Peninsula Community Church
Prayer Series: When You Pray
February 7, 2016
Matthew 6:5-8 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Over the next four weeks we will unpack this passage together. As we do so we will see that the text focuses on the when, who, where, and how of prayer. As we begin this series, let me make a couple of observations in regard to prayer. First most believers feel inadequate when it comes to their prayer life. In fact, most believers struggle with the belief that their personal prayers are effective. This anxiety about prayer comes from the fact that too often we measure our ability to pray against the abilities of others. In so doing, we believe others pray more, they pray more effectively, and they have more prayers answered. The problem here is that too many times the enemy uses this as a tactic to prevent us from praying at all. He wants us to believe that our prayers are ineffective and not working because he knows if we believe this we will not pray.
A second observation is that too many believers have developed an apathy toward prayer as a result of devaluing prayer in their life. As I have said before, we will engage in what we value. Because we have devalued prayer in our lives, we do not consider prayer an important aspect of our life. If we do pray, our prayers are quick one liners to God and then we are off to conquer our day. And, too often we only pray when we need something from God.
A third observation made is that too many people simply do not know how to pray. They have heard about prayer. They have studied about prayer. They have attended seminars about prayer but they themselves have not engaged in prayer. The problem is that they have not made an application of the truths they have learned. It is like going to Weight Watcher meetings but never implementing the life style changes needed to lose weight. Here is a fact that we need to hear and understand. The best way to learn to pray is to pray.
With that said let’s unpack this passage. To begin with, this passage invites us to pray. Notice that Jesus said “When you pray!” The assumption made is that we will pray and when we pray things happen. We see the confirmation of this in Jeremiah 29:11-14. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Notice a couple of things in this passage. The Children of Israel had been in captivity for 70 years. At the end of that period of time God said that He would visit them based on the plans and goals He had for them. In essence, He tells them that when they understand that He has amazing plans for their life they will be more inclined to pray and to call upon the name of the Lord. It is important to note that it was not the captivity that would drive them to pray but a realization of God’s will and plan for them. God says call upon Him and He will hear them. Seek Him and they will find Him but they had to do so with their whole heart. Wow!!! that is amazing!
The second observation is that Matthew addresses the question “Why pray?” The answer is simple. We pray because God answers prayer. We pray because it brings healing to the nation (2 Chronicles 7:14-15) and in praying for the nation we are forced to deal with our pride and our need for forgiveness. We pray because in praying the will of God the Father is glorified in the Son. Look at the words of John 14:13. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. We pray because we know that our joy will be made complete or full. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24). Do you want that inner joy that brings hope to the darkness around you, then pray, for in praying our joy is made complete.
We also pray because we have proof that prayer works. Through out the Bible we find that God heard the cry of His people. They prayed and He answered. In Exodus 2:23-25 God heard His people pray. They had been in captivity long enough and they were crying out for a deliverer. In 1 Samuel 1:19-20 God heard Hannah’s prayer for a child. She was childless and because she prayed, a son was born who she dedicated to the Lord. In 1 Kings 17:22 God heard Elijah’s prayer. A child had died and Elijah had stretched himself across the child where he prayed for healing and the child arose from the dead. How awesome is that?
Finally, we pray because in verbalizing our prayers our faith is built and we are encouraged by the answers that come from prayer. We pray! God answers! Our faith is made stronger! While this is true, we must consider another aspect of the purpose of prayer. God desires to have a personal relationship with us. In life, we talk with those with whom we are in relationship. The problem is that we confuse prayer with simply asking God for things but prayer is so much more. Yes prayer involves our personal requests but we also praise God, we thank God for what He is doing and what He has done. We wait to hear from Him because prayer is a two-way street. It is not one-sided.
As we unpack this passage, we see that God invites us to pray but he also warns us about our posture in prayer. Listen to the words of Jesus. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. Jesus counsels us against making our prayers a show case for others to see. He is saying in essence that our prayer should be focused on God and not on others. By way of a reminder, a hypocrite has been defined as an actor on a stage. They play a part. They are not being real but are in fact putting forth a persona so that others will think differently of them. Being a hypocrite is not just a matter of being duplicitous but it carries the idea of seeking the praise and approval of people. Once they are off the stage they live their life as they always have. Nothing changed. This hypocritical mindset has no place in the movement of prayer. Jesus recognized this and he addressed this with those He spoke to during the Sermon on the Mount.
When I was a teenager I loved to watch wrestling and one of my favorite wrestlers was Cowboy Bob Kelly. He was a local wrestler in the Gulf Coast region. One of the wrestlers he would often fight against was Gorgeous George Jr.. We used to sit on Saturday nights and watch the matches live from Mobile and we had so much fun doing so. One evening we were headed to a concert at the Mobile Civic Center. After parking the car we had to walk past the rear entrance to the stage where the wrestling competition took place. Low and behold there was Cowboy Bob Kelly and Gorgeous George standing outside the rear entrance having a cigarette. They were laughing and talking with each other as if they were best friends. My heart sank because I realized in that moment wrestling was fake. They were hypocrites. They were play actors.
The problem with the hypocrites around Jesus is that they would pray in such a way that would elicit comments and reactions from those who would hear their prayers. They would pray to be acknowledged and not so that God would be honored and pleased with what He heard. You see when we pray to receive accolades then we have received our reward and we have had our prayer answered. The fact is God wants us to pray from the heart and use the words we have been given to communicate in every day life. We do not have to use big words or even Elizabethan English. God understands Southern and He understands New York. And He understands those who live in the Delmarva region. In fact, God hears us best when we are praying from a heart that is honest and true rather than the verbiage we are using.
I have witnessed people who pray with flowery words and purposeful flexion in their voice to illicit emotional responses for effect. They move people with their prayer but the reality is that while their prayers were magnificent their hearts were in fact far from God. The words they used were empty and meaningless. They wanted others to recognize their great ability to pray. But that is a hypocritical mode of prayer.
I have witnessed others who at times proclaim answered prayer as if was their prayers were the reason God brought answers. There was a lady in our church in New York who would come into my office or be in a group of people and she would proclaim how she single handedly prayed that God would do such and such and He did it. Her tone and her verbiage was condescending and critical of others. Her words were filled with pride and it seemed she was self promoting her prayer life. She presented herself as if she was not praying the whole world would fall apart. She lived a hypocritical life as she would seldom profess the prayers she had prayed that went unanswered or were answered in way that was contrary to the way she had prayed. In those times she was silent because the result did not place her in the best of lights.
On the other hand, I was asked to do the funeral of an elderly lady that had attended our church for some time. This dear saint’s health precluded her from doing much physically or financially for the church. Upon her death, her family found her prayer diaries which were filled with prayer requests and notes about answered prayer. They showed me page after page where she had being praying for me, my family, and the church. The notes were scribbled on the paper and were barely legible but she had journaled her journey of pray on the pages of the diary. Why do I share this? I share this because this little lady who did not have much in the physical had more than most of us to give in the spirit. She gave what she had. She prayed. And she did so without hypocrisy as no one knew that she prayed the way she did. Most notable I compared dates of the diary to dates where I needed prayer and there was an entry for that day where she had prayed for me. How awesome!
So what do we learn here. We learn that have been invited to pray. We have an audience with God. We learn that God calls us to pray and that He answers prayer. We learn that when we pray from the heart, He gets the glory and the praise. We learn that when we pray we need to be honest and real before God. So pray and pray in such a way that opens the door for God to get all of the praise and the glory. And remember that God answers prayer when we pray according to His will and to His ways.
For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14
Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom