Faithlife Sermons

How to Pray (Part 1)

Sermon on the Mount  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:14
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Prayer can be intimidating. Grow more comfortable with prayer as we see Jesus clear up two misconceptions about what God-honoring prayers look like in this message from Matthew 6:5-8.

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We know that this supporting these two families and their ministries is a step of faith for our church, but we know that God has called us to use his resources for his kingdom as he sees fit.
One of the things Jesus told his disciples to pray for was for God to send workers into the harvest field, which was a picture of sending people into the world to help people come to a relationship with God.
We are praying God will use the Davis and Metzler families to go into the harvest and see souls brought to Christ.
Prayer really is an interesting thing, isn’t it?
We do it in services, and we talk about it a lot.
However, there may be some of you here this morning or joining us online, and if you were honest, you don’t really know what prayer is all about.
You may have seen people of other religions praying on TV or in movies, or you may have friends who come from different backgrounds, and the way they talk about prayer is different than what you see us do here.
Over the next few weeks, we are moving through a section in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is going to teach us some foundational truths about prayer.
From the beginning, though, I want you to understand that prayer is essentially spending time communicating with God. It is where we come to both see and acknowledge the needs in my life and the lives of others, asking God to move to meet those needs as he sees fit.
We are in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, which is Jesus’ teachings found in Matthew 5-7.
We are picking back up in Matthew 6:5-8 this morning.
Jesus has taught all through chapter 5 that those who claim to be a part of the kingdom he is building, who follow him as their leader, start with hearts that God has transformed.
That transformation shows itself in the way we live, not the other way around.
He is building on what we covered the last time we looked at this chapter, reminding us that we don’t do good, God-honoring things so we can be seen by other people.
Instead, we honor the God who changed our hearts by living changed lives, even when no one else sees.
Last time, he used the example of giving to the poor.
This time, he points us to this foundational practice called prayer.
Before Jesus gives us a model of how we should pray, he begins by clearing up two misconceptions about what prayer should look and sound like.
If you have ever felt like you were too simple, too dumb, or not good enough to pray, I hope you will be encouraged this morning by what Jesus has to say.
Have you ever felt like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and there is no one there listening? Jesus has some great encouragement for you.
Read through it with me...
Let’s dive right in. The first misconception Jesus clears up is:

1) God sees, so prayer doesn’t have to be a show.

Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus reference Pharisees and others making a scene when they gave money to help the poor.
Now, we see that they also made a scene when they prayed!
Look back at verse 6...
This was a common enough practice that Jesus used this scenario to prove a point in Luke 18:9-14. He told a parable about a Pharisee who stood and prayed a loud, long prayer and a tax collector who wouldn’t even look to heaven, and he just prayed a short prayer earnestly.
Notice how Jesus describes people who make a show out of their prayer life: they are hypocrites.
Why? Because they aren’t praying to talk to God; they are praying to impress others.
Again, this brings us back to the distinction Jesus has made throughout the Sermon on the Mount: those who are really his followers and in his kingdom have a heart that has been transformed.
That transformed heart not only changes what we do, but it also changes why we do it.
That’s the difference between a true Christian and someone who just does Christian things: true Christians have had their hearts transformed by God!
The hypocrites who make a show of prayer do it so everyone will see how good they are. Just like with giving, I hope others notice, because that is all the reward they will receive.
The heart attitude also addresses an objection you might have come up with already: why do we even pray out loud at all? If you are in a worship service, you will hear me or someone else pray. We pray in our Sunday School classes and small groups, and we pray out loud together on Wednesday nights.
What makes that okay, when Jesus said that we are supposed to pray in private?
It gets down to the motivation of our prayer; public prayer and prideful prayer are two different things.
When someone prays publicly, like in a Sunday School class or prayer meeting, they are speaking as a representative of the others in the room. Their prayer is directed to God, and they act as the spokesperson, expressing what is on their heart and the hearts of those in the room.
A prideful person, though, prays out loud not to represent others, but to be admired by them. They aren’t talking to God, they are talking at the other people listening to them, hoping they will be impressed.
Now, you and I are not likely to stand up and pray loudly so everyone can here.
Perhaps, though, there are subtle ways that we allow this same attitude to creep in.
Can I be transparent for a minute?
I love to encourage people, so there are times when I will pray for someone and then send them a quick text to let them know I prayed for them.
If my heart is right, that can be a good way to encourage them and let them know that someone cares.
There are times, though, when I am tempted to throw up a quick sentence prayer so I can send the text and get bonus points with someone for “praying” for them.
Have you been tempted to do the same?
You absolutely should pray for people, and it is often good and encouraging to hear that someone has prayed for you.
Before you let them know, though, make sure your heart is in the right place!
Here’s another way we can make a show of prayer: let’s call it “preaching while praying”.
Parents do this with their kids all the time— “Lord, please let Junior understand that it is not acceptable under any circumstances to ever hit, bite, scratch, or kick his sisters...” or “Lord, would you remind little Susie that we are a family who tells the truth and that any time we don’t tell the truth is a lie and that her mom and dad will pour out their most severe consequences if she doesn’t listen to them...”
If you and I are honest, in those moments, we aren’t praying to God, we are still disciplining our kids!
Again, you should pray for God to guide your children to walk in righteousness and demonstrate the kindness and mercy that he has shown us, but make sure you are actually asking God for that and not just telling your kids something through the veneer of a prayer.
Prayer isn’t a show to point others to how godly we are.
Instead, we are called most often to pray prayers that are just between us and God, that no one else will ever know about.
If you are honest, though, some days, those prayers feel like they are bouncing off the ceiling and disappearing.
However, look at the promise contained in verse 6...
You see, Jesus promises us that God sees us in those quiet, private moments. They are just between us an him, but rest assured: he sees, and he rewards us for praying this way!
He rewards us with the knowledge that he sees and hears, he rewards us by answering prayers that are in line with his desire and what he knows is best, and he even rewards hidden, righteous acts after we die!
You don’t need to pray for show, because the one who you want to know about it already sees you.
So, when we pray private prayers, we have an audience with the God of the universe. We are spending time one on one with him.
Does that intimidate you? Do you feel like you would have to impress him and say just the right thing?
Then check out the second misconception Jesus clears up about prayer...

2) God knows, so prayer doesn’t have to be wordy.

