The Son of God on earth was a Man of prayer, and in this marvelous passage He teaches His people how to pray.
1. Effectual prayer is not for show after the fashion of the Pharisees (Mat. 6:5). If prayer is for man’s sake, it is hypocrisy. I think of some church members who have a very poor testimony, but when they pray in church they sound so spiritual! Only the Lord knows man’s heart, but oftentimes this is probably just a show. God hates hypocrisy. What we are in church on Sunday, we must be on Monday in the home at on the job.
2. Effectual prayer flows from an intimate relationship with God (Mat. 6:6).
a. Effectual prayer is not a religious ritual; it is communicating with God as Abba Father. It requires that the supplicant know God as Father through repentance and faith in Christ. The secret of answered prayer is the supplicant’s day-by-day walk with God in the most secret and intimate part of his life.
b. Prayer should first be a private matter between me and God (Mat. 6:6).
- This does not mean that public prayer is not important; it means that prayer starts in my private life and if I don’t have an effective private prayer life I should not pray in public.
- There are at least four kinds of prayer: private closet prayer (Mat. 6:6; Rom. 1:9), continual prayer (1 Thess. 5:17), corporate prayer or praying with others (Mat. 18:19-20; Acts 4:24, 31; 12:5, 12; 2 Cor. 1:11), desperate prayer (Mat. 14:30).
c. Notice the wonderful promise that Christ gives to those who pray privately before the Lord (Mat. 6:6). God has taught us to pray, and He has given us great promises to encourage us.
3. Effectual prayer is not vain repetition (Mat. 6:7-8).
a. This is not a warning against repetition in the sense of praying for the same things persistently. The Bible encourages that (e.g., Lk. 18:1).
b. It is a warning against vain repetition.
- Hindu mantras and Buddhist prayer wheels are examples. At the Boudha stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal, Buddhists circumnavigate the stupa clockwise a prescribed number of times while whirling their prayer wheels. The prayers which are written on the wheel and on paper inside the wheel are supposed to be activated by the repetitious rituals. The heathen think that mere repetition brings some sort of blessing (i.e., Hare Hare Hare, Hare Ram Hare Ram). The heathen think that they can arouse God by making noises and repeating religious incantations.
- Nominal Christians engage in vain repetition when they use rote prayers and ritualistic liturgy. For example, the Lord’s Prayer itself has been turned into a rote ritual. Catholic prayer beads are an example of ritualistic, repetitious prayers. The practitioner prays the Lord’s Prayer six times and the Hail Mary 50 times! The Scala Sancta in Rome is another illustration of vain repetitious prayers. These are supposed to be the 28 steps that Christ ascended to appear before Pilate. Supplicants climb the stairs on their knees while repeating at each step, “My Jesus, through the sorrow you suffered in being separated from your dear Mother and your beloved disciples, have mercy on me. Holy Mother, pierce me through in my heart each wound renew of my Savior crucified.”
- Contemplative prayer, which comes from the Catholic monastic movement and has swept through evangelicalism in the last couple of decades, also uses vain repetition. For example, the Jesus prayer consists of repeating the name “Jesus” with every breath. In another form the Jesus Prayer consists of repeating, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me,” or, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is to be repeated throughout the day. J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler of Biola University recommend saying the Jesus Prayer 300 times a day (The Lost Virtue of Happiness, p. 90). Some ancient monastic contemplative manuals suggest that it be said from 3,000 to 12,000 times a day (Tony Jones, The Sacred Way, p. 60). Centering prayer is another example of vain repetition in the contemplative prayer movement. It uses the repetition of a “sacred word” such as God or love as a mantra to enter into a contemplative mindset.
- Many Pentecostals and Charismatics use vain repetition, such as, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” or, “Come, Holy Spirit; come, Holy Spirit.” Charismatic praise music often incorporates large amounts of repetition, so that it has been called “7/11 music,” referring to seven words sung 11 times.
c. The warning against vain repetition might teach us that when praying in groups it is better to divide up the prayer requests among the individuals, and as the individual men or women pray for that thing the others agree fervently in their hearts and with their “amens.”
d. Biblical prayer does not require much speaking (Mat. 6:7). A long prayer is not necessary more effectual than a short one.
