Summary: This is an examination on, first, how not to pray, and then an exposition of the Lord's Prayer--a model for how to pray.
How then should we pray? It’s a question as old as time itself. In Luke 11:1 the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray…” Before we answer the question how should we? Let’s answer this one: how shouldn’t we pray? The passage we read this morning is an account of what Jesus actually said. In the middle of what we call The Sermon On The Mount Jesus interjects these words: ‘And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. ’ The hypocrisy that Jesus is speaking of in Matthew chapter six refers to the Jewish leaders in the early first century. See the Pharisees and the Sadducees thought that all of their practices and all of their loud prayers were what God required of men to be religious or devout followers of Him. But as Jesus shows us this morning in this passage, they have already received their reward. They have received the recognition of their fellow Jews, everyone has seen their religious demonstration, and Jesus says that God can’t use that type of prayer. ‘This type of prayer is also common among the Hindus and the Muslims. They love to pray in the most public places, on the banks of the rivers where people are gather all around, in the public streets, on the roofs of covered boats for all to see. They make no effort to conceal their outside devotional; they want to be seen by men.’ Do you see what Jesus is talking about? He’s not condemning public prayer. He’s condemning public prayer that is done to be seen by others. The Muslims pray toward Meca a certain number of times of a day, not for the sake of prayer, but so that others will see how religious they are. ‘The story is told of an eastern ascetic holy man who covered himself with ashes as a sign of humility and regularly sat on a prominent street corner of his city. When tourists asked permission to take his picture, the mystic would rearrange his ashes to give the best image of destitution and humility. A great deal of religion amounts to nothing more than rearranging religious "ashes" to impress the world with one's supposed humility and devotion. The problem, of course, is that the humility is a sham, and the devotion is to self, not to God. Such religion is nothing more than a game of pretense, a game at which the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day were masters. Because their religion was mostly an act, and a mockery of God's true revealed way for His people, Jesus' most blistering denunciations were reserved for them.’
Jesus goes on to say, ‘And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. ’ ‘When Christ’s disciples asked him how they should pray, He told them not to babble on and on the way people do when they’re trying to talk someone into doing something.’ ‘Prayer is not about what we can say to God, but about what God is able to do in us, and through us.’ When we pray it’s not about trying to convince God to give us what we think we need. It’s not like trying to persuade the bank to give us a loan, or trying to talk the used car salesman’s price down. We don’t need to coerce God into doing for us what He wants to do. If our prayer is as Jesus teaches, then there is no need for pleading with God to intercede. God will do what God knows is best for us, if we’ll ask and then wait for Him to act. Now, I’m not trying to pick on the Muslims, but their teaching on prayer is in direct contradiction of Jesus’. I ran across one of their prayers, listen: ‘O god, O god, O god, O god!—O lord, O lord, O lord, O lord!—O living, O immortal, O living, O immortal, O living, O immortal, O living, O immortal!—O creator of the heavens and the earth!—O thou who art endowed with majesty and authority! O wonderful, O wonderful, etc., etc., etc.’ Vain repetition, trying to build God up, thinking that flattery will get them what they desire. Jesus says that this isn’t necessary. In fact, He says not to even waste our time in doing this. It doesn’t flatter God, it displeases God. ‘Thus Jesus is always calling His followers to something higher than the attainments of those around them, whether religious people, or secular people. He emphasizes that Christian righteousness is greater (because it’s an inner righteousness), Christian love broader (because it includes a love for our enemies), and Christian prayer is deeper (because it is to be sincere and thoughtful), deeper than anything to be found in this non-Christian world.’