Read verses 7-8...
Often, people who worship other gods are known for repeating the same phrases over and over again—think of mantras people use for meditation.
Some religions require you to ring a gong or do something else to get the god’s attention or to prove your devotion.
Jesus says that our prayer lives aren’t that way at all.
Unlike pagan gods, we don’t have to get the attention of the one true God.
He isn’t impressed by our vocabulary or our repetition.
He simply wants us to reach the point where we acknowledge that we have the needs he already knows are there.
This is great news for some of us who are just getting started with this whole idea of prayer.
Sometimes, we get intimidated by people we hear pray out loud.
Maybe it is a pastor or a theology nerd who knows all the big words for things in the Bible, so when they pray you sure hope God understands because you don’t!
Other times, we hear someone pray who has been walking with Jesus for a long time, so their prayers are so comfortable that they flow. We think, “Man, I don’t have the foggiest idea how to even start talking to God.”
We “um,” and stutter and think that there is no way this is worth it.
If that is you, where you worry about not being able to say the right things when you pray, then look back at what Jesus says in verse 7-8...
Prayer isn’t about knowing the fancy words, and it isn’t about saying the same thing over and over and over again until you finally get God’s attention or prove how desperate you are.
Instead, prayer is recognizing and acknowledging at the heart level that you need God to work in your life and the lives of others.
Prayer isn’t trying to twist God’s arm or wear him down like a toddler who won’t stop asking for something.
It is something that works in our hearts, just like everything else in the Sermon on the Mount.
We express those needs to him through words, but they aren’t just empty phrases or flowery vocabulary.
This is great news for a lot of the men in the room who might be described as men of few words.
Your ideal day involves a tree stand on a crisp fall morning. If you take someone with you hunting, you are happy to spend six hours together and only say maybe five words to each other the entire time.
Maybe you don’t enjoy the woods as much, but you just don’t feel the need to say a lot.
That can be a good thing, even in prayer.
If you were with us when we did our brief series on wisdom, you may remember that the Bible calls us to be people who speak a few words that demonstrate wisdom, instead of a lot of words that demonstrate foolishness.
Look at what Jesus says in verse 8...
You don’t have to use a lot of words because God already knows what you need.
“Well, if God knows what I need, then why does he make me ask?”
Let me give you two thoughts on that:
First, there is the reality that God says to pray, and we are called to obey his commands. We trust there is a reason, even when we don’t fully understand.
However, in 2020, we are skeptical of any commands we are given that don’t have a good reason behind them.
Keep in mind what we have said about prayer being a matter of the heart…it is for your benefit, not God’s.
He knows what you need, and he knows what you are going to pray for, but you need to go through the exercise of allowing God to search your heart and expose the needs within you and around you.
As he shows you those things, you need to respond in obedience and humility, asking God to move in your life and the lives of those for whom you pray.
You are acknowledging that he is your king, your boss, your leader, and you need him to do what only he can to help you overcome sin, walk in obedience. He is the only one who can heal sick friends and mend broken hearts and provide in unbelievable ways.
He sees you when you are alone, and he knows what you need before you ask him, so cry out to him in prayer.
You might be sitting there saying, “Yeah, but Sean, I still don’t know what to say when I pray.”
If that’s the case, make sure you come back over the next few weeks as we keep looking through Jesus’ words in this chapter.
Starting next week, he is going to be giving us a model prayer. It isn’t one that we pray verbatim every time; instead, it is a prayer that emphasizes for us the different kinds of things we should pray about as we talk with God.
For now, though, just start talking to God like you would talk to me. Thank him for good things, like a gorgeous sunset, a good cup of coffee, or a friend. Tell him what you are worried about, ask his forgiveness for the things you have done that you shouldn’t, and ask for strength to do what he wants you to do.
If you are like me, when you really sit back and take all this in, you feel pretty small.
I mean, who am I to have an audience with God? Why should he give his time to listen to me and talk to me?
And to think that God knows what I need, and what the other 7 billion people on this planet need, so he already knows what I need to ask him for?
It makes me feel so small, so stupid, and so worthless, especially when I look at how messed up I am.
I say the wrong things, I do the wrong things, and I mess up over and over and over…how do I have any right to talk to God?
If you feel that way, let me tell you something incredible: you are right. You and I have no right in and of ourselves to ever speak to God on our own.
We don’t deserve for him to listen to us, because we have driven him away through our attitudes and our actions.
Yet, because he loved us more than we could ever fathom, he sent Jesus to us.
He walked with us, he healed, he taught, and as God in the flesh, he had the perfect relationship with God.
Yet, he was willing to die on a cross and be raised from the dead so he could trade our sin for his life.
He took my mistakes, my failures, my pride, and gave me his life.
Now, then, I have the privilege of his access to get into heaven.
I can come to God in prayer because Jesus opened the door for me.
Have you ever allowed God to transform your life? To take your sin and your brokenness and give you his life?
Are you willing to surrender to what you know is sin and wrong and living life your way, and are you willing to turn to God today as your Lord and leader?
If so, then you can enjoy this very same privilege today.
If you already have a relationship with God, then why aren’t you praying and fully utilizing what Jesus died to give you?
You don’t have to use big words or a lot of them, and it doesn’t have to be a show for anyone else to see.
Instead, spend some time this morning, just you and God, right where you are—your pew, your car, your living room—cry out to him now.
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