Summary: When Jesus spoke to the Apostles about prayer he implied that there was a right way and a wrong way to pray.
When you Pray.
I love the positive thought that comes across in the statement that Jesus made to the disciples in the book of Matthew. It is found in what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus says three words that reflect his positive belief in the people who will call themselves by his name.
And those three words are “When You Pray”. He didn’t say “If you pray” he said “When you pray”. And that reality is that we all pray. It has often been said “There are no atheists in foxholes.” And there are very few atheists in emergency rooms either.
I love the story of the two old guys talking after a really big storm went through and one said “That was a mighty awful storm, wasn’t it?” To which his friend replied, “Yep, I bet God heard a lot of unfamiliar voices last night.”
I started this message on the cruise we were on last week and I was sitting outside the room of prayer on the ship. And you are thinking “Do they have a chapel on the ship?” Nope, they have a casino aboard the ship. And I would imagine that God hears a lot of promises and is offered all kinds of partnerships in that room.
And so, Jesus began by telling us by telling us How Not to Pray
Apparently, simply praying isn’t enough. Jesus doesn’t just say when you pray, he also says “When you pray, don’t. . .” Don’t what?
Well first we are told in Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”
You see, Sometimes We Pray for The Wrong Reasons Apparently, and I can’t imagine it happening today, but apparently there were folks who prayed to impress other people. It would seem that they prayed loud and they prayed eloquently, but it wasn’t how they prayed, it was why they prayed.
Their words were more directed to the people around them then to God. They wanted people to say or at least think, “My, they pray well”.
I’m sure it an apocryphal story, but I will tell it anyway. The story goes that many years ago that the pastor in one of our district churches was known for how long his pastoral prayers were and on one Sunday morning one of the professors from our bible college was in attendance in this man’s church and after the service when he greeted the pastor he whispered, “I’d recommend having your personal prayer time at home.”
I don’t know if it’s a true story but it is a great story.
The good news is that those folks get what they want, that is they get recognition for their prayers, the bad news is they might not get what they need and that is their prayers answered.
A few years back I was asked to bring the benediction, that is the closing prayer. at the CPA graduation Ceremony. Another pastor was to pray the invocation, that is the opening prayer, and he prayed and prayed and prayed. And finished by calling on the name of Jesus, Allah and Krishna.
And seriously, first of all there wasn’t one person in that sweltering hot arena that day who had come to hear a 7-minute prayer. And when he finished by calling on three separate traditions, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person there thinking “Come on, pick a team.”
The only people who weren’t offended by that prayer were people who weren’t Christians, who weren’t Muslims and who weren’t Hindus. And those were the folks who were alreay offended by the fact that there was prayer included in the graduation cermemony.
The funny side of that story is that the graduation went forever, it was like 4 days long they had 12,000 graduates and 47 speakers, some of you were there and remember it. Well maybe it wasn’t that long, but it sure seemed that long. There were a lot of graduates and each speaker that day spoke eloquently and at length.
And as we came closer to the closing I noticed people on the platform looking in the program where there was a benediction listed and giving me nervous looks, wondering how long and to whom I was going to pray.
And with great trepidation I stood up to the mic and this was my prayer, verbatim. “Lord thank you for the graduates, keep them safe. Amen.” And as I turned to walk back to my seat the auditorium erupted in applause, which wasn’t my intent at all, I was hot and tired and wanted to go home and I was pretty sure that God felt the same way.