Summary: An expository lesson stressing the need for private time and private involvement in prayer.
INTRODUCTION: Opening remarks about the resurgence of prayer and lack of opposition. READ TEXT First of all, it needs to be clearly understood that this is not a prohibition against public prayer. Unfortunately some have made it out to be as such when in fact we are told that public prayer is Divinely approved. Moses, Aaron and Joshua were each commanded by God to lead the nation of Israel in prayer while gathered in a public place. The prophet Daniel prayed publicly – in front of an open window while in Babylonian captivity. It did get him in trouble, but not with God. Jesus prayed publicly as did the Apostles and our 1st Century brothers and sisters and it was acceptable in God’s sight. The key to understanding the lesson Jesus teaches here is found in the two words he chooses to describe prayer and the people involved in it – hypocrite and secret. There are two very important lessons provided with these words.
I. PRAYER MUST BE PRIVATELY ESPOUSED
A. In verse 5, Jesus warns his followers not to be like those who stand on the street corners and pray to be seen by men. Those who do such things, He calls hypocrites. Probably a better translation of that word is pretenders. By calling then this, Jesus tells us that their hearts were not involved in the prayers they offered. There was nothing spiritual about their act, and that is just what it was; an act to gain the praise of men.
B. A prayer for show, or to just seem religious, is nothing more than hot air. It never rises about the ceiling. It is vain, insulting to God and ungodly in every sense of the word.
1. Acceptable prayer is real conversation with God and it must begin in the heart and not the ego. When we address God, whether it be publicly or privately, we must reach out toward Him from the depths of our soul.
2. This also means that when on occasion we are lead in prayer by someone else we should commit our heart to the prayer being prayed. Not mindlessly echoing the words of the one leading, but absorbing them into our heart and making them ours.
3. John 9:31
4. "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" – James 5:16
5. Psalm 145:18
II. PRAYER MUST BE PRIVATELY ENACTED
A. When Jesus speaks of going into a secret closet to seek the Father, He is talking about something much greater than the place where we hand our clothes. He is impressing upon the hearts and minds of His listeners the need for personal, private time with God.
B. To go into a closet and close the door in prayer, as Jesus describes it, is to simply shut yourself up with God. It is purposefully taking quality time with God seeking Him and calling upon His name.
1. In order to do that we must rid ourselves of life’s distractions, focus our hearts and minds upon our inner groanings and yearnings, and then reach for Him from the very depths of our soul.
2. Brothers and sisters, there is absolutely no power in haphazard on-again-off-again praying! We cannot take the shotgun approach to prayer – scattering our thoughts, our words and our concentration all over the place. We must have private, focused time in communication with God. Jesus did.
3. Matthew 14:23 – after He feeds the 5000 and before He walks on the water, Jesus "went up on a mountain by Himself to pray."
4. Luke 6:12
CONCLUSION: Louis H. Evans, "Man is never so tall as when he kneels before God – never so great as when he humbles himself before God. The man who kneels to God can stand up to anything."