Preamble: Jesus is talking to his audience about the way to pray as well as the results of prayer. (cf. the way to pray is not like the hypocrites, but...). The result of prayer is reward and depending on the way one prays the reward is concomitant. These two ideas, namely, the way to pray and the results of prayer are merged together here by Jesus with the resulting subject being: "the kind of prayer the Father rewards... with the complement following.
I have included in this exposition, the movement from the exegetical to the theological to the homiletical outline so that someone who wants to teach this material may see how it was prepared and that they too may be able to use the method as they deem necessary.
The kind of prayer Jesus said the Father rewards is one offered not as the hypocrites or pagans do, but offered in sincerity and confidence.
1. The kind of prayer Jesus said the Father rewards is one offered not as the hypocrites do, praying to be seen by men, but one offered in sincerity in the solitude of one's room (5, 6).
A. The followers of Jesus were not to be like the hypocrites, who because they loved to pray in front of men to be admired had received their reward in full (5).
1. Followers of Jesus are not to pray like the hypocrites (5a).
2. The hypocrites love to pray to be seen by men (5b).
3. The hypocrites have received their reward in full (5c).
B. The followers of Jesus were to pray in secret, in their room, and the Father who sees them will reward them (6).
1. Followers of Jesus are to pray in secret to God who is unseen (6a).
2. The Father will reward those who pray to Him in secret (6b).
II. The followers of Jesus are not pray as the pagans do, babbling on with their many words, but are instead to pray with confidence knowing that their Father knows what they need before they ask (7, 8).
A. Followers of Jesus are not to pray like the pagans pray who babble on endlessly thinking they will be heard because of their many words (7)
1. Followers of Jesus are not to pray as the pagans (7a)
2. The pagans babble on endlessly in their prayers (7b)
3. The pagans think that God hears them because of their many words (7c)
B. Followers of Jesus are not to pray like the pagans because they know that the Father knows their needs before they ask (8).
1. Followers of Jesus are not to pray as the pagans (8a)
2. The Father knows their needs before they ask (8b)
God rewards prayer that comes from a sincere heart and which demonstrates confidence in Him as a Father.
I. The Father rewards believers who pray in sincerity, not hypocritically (5, 6).
A. Believers are not to pray hypocritically for others to see and if they do so they receive only the admiration of men,1 nothing from God (5).
1. Believers are not to pray hypocritically (5a).
2. Hypocrites love to pray to be seen by people (5b).
3. Hypocrites have received their reward, namely, the admiration of men (5c).
B. Believers are to pray sincerely and their Father who sees them will reward them (6).
1. Believers are to pray sincerely to God who is unseen (6a).
2. The Father will reward believers who pray to Him sincerely (6b).
II. Believers are not to babble in their prayers, but are instead to pray with confidence knowing that their Father knows what they need before they ask (7, 8).
A. Believers are not to pray like the pagans who babble on endlessly thinking they will be heard because of their many words (7)
1. Believers are not to pray as the pagans2 (7a)
2. Pagans often babble on endlessly in their prayers (7b)
3. Pagans think that God hears them because of their many words (7c)
B. Believers are not to pray like the pagans because they know that the Father knows their needs before they ask (8).
1. Believers are not to pray as those who have no knowledge of God (8a)
2. The Father knows their needs before they ask (8b)
Pray sincerely and confidently and God will reward you.
C. Survey of main points
II. Pray sincerely and God will reward you (5, 6).
A. When we pray
1. Text (...when you pray) Jesus says when you pray, not if you pray.
2. Illustration: Day and Luther
4. Transition Sentence: So when you pray Jesus says there is a way to pray to the Father and a way not to pray to the Father. First...
B. Do not pray as the hypocrites: Believers are not to pray hypocritically for others to see, and if they do so, they receive only the admiration of men, nothing from God (5).
a. Believers are not to pray hypocritically (5a).
b. Hypocrites love to pray to be seen by people (5b).
c. Hypocrites have received their reward, namely, the admiration of men (5c).
