Summary: The true and false audience and content of prayer
Why do many athletes pray before they compete? I’ve noticed with mixed martial arts fights, fighters gather with their trainers and recite the Lord’s prayer before a fight. Those that trash talk before a fight, putting down their opponent, are not the ones that I see praying. But the fighters who pray before their fight seem to have an interesting calm before they step into the octagon. Their prayer doesn’t seem to be for their opponent to be destroyed, or hurt, but that they would perform their best.
None of us can comprehend exactly how prayer functions within the infinite mind and plan of God. On the one hand, prayer is seen simply as a way of lining up with God regarding what He has already determined to do, and on the other it is pleading with God to do what He otherwise would not do.
The Bible is unequivocal about God’s absolute sovereignty. But it is equally unequivocal in declaring that within His sovereignty God calls on His people to seek Him in prayer-to implore His help in guidance, provision, protection, mercy, forgiveness, and countless other needs.
It is neither required nor possible to understand the divine working that makes prayer effective. God simply commands us to obey the principles of prayer that His Word gives. Our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6:5-15, commonly known as "The Lord’s Prayer" contains some of those principles.
Since God is God why should we pray? Do we need to inform Him of something? Are we seeking to change His mind? Is it just a duty? Do we gain righteousness by doing it?
Jesus continues His contrast of true and false righteousness, in particular the false righteousness typified by the scribes and Pharisees. As Matthew 6:2–4 exposes their hypocritical giving and verses 16–18 their hypocritical fasting, verses 5–8 expose their equally hypocritical praying. Their prayers were defective in 1) Their intended audience and 2) In their content. They give us some much needed guidance in genuinely relating to God in Prayer.
1) The Audience of Prayer. (Matthew 6:5-6)
A) The False Audience: Other People. (Matthew 6:5)
Matthew 6:5 "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. (ESV)
The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer. It is not only a prayer for us to repeat; it is a lesson in how to pray and what to pray for. It covers all our needs of body and soul, but it is also concerned about the needs of all our fellow Christians and of all the uncounted millions who do not yet know the Lord Jesus as their Savior. It is an appropriate prayer on every occasion that calls for prayer. It puts first things first, but it leaves nothing out (Albrecht, G. J., & Albrecht, M. J. (1996). Matthew. The People’s Bible (89). Milwaukee, Wis.: Northwestern Pub. House.).
Jesus begins: And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. “And” parallels the exercise of prayer with that of giving; the need of others whom we may be able to relieve with our own need which God is to relieve. Ὅταν with the present subjunctive expects us to be praying regularly (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (259). Minneapolis, MN.: Augsburg Publishing House.).
Prayer that focuses on self is always hypocritical, because, by definition, the focus of every prayer should be on God. As mentioned last week, the term hypocrite originally referred to actors who used large masks to portray the roles they were playing. Hypocrites are actors, pretenders, persons who play a role. What they say and do does not represent what they themselves feel or believe but only the image they hope to create.
The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees prayed for the same purpose they did everything else-to attract attention and bring honor to themselves. That was the essence of their “righteousness,” which Jesus said had no part in His kingdom (5:20).
The hypocrites of whom Jesus speaks had convinced themselves that by performing certain religious acts, including various types of prayer, they became acceptable to God.
Quote: Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
We tend to think of sin as we see it in rags and in the gutters of life. We look at a drunkard, poor fellow, and we say, there is sin. But that is not the essence of sin. To have a real picture and a true understanding of sin, you must look at some great saint, some unusually devout and devoted man, look at him there on his knees in the very presence of God. Even there self is intruding itself, and the temptation is for him to think about himself, to think pleasantly and pleasurably about himself and to really be worshiping himself rather than God. That, not the other, is the true picture of sin. The other is sin, of course, but ..., you do not see it in its essence. Or to put it in another form, if you really want to understand something about the nature of Satan and his activities, the thing to do is not to go to the dregs or the gutters of life. If you really want to know something about Satan, go away to that wilderness where our Lord spent forty days and forty nights. That’s the true picture of Satan, where you see him tempting the very Son of God. (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977], 2:22–23)