Scriptures: Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Matthew 6:6, Matthew 6:7-8
Prayer. What is it? What is it really about? In the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, Mr. Holland and his wife Iris have a deaf child named Cole. At one point in the movie, Iris falls to her knees crying as she says, "I want to talk to my son." She wanted to tell her child how much she loved him and how much he mattered to her and how proud she was of him. One of the regrets of my life is that I knew how much my mother enjoyed my coming and being in her presence and talking to her, but I was too busy to do it as frequently as I ought. Before my dad died in 1999, dementia had taken his mind and he couldn't remember anything. He didn't know who I was. Once, just before he died, my wife and I took him for a ride thinking we could show him some memories and he would remember, but he didn't. How desperately I wanted him to know who I was. I wanted to talk to him and tell him what a great dad he had been and how much I loved him and how proud I was that he was my dad. How desperately does God want to talk to us and tell us how much he loves us and how much we matter to him? He wants to tell us how proud he is of us. How desperately do we desire to communicate with Father and tell him how we love him? Some place in all of that is what prayer is really about. It's about Father talking to us and our talking to Father.
Jesus spent a great deal of time on the subject of prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. It's as though he slowed down just a bit to articulate the elements of prayer. We will also slow down. We will take several weeks on the verses concerning prayer. I am praying that prayer become a desire and not a duty to all of us.
Let's look at what Jesus said about prayer.
Matthew 6:5 "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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
WHEN YOU PRAY . . . As with giving, a true Christ follower will pray. Jesus didn't stop and give a teaching on the necessities of prayer. Prayer is a given. If I am a believer, I will desire to pray. Every Christ follower has a need and desire to pray. We all battle distractions. We all must set apart the necessary time, but ever Christ follower will pray. If we will pray as we ought, great rewards are guaranteed.
WHEN YOU PRAY, DO NOT . . . The Lord shared two ways people pray with no results. The first one concerned praying to be seen by people. The second one concerned babbling and talking about irrelevant issues. Jesus told us how to make certain that we didn't fall trapped to either of these prayers of error.
He said to not be like the hypocrites. Let's look at the Greek word translated hypocrites. It's the Greek word hupokrites, pronounced hoop-ok-ree-tace (Strong's #5271). It means (1) an actor, stage player; (2) pretender, hypocrite. Jesus said they were acting a part. They were merely saying their lines.
In the time that Christ spoke this, there was a morning prayer and evening prayer when trumpets literally sounded. People would stop whatever they were doing and pray. It was a great time for the hypocrites to show their stuff. They would simply schedule their walks through a populated place at prayer times and when the trumpets sounded they would go for it.
In this scenario, it's a person who is grandstanding in prayer. It's not prayer for the purpose of talking to God. It's prayer to be seen and heard by people. I have seen a lot of this over my years. You probably have also. For example, when a bunch of preachers get together, this can become humorous. I have actually observed a person's demeanor and voice change when asked to pray in public. I have seen people begin speaking in King James English. Their facial expression took on a very pious look. I've seen people fall on their knees to the floor when asked to pray in public, but didn't fall on their knees if someone else prayed. I have also heard people use prayer to preach a sermon. I have heard people rebuke their spouses or others in the room as they prayed. That is prayer to be seen and heard by people. Jesus said they have received their reward in FULL.
Matthew 6:6 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.
GO INTO YOUR ROOM . . . The Lord gives us a picture of how prayer should be. He said go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father. The King James' version says enter into thy closet which is probably closer to the meaning of the Lord. The Greek word is tameion (Strong's #5009) and pronounced tam-i'-on. It means (1) a storage chamber, storeroom, (2) a chamber esp. an inner chamber, (3) a secret room.
This is one of those strange examples that the Lord gave to make a point. It's like plucking out the right eye, cutting off the right hand, not letting the left hand know what the right is doing, etc. The Lord paints a picture of a tiny room where there is scarcely room for one person. It's a time to be alone with Father. There is no room for anyone else. It's me and Father and that's it.
We don't know if the Lord had a literal closet where he prayed. We are never told he did. We do know that he would frequently go off out of doors by himself to pray. Here are a few of the verses that speak of those times.
Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
(Also see Matthew 26:36 Gethsemane; Luke 6:12 choosing disciples; Luke 11:1)
Jesus did most of his praying alone. That is not to say that we should not pray together from time to time. Jesus took Peter, John, and James to pray together on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured (Luk 9:28). The first century believers often experienced and needed to pray together (Acts 1:22; 3:1; 4:24). However, most of the Lord's praying, and most of our praying, should be private closet prayer. Jesus said to make certain that we have a personal time with the Father called prayer. It will be from those special unseen and unheard prayers that great rewards come.
Matthew 6:6 . . . Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Let's stop here for a second and take a pole. How many of us truly believe that Father hears us when we pray? How many truly believe that you have prayed prayers in private with Father and you know without a doubt that Father answered your prayer?
Jesus said, Father . . . will reward you. I don't want us to miss this point. The answers to our prayers are not only because we asked, but mostly because we took time to spend with Father who rewarded us. We will see in 6:8 that Father knows what we need before we ask. The answers to our prayers came because we took time to spend some quality minutes with our Father.
