How to Pray, part 4

As we are talking about the mechanics of prayer, this leads us to Jesus’ instructions on how to pray. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, we find that first Jesus tells us what not to do, and then he gives us the positive instruction. Here’s what not to do.

Matthew 6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Let’s analyze this portion of our Lord’s teaching and apply it to our day. Notice first of all that the hypocrite’s prayer is public. He wouldn’t pray like that in private where he has no audience, would he? We all know what we mean when we use the word hypocrite.

It refers to someone who says one thing and then does another, you know, like 90 percent of the politicians. But the Greek word simply means an actor. Now leaving out Hollywood and the politicians, who are some of the biggest actors in America today? Let me give you a hint:

We don’t see inside synagogues these days and we don’t see too many people on soapboxes on street corners, but the modern equivalent would be inside the churches and on the television and internet ministries.

The TV and podcasts on the internet are the modern version of the guy on the soapbox on the street corner, as well as the extension of a preacher in a church building. We have all seen them. They can really pray some highly-theatrical and long-winded prayers while the fundraising telethon’s are going on.

For heaven’s sake, I don’t watch those shows” except for a peek here and there. That’s about all I can take; but it sure seems to me that every single time I happen to see one of those Christian networks or programs, they always are raising money.

They always have the banner running across the bottom of the TV screen telling you what number to call to make your pledge …all for Geeezusss, of course.

It reminds of a true story—and with apologies to our dear Baptist friends and brethren. This was told to me by a long ago colleague, whom I will call Rex, who passed away well over a decade ago.

Rex told me how he had been invited to a ministers’ seminar put on by the late Jerry Falwell up at his facilities in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was a weekend full of classes for various ways and means to have a more successful” ministry.

Rex was appalled by Falwell’s mid-Saturday afternoon class which was wholly focused on how to raise money. What really galled Rex was how Falwell described in detail how to hit up the congregation for donations three different times in one sermon. Disgusting!

Of course, I am certain that this is not exclusive to the Baptists. There are money-grubbers in every sect and denomination, so again, my apologies to our Baptist brethren. Wait til I tell you about the Jehovah’s Witnesses… oh, wait a minute… I already did that in part 3 of our Divinity of Christ series.

Anyhow, here’s what Jesus had to say about religious charlatans.

Matthew 23: 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

How do they devour widow’s houses? Well, one way is by preying on their gullibility and getting widows who can barely afford to pay the taxes on their homes to send in donations way beyond their means. After a while, the poor widow is broke and has to sell her home.

Here is the rest of verse 14:

23:14 b … and for a pretense make long prayer : therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Jesus continued back in Matthew 5: And here is the positive instruction for individual prayer.

Matthew 5: 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Of course, Jesus was not necessarily being literal about the closet here; and it doesn’t usually refer to a tiny closet like you have in your home. It simply means an inner room, a place away from distractions.

By extension, your prayer closet can be anywhere where you can be alone with the Lord: In your car, in your bedroom, in your office, if it’s private; and dare I say, in the water closet?

There’s nothing complicated about Jesus’ instructions here; I think we all understand what He’s teaching. Let me just add my own little rule of thumb; and this is just my guess and my personal opinion: That the longer a person prays in public, chances are, the less time he spends in private prayer. Look at the example of our Lord. He spent much time in private prayer.

There is a time for public prayer, usually in the setting of corporate prayer, that is, with a body of fellow believers. Remember, we don’t pray to be heard by men, that’s the way of the hypocrite. We should be praying to be heard by God. He hears in secret.

Jesus continues:

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

And now—with apologies to our Roman Catholic brethren (and many Protestants, too…) As most of you know, I was brought up as a strict Roman Catholic, and as such I prayed the rosary countless times as a child, and later in the Roman Catholic seminary boarding school.

My mother was a very devout and scrupulous Catholic and so to her, the rosary was one of those things that she did with us as often as possible. Now earlier I told you that I would tell you how praying in the car was for me at the same time somewhere between annoying and torture.

I remember when as a boy, we made many a car trip to visit relatives and it was a good two-hour drive home and usually rather late at night. So as we are on the way home and we kids are all tuckered out from having a blast with our cousins, then, sure enough, mom pulls out her rosary. So we kids in the back seat just look at each other with helpless resignation as she begins.

