)

We come again this morning to the matter of prayer. Prayer is essential to the life of any true believer. Prayer is one of the most sacred acts and graces that we are privileged to participate in; prayer is nothing less than entering into the very throne room and presence of God. It is engaging the infinite God of the universe in conversation. AMAZING.

But as wonderful as prayer is it comes with its own set of dangers. You see it is possible to pray to actually engage the God of the universe and have the wrong heart motives! To pray to God while thinking only of self! It is possible to put much effort into prayer, only to have your words reach no higher than the ceiling. Sadly, this is the case for many religious people, it was the case for many among the crowds, and it is too often the case for many who profess Jesus Christ.

So, we come again to our passage in Matthew 6:5-9 and Jesus’s warning and instructions on this most important matter of prayer.

READ: Matthew 6:5-8.

How not to Pray (Focused on Self)

How to Pray (Focused on God) 

First: Jesus has just finished instructing us on how not to pray (6:5-6 - Polluted motivation / Perverted Goal - that is, hypocritical & self-focused): the main point being that prayer is addressed to God, and to beware of the deadliness of sin and pride. Sin is so pervasive, so self-deceiving that it will follow us into the most sacred and righteous deed, even into the prayer closet. Point, be aware of the danger of sin and hypocrisy.

And sin is probably seen in its truest and most horrible nature here. The old London preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones noted in his commentary:

“We tend to think of sin as we see it in its rags and in the gutters of life. We look at a drunkard, poor fellow, and we say: There is sin; that is sin. But that is not the essence of sin. To have a real picture and a true understanding of it, you must look at some great saint, some unusually devout and devoted man. Look at him there upon his knees in the very presence of God. Even there self is intruding itself, and the temptation is for him to think about himself, to think pleasantly and pleasurably about himself, and really to be worshipping himself rather than God. That, not the other, is the true picture of sin.”

 

So first, Jesus instructs on how not to pray. Second: Jesus gives us 3 principles of true godly prayer to redirect our thoughts toward genuine righteousness. The first was to pray in sincerity knowing that God alone is our proper audience.

True prayer shuts the door of your room, but more importantly the door of your heart and mind to all the distractions to give full attention to God alone. This is the main idea of the Lord’s instruction - we pray in secret to God alone, desire Him alone, and seek His presence alone. That is the first principle of true prayer: Sincerity, because God is watching. Second:

 

With Intelligence: Because God is Listening

 

“When you are praying, do not use meaningless words, just as the Gentiles” - for those for whom prayer is a religious duty, or obligation, neither the content, nor the sincerity is as important as the form.

“speak idly” - It is translated in a variety of ways: “meaningless repetition”; “empty phrases” “vain repetitions” “babbling” “don’t ramble.” Each of these seeks to capture the essential meaning of the term, which is simply that of “to use the same words again and again.” (*We see many examples of this):

Acts 19:34 “they shouted for about two hours, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”

Buddhist monks will some times repeat “Um” for days on end (*where the whole point is to enter into a state of mindlessness - exact opposite of genuine prayer); devout Mohammedans will after a funeral sometimes repeat the phrase “God is God” (Allah el Allah) 3,000x; there are certain Buddhist monks who will put prayers on a wheel and then spin it with a crank, or let it be driven by wind, or water because they believe “every revolution is a prayer and will add to their merit.”

The RCC practice of saying the rosary, which consist of repeating what is known as the “Lord’s Prayer,” (a.k.a. Pater Noster) “Hail Mary,” while slipping beads through the fingers.

According to the official RCC website, the instructions are as follows:

 

“At the beginning of each decade, announce the ‘mystery’ to be contemplated, for example, the first joyful mystery is ‘The Annunciation.’ After a short pause for reflection, recite the ‘Our Father,’ ten ‘Hail Mary’s,’ and the ‘Glory be to the Father.’ An invocation may be added after each decade. At the end of the Rosary, the Loreto Litany or some other Marian prayer is recited.”

 

This RCC practice, finds its origin in buddhism! There is actually a “Buddhist Rosary,” which consist of 108 beads (150 for RCC) and the repetition of certain prescribed mantras.