We were at one of our small group meetings just this past week. Somehow the discussion turned to some of the prayers that I had prayed for people over the years. Through those prayers, God had healed hearts that had experienced heart attacks, cancer, turned babies in wombs, etc. It was amazing listening because I did not remember praying most of those prayers. My point in saying this is not to toot my own horn (although I am certain I have), but to make the point that those wonderful things happened not just because it was me who prayed those specific prayers. Rather, because I had taken time to spend with Father. He then rewarded me.
I was thinking about this concerning Jesus. Jesus would take time to pray. Then he would go out and heal people, preach, cast out devils, and do what was necessary to bring the kingdom. Then he would go pray again. Father rewarded Jesus because Jesus took time from the busyness of life to spend time with the Father. The Father rewarded him. He will reward you and me as well if we will take time to get alone and talk about life with Father.
Kingdom prayer is not praying to be seen by people. It is praying to be heard by God. Kingdom prayer is finding a place and time to shut out the world and talk to Father alone.
Matthew 6:7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Matthew 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
AND WHEN YOU PRAY, DO NOT . . . The Lord gave another instruction on how not to pray. He said don't keep on babbling. The King James' version says, use not vain repetitions. The Greek word is battologeo (Strong's #945) and pronounced bat-tol-og-eh'-o. It means to (1) to stammer; (2) to repeat the same things over and over, to use many idle words, to babble, prate.
To show us how to fix the problem of babbling, the Lord was about to give us what we call the Lord's Prayer. Amazingly, we have done with it exactly what he said not to do - babble. We have made it a vain repetition. Often it is nothing more than babbling. We simply repeat it over and over with no thought or reason to what we are saying.
Jesus said that Father already knows what we need before we ask. Isn't that interesting? If I understand what Jesus said correctly, prayer is not about asking Father to give me stuff. Yet, most of our prayer time is about asking for stuff.
TALK TO FATHER ABOUT THESE THINGS: What then is prayer about? As we have already seen, prayer is a private time in private conversation with Father. Jesus was about to give some things about which Father wants to talk to each of us. Jesus said that instead of babbling over and over about the same thing, talk to Father about these things. Jesus gave us what is called the Lord's prayer to stop our babbling and repetition. There are eight specific thoughts. Four thoughts are toward the Father. Four thoughts are toward us. Jesus said to talk about these things when we pray. Let's see how we have done.
OUR FATHER: Pray - talk to Father - about his being "Our Father." He wants to tell you how proud he is of you. He wants to tell you how much he loves you and how important you are to him. He wants to put his arm around us and say, "Wa-ta-go."
YOUR NAME: In the New Testament, the name is Father. He is our heavenly Father. His name carries a lot of respect and power. He desires to share his respect and power with you.
YOUR KINGDOM: Pray - talk to Father - about the kingdom. Isn't it interesting that the first thing we are to discuss with Father is his kingdom? How many of us have ever really prayed about the kingdom of God? Think about it. Father wants to tell you about the kingdom. Father has this desire to tell you about his kingdom and tell you about his plan to bring it.
YOUR WILL: Pray - talk to Father - about his will. Father wants to talk to you about his will for your life. He wants to explain it to us. He wants your life blessed beyond measure and the way that will happen is for him to tell you about his will for your life.
GIVE US: Pray - talk to Father - about what is needed today to do his will and bring his kingdom. Father can't wait to tell you what he will provide for you today and tomorrow to bring about his kingdom and his will in your life. He has it all planned out and it's good!
FORGIVE US: Pray - talk to Father - about forgiveness. It's not only Father forgiving you. It's being certain that you forgive others. Unforgiveness can block every good thing that God has for us. Father desires to talk to you and make certain that nothing stops his will for your life. He desires desperately to talk to you about that.
LEAD US NOT: Pray - talk to Father - that he will lead us away from temptation. What is it that temps us? Father wants to talk about that. He knows that if you don't allow him to lead you away from temptation that temptation can destroy your life. We need to get alone and talk to Father about that.
DELIVER US: Pray - talk to Father - when the enemy snares us. The evil one has a plan to snare each of us. What is the evil one's plan? Father desires to deliver us from the pit of darkness.
Jesus said Father desperately desires to talk to us about these things.
What have we heard today? What have we learned? First, don't grandstand. Don't preach sermons when you pray. Fight off the desire to sound and look "spiritual." Simply, get alone with Father and talk to Father. Secondly, don't babble on and on about what you want. Concentrate! Have an intelligent conversation with Father. Spend some quality time with dad. I know that doesn't sound religious, but that's the way prayer is supposed to be. Close the door and talk privately with dad. If we will, he will reward us. He will answer our prayers. He will explain to us his kingdom, his will, who it is we need to forgive, what tempts us and the evil one's plan.
So, how desperately do you desire to talk to Father? He desperately wants to talk to you. He wants to talk to his son and he wants to talk to his daughter. No price is too great for him to pay to get to talk to you. In fact, he has already paid it. He wants to tell you how much he loves you. He wants to tell you how much you matter to him.
That's kingdom prayer. That's living in the kingdom.