After some years of this, as we got older and wiser,” a solution dawned upon us. It’s dark in the car, and we’ve got two hours to go and as she pulls the rosary out of her purse and announces that we will now pray, we would say:

Mom, can I pray quietly; and being the merciful mother that she was—she knew we all greatly disliked it, but she thought she had to do it to help us get to heaven. In every case, she would say, okay, just don’t fall asleep, knowing all along that that was exactly what we would do.

Of course, the rosary fits exactly the vain repetitions prohibition that Jesus warned us against. He even added the phrase as the heathen do.” Alexander Hislop, in his classic work The Two Babylons tells us that the Catholic rosary, which has been around since about the 12th century, if I’m not mistaken, Hislop says that Rome didn’t invent it. Like many of their other rituals, they simply borrowed them and adapted them from the heathen.

He states that the rosary is of the most ancient antiquity and is found universally among the pagan peoples; from the ancient Mexicans, by which I am sure Hislop means the pre-Columbian natives, to the Hindus and Buddhists, to the ancient Greeks of Asia Minor who adorned their statuary of the Ephesian goddess Diana with the rosary.

So when I learned that the rosary was contrary to the words of Jesus himself, all I could say was thank you, Father! No more of that.”

Jesus adds in Matthew 5:

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

But it is only relatively recently that I have realized that Catholics and pagans are not the only ones guilty of vain repetitions. Did it ever occur to you that all the rest of us praying Christians could be guilty of vain repetitions as well? How, you ask?

Well, some might say I am being a little nit-picky here but again it is something that annoys me and it could easily be avoided by a little more thought while we are praying.

It is so very common, and the words vary from person-to-person, and so as I give this example, if this fits you, believe me, I had absolutely no one in mind. Change the words and it will apply to thousands of other people. But some people seem to use certain phrases as filler material” when they pray. It could be the words Oh Jesus, or Lord Jesus, or heavenly father, or lord God, or any number of other combinations. It might go like this:

Oh Lord Jesus, we just thank you, Lord Jesus, that you’re our savior, and Lord Jesus, we really are glad, Lord Jesus, that you, that you, dear Lord Jesus, that you came to die for our sins. And lord Jesus, we want you to heal Aunt Bertha, Lord, cause she’s been sick lately, lord Jesus, and Lord Jesus, she really needs your help.

Also, Lord Jesus, my dog broke its leg last week, and Lord Jesus, he’s a hurtin’, lord Jesus, and I don’t want to put him down, lord Jesus, so, lord Jesus, if it’s not too much trouble, lord Jesus, would you, lord Jesus, ….lord Jesus I’m asking you to heal Rover’s leg, lord Jesus. and lord Jesus, I thank you in Jesus name, lord Jesus. Amen.”

Alright, maybe it’s not in the same level of offense as doing the rosary thing, but using Lord Jesus” as filler material is a vain repetition in my book. I don’t think it’ll send you to hell, but it sure annoys the …..heck out of some of us.

I also recognize that most of us are not public speakers, and that even public speakers sometimes have annoying habits of using certain filler words, like, you know what I mean, like…. it’s sort of distracting, like…… to hear, like….. a person who, like, uses, like… the word like as filler material.

Like, no matter what the word is, it gets like, irritating after a while. And really, folks, it’s just a bad habit, and it can be broken by recognizing it and then giving it the diligent attention that it deserves. And, like, in no time at all, like, you’ll be, like, cool, man. 🤣 (LOL for those reading this whose devices do not pick up the rolling on the floor emoji.)

Now, please, dear readers, before you take offense, understand that I am not perfect either; I am simply trying to help us have a better, more effective prayer life…and shorter, too, as we have seen, it’s not the length that counts.

Okay, let’s continue on in Matthew 5, because after Jesus gives us those very brief, but very clear instructions, both from the negative and the positive side, He then says, in essence, For example, here’s how you do it. His actual words are these:

9 After this manner therefore pray ye:

Note: He did not say: repeat after me, or use these exact words; or read them from a prayer book. This is a pattern, a model, an example. So let’s analyze it to discern the manner that He instructs us to pray.

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The first thing I notice about that prayer is its brevity. It’s short. You can pray it reverently in 30 seconds. I don’t know how many times I have been in healing services with other brethren, like at some of the Bible camps many years ago, where we sometimes had four or five men laying hands on and anointing the sick and praying for them.

