DUNCAN/True religion, Part 1: praying

DUNCAN/True religion, Part 1: praying

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Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 6:5-8 as we continue our study of this great Gospel of Matthew and of the Sermon on the Mount.  Prayer is a key part of Christian experience.  Prayer is clearly an important part of spiritual experience and the Lord Jesus in this passage warns us against two particular pitfalls in our prayer life and also guides us in the principals of spiritual conversation with God.  Jesus, in this passage, makes it clear that the most important influence on the way we live the Christian life is what we think of God.   We will see first in this passage that the true believer must ever  be on guard against hypocrisy in prayer.  Second, the true believer must be on guard against attempting to manipulate God in prayer.  Third, the true believer must cultivate a genuine spiritual practice of prayer.  And fourth, the true beliver must be motivated in prayer by the heavenly Father’s goodness and care.  

I. The True Believer Must Ever Be on Guard Against Hypocrisy in Prayer. 

The first truth that Jesus sets forth is that the true believer must ever be on guard against hypocrisy in prayer.  In verse 5 we read, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, so they may be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”  Here Jesus describes the practice of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees, whom He calls hypocrites here, are desiring the approval of men in prayer.  

Notice the places that they go to pray.  They desire to pray in the synagogues and in the street corners.  They desire to be applauded for their religion.  It is important to note that Christ is not condemning all public prayer.  The Lord Jesus Himself prayed in public.  His point is that all prayer ought to be with a view to God as its audience, not as man.  All of our prayer must be done in humility and with a view to God alone.  The Lord Jesus Christ is reminding you to go to the Lord with the right aims and motives in this passage.  

II. The True Believer Must Be on Guard Against Attempting to Manipulate God in Prayer. 

In verse 7 Jesus teaches us that the true believer must ever be on guard against attempting to manipulate God in prayer.  There He tells us about the Gentiles, the Pagans.  First, He spoke of those people who had been given the true religion in times of the Old Testaments, and now He contrasts their practice, their false religiosity, with the false religiosity of the pagans, of the Gentiles.  He says, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words.”  He describes for us what the pagans of His time did in their prayer.  They had a superstitious view of prayer.  Perhaps, they thought, that by saying the same phrases over and over and enlarging those petitions that they could somehow manipulate God into giving them what they wanted. 

And the Lord Jesus points out the problem with that view of prayer.  That is not what prayer is. Prayer is spiritual conversation with God, whereby we lift up to Him, our desires in accordance with His will in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is spiritual fellowship in conversation with the living God.  His point is that the length of your prayer does not determine the effectiveness of God’s answer.  And you cannot view prayer and the repetition of the meaningless words as a way of manipulating God into doing what you want Him to do.  Christ is requiring us to pray in light of God’s goodness and will. 

III. The True Believer Must Cultivate a Genuine Spiritual Practice of Prayer. 

In verse 6 we learn that the true believer must cultivate a genuine spiritual practice of prayer.  He says, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”  Here Jesus contrasts the pride of the Pharisees and the slavish fear of the pagans with the proper attitude and posture of the Christian.  The Christian goes to the Lord in prayer in humility and in sincerity.  Jesus is reminding us here that the mainstay of Christian prayer must be secret prayer.  The Christian approaches God in prayer, not in pride, but in humility, because the Christian knows that he or she goes before the Father of heaven and earth.  And the Christian does not go with the desire to manipulate God, but out of sincerity to enter into conversation, true spiritual conversation with the living God. 

IV. The True Believer Must Be Motivated in Prayer by the Heavenly Father’s Goodness and Care. 

The true believer must be motivated in prayer by the heavenly Father’s goodness and care.  We see this at the end of verse 6 and also in verse 8.  Jesus says, “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  He goes on to say, “So do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”  The Lord Jesus is giving us here at least three motivations to come to the Lord in prayer. 

The first motivation that the Lord gives us to go to the Father in prayer is that God knows everything that His children need.  Why?  Because God’s knowledge reminds us of His care, about the most minute problems of our lives, and it encourages us to go to Him because we are going to go the Sovereign of the universe.  The second thing that the Lord Jesus gives us here is God’s goodness.  He reminds us that God approves and rewards His children.  Notice again the words of verse 6.  “Your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  The Father is the one who rewards.  God always cares more about us and more about His children and more about the needs than our hearts and eyes perceive.  He always cares about those things, more than we care about them ourselves.  The Lord tells us to remind ourselves of the fact that God will be better to you than you could ever conceive yourself. 

And finally we are motivated because of God’s providence.  He will richly provide for His children, the Lord Jesus says.  It is God who provides.  And He provides better than we are able to provide and better than we are able to conceive providing.  

Do we know the joy of praying to the heavenly Father in that fashion?  May we long to converse with Him, and may our prayers reflect a well-worn relationship with the heavenly Father over our years. 

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.





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