Summary: Last week we started the series on the places where Jesus said, “I tell you the truth”. We started out by looking at Matt. 6:1-4 where Jesus talks about giving. Today we’ll look at the other acts of righteousness in this passage-praying and fasting.
“GENUINE PRAYER AND FASTING”
INTRODUCTION: Last week we started the series on the places where Jesus said, “I tell you the truth”. We started out by looking at the first four verses of Matt. 6 where Jesus shows us our giving need not be done with fanfare, with the intention to get praise from others, but rather with the motive of blessing others and bringing glory to God. Today we’ll look at the other acts of righteousness in this passage-praying and fasting.
1) Do not pray to be heard by others (5-6). Jesus isn’t condemning public prayer here. Jesus himself prayed in the company of others. He prayed around his disciples and he prayed in the presence of a crowd before he raised Lazarus from the dead. The people Jesus highlights are not in the wrong because they prayed in public, they were in the wrong because their motive was not right-to be seen by men.
“I tell you the truth, they have their reward in full." Jesus reiterates what he said earlier about giving with an impure motive. Their prayers were just a formality; they weren’t coming from their heart. Therefore, the reward they received would only be the praise from men who recognize them for their ability to pray rather than God’s reward which would be the fulfillment of their prayers.
Vs. 6-praying in secret. No doubt these hypocrites prayed one way in public and another way in private (if they prayed in private at all). But that’s just it-Jesus wants us to have a private prayer life. It wouldn’t be good if the only time I prayed was in the company of others.
We need that time of prayer when no one else is around; where there are no distractions. A quiet place where we can be completely open and transparent. That’s typically not going to happen in a public prayer setting. We’re going to be more careful and guarded; and understandably so.
But just because our prayers will be more personal when we’re in private, the manner and the wording shouldn’t really change when we are in public. It’s not good if we’re using big words and poeticism in our public prayers but our private prayers are simple and down to earth. If this is the case then it’s probably because in public we are praying for the audience around us but in private we’re praying for an audience of one.
We need to be genuine in our prayers; whether public or private. Genuine prayer involves the heart more so than the tongue. “A family was sitting around the dinner table one evening waiting for dad to get in from work. He finally came in after his unusually long, rough day. He sat down at the table and offered thanks for the food. As soon as he finished his prayer, he began to complain and grumble about how awful things were going at work. The boss was a jerk and the workers were lazy. Then his wife brought in the food. Since he had come in so late, the food that was supposed to be cold was warm and the food that was supposed to be hot was cold. The main dish was overcooked and dried out. The bread was hard. And he made sure and pointed out what was wrong with everything. After hearing all the complaints, his youngest daughter asked him a question. “Daddy, do you think God heard you when you prayed a few minutes ago?” “Well, yes sweetheart. Of course He did.” Then she asked, “Do you think He heard everything you said after that?” “Why, yes sweetheart. God hears everything.” Finally, she asked, “Which one do you think He believed?”” If our prayers are genuine, the Lord will honor that. We will be rewarded and refreshed. We will be blessed in hearing wisdom and encouragement from his Spirit.
2) Don’t babble on (7-8). The KJV “Vain repetition”, NASB “meaningless repetition”. Do not let your prayers drag on and on; just for the purpose of talking. We might think the longer we pray the better we’re heard. Again, Jesus isn’t saying all long prayers are babble. His own prayer in John 17 is long. The difference is in the substance of the prayer. Some long prayers are good because they are solid, heartfelt prayers but the long prayer that is redundant and shallow is not.
This also means we shouldn’t keep uttering the same old repetitive prayers. Vain repetitions are empty, meaningless words. We might think the repetitiousness of our prayers adds to the seriousness and genuineness of our prayers but they don’t. The pagans thought that being repetitious would incite their gods to action. In 1st Kings 18 there was an incident where the prophets of Baal kept chanting for hours upon hours the same phrase over and over trying to incite him to act. Then Elijah prayed one, short prayer and God answered.