I sure am glad that each one of you is here for part four of our series exploring the life of Jesus Christ. We’ve already explored Christ’s baptism, His temptation in the wilderness, and the calling of His first disciples. This morning we are going to look at a specific section of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is probably Jesus’ most famous sermon, and in it He talked about everything from loving your enemies, to refusing to get divorced, to going the second mile for people, and a great number of other topics in between. And tucked away there in the Sermon on the Mount, our Savior taught us the best way to pray to God. And so this morning, we are going to study how to pray like Jesus taught us to pray. And in case you closed your Bibles after Justin read, I ask you to turn back in your Bibles to Matthew chapter six, and we are going to be reading verses five through fifteen. So again, Matthew six, starting in verse five.
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him. After this manner therefore pray ye: ‘Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.’ For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Let’s pray together.
The title of my sermon this morning is, “Jesus: The Teacher of Prayers.” As we study the teachings of our Lord in this passage, we are going to see seven distinct things that Jesus Christ teaches us about prayer. And you will find those seven key facts on the hand out that you should have received. And is there anyone that did not get a copy of that handout? All right, then. Let’s begin looking at what Jesus has to say about prayer.
Key #1: Our Prayers Should Take Place in Private
For this key we need to look at verses six and seven again. Jesus says, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” In this verse, Jesus specifically brings a charge against the Pharisees. The Pharisees, as we have discussed before, were mainly interested with outward appearances, and were not really that interested in matters of the heart. So for a Pharisee, praying was not a time to commune with God. Praying was a time to show off their skills to the general public.
Have you ever ran into a person like this? I haven’t in this church, but I have in some other churches. You probably know the type I’m talking about. In the course of their 20-minute public prayer, they use as many fancy theological terms as possible, and they even throw a little warble into their voice for added emotion. Or my personal favorite, the announcement prayer. An announcement prayer goes something like this: “Dear Heavenly Father, please bless our church Easter egg hunt that we’re going to have in the lot across from the church on April 23rd from 11:00AM-1:00PM. And Lord, please help Brother Red to not burn the hot dogs this year. Amen.” That’s an announcement prayer.
And let me throw out a quick disclaimer. I love public prayer. When I ask a person to lead in prayer, it is an honor, because it is that person’s privilege to lead the congregation in worship of God. But the key is to remember Who we are praying to. God doesn’t need to know our announcements, and God doesn’t need to hear the limits of our extensive vocabulary. God wants to hear our hearts. And while I do love public prayer, we can never take our focus off of private prayer. Jesus tells us to do the bulk of our praying when we are by ourselves in a quiet place.
While praying in secret has many advantages, I want to point out two specific advantages. The first advantage of secret prayer is that it allows us to be complete open with God. Sometimes we have secrets that we just can’t broadcast in front of the whole congregation. Sometimes we have sin that needs to be confessed to God that you don’t want to confess to the whole world. But God knows even your secret needs and your secret sins, and you can tell Him anything in prayer. The second advantage is that it allows us to exercise our faith in God. When you pray something in secret that you do not want anybody else to know, and God answers your prayer, then you only have one Person to thank for that answer; and that’s God. It could only be God, because nobody else even knew! So key number one, we should always do the bulk of our praying in private.
Key #2: Our Prayers Should Not Treat God like He is Hard of Hearing
Let’s read verses seven and eight again. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.” To understand this principle, we have to try to insert ourselves into the culture of Jesus’ day. In the first century, the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians all had very complex pantheons of gods. In fact, you could say that Judea was surrounded by idol worshippers! And people in those times would do ridiculous things to make sure that the idols heard their requests. Sometimes they would do horrible things like cut themselves, or scream at the top of their lungs, or sometimes even sacrifice their children in front of an idol. But other times, to get the idol’s attention, they would simply keep repeating the same phrase over and over and over, just hoping that someone was listening.
I experienced this phenomenon when I had the privilege of going to Japan after my senior year of high school. I went as a part of E-TEAM, which is a Free Will Baptist group that sends highschoolers around the world for three-week mission trips. One day, our host missionaries took us to a Shinto shrine, so that we could see how many of the Japanese people worshipped. When we arrived, we were surrounded by different shrines and idols that people prayed to. But one lady in particular caught my eye. She would walk up a long flight of stairs to a particular idol, and she would mutter a short phrase in Japanese and then bow down to the idol. Then she would walk down the flight of stairs, all the way to the bottom. And then she would turn around, walk back up, and mutter the exact same phrase to the idol. She did this exact routine for the entire time we were there. We never saw her start, and we never saw her stop. That is vain repetition. Isn’t that sad? That woman wanted desperately for that hunk of rock to hear her cries for help. What that woman didn’t know is that that idol was blind, deaf, and dumb.
In this verse, Jesus is telling us that our God is real, and He is not blind, deaf, or dumb! Can I get an “Amen?” God does not need us to repeat ourselves over and over, because He heard us the first time! In fact, look at what our text says in the second half of verse eight. “for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.” God is really, really smart. He knows exactly what you need before you even ask.
