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How to Pray

How to Pray – Matthew 6:5-15

Two Skewed Attitudes Toward Prayer (Matthew 6:5-8)

  • Will People Look at me? (Matthew 6:5-6)

One of the greatest pits of temptation in the public religious gathering is the prayer time.

Here are some things ways that you can misuse public prayer: 

  •  
    • Use big, fancy words that shows everyone how spiritual you are and how much you know Shakspearean English (as if that is somehow God’s language)
    • Use it as a bully pulpit. Since everyone’s eyes are closed, and you know that no one would dare interrupt someone while they are praying, go ahead and preach that little sermon you’ve been dying to preach, but haven’t had the opportunity. Condemn something that bugs you. Chastise someone’s attitude that is annoying you. Correct some bad theology that you’ve heard people discussing. Go ahead, after all, you’re not talking to God, you’re speaking so that the people around you will hear what you have to say, right?
    • Use it as a clandestine means of spreading gossip. After all, you’re just “lifting them up in prayer” right?
  • Will God Look at me? (Matthew 6:7-8)

 In the ancient world, the gentiles–or pagans, as Jesus called them–believed that the gods did not care about them. In order to get the gods’ attention they had to enter into all sorts of rituals and sacrifices. Then, if they did get the gods’ attention, they were not guaranteed that the gods would do anything for them.

Jesus tells us to rest assured that God does hear, God does care, and, like a loving Father, actually wants to do good for His children. We never have to jump through hoops to get God’s attention. He is always there, and always welcomes us to talk to Him.

Four P’s in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)

Priorities (Matthew 6:9-10)

Question: When do people usually pray, and what do they ask?

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. When the artillery is hurling toward you, what do you say? “Oh God! Save me!” We tend to ignore God until we are in need. God is our big vending machine in the sky. Put in the right amount of good works, correct doctrine, effective faith, fancy prayers–whatever you think He demands–and God will spit out whatever you need.

The first thing Jesus tells us to do is to get our priorities straight. Who is really in control here? Remember, we are not the hero of the story. We are the supporting characters. It isn’t my name that is awesome. It isn’t my kingdom that reigns. It isn’t my will that needs to prevail.

God, it is…

Your Name

Your Kingdom

Your Will

Provision (Matthew 6:11)

Daily Bread (Proverbs 30:8-9)

There is great wisdom in Proverbs 30.

Wealth can be a terrible handicap.  When you are rich, you have all you need. You can be tempted to adopt attitudes like: “I worked hard for this, I’m in control,” or “I deserve all the good that I have, it is mine,” or “I don’t need God.” With a false sense of security, we can neglect the relationship that gives us life. In the end, we have lost it all. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Poverty is also a terrible handicap. Some people think that taking a “vow of poverty” is a super spiritual act. The truth is that people who take a vow of poverty are actually taking a vow of simplicity. The move into a monestary or a community where they have food and shelter. Their basic needs are covered and they can focus their time and energy on serving God. True poverty is a place of fear. You don’t know where you will get the next meal. You don’t know where you will sleep and be safe from the elements. You are not protected from predators that encircle you every moment. This type of fear can be so powerful that you may be driven to violate your own conscience and commit crimes in order to survive. In so doing, your heart is calloused with shame and you can no longer receive the unconditional love of God.

As God provided for the Israelites in the desert, so should we seek provision today. Daily bread. Food and shelter for today. That is really all we need. Let’s not set our standards too high, or too low. Remember to be thankful for all that you have, and remember that you don’t need as much as you think. When we have too much, give it away. When we don’t have enough, lean on your community and don’t be too proud to ask for help. If everyone behaved this way we would eradicate poverty and hunger completely.

Pardon (Matthew 6:12)

Forgiveness from God

Based on our forgiveness toward others

Question: if we are under Grace, then why do we need to ask for God’s forgiveness?

The definition of grace is a gift. We don’t earn it. God gives it. Salvation is a gift. God’s love is a gift. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.

If this is true, then why do we need to ask for forgiveness? More importantly, why does Jesus insert the caveat “as we have forgiven” into the prayer? Here’s the key: unforgiveness is like a clogged artery to the heart. When someone hurts you, your natural reaction is to hurt back. You want vengeance. The problem is that in order to pay back the evil that was inflicted on you, you have to become the evil that was inflicted. There are two ways that unforgiveness manifests itself:

acting out – you actually pay back the evil. In so doing you become the evil and you are corrupted in your spirit. It is a volitional act of the will to betray the nature of God and do a heinous thing.

bitterness – you may not have the courage to act out, but you internally stew over the infraction. You blame your offender. You blame yourself. You blame God. Every day you dwell on it and it eats away at your soul. 

Now think about this. If your heart is full of malice toward your offender, how open are you to face God with a thankful and loving heart? The only way that you will be open to the love of God is when you let go of the idea of vengeance and forgive your offender. Give it to God. Let God deal with it. Does that mean criminals should not be punished? Of course that is not what it means. The justice system is necessary and crime and punishment is vital for civic survival. So, if you have been violated, let it go and let the justice system mete out appropriate consequences. You shouldn’t carry that burden. Forgive, let go, and turn a lightened heart toward God.

Remember this. It is not that God withholds forgiveness if you are not forgiving. That would be petty. It is that you are not able to receive God’s love and forgiveness until you are willing to let go of your need for retribution.

Protection (Matthew 6:13)

From temptation

temptation = trials

evil = spoiled or worthless

There are two ways to look at this verse. The first is to ask God to keep you from experiencing temptations or trials of any kind. This, however, does not seem likely. Jesus told us that we would face temptations and trials. Rain falls on the evil and the good. James tells us to consider it joy when we face trials.

The second is more likely. In light of what Jesus says in the next two verses, and what he just said regarding forgiveness, perhaps he is saying, “deliver us from the temptation to seek retribution against my offender because seeking vengeance will render me worthless for the Kingdom of God.”  

The Key to Relationships (Matthew 6:14-15)

Forgiveness

 An unforgiving heart blocks your ability to receive God’s love and overflow it to others.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus ends his instruction on prayer by reiterating his teaching on forgiveness. Why? Remember what the first part of the prayer was? Your Kingdom come, your will be done. What is God’s Kingdom? What is God’s will? Reconciliation. God created us for love, he loves us continually, and wants all of us to experience His love and live in His love with each other.

That can only happen when we learn to forgive.

Amen.

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