Summary: Knowing how to pray makes prayer more meaningful and makes it easier to do. Sermon discusses principles Jesus taught about prayer.
“Where do I begin?” Have you ever found yourself asking that question faced with a task so challenging you didn’t even know where to start?
A while back my car broke down on the way home from church. I managed to steer it out of the road. I tried to restart it several times to no avail. So I did what most of you would do. I got out of the car, lifted the hood, and looked at the engine. I don’t know why I did that because I didn’t know any more about the problem after looking under the hood than before. I felt totally frustrated because I had no idea how to solve the problem. I didn’t even know how to begin the task.
Later, my son-in-law, John, looked under that same hood at the same engine. He pointed out the problem, and in short time had it fixed. He even seemed to enjoy the process.
The point I’m making is this. A little knowledge about how to begin something can really help with the motivation. I knew a man who would go into major depression about this time every year because it was time for him to do his taxes. He had a successful business because he was a hard worker and had some technical skills. But he only had about a sixth grade education and doing his tax return was a daunting task for him. I don’t know why he didn’t just hire someone to do it for him but he did his own return each year. He dreaded that task because it required him to do something he knew very little about.
You can probably think of Can you think of an undertaking that affects you that way as well? Compare that to something you know and understand. In the corporate world I faced problems far more complicated than the engine problem I mentioned earlier. But I jumped right in and got the job done because somebody had taught me how to approach that situation. A little instruction can make a huge difference. And even if we have a lot to learn, just knowing where to begin can be a big help.
Jesus does that for us in our text this morning concerning the matter of prayer. I don’t know about you but I still feel like a kindergartner when it comes to prayer. I still feel I have so much to learn. But I don’t draw back from prayer because I at least know where to begin.
In Matthew 6 Jesus gives us the most fundamental and most important aspects of prayer. We all want our prayers to count. We want to pray effectively and these are the essential basics for that to happen. What we talk about this morning and next Sunday will be good preparation for our 50 Days of Consecration which begins in March.
“And when you pray...”—that is the way our text begins in Matthew 6:5. What should I do when I pray? What should I keep in mind? How should I begin and what should my attitude be? Jesus’ first point is:
I. Be Sincere!
Do not be like the hypocrites. They pray out of the wrong motive. They pray to be seen of men. They are missing the most essential dynamic of prayer—it is a conversation with God, no a show. The word Matthew uses for hypocrite was the word used in Classical Greek for actor, showman. Don’t put on a show; just talk with God. Jesus had some very strong words for hypocrites. Here He tells us to not be like them. In Matthew 15 the Pharisees complained to Jesus because His disciples were not following the ceremonial washing of hands before the meal. Jesus responded by saying to them, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’” They had developed a religion with lots of external activity but no sincere love for God in the heart. The disciples’ response to all that was humorous. They pointed out to Jesus that He had probably offended the Pharisees with that answer. Da! When you call someone a hypocrite, you probably will offend them. But that was exactly the way they were behaving.
Hypocrisy is something we all face. It’s a danger because we have made a public statement that we are followers of Jesus. Amen? But what is the temptation if we begin to draw back from the Lord in our hearts? The temptation is to keep up appearances. The temptation is to continue to go through the outward form of religion hoping no one will notice the change that’s occurred in our hearts. Am I in secret the same thing that I am in public? My true spiritual condition is reflected in what I do when nobody is looking. When we are in a state of halting between two opinions—on the one hand, wanting to serve the Lord and not experience His chastening—on the other hand, wanting to have our own way and indulge our own desires—when we are double minded in that way it is hard not to be hypocritical. The solution is quite simple. On Mount Carmel Elijah put it this way for the people of Israel, “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him’” (1 Kings 18:21). By the way, the solution I’m talking about is a choice to follow the Lord. I’ve known people who flaunted their sin because they didn’t want to be a hypocrite. Well, that’s like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. God wants us to put away our sin and serve Him with all our hearts.