2. Illustration: Pharisees
3. Transition Sentence
C. Pray Sincerely: Believers are to pray sincerely and their Father who sees them will reward them (6).
1. Text: Believers are to pray sincerely to God who is unseen (6a). The Father will reward believers who pray to Him sincerely (6b).
2. Illustration: From my days with the Navigators
4. Transition Sentence to second main section
III. Pray confidently and God will reward you: Believers are not to babble in their prayers, but are instead to pray with confidence knowing that their Father knows what they need before they ask (7, 8).
A. Do not pray as the pagans
1. Text (Negative): Believers are not to pray like the pagans who babble on endlessly thinking they will be heard because of their many words (7)
a. Believers are not to pray as the pagans (7a)
b. Pagans often babble on endlessly in their prayers (7b)
c. Pagans think that God hears them because of their many words (7c)
3. Transition Sentence
B. Pray with confidence to your Father: Believers are not to pray like the pagans because they know that the Father knows their needs before they ask (8).
1. Text: Believers are not to pray as those who have no knowledge of God (8a) The Father knows their needs before they ask (8b).
We live in a generation of people who do not know how to have relationships. We struggle in relationships ourselves, as Christians, and often feel lonely and isolated. Sometimes we grow up with parents that are distant and uninvolved, who, it seems, could not have cared whether we existed or not. I have a friend whose parents, especially her alcoholic mother, could only talk to her seriously when she was drunk. She would often times just use her daughter, my friend, to get what she wanted. She never had an encouraging word for her daughter except when she wanted something. Have you ever been around a person like that? It seems that the only time they are nice to you, is not for you yourself, but what they can get out of you. Perhaps you have even done that to others yourself. I think we have all been victims in this kind of sin against others as well as agents.
But, you know I don't think that we just treat other people that way, there are times when we treat the Lord the same way. The relationship that we want to work the most, if we're honest, is often times reduced by us to a powerplay with God to get what we can out of him. We fall away from loving Him for who He is and at times descend into demanding from Him that He do what we want and execute our agenda, pain free. In essence we use Him for a variety of reasons.
We use Him to cover up sin... we say things like "I feel that is what the Lord would have me do," when in reality we have not sought Him at all. We use Him to keep from becoming involved in people's lives as well as to secure for us a pain free life.
We can even use God to sustain an enjoyable and admired reputation with outsiders. This is the case with the Pharisees and religious leaders that Jesus confronts in the sermon on the mount, Matthew chapters five through seven. Jesus excoriates them for their deep seated pride in their religiosity and their smugness. They had taken holy things, in the context of the relationship YHWH offered them, and turned them into a means of parading their spirituality and holiness. Jesus accuses them in Matthew six of using giving, fasting and prayer as a means to enjoy tremendous notoriety before men. They used God and spiritual things for their own advantage.
We do the same things ourselves, don't we? There are times when, while were giving, we desire that others see what we're doing for God. Or we want someone to know just how much we pray.
Understanding that we all have this tendency to use God for our own ends, I want to focus today on a small section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus addresses this issue of relating properly to God, as far as prayer is concerned. Jesus discusses prayer, some underlying principles as well as a pattern, in Matthew 6:5-15. I want us to look at Matthew 6: 5-8 today, focusing on the underlying principles. Jesus warns of this attitude, of trying to use God for our own ends, and in effect says that when it comes to prayer, there is a way to pray and a way not to pray, if you want the reward God has to offer you.
Let's read the passage (read passage).
In effect, Jesus gives us two negative examples here, models to avoid in our prayer life. In verses 5 and 6 he says that we must pray sincerely, that is, not like the hypocrites who do it for show. In verses 7 and 8 he says by way of example that we should pray with confidence and not like the pagans who hope that God hears them because, after all, they babble on endlessly. Surely God must be impressed!