4. Effectual prayer follows the lessons of Christ’s model prayer (Mat. 6:9-15).
This is not a prayer to be repeated by rote. It is a model; it is a teaching tool that instructs the Lord’s people in important elements of personal prayer. Christ did not say, “Pray these words,” He said, “Pray after this manner.”
Consider some of the lessons:
- Prayer is addressed to the Father (Mat. 6:9). Jesus taught that proper prayer is Trinitarian prayer. We pray to the Father through Jesus Christ by the empowerment and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. There are no examples in the Bible of prayers addressed to the Holy Spirit. “The greatest name of all for God is our Father, a name that implies relationship, resources, and responsibilities beyond ‘all that we ask or think’” (John Phillips).
- Prayer is addressed to the Father in heaven (Mat. 6:9). The very act of proper prayer focuses our attention away from this present, fleeting world to our eternal home. “Father” is a tender name, but it is also an august name. Our prayers are addressed to the Father seated on the throne of the universe. “There is no careless familiarity. His is a high and hallowed name, one to be employed with reverence and awe” (Phillips).
- Prayer includes praise and thanksgiving (Mat. 6:9). The Lord’s model prayer begins and ends by glorifying God.
- Prayer seeks the coming of Christ’s kingdom when His will is done on earth (Mat. 6:10). The prayers of the saints are used by God to bring to pass His will. Compare Isa. 62:6-7; Rev. 5:8. Note that the kingdom of God has not yet come to earth. It will not come through the “social-justice” work of Christians. The kingdom of God will come when Christ returns and establishes it by power (Dan. 2:44-45).
- Prayer seeks for God’s will to be done (Mat. 6:10). Effectual prayer is to align my will with God’s will. See 1 John 5:14-15.
- Prayer involves offering requests and petitions (Mat. 6:11-13a). Note that only one small aspect of the prayer deals with physical needs. We are invited to pray for these, but they should be kept in the right place and proportion. I have observed in many churches that a large portion of prayer requests concern physical matters, such as health and employment, while only a small portion concern spiritual matters, but this is an upside down priority in prayer.
- Prayer should be offered daily (Mat. 6:11). God knows our needs, but He wants us to approach Him every day.
- Prayer requires that I keep my heart and life right before God (Mat. 6:12). Unconfessed sin hinders prayer. See Psa. 66:18.
- Prayer is the means of forgiveness of sins (Mat. 6:12). We come to the throne of grace to obtain mercy (Heb. 4:12).
- Prayer is for spiritual protection (Mat. 6:13). One reason why it is not easy to be persistent in prayer is that it is spiritual warfare. The devil does what he can to hinder our prayers. He uses fiery darts of unbelief (Eph. 6:16). We protect ourselves by prayer to God and by exercising the shield of faith, which is to put one’s confidence in God’s promises. If we leave off prayer and faith, we will be defeated.
- Prayer is confidence in God’s omnipotent power (Mat. 6:13). Prayer must be based on confidence in God. Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). Effectual prayer is addressed to a God who is the eternal Creator. Satan is currently the “god of this world,” but he is a usurper and his time is short.
- Christ ended the prayer with a repetition of the teaching about forgiveness (Mat. 6:14-15). Compare verse 12. Again we see that one of the chief purposes of the Sermon on the Mount was to expose hypocrisy and to lead men to salvation. Christ’s teaching on forgiveness addresses the hardness of men’s hearts and the lack of compassion and mercy that resides in the fallen heart. Man’s natural tendency to be unforgiving, to hold grudges, and such is proof of his lost condition and need of salvation. A merciful, forgiving spirit is the product of and evidence of regeneration.
5. Effectual prayer is associated with fasting (Mat. 6:16-18).
a. Elsewhere the Lord taught that fasting is an element of spiritual warfare (Mat. 17:14-21).
b. Fasting is not demanded, but it is expected (“when ye fast,” v. 16). It is mentioned 45 times in New Testament. Paul fasted often (2 Cor. 11:27).
c. Fasting is an aspect of spiritual warfare (Mat. 17:14-21).
d. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ makes a specific promise about proper fasting (“thy Father, which seeth in secret, SHALL reward thee openly,” Mat. 6:18). This is a great encouragement to those who fast.
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