Best illustration: Elijah on Carmel with the prophets of Baal give a good illustration here (1 Kings 18:20-46).

Like the pagans at Ephesus, the Buddhists, Mohammedans, RCC’s, or the priest of Baal - “for they think they will be heard in their many words” - here is the underlying motivation for the form of pagan prayer. Hypocrites always place concern for form over substance. God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers.

Pagans pray to gods (demons) who need to convinced, coaxed, and cajoled into performing on behalf of the ‘worshipper.’ They have a perverted view of God, it is a god of their own likeness and imagination.

This is not at all the God of Scripture, who is already for His people and cannot be won over by efforts, for He is holy. He acts toward His children, who know Him through genuine faith in Christ, on the basis of perfect grace and love, not flattery, or empty efforts to impress.

Christians can be guilty of the same thing: thinking of certain aspects of prayer as a formula (“in Jesus’ Name”), or wrongly relating the length of prayer to sincerity; as if God judges the sincerity of prayer based on length - as the religious hypocrites thought: Mk. 12:40 “[who] for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.” f

The prayer of the pharisee of Lk. 18 was over 4x as long (29 words [inc. art.] compared to 6), but with no spiritual benefit; the publican was short, simple, and sincere: “Lord be merciful to me the sinner” and it brought Him into the presence of God and was the key of faith that opened the floodgates of heaven’s grace; he went home “justified”.

This does not mean that there are not prayers of passion in which the same request or expressions of faith are not repeated; nor does it mean that we are not to be persistent in our prayer (Lk. 18; 2 Cor. 12).

It does mean that we are not to put mindless trust in our words, or length of prayer, or form of prayer, or even our faith; but in God in whom we have placed our trust; and with thoughtfulness that is informed by the Word of God and a sense of reverence for His greatness and glory.

God is utterly concerned with the heart. God is a personal Being, and we must relate to Him as such. He is Father, we who know Him are sons and daughters through Christ.

How to pray intelligently:

(1) Pray according to God’s will, as revealed in His Word (John 14:13-14).

(2) Pray our own words that reflect the heart, not just a formula or creed.

1 Sam. 1:15 Hannah, when confronted by Eli who thought she was drunk “I have poured out my soul before the LORD”; Ps. 62:8 “Pour out your heart before the LORD”; Lam. 2:19 “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the LORD.”

(3) Pray having prepared our minds through meditation on God / Word Ecc. 5:2 “do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter int eh presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let you words be few.”

(be here by 11:40)

*Therefore, we come to Him in (1) Sincerity; (2) Intelligence; and (3) Faith

 

With Faith: Because God is Sovereign

“Therefore, do not be like them” - don’t pattern your prayer after pagans who do not know God; of course they pray like that, what would expect from those dead in sin - they are going to pray to God wrongly, because they think of God wrongly. But when you pray, pray in faith, to the God who is, to the God who is revealed in Scripture, revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ, to the God you know by faith, to God who is sovereign over all details of their life.

“For your Father knows what you have need of before you ask Him” - the reason for your not praying like the Gentiles; because (A) God is our Father and (B)God is sovereign in your life. God is not ignorant, unconcerned, or uninvolved in the life of His children; but is intimately involved in all their ways. The “your” refers to those who are in the kingdom; Christians.

(A) God is “your Father,” He is not remote, unconcerned, distant, task-master; He is a Father. He is a Father who is holy and who love His children far more eager to give good gifts to His children than even the most sincere earthly father (cf. 7:11).

Greatest display at the cross (John 3:16; 8:32 “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” [referring to believers / elect).

 

“We must always remember that the God to whom we pray is a God of love who is more ready to answer than we are to pray. His gifts and his grace do not have to be unwillingly extracted from him. We do not come to a God who has to be coaxed, or pestered, or battered into answering our prayers. We come to one whose one wish is to give. When we remember that,it is surely sufficient to go to God with the sigh of desire in our hearts, and on our lips the words ‘Your will be done.’”

 

A father knows and loves his children. And children who know their father as such gladly submit and yield to his will and desires.

