Of all the privileges God’s saints enjoy, perhaps the greatest is the privilege of prayer. To be able to go directly into the presence of the Lord is an honor beyond description (Heb. 4:16). To be able to speak to the God who created and controls the universe and to know that He has promised to hear us and answer us is a blessing too great to comprehend (Jer. 33:3; Isa. 65:24).
What a gift we have been given! What a privilege is ours, to be able to speak to God—knowing He will hear and answer, knowing that He has invited us to be involved with Him in the work He is doing! But, like anything else in life, we humans can even mess up something as profound and beautiful as prayer.
In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus exposes some of the problems in prayer that were rampant in His day. He condemns the pretentious praying of the “hypocrites,” the religious elite of that day. Jesus tells us that their prayers will amount to nothing!
Today, I want to preach from these verses on the subject of “praying without pretense.” The word pretense means “insincere or feigned behavior.” Therefore, you and I need to learn how to pray without pretense. Let’s look at what Jesus said about this matter.
I. SOME CAUTIONS REGARDING PUBLIC PRAYER (VERSE 5)
In this verse, Jesus refers to several problems. Let’s take a quick look:
A. Prayer had become a ritual. The Jew prayed, but his prayers were scripted and the form was set. He either quoted verses from memory or read them. Of course, some Jews might have prayed in sincerity, but to most, prayer was simply a ritual.
B. Predetermined prayers were formulated for every aspect of life. For every conceivable life event, a prayer had been developed to deal with it. This led to prayer being something that could be recited from the head and not lifted up from the spirit.
C. Prayer was limited to preset times and occasions. Instead of praying when they felt led to or when a need arose, the Jews all prayed at set times.
D. Long prayers were held in high regard. The Jews believed that the longer and more elaborate the prayer, the more likely it was to be heard by God. Jesus warned against this practice (Matt. 12:30).
E. Many prayers were comprised of meaningless repetition. The Jews were notorious for repeating phrases and adding adjectives to the name of God, thinking they would be heard by Him.
F. They wanted to be seen and heard by others. This is the worst offense of all. Rather than being a time of communion with God, prayer had degenerated into an attempt to impress others.
1. Beware of wrong motives. God tells us that prayer is not about being seen or heard by others; prayer is a time of personal communion with Him. Jesus was not forbidding public prayers, but He was telling men to beware of who their audience was.
2. Beware of wrong methods. The people Jesus called hypocrites were guilty of standing in public places (such as synagogues and busy street corners) and praying loud, long prayers. These people wanted to impress others with their piety and religiosity.
II. SOME ADVICE REGARDING PRIVATE PRAYER (VERSE 6)
In verse 6, Jesus tells them how they should pray. Why the warning and guidelines for prayer? Even in an activity like prayer, there is still the danger of misunderstanding it.
A. Real prayer is a priority. Jesus does not say, “If you pray.” He says, “When you pray.” God expects His people to pray. We are commanded to pray (Luke 18:1; 1 Tim. 2:1- 8). Since we are told to pray, we must make prayer a priority. Communion with God should be the highest priority of each day. You will never grow in the Lord beyond the depth of your prayer life!
B. Real prayer is personal. Jesus tells His people to go into a private place to pray. There are things that need to be said in prayer that do not need to be said within earshot of others. When we pray in private, we have the freedom to declare our hearts to the Lord. We can humble ourselves before Him. We can be who we really are.
C. Real prayer is precious. When Jesus uses the phrase “pray to thy Father which is in secret,” He is referring to the very dwelling place of God. Jesus tells us that when we enter into genuine prayer before the Lord, we are able to enter the “secret place” with Him (Heb. 4:16). We do not need a human priest to stand in for us; through Jesus Christ, we have access to the throne of our Father in heaven.
III. SOME CONDITIONS REGARDING PERSONAL PRAYER (VERSES 7, 8)
A. Refrain from repetition. Pagans, as well as many of the Jews, believed that they would be heard by the Lord if they repeated their prayers or the same phrases over and over. An example of this is seen with the Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:26-29) and with the people of Ephesus (Acts 19:24-34). Jesus does not want His people to engage in meaningless repetition. We must remember that it is not the length of our prayers that matters, nor is it the eloquence of our words; even the content of our prayers is not an issue. What matters most is the condition and attitude of the person who is praying and the motive behind the prayer.
B. Rest in your relationship. Jesus reminds us that God is our “Father.” As such, He knows what we need before we ask, and He is concerned that our needs be met (Matt. 6:24-34; Luke 12:32). Prayer gives God the opportunity to hear His children express their love for Him, their dependence on Him, and their faith in Him. Prayer affords God the opportunity to demonstrate His love, power, glory, providence, sovereignty, and provision for His children.
C. Rely on His resources. Since He is God and since He is our Father, we can go to Him in confidence and faith, believing that He has the power to answer us when we call upon Him. Faith in God is essential for prayers being answered (Heb. 11:6; Matt. 21:22; James 1:5-8).
I do not want to be a hypocrite in my prayer life! As God is my witness, I don’t want to impress you with my prayers. I want to develop my private, personal prayer life until it is everything God would have it to be. I want to avoid pretense in my prayers.
How about you? Is your prayer life all it should be or has the Lord touched a sore spot through His Word? If we will come to the place where our prayer lives honor the Lord, He will bless us in a tremendous way.
General Conference Ministerial Association