Jesus on God-glorifying Prayer | Matthew 6.5-14 (Snoh)

April 6, 2014 Series: The King Has Come | Matthew

Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 6:5–6:14

Intro | Prayer at the Center
Jesus teaches that there is a right and a wrong way to pray. Feel free to believe that any prayer is a good prayer—just know you’re disagreeing with Jesus. We want to believe that what matters in things like giving, service, or prayer is the heart. In that case, you’d be agreeing with Jesus. The heart is what matters in everything, but we’d be fools to believe that “following our heart” will always leads us to God.

The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it? We must, therefore, examine the heart behind our behavior, even when it comes to those practices we’d view as acts of spiritual devotion. Throughout His entire sermon, Jesus reveals both the inadequacy of our law-abiding righteousness, and the total depravity of our sin. We easily fool and, are easily fooled, by the appearance of righteousness because we don’t truly understand the nature of sin. Blind to our own sin (we’re not that bad), we typically only see sin in the most dirty and broken gutters of life. We see “sin” in the addict, the pervert, the abuser, and the corrupt. But Jesus shows us that the true essence of sin can often be found when we are on our knees in the presence of God. As one pastor commented about prayer: Even there the self is intruding itself and the temptation is for him to think about himself, to think pleasantly and pleasurably about himself, and really to be worshipping himself rather than God.(M.Jones.) The question is not whether or not you pray, but what is happening in your heart when you do.
Jesus’ teaching about prayer is literally at the center of His sermon because prayer is to be at the center of the Christian life. Prayer is both a thermometer and a thermostat for our spiritual life. It’s a thermometer in that the quality (not quantity) of one’s prayer life is a solid test for the condition of their spiritual life. It is also a thermostat in that prayer has the power to warm up the temperature of our spiritual life. Un-fortunately, everything we do is the Christian life feels easier than prayer—giving, service, preaching.

If you struggle with prayer, you are not alone. I have always been intimidated and impressed by those who, like John the Baptist, seem to be prayer-warriors from the womb. Most of us don’t possess disciplined prayer lives. We are not disciplined because we don’t appreciate what prayer really is—it feels like just another chore to fit into an already busy day. What if prayer was key to contentment and joy in every-day life? Then there are those who have “tried” to pray and nothing happened. By nothing, I mean more than unanswered prayer. Some find that their prayers did not bring the peace and satisfaction they had hoped for. What if you were not praying the right way, namely, or God’s glory? Our approach and even our practice of prayer are often wrong because we were never taught to pray. Jesus teaches us to pray to the glory of God and for our joy.

Religious Prayer | God’s approval through men’s approval
The Jewish culture was highly devoted to religious prayer. There were set words for prayer, set occasions for prayer, set times for prayer, set places for prayer, set lengths for prayer, even set styles for prayer. On a daily basis, Jews were expected to pray the SHEMA which consisted of three Scriptures to be recited every morning and every evening, before 9am and before 9pm. If it came down to the wire, the man must stop wherever he was—work, home, or street—and recite the Shema. The Jews also had a prayer called “the 18” which included 18 blessings: three praises, 13 petitions, and three thanksgivings. Usually stand-ing, they were expected to recite this three times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening.

Jesus does not challenge the content of their prayer; he challenges the motive behind their prayers. These men were praying to be seen by men. They are not praying to give God glory but to rob him of it. Wherever they were, whether at morning, afternoon, or evening, they would stand with hands out stretched and pray aloud. They could be in the middle of the street causing a camel-traffic jam or on the top steps of the synagogue—they’d stop everyone and pray—drawing attention to themselves. But the sin behind the sin is misunderstanding of their relationship with God. They want others to see them as spiritual. They believe God will love them if they follow the rules—but they’ll only feel that they’re faithful if they are doing it enough to be noticed by others. Even though it looks like man’s approval, it is really men work-ing their way to God’s approval through men’s approval. Jesus says stop performing, go into the sup-ply closet, lock the door, and pray. And don’t tell anyone you did.

**This kind of self-glorifying prayer is quite common in more charismatic churches where, like good Corin-thians, people compete for the “most spiritual award” by praying in the most ostentatious way. Of course, in “sophisticated” churches like our own, we have much more subtle ways of bringing our private prayer into the public. In casual conversation we might say, ‘When I was praying this morning I realized…the Lord showed me…God told me…” Though well-intended, some reveal our own attempt to convince ourselves that God loves us because others admire our piety.

Pagan Prayer | God’s Approval through good Living
Jesus reminds us that religious people aren’t the only ones that pray. Everyone is spiritual and pagans pray too. Polls show that a very high percentage of irreligious people pray daily and our experience evidences the same. Whether it is football games, death of a celebrity, or tragic mudslides, prayers go up and are sent out by everyone believer or not. The religious wrongly believe God will answer their prayer because they follow good rules. The irreligious wrongly believe God will answer their prayer be-cause they use good words. In Jesus day, the Greeks and Romans prayed. Jesus says that they filled the air with many words because they thought they believed that is what moved the deities to action. Pagan prayers were usually filled with reminders of favors they’d done, sacrifices offered, all in an effort to get a response on contractual grounds. Jesus says plainly, just because you pray, even pray a lot doesn’t mean God is listening. Jesus says there is a way to pray which the Father rewards and a way He ignores.

Both were, as Tim Keller aptly describes, a business relationship with God. God was a boss and his blessing, or lack thereof, was based on my performance. It follows then that my worship of God was based on his performance toward me. If I had fulfilled the obligations of my job—sacrificing, serving, praying—God owed me. Petitions simply were requests for payment due. If God doesn’t pay me what he owes, then I am angry at God or least cold toward Him. Of course, if I didn’t do the “work” I am supposed to, then I just feel guilty because I know I owe him—and it makes sense that he hates me. The relationship between God and men becomes entirely conditional. More than that, prayer becomes a mechanical devotion meant to appease or manipulate my boss-God into giving me a promotion (or not firing me).

One of the most shocking statements Jesus says is that the Father already knows what we need before we ask. But if the Father already knows what we need, why are we praying at all? Maybe the better question is why you were you praying in the first place? The Father knows what we need…but we pray be-cause we don’t. Prayer has little to do with changing God. “Prayer changes me and then I change things….Prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person’s inner nature.” Oswald Chambers.

Gospel Prayer | God’s Approval through Adoption
Jesus teaches us that prayer is not a means to manipulate our good God into doing the good things we want. Prayer is not our chance to vent to God, argue with God, or beg from God. Prayer is not even about fixing problems, fulfilling needs, or even changing circumstances. We don’t pray to impress God and be admired. We don’t pray to control God and be blessed. Both rob Him of glory. We pray to re-member God, forget self, and be a changed in order to give Him more glory.

OUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN | Jesus doesn’t instruct us to begin our prayer with Creator, King, or Lord—He is all of those things. Here, and in everyone one of his prayers Jesus addresses God as Father. Father is an intimate term because God is intimately personal. God is not a vending machine, an eight-ball, or some kind of impersonal force. He is not human, but he is a perfect being with a personality. God possesses emotion, intellect, will, and desire. He speaks, he acts, he responds, he engages with us. We can have relationship and KNOW HIM intimately. For some of us, the concept of fatherhood has been per-verted by the sins of your earthly Father. Some fathers sinned by being too strong, demanding, and distant. Other fathers sin by being too weak, too permissive, and too juvenile. To protect us from becoming too intimidated or too irreverent, we must recognize that God is our Heavenly Father. Dad is God.
Jesus does not say God is A Father, He says He is OUR Father. God is the creator of everything, but He is not the Father of everyone. According to Ephesians two, all men and women are born children of wrath with the devil as their Daddy—by nature and by choice. God becomes our Father through adoption, which comes through Jesus’ death and resurrection. God rescued us from the devil’s orphanage and adopted into His family. In an adoption, there is no effort on behalf of the child, the Father does everything. Our prayers are answered because God has become our Father.

The gospel changes our relationship. A business relationship with God is based on SOMETHING YOU DO/HAVE FOR ME. But I have a family relationship. And a family relationship with God is based on SOMETHING I AM/YOU ARE TO ME. God is my Father. Instead of a cold mechanical relationship with a divine vending machine, we have a personal relationship with a Father who listens to me, cares for me, loves me, and never rejects me. I am not an employee who is fired because of bad performance, I am a child who God always loves me (AS HE DID JESUS) and never rejects me. My relationship with God has gone from a boss-employee to Father-child. It is no longer based on performance but identity. His love for me is intimate. His love for me is irrevocable. His love for me is unconditional.