 

(B) God is sovereign. “Your Father knows what you need” Certainly, this includes His omniscience, which we have been noting throughout and which the Lord mentions here. However, the underlying comfort is God’s sovereignty. If God only knew, but was powerless to act then that knowledge would be unable to provide any comfort, peace of heart, rest in His care, courage to press on.

But He both knows and is sovereign; His knowledge is attended with the absolute power and ability to act according to His will, to ordain and then accomplish, to provide as He wills, to bring about what is absolutely best in our lives for our good and His glory.

He knows what we need - what we truly need. Let’s examine more closely.

(1) God knows what we need physically (6:25-33)

(2) God knows what we need spiritually (2 Cor. 12:7-10)

Prayer glorifies God because it expresses trust, faith, & dependence, which is prayerlessness evidences pride.

Sometimes people are frustrated with God, or are disappointed because we somehow think we could do a better job with our lives than He is doing. Or that we could somehow rule our lives with better wisdom than He is doing, or we have more insight to the true nature of things.

It is precisely this kind of pride that landed Job a rebuke from the Almighty. But remember God’s response, He simply spent 4 chapters reminding Job of his smallness and ignorance and of God’s great and glorious wisdom, power, and glory. “Who is this that darkens counsel without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”

The important point there is to note that God gave no explanation, but simply pointed Job back to right thinking about the Person, nature, and glory of God.

This is precisely what the Lord Jesus (God in flesh) is doing; He is pointing us away from ourselves and redirecting our spiritual eyes back up to the greatness and glory of God.

The Christians strength, comfort, encouragement, and joy is in having a right knowledge of God. Your whole life is an outflow of your knowledge of God. Someone recently commented to me how they are finding comfort in the midst of a trial because they understand that God is sovereign, He is still on the throne, and He is in control of their situation - they are finding comfort in this. This is exactly how it should be.

When we have a man-centered view of salvation, or wrong thoughts of God, then you are going to live and think and pray wrongly. Some teach what is known as the ‘openness of God,’ which states that God doesn’t know the future, He is as subject to human decisions and will as we are; that He is just as curious and concerned to know what is going to happen as we are, that when tragedy happens He is just as broken and sorry as we are. That is heresy and comprehensively in contradiction to the God of Scripture; to the true God.

And what kind of perverted comfort is it when a tragedy happens, or when there are real needs to think that it is random, that the God of the universe is not in control, or was not able to prevent it.

The Christian life if founded on a right knowledge of God - we need to think rightly about God so that we live rightly before God, so that we pray rightly to God. Here Jesus (God incarnate) says we pray in faith knowing God is a loving Father, who know our needs, and is sovereign.

How does prayer fit with God’s sovereignty? (must stick to what Bible says):(1) God is sovereign; (2) Our prayers matter.

(1) God is sovereign - (won’t belabor the point - we understand) “The LORD sits in the heavens & does as He pleases”

(2) God answers prayer - the prayers of His children matter. James 4:2 “You do not have because you do not ask”

Yes, they do align our hearts with God’s will, but they also move the hand of God according to His will. Remember, Hannah prayed & God gave her Samuel - and then many other children. I’ve got my own list of prayers God has said yes to - and believe me, some were offered in the most meagerly faith.

The prayer of faith makes request and trust God to answer in a perfect and infinite wisdom and love.

God has designs that go beyond our immediate needs to reach down to our deeper need to trust Him and absolutely rely upon Him; to purposes that will demonstrate His glory most fully both now and in the age to come, which, at times, includes suffering (1 Pet. 1; 4; 5).

I don’t know about you, but God very often works in my life in ways that are very different that what I had envisioned.

It is this kind of faith that gives the ability to approach Him with sincerity, intelligence, and the confidence of faith. The kind of faith that rest in the proof of His love in Christ.

Prayer God does not accept: (1) prayer that is insincere, (2) unintelligently, focused on form, words, length, or (3) unbelief.

God is not obligated to hear the prayer of an unbeliever. The only prayer of an unbeliever that God has obligated Himself to hear is the prayer of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ has purchased the way for us to enter into God’s presence (Heb. 9:24-26). Prayer is only possible because Jesus Christ has atoned for sin. Prayer is impossible for anyone not covered by the blood of Christ.

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