When You Pray: Part 3
Matthew 5-7 we read Jesus’ teaching that we have come to call the Sermon on the Mount. In this teaching time Jesus trying to change His listeners’ perspective on religion and what it means to follow God. One of the areas Jesus teaches on is prayer. Jesus wanted to change their perspective on what prayer was about and how they should pray. What we find in verses 5-8 of Matthew 6 is Jesus focusing on two areas of prayer.
The first area of prayer Jesus is concerned about is the place we should pray.
5 “And whenever you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they will be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their full reward! 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-8; ISV)
Where we pray is very important to Jesus. He first tells us not to be like the hypocrite and pray in public to get attention from people. Let’s be honest this isn’t a big temptation for us. Most of us would prefer not to pray in public, but there is an important note that I need to make. Jesus said that the person who prays for the attention and recognition of people have received their reward. Their reward is the praise and recognition of people.
What is the purpose of religion? Religion, it doesn’t matter which one, is about bringing men and God together. By make a show of religion for men they miss out on the reward their religion is supposed to have.
While we may not be tempted to pray and make a show in public, we are tempted to say place doesn’t matter. We throw up prayers as we drive along to work thinking about all the details of the day. We shoot off prayers when all of a sudden we are burdened with a bunch more work. We earnestly pray as the State Patrolmen walks to our car that we won’t get a ticket. Rather than seeking to connect with our Heavenly Father we plead with Him to miraculously intervene in our lives so things will be more to our liking.
What would you marriage be like if the only time you talked with your husband or wife you talked about schedules and what you needed them to do. Sure you can talk to them anytime you want and you often do to remind them about the next thing on the calendar or the next job that needs to be done. After awhile of this type of communication you would be able to set right next to your spouse and feel totally disconnected from them. It is not that you are made at each other or that there is some sort of problem but the intimacy that should be there has been swallowed up in all the details of life.
I would imagine that it is essential for people who are married to make sure that they find time, even schedule time, when all these things are pushed to the side with no agendas to worry about. A time to talk, dream, share fears and hopes, and the love that they share so that the intimate connection can remain alive. Of course I am ignorant about such things, but I would imagine that would be important.
Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t pray in public or that we can’t offer hurried prayers throughout the day about our concerns of life. What He is saying that in order to really connect with God that we need to schedule a time with Him, get away from all distractions so it can be just the two of us. Jesus practiced this. Though His example was to go into the wilderness the principle is the same. When Jesus needed to connect with God He removed Himself from all distractions and prayed.
One of the neat things we find in verse 6 is Jesus’ admission that God is unseen or secret. Isn’t that one of the things that make prayer difficult is that we can’t see Him. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but at times prayer seems a little silly because you are talking to somebody who isn’t there. So I think it is wonderful that Jesus admits that God is unseen, because it means that He understands the difficulty of praying to a God who we cannot see or touch.
Jesus closes the verse with a promise. When we pray in this manner, not because we want to seem religious, but because we want to connect with God, we will be rewarded. Answered prayers is not the reward Jesus is talking about. Shutting the door to your room is not the missing part of the formula to get what you want by praying. The word reward here means to pay back or recognize. Just as the recognition of men was the reward for the hypocrite, the recognition of God is the reward for the humble man who seeks to connect with God. It is the deepening of our relationship with Him and knowing that He is with us regardless if the answer to our prayers is yes, no, or even silence.
Here is the point I think we miss about prayer: Prayer is about connecting with God. It isn’t about getting our wish list answered by God. If all our prayers are just about bless me, bless us, do this, and do that then we will miss out on the power of prayer in our lives. We may have a few stories of when God has answered our prayers, but overall the answers will seem random and the silence of God seem deafening making us wonder what the point of it all is.
- Point to Ponder: Where we pray is very important to Jesus.
- Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:5-6
- Question to Consider: Do you have a place where you go and pray?