But Jesus in this verse is not telling us to give up praying after the first time! Very often God desires for us to pray about something for years before He decides to act. But what we must realize is that our God is real, and we must pray to Him like He is real. I realize that this principle is not something that most people struggle with, but I think that sometimes we pray a prayer without even really thinking about the words that are coming out of our mouths. I don’t have a problem with teaching little children a simple prayer to pray before a meal, but the problem comes when that prayer becomes an empty ritual before we get to eat. Our God is real, and we need to pray as if when we call out to God, He hears our prayers, and He is going to act on our prayers.
Key #3: Our Prayers Should Admire God’s Character
Let’s read verse nine once again. “After this manner therefore pray ye: ‘Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name.” Who wants to shout out what we call the next several verses of our text? That’s right, we call them the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gets down to the nitty gritty of what makes a good prayer. Jesus begins His prayer by addressing God as our Father. This address emphasizes our close relationship to God. When a Japanese person prays to an idol, there is no emotional connection between the person praying and the person receiving the prayer. But when we pray to God, there is a very close connection, because God is our father. And then Jesus says, “hallowed be Thy name.” We’ve talked about the word “holy,” and how it means “set apart,” or “righteous.” The word “hallowed” is a form of the word “holy,” and it basically means “something that is revered as holy.” Because of this, the Provow Paraphrase Bible reads “Our Father, who is in Heaven, let others revere Your name as holy.”
This verse tells us two things about how we should pray. The first thing is that every time we pray, we need to take time to praise God for who He is, and confess that He is holy, and He is good. But this verse also shows us that we should pray that other people would come to see that God is holy. In other words, this phrase shows us that we should both praise God for His holiness, and pray that others will praise Him for His holiness.
So I challenge you, that each time you pray, you take a moment to show your adoration for God. Jesus, who was God in the flesh, took the time to express His adoration for God’s character, and so how much more should we mere human beings praise the holy God who gave us life, and who gave us a new life in Christ. So Key number three, our prayers should admire God’s character.
Key #4: Our Prayers Should Focus on God’s Will, Not Our Will.
For this key, we need to read verse ten of our text again. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven.” As Jesus continues His great prayer, He turns His attention to praying that God’s will be done. I think there are two ways we can interpret the statement, “Thy kingdom come.” For one, Jesus is praying an eschatological prayer, asking God to bring about His eternal kingdom, as He will at the end of the book of Revelation. But I think that Jesus is also praying that in the meantime, God will win the souls of men and women one by one. You see, the kingdom of God is not only a futuristic reality. The kingdom of God currently exists in the form of the church. And I do not think it is a coincidence that immediately after Jesus prays that God’s kingdom will come, Jesus prays that God’s will be done, just like His will is done in Heaven.
That raises the question, “How is God’s will done differently in Heaven than it is on earth?” In Heaven, God is the absolute authority, and everything He says goes. He is the King of Kings. And while God is the Master of the whole universe, presently, because of sin, most men and women are following Satan’s rule instead of God’s. So when Jesus asks that God’s authority be the same on earth as it is in Heaven, essentially Jesus is saying that He wants for every person to willingly submit to God’s authority in their life. And when we personally give our entire lives over to Christ’s leading, in our lives we are making God’s will on earth that same as it is in Heaven.
So can you see how both “Thy kingdom come,” and “Thy will be done” are very similar prayers? In both prayers, Jesus is essentially asking that God will bring more and more people into His church. Because the church is the kingdom, and the people in the church are the people that allow God’s will to be done on earth. I know that these are difficult concepts, but I hope that you are understanding what I’m saying.
So the implication for our prayers is that a good prayer focuses on God’s mission, not our own mission. Are you allowed to pray that God will make you rich and famous? Yes, technically you are. But the prayers that honor God the most are prayers that further God’s desires, and God’s goals. So to give this some flesh and bones, God loves it when we pray for the salvation of the lost. God loves it when we pray for our brother or sister who has not been in church lately. And God also loves it when we personally submit ourselves to His kingship and His authority. So key number four is that when we pray, we need to pray that God’s goals be advanced, not our own.
Key #5: Our Prayers Should Not Be Selfish
This key is closely related to number four, but for this one we need to look at verse eleven of our text. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The idea of the phrase “daily bread” is essentially the amount of bread you would buy in one trip to the grocery store. I think in this verse, Jesus is pointing out two things about how our prayers should be focused. One, we need to always view God as our provider, just like we talked about two weeks ago in our sermon on temptation. I can’t help but see the parallel between “daily bread” and the manna that the Israelites found on the ground every morning when they were wandering in the wilderness. Six days a week, when they would walk outside their tents in the morning, they would find what looked like a dew on the ground, but it was actually a flaky honey wafer sort of thing. When they were going through that wasteland, they were entirely dependent upon God for their sustenance. And while our food may not come in quite such a miraculous fashion, God is just as much our provider as He was the provider of the Israelites.
But Jesus is also making the point that while God is our provider, we should not ask Him to provide for us our every whim and desire. In key number four we talked about how our prayers should emphasize God’s will, and not our own, and this verse emphasizes that fact by asking God to provide what we need, and not necessarily what we want. Key number five, our prayers to God should not be selfish.
