In this sermon, Pastor Neil explains how not to pray. It is not about showing off or heaping up empty phrases. It is about a relationship with your Heavenly Father. Here are some excerpts:

Let’s look now at what Jesus says about how not to pray.

Don’t be Like the Hypocrites

Look at verse 5: “When you pray,” says Jesus, “do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”

Or, as it says in The Message: “Don’t turn (your prayers) into a theatrical production.”

…The problem with the prayers of the hypocrites is that they didn’t miss an opportunity to be “alone with God” while surrounded by lots of admiring observers. While supposedly praying to God, they were actually playing – or praying – to the gallery (A. M. Hunter, A Pattern for Life: An exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, 65). It was not that they loved to pray. Nor did they truly love God, to whom they were supposedly praying. The object of their love was themselves. They loved the opportunity that praying in public gave them to put their religious devotion on display. They loved the accolades they got from others.

To His disciples then and now, Jesus says: “Don’t be like them.” Here is the alternative Jesus recommends: “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace” (Matthew 6:6, MSG)…

Don’t Be Like the Pagans

The second way not to pray, Jesus says, is the mindless, mechanical, meaningless way that many pagans – unbelievers or adherents of other religions – pray. “Babbling” is the way the NIV describes it. To “heap up empty phrases” or “vain repetitions” are other ways to expressit. In The Message it says: “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and He knows better than you what you need.”

…Don’t trivialize prayer by reducing it to a magic formula or mantra guaranteed to produce the results you want. You know that is not what prayer is…

Don’t Heap Up Empty Phrases

And don’t confuse “babbling” or “heaping up empty phrases” or “vain repetitions” with perseverance in prayer, which Jesus encourages, as we know from the parables of the friend at midnight (Luke 11:5-13) and the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). Persevere in prayer, yes. Keep on praying for the persons and concerns the Lord lays on your heart. Just don’t think that by repeating certain words or using a prescribed formula you can manipulate or obligate God to do or give what you want. You know that is not what prayer is.

Prayer is not primarily about getting answers. God does answer our prayers. He will answer your prayers. In His time. In His way. But getting answers is not the primary purpose of prayer. Jesus promises a reward to those who pray sincerely and humbly. The reward is not the praises of people that hypocrites crave or the reward is not the answer you hope for. The reward is the relationship with God Himself, an intimate connection and communion with our Heavenly Father. That is the true reward. And it is available to you. It is available to anyone who seeks it. It is available to anyone who seeks Him…

Why Pray?

The only reason we really need is that God tells us to pray, commands us to pray, instructs us to pray. That is really the only reason we need. God wants us to pray because prayer is one way we acknowledge God for who He is and express our trust in Him. We pray also because it enables us to go deeper in our relationship with God, to grow closer to Him. In the sovereignty of God, prayer also allows us to be involved in what God is doing, in what God desires to do, in the world. It is one of the means by which God accomplishes His will in our lives.

Sadly, many people neglect prayer. Many Christians neglect prayer. Maybe even many of us. Too many of us treat prayer like calling 911 – it is something we do only in an emergency. Or something we do when there is something we really, really want. You know that is not what prayer is meant to be…

August 19, 2018

Matthew 6:1, 5-8

Dr. Neil Smith

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