Summary: First in a series about prayer, based on Matthew 6:5-15. This message is from verses 5-8.
Guidelines for Effective Prayer (Part 1)
May 8, 2005
Today’s message is a bit reflective of me: short.
And it’s not because I’m not prepared, but because the verses we’re looking at today, are kind of a transition between what we discussed last week and what we’re going to be looking at next week, and possibly the next, as we continue our walk through the gospel according to Matthew.
You know, prayer is one part of the Christian life that I think we can all use some more help in.
I don’t think we can learn enough about it, and I don’t think we can do it enough. But we need to be careful that we don’t spend so much time studying prayer that we never get around to actually doing it.
It’s sort of like studying the Bible but never taking the time to actually let it make a difference in how you live.
So today we’re beginning a series that I hope will not only be informative, but also practical. My hope is that each week we look at this issue of prayer, you’ll find something you can take home and use right away.
These 4 verses we’re looking at today precede Jesus’ teaching about the Lord’s prayer, or the "model" prayer as I prefer to call it, and kind of transitions between his words about giving and doing acts of righteousness and that teaching about prayer.
So follow along as I read these verses, from Matthew 5:5-8 -
"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. 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
As with last week’s passage about doing acts of righteousness and giving to the needy, we find Jesus addressing prayer for the sake of getting noticed and gaining approval of men. In other words, doing good things simply to gain a "spiritual reputation."
Last week we looked at the fact that good things can be done for the wrong reasons, and Jesus picks up that theme in these verses.
And in these four verses, Jesus not only lays the groundwork for what’s coming up right after them, but in doing so, gives us some tools we can use.
So let’s begin looking at three guidelines for effective prayer, okay? Here we go. The first guideline we’re going to look at to day is to...
Avoid praying for "looks."
Jesus says in verse 5 that the hypocrites...
"They love...to be seen by men."
This hearkens back to our message last week. Jesus said that we should not go our giving and other acts of righteousness for the purpose of giving a good, spiritual impression.
Obviously, giving to the needy is a good thing. And no one would deny that praying is a good thing.
But if do like some Christians, who want to make sure that most people possible are watching, you’ve got a problem.
Praying to be seen is evidence of pride, and Jesus says that’s a sign of the hypocrite, who’s more worried about appearances than about pleasing God.
The issue is not that you should never pray in public, but rather that you don’t pray to look good in front of others.
Make sense? Good. Let’s move on. The second guideline for effective prayer that I want to cover today is to make sure you...
Don’t measure the prayer by the words.
In verse 7, Jesus says...
"...do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."
I want to discuss a couple types of babbling:
1. Repeating the same words over and over.
I mentioned last week that I grew up in the Catholic church. And in the Catholic church there’s a rather large emphasis on the repetition of certain prayers, particularly the Lord’s prayer, and what we called, the "Hail Mary," which is a prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Aside from the unbiblical teaching that we should pray to anybody but God himself, the issue becomes that both of these prayers, the Lord’s prayer and the Hail Mary, have become just avenues of mindless repetition with little or no thought or heart for the majority of Catholics, at least those I know.