Key #6: Our Prayers Should Always Contain Repentance
Look at verse twelve once again. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” It is obvious that Jesus here is offering up a model prayer, and not a prayer that He Himself would pray, because Jesus has no need to ask for forgiveness, because He has never sinned! And Jesus is making the point that whenever we pray, we need to always ask God to forgive our sins. Now let me be very clear, when you trusted in Christ as your Savior, He forgave your past, present, and future sins. So asking God to forgive your sins every time you pray is not building up some sort of point system to get you into Heaven. But even as Christians, I think most of us could admit that we still sin on a DAILY basis. And while that sin has already been covered by Christ, that sin does have consequences for us while we are still on planet Earth. For one thing, sinning is like building a brick wall between ourselves and God. We are still saved by Christ, but we will pay the price for our sin while we are down here. So in this verse, Jesus teaches us the principle of continually humbling ourselves before God, and asking Him to forgive our sins. Whenever we seek God’s forgiveness, it is like He crushes that brick wall that we’ve built between us, and He instantly brings us back into fellowship with Him. So is asking daily for forgiveness necessary for salvation? No, or course not. But is asking daily for forgiveness necessary for living a joyful life in Christ? Absolutely!
And this verse also paints a powerful picture that we must forgive other people. I think verses fourteen and fifteen tie in nicely with this point. Verses fourteen and fifteen read, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive yours. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” I tell you what, there are some verses from the Bible that are not very easy to read, aren’t there? As much as I would like to explain these verses away, Jesus says that if we do not forgive other people, then God will not forgive us. 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins before God, He will always forgive our sins! He will forgive them every time. And Jesus is telling us, that in the same way, we must forgive other people. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that forgiving your enemies is some sort of magical formula that makes you right with God. We’ve talked about many times that the only way to be right with God is to trust in Christ. So what does this verse tell us? I think that this verse tells us in a very powerful way that Christians will forgive their enemies. If the Holy Spirit truly resides in you, then you will bear good fruit as a Christian. And one example of this good fruit is that you will always forgive your enemies, eventually. Sometimes it might take a lifetime, but it will always happen in the end. Because people that do not forgive their enemies will not be forgiven by God. As hard as that is to swallow, Jesus said it, and He didn’t stutter.
And so I can say with certainty that if you are a believer, and you are harboring bitterness against someone who has wronged you, one day you will forgive them. But I would encourage you to forgive them sooner rather than later. As a matter of fact, I would encourage you to go see them as soon as we dismiss in prayer, and let them know that you forgive them. You want an amazing way to show someone what it means to become a Christian? Forgive them of their sins against you, and let them see first-hand what it feels like to be forgiven. That will give them a small taste of the forgiveness that is found in Jesus Christ. So we need to forgive others, just as Christ forgave us. And we need to confess our sins daily to God, so that there is nothing standing between us and Him.
Key #7: Our Prayers Should Ask for God’s Protection
Let’s look at verse thirteen once more. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” This verse shows us that every time we pray, we should pray that God will deliver us from the power of Satan. This principle ties in very closely with number six. In number six, we asked God to forgive us of the sins we already committed, and in verse seven, we ask God to help us avoid sinning in the future. I do not want to talk too much about this, since two weeks ago you heard an entire sermon on defeating temptation, but Jesus makes the point that we should always seek God’s help in defeating sin in our lives. As we talked about on Sunday night a while back, the devil and his minions are extremely real, and they are constantly coming at you with the desire to completely destroy your life in Christ. And one of the best ways to counter that spiritual darkness is with the power of God defending you against temptation. So I would encourage you to ask God to help you win the battle against sin.
We have looked at seven keys to a successful prayer life. And now the only thing left for us to do is to put those principles into practice. And as the pianist and song leader come forward, I would encourage each and every one of you to examine how much time you spend in prayer, and what the content of your prayers is like. I can say from experience that it is so easy to ignore this important facet of our Christian walks. But I would encourage you to make a plan to increase the amount you pray, and to examine your prayers to see if they are God-honoring, or if they are self-seeking. I would encourage you sometime today, to actually write out your entire prayer, and see if it reflects the way that Jesus taught us to pray. Or perhaps every time you pray, you could time yourself, not to show off or compare yourself to some statistic, but to get an honest bearing of how much time you spend with God. And I would encourage you to set a goal to increase that amount. Jesus would pray for hours on end, so I guarantee it’s not going to kill you to break that elusive five-minute barrier. The success of your life, and the life of this church hinges on the prayers of you gathered here today. Without a healthy prayer life, your life with Christ will be like a withered flower. And without continual prayer from our members, this church will be nothing more than a nicely-decorated tomb.
And if you are here today, and you have never made the commitment to follow Jesus, then there is only one prayer from you that God will hear. The only prayer that you need to pray is the one that makes Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior of your life. If you have never become a Christian, I invite you to come down to the altar and do that this morning. Jesus talked about how God will always forgive our sins, but that doesn’t happen until we ask Him to forgive our sins. And if you are too nervous to come up here and make that commitment at the altar, I invite you to talk to me or any one of our members, and we would be happy to share with you the good news of Jesus Christ.
Before we sing, let’s pray.
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