It got to be a huge burden, sometimes occupying three eight-hour days of prayers for the sick. It was totally unnecessary in my opinion, simply because of the length of the prayers for each individual as they came in to see the elders.

Martin Luther once said: The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” Now if Jesus is giving us a model prayer and it covers all the elements in 30 seconds, then I think we ought to give serious consideration to looking at some of our public prayer habits.

As far as your prayer-closet, private prayers, hey, you can pray for hours, if you wish, that’s up to you, but also keep in mind that Jesus said it’s not our much speaking” that will get our prayers answered, it’s the condition of the heart. Here’s another example of a brief prayer by our Lord.

Luke 23: 34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Going back to analyzing the Lord’s prayer, the second and third things we notice about it are the elements and the order of those elements. In simplified form, it is this. Details later.

The prayer begins addressing the Father, then by offering praise and worship to Him, verses 9 and 10.

Secondly, verse 11 is beseeching Father for our needs.

Thirdly, a ministry to others is involved. Verses 12 and 13.

Then it closes with a praise in the form of a doxology.

Someone has also described the form of the Lord’s prayer as uplook, then inlook, then outlook. Uplook to the Father; inlook for yourself; outlook towards others.

Recognize also that one cannot minister to another unless the Father has first given you something to minister with. Let’s look at these elements a little deeper now.

The opening part of the prayer, the uplook is entering into communion with the Father. We establish contact with God. Our praise and worship of Him gets us on the same wavelength so that communication can take place. Isaac Newton gave this witness to his faith in God:

I can take my telescope and look millions and millions of miles into space; but I can lay my telescope aside, go into my room and shut the door, get down on my knees in earnest prayer, and I see more of heaven and get closer to God than I can when assisted by all the telescopes and material agencies on earth.”

I am sure that any parent, mother or father, can relate to this: there is a difference in how you are inclined to respond to your children’s requests (prayers, if you will).

We will be much more inclined to respond promptly and favorably if they approach us in a tried and tested manner. Kids know it instinctively. It’s the pattern Jesus gave us in the model prayer.

Before you get to the please give me this or that” part, you first butter up your mom or dad. When your son or daughter comes to you and first praises you and says, you know, dad, you’re the greatest dad in the world; I’m the luckiest boy in the world to have you for my dad, etc.

Well, let me tell you, any father is going to be giving his full attention to his son at that point, and with daughters, well, they’ve got it even easier because they can just melt a papa’s heart with a smile and a twinkle, can’t you, girls?

But, if on the other hand, a son or daughter comes in the room and dad is busy reading the newspaper or whatever, and the son comes up and says Dad, I need 20 bucks to buy a new CD,” well, he’ll have a little more difficult time getting dad to put the paper down.

It’s the same way with our heavenly Father. I mean, after all, He may not be reading the newspaper, but He’s been quite busy over in Chechnya and Iraq lately, so the best way to get His attention is to open with praise and worship.

Obviously, I’m being a tad light-hearted here, but the point is that it can’t be put on and faked. It has to be true, sincere, heart-felt worship of the Father. That will open the channel every time.

Then we present our needs to Him. Sure, He knows in advance what they are, but He wants us to lean on Him, to acknowledge that we depend upon Him for everything. This is pleasing to Him. This is the way He designed the Master Plan.

Oh, by the way, the confession of sins element is in the Lord’s prayer also, isn’t it? 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” All sin is considered a debt in the eyes of God.

Moreover, let us not overlook the very important part of that: that we ask God to forgive us only insofar as we forgive those who have trespassed against us, offended us, sinned against us, owe us a debt”! See verses 14 and 15.

Then comes the element of outlook, ministry to others. In this case, it is intercession on behalf of a group, that we would not be led into temptation, but that the Lord God would deliver us from evil.

By pondering this simple prayer, I am certain that we can all improve our prayer lives dramatically, and probably shorten our prayers as well, and at the same time have them become more pleasing to our Father in heaven.

Well, I had a whole lot more notes about other aspects of prayer that I thought I could squeeze into this message, but most will have to wait for another time.

The subject of prayer is an enormous one and we have merely scratched the surface, but I thought it was high time that I taught at least some of the fundamentals on proper, biblical prayer. We will do more at some other time, Lord willing.

And that was the conclusion of my lecture from August 2000. And now we shall add more to it as we continue this series on prayer.

(To be continued.)


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