Summary: Most of us are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, and some of us have attended churches where it was recited every Sunday. I grew up saying this prayer so much that it just became rote for me...
Most of us are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, and some of us have attended churches where it was recited every Sunday. I grew up saying this prayer so much that it just became rote for me and like Jeff in the drama I never thought God would really answer it. I was even instructed to repeat this prayer as penance way too many times to count. Since I often associated this prayer with punishment when I was younger, I know I missed the mystery and magnitude of these profound words for many years.
In the September 5th issue of Newsweek, several studies were cited to show that America is a spiritual nation. One example is that 64% of Americans say that they pray every day. Sociologist Alan Wolfe of Boston College suggests that the current spiritual searching is really about the empowerment of the self: “Rather than being about a god who commands you, it’s about finding a religion that empowers you.” Albert Mohler concludes, “The impression left by the total package is of a nation that increasingly embraces soft and self-centered forms of spirituality even as it rejects more demanding forms of belief…they see spirituality as a means of self-development…they want to get in touch with the universe and with their inner selves, but are not particularly concerned to know what the Creator would demand of them” (www.crosswalk.com).
In our passage for today, we will look at how not to pray and then at how to pray. This prayer has rightly been called a “dangerous prayer” because God just may answer it. These words are unequaled in simplicity and yet they sizzle with power. This prayer is poetic and beautiful and yet profound and brief. These words are anything but soft and self-centered so buckle up your seat belts as we take a journey that has the potential to totally transform us. Jesus had a great deal to say about prayer, mentioning the topic 42 times in his teaching. Amazingly, the gospels show him praying 28 times!
How Not to Pray
In verses 5-8 we see how easy it is to slip into the mechanics of prayer and miss the majesty of prayer. Before we look at the content, let’s notice the context. Here are two ways to not pray.
1. Don’t pray for people to hear; pray in private. Let’s read verse 5: “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.” Notice that Jesus assumes that we will pray: “and when you pray.” The religious people had praying down pat as they stood up in the synagogues or if they were outside, they prayed at the appointed times of 9:00 a.m., noon, and 3:00 p.m. A hypocrite is literally “one who wears a mask,” assuming a character which does not belong to him. Notice that they “loved” to receive religious recognition. Someone described an eloquent prayer in a New England church this way: “Reverend Jones presented the most beautiful prayer ever offered before a Boston audience.” Jesus makes it clear that if we pray just to be seen by others we might receive their approval but the applause of heaven will not be forthcoming. What is the opinion of fellow sinners’ worth if we never hear “well done, good and faithful servant” from the Savior?
The story is told of the time Bill Moyers was a special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was asked to say grace before a meal at the White House. As Moyers began praying softly, the President interrupted and said, “Speak up, Bill! Speak up!” Moyers stopped in mid-sentence and firmly replied, “I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President!”
In verse 6, we’re told to find a private place to pray: “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.” This Greek word for “room” was a storeroom where treasures were kept. How appropriate since we have treasures available to us when we pray! This word can also refer to a den or a closet or a private chamber. The idea is to find a place that is private. Jesus often got away from the chaos of the crowds and the pressing problems of the people in order to pray. We see this in Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Jesus had several different places where he liked to go and pray. In Luke 22:39-41, we read that “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives…and he knelt down and prayed.”