Summary: Practical steps to the prayer God desires...
When You Pray, Matthew 6:5-8
In 1992 I had the privilege of visiting South Korea. I was leading a ministry team that was challenging Koreans to get involved in world mission. We visited many churches. And whatever the Koreans learnt from our team, I can tell you that we probably learnt much more from the Koreans. We learnt to eat delicious, spicy, Korean food! But more than that... we learnt unforgettable lessons in prayer.
Almost wherever we went Korean Christians were praying. Many churches had a morning prayer meeting, from 5-6am, Monday to Friday. Most churches had a Friday night all-night prayer meeting, every Friday. And many Korean Christians regularly visited what they called prayer mountains. These were big hills and mountains where you could go in a small cave or cabin for hours of private prayer.
You therefore may not be so surprised to hear that committed Christians made up around 25% of the South Korean population. Remember God’s promise in 2nd Chronicles 7:14... “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I am convinced we would see greater things in our land and in our lives if we prayed more. Lord, teach us to pray!!!
Last week we looked at Jesus’ teaching about how his followers would be givers, fasters and pray-ers. Yes, Jesus expects his followers to be pray-ers. So...
1. When you pray, pray because it is Expected
Matthew 6:5, 6 & 7, Jesus says, When you pray... When you pray... When (not if) you pray...
Jesus teaches that God expects us to pray.
And this is in itself nothing new...
In Jeremiah 33:3, God says, “Call to me and I will answer you”.
In 1st Thessalonians 5:17, we are taught, “Pray continually”.
In both Old and New Testaments, the message is the same. God says, ‘Talk to me. Keep talking to me.’
2. When you pray, pray in a way not Excluded
Jesus says it’s possible to get prayer wrong!
Jesus talks about two types of people who pray. Both pray wrongly!
The first man is what Jesus calls a hypocrite, v5. This is Jesus’ description of a very religious person, a Pharisee. This man’s main motivation in prayer is looking good. He uses prayer to gain respect. He’s not really speaking to God. He’s speaking to those around him. He’s not really interested in God’s reputation and glory. He’s interested in his own glory and reputation. Jesus says NO to this kind of prayer. He excludes it.
The thing is, many Christians are the opposite of the Pharisees! Many Christians are rather afraid of praying out loud in front of others! Why’s that? I’ll tell you why it took me a long time to be brave enough to pray out loud: I didn’t want to sound silly in front of others! But, friends, what I didn’t realise at the time was that my not praying out loud was a very similar problem to the Pharisees who loved to pray out loud. You see the Pharisees were worried about what other people thought when they loved to pray out loud; and I was worried about what people thought when I was too scared to pray out loud!!! You see, we need to learn to focus on God in prayer, and not on others.
The second man is what Jesus calls a pagan, v7. In other words, he is not a Jew, and doesn’t know Israel’s God. This man prays by babbling on and on and on! He thinks he as to make as much noise and use as many words as possible for God to hear him! He thinks that if he says the right words enough times something is bound to happen! He treats God like a machine. Put the right things in and hopefully the right thing will come out.
This man reminds us of those guys, those pagan prophets, who stood on mount Carmel with Elijah. They were calling out to their Baal, their god. They were jumping up and down and dancing all day long. They were shouting out to him. They shouted louder and louder. They slashed themselves and made themselves bleed, to get Baal’s attention. “But”, the Bible says, “there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention”!!!
These people were not really interested in knowing God. And Jesus says NO to this kind of prayer. He excludes it. Not that we shouldn’t pray loudly or passionately! But that we shouldn’t pray as if we were praying to a capricious, whimsical, little god who is impressed with noise and special words.
How easily we can become automatic in our prayers. How easy for some of us to have our quiet time, say our prayer and feel we’ve done our bit, but all without really connecting with God... when God wants more than just our words.