Summary: The Sermon on the Mount reveals that prayer is more about the heart than the words.
This week I read about two churches who had decided to hold a joint worship service. As part of that service they were going to recite the “Lord’s Prayer”. But when it came to the fourth petition in the prayer, they couldn’t agree whether to say “forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors” or “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Since they couldn’t reach agreement they went their separate ways – one still remaining in their debts and the other remaining in their trespasses.
That story illustrates a much larger problem. What has come to be known by most as the “Lord’s Prayer” has probably been the most misused passage in the entire Bible. As we’ll see clearly this morning, the rote reciting of the words of that prayer, which is so common, actually violates the heart of what Jesus is teaching about prayer in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. And even when we don’t recite the words of Jesus’ model prayer here, we often take that prayer and merely turn it into a formula for our praying. While there is some value in that approach, there is also the danger that we will get so locked in to the formula that we’ll miss the heart of Jesus.
Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Matthew 6 and follow along as I begin reading in verse 5. And as I do that, I want to encourage you to listen for the heart of Jesus and not just His words.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:5-15 (ESV)
You’ll notice that I’ve skipped the first four verses in this chapter. I’m going to come back to them in a couple of weeks as we spend a few weeks examining all of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that deal with our stewardship and also bring in some other related passages to help us all develop a Biblical view of how we are to handle the material possessions that God has blessed us with.
This morning, as we focus on Jesus’ teaching about prayer here, I’m not going to go into much detail at all on the words of the model prayer that we find in this passage. I’m sure most of you have probably heard a number of sermons or been exposed to other Biblical teaching that does that. But as we’ve seen consistently in the Sermon on the Mount, this entire sermon is more about discerning the heart of Jesus than following specific commands. And we can only pursue Jesus’ heart by taking a much broader view of His teaching here. So with that in mind, let’s explore…
The Heart of Jesus Regarding Prayer
1. Jesus expects that His followers will pray
You’ll notice that Jesus uses the phrase “When you pray…” three times in this passage. He doesn’t say “If you decide to pray…” or “in the event you pray…” There is an expectation on His part that His followers will pray.
That really shouldn’t surprise us since Jesus’ life was characterized by prayer. We consistently find that before or during the significant events in His life here on earth, Jesus spent time with his Heavenly Father in prayer:
• He prayed at His baptism
• He prayed all night before choosing the apostles
• He prayed at the transfiguration
• He prayed in the Garden just prior to being arrested and crucified
In fact, prayer was such an integral part of Jesus’ life that in a similar passage in Luke, the disciples come to Jesus as ask Him to teach them to pray: