Summary: What is your attitude when you pray? Before Jesus tells us how to pray, He tells us how not to pray.
“The highest activity of the human soul.” That’s what the great expository preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said about prayer. Prayer is one of the most important things we will ever do in our relationship with the Lord. It is so essential to who we are as Christians that one commentator compared it to breathing. He said, “For Christians prayer is like breathing. You don’t have to think to breathe because the atmosphere exerts pressure on your lungs and forces you to breathe. That’s why it is more difficult to hold your breath than it is to breathe.” I don’t know whether not praying is more difficult than praying is. But I do know that not praying is as hazardous to your spiritual life as not breathing is to your physical life. Not praying will spiritually kill you. But the fact is that sometimes—praying will spiritually kill you. CS Lewis was a brilliant Christian author during the mid-twentieth century. He’s probably most well-known for his Chronicles of Narnia children’s books. But one of my favorite books of his is a book called The Screwtape Letters. Now, the premise of the book sounds really strange. It’s written as a series of letters from an uncle to a nephew. The problem is that they are both demons. The uncle is named Screwtape and he is a very high-ranking demon. The nephew is named Wormwood and is a rookie. And in each letter, Screwtape instructs his rookie nephew on the best ways to tempt his patient. Of course, his patient is a new Christian. It’s a brilliant work that is very insightful and convicting. Interestingly enough, several of the letters deal with prayer. And in not one single case does Screwtape instruct Wormwood to keep his patient from praying. As a matter of fact, sometimes he encourages him to have him pray. He just wants him to pray the wrong way. When Lewis wrote that, he understood something very profound. God created us with a built-in need to pray. It’s almost a basic instinct. Even lost people pray. Even atheists pray. It seems that it is impossible to keep people from praying. So Satan doesn’t even try. But what he does instead is, he works on us to have us pray the wrong way. In one of the fictional letters, Screwtape told Wormwood to get his patient to pray for his mother. That’s a good thing, right? Except he told him that as the patient was praying for his mother, bring certain things to his mind. Bring to mind all the little things she does that annoy him. Bring to mind the annoying way she raises her eyebrow at him. Get him thinking about all of those things he hates about her at the very same time he’s praying for her very soul. Has anything like that ever happened to you? “Lord help me forgive so-and-so. They really hurt me. This is what they did to me. And here’s another thing they did to me.” And before you know it, your mind is full of all the reasons you’re angry and resentful and hurt… and there’s no room for real prayer and forgiveness. Our enemy is clever. He’s been at this a long time. And he wants nothing more than for you to have a completely ineffective prayer life. Oh, he won’t ever make you stop praying. But, if you’re not careful, he’ll trick you into praying with the wrong attitude. That’s what was happening with the people Jesus was talking about in our passage tonight. This is a different occasion than in Luke 11. In the first 4 verses of Luke 11, Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him how to pray. When they asked that, Jesus told them the same thing He had told them in the Sermon on the Mount. He repeated Himself. But here in our passage in the Sermon on the Mount was the first recorded time Jesus said these words. And before He actually gave them what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He gave them the words of warning in our passage. In other words, before He taught them how to pray, He taught them how not to pray. Or to use CS Lewis’ fictional characters, Jesus exposed the lies of Screwtape before He could even use them on his young Christian patient.