Our prayer is shaped by the gospel. Before I ask for anything, I realize I have everything—I have God’s infinite love at an infinite cost to Himself. Addressing God as “our Father” means beginning every prayer by preaching the gospel. We don’t pray this prayer to make the Father love us; We to pray this prayer because we delight in Him. Jesus teaches us to pray to the glory of God and for our joy.

Our first request is for God to help us forget ourselves and make His name special. It is a request for him to remove all idolatry and make Himself supremely Lord in my life. It is THE response to the Gospel—to make His name known, not just in my life but through my life. We are so overwhelmed by God’s love that, like a child, we adore our good Father and cannot talk about him enough. He made such a big deal about me, I want to make a big deal about Him. Do you know my Dad? Do you know what He did for me? You have to meet Him? Our first petition is that God will be glorified because we believe that when He is, we will be most satisfied. Praying this means the controlling purpose of your life is to revere God’s name, at whatever cost—help me adore your glory.

Our second request is for God help us see beyond our own “kingdoms”— relinquish them all together. When we are adopted into God’s family, our eyes are open to what this world is all about. This is a cen-tering request that helps to govern all our perspectives; it reminds us that there is more at work here than temporary things or circumstances. This is not a wish for others. It is a prayer for God to constantly re-structure the priority of our lives according to His the needs of His mission in our daily lives—the establish-ment of His Kingdom and the restoration of the world. Praying means you desire to work and suffer for the kingdom, to be ambassadors of the King in the places only you can go—help me seek your glory.

Our third request is for God to help us believe that His commands are supremely good. We are praying that God’s desires will be done in our lives—whether we like it our not. And if we don’t, we’re praying that God will change our desires. This is a dangerous and difficult prayer. Knowing our flesh, this prayer is in many ways an invitation to the loving discipline of a loving Father. It is basically a declaration that I don’t know what I need, but you do—but my flesh won’t like it. It is a plea to make us able to trust that our Father always gives us His best when He doesn’t give us what we want. Praying this you will delight to make God’s commands your guide—help me desire your glory.

Our fourth request is for God to give us what we need for the day—emotionally, intellectually, materially, spiritually, or physically. This is a prayer of dependence. It is the recognition that I cannot provide anything for myself. This prayer makes us present moment thinking and other-oriented acting. For those of us who are tempted to spiritually procrastinate, this prayer forces us to consider how must honor God now. The use of OUR daily bread is a reminder that we are not the only ones with needs. Praying this prayer means you see and know that unless God acts to provide for todays’ needs, pardon today’s sins, protect from today’s temptation, you are lost—help me depend on your glory.

Our fifth request is for God to forgive our sins. This prayer is more than a confession—it is a pre-confession. We rarely confess sins until we’ve already committed them. That practice evidences our wrong belief in the nature of sin—we are poor in Spirit always. Asking God to forgive OUR (plural) debts reminds us that we are not the only ones who are broken. We forgive much as we have been forgiven much. This is the only request that Jesus reiterates. Why? A refusal to forgive means a refusal to have relationship with God. Your prayers are not heard because you don’t believe in Jesus. Praying this prayer means you always check your heart and always plan to forgive—help me confess my self-glory.

Our sixth and final request is a preemptive request for God to help us succeed when tempted. It is the re-minder that God’s Spirit does lead us into wilderness to be tested. Praying this prayer daily will cause us to see our current circumstances as the god-glorying wilderness testing they are. This is a prayer for prayer is not a prayer of avoidance, but one of protection, that God might use your experience to strengthen your faith—in order to be more glorifying. Praying this prayer means you make it a habit to look for, plan for and pray against temptations before they happen—help me become more glorifying.

Conclusion| we are compelled to pray when we have a great need. But consider what effect a commit-ment to praying this prayer first will have on any need you bring before God. It is a centering prayer that provides perspective and shapes direction. I’m not convinced Jesus expected us to pray this prayer verba-tim every time we prayed. But what if you did? What impact would repeating this prayer BEFORE ask-ing God anything have on everything you ask? What if we structured all of our prayers this way? I believe, as we speak to God, we would forget ourselves and remember his presence, his promise, and his power—make us humbly confident.
Ecclesiastes 5.2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.….[BUT] …Hebrews 4.14-16 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weak-nesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confi-dence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.