So the question surfaces again, How are we to relate to God in our prayer lives that demonstrates the fact that we are not trying use Him to get what we want, but are truly relating to Him as He desires. I think Jesus would say to us, among other things, that we must first, pray sincerely and second, pray with confidence. Jesus says that prayer done in this way will be rewarded by God.
Let's look at the first of these, praying sincerely. This is what I think Jesus is getting at in verses 5 and 6. But notice first of all, reading in verse 5 that Jesus does not say if you pray as if it were an option, but when you pray, seeing it to be a necessity for life and communion with God. He says the same thing in verses 6 and 7— not if you pray, but when you pray. Albert Edward Day has said that "We Protestants are an undisciplined people. Therein lies the reason for much of the dearth of spiritual insights and serious lack of moral power." The point for us is that prayer is not an addendum to our lives, it is rather at the heart of our lives because it reflects the deepest relationship we have. We need to learn to discipline our souls to pray whether we feel like it or not. Martin Luther said, "As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray." Jesus assumes that you will pray. Now we can begin to talk about what it means to pray sincerely to your Father in heaven.
So Jesus says, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, referring primarily to the Pharisees and religious leaders. He says they love to pray standing in the synogogues and on the street corners and catch this... to be seen by men. It was nothing more than a show for them in order to win the admiration of men. They were using God to promote themselves. And Jesus says for that attitude they win a zero, a goose egg from God. They have the reward of men, that is, their applause, but that's about where it begins and ends.
No... Jesus says that we are to pray sincerely, that is, to go into our room and pray in secret and that our Father who sees that kind of sincerity in seeking after Him alone, not the applause of men, will indeed reward us. You see, Jesus is not condemning public prayer, but He is condemning prayer in public for the purpose of putting on a show in an attempt to win the respect of others. We must pray sincerely to God if we desire His ear and His response.
I'll never forget the time when I was working in a campus ministry, co-leading it with a friend of mine. I was responsible to organize the meetings on Friday nights at the university. I distinctly remember one Friday night in which I knew that I was not prepared for the meeting. At the last moment I was fumbling around trying to organize exactly what I wanted to say and as the time for the meeting drew near I feared that this thing was not going to go well at all, and that I was going to be caught off-guard. As I was driving over to the meeting I remembered praying a prayer that went something like this: "Father I pray that everything would go well tonight and that you would encourage others through our time together. I ask that you would help me to recall all that I need to say and that I would be a help to the students." Now on the surface there appears to be little wrong with that kind of prayer..I mean after all...I was asking for God's help and blessing upon our time together. But it was not until after the meeting that I believe the Holy Spirit pointed out to me what was really at the heart of my prayer. At one level I really did want God to help the students. But, on another level, I was not praying so sincerely after all...in fact I believe God revealed to me, through His word, that what I really wanted was not his glory at all, but the salvation of my reputation. You see, what I was saying was God please help me to recall all that I want to say...not so that you can use me to glorify yourself and strengthen the people, but so that I won't look like a sixth grader who had forgotten his lines in the school play. "God! Keep me from looking like a first class fool—my worst nightmare."
Not too many of us can relate to praying on the street corners for men to see. However, I'll bet there are more of us that can relate to praying in front of church members for them to see and admire us. But who among us is willing to say that we have never prayed, in a less than sincere manner, to get God to do what we want to Him to do for our sake's. Jesus says that this is hypocritical, to be understood for what it really is and abandoned.
Do you want God to answer your prayers, to reward you as you seek Him? Then be careful how you pray. Pray sincerely!
The second underlying principle that Jesus mentions with regard to prayer is that we should pray confidently. The whole idea of confidence in verses 7 and 8 is not as immediately apparent so let me explain to you where I'm getting this idea. First, let's read verses 7 and 8 again (read text).
To summarize what Jesus is saying we might put it this way: Believers are not to babble in their prayers, as the pagans do (that is, those who really don't know God...whether they're religious or not makes no difference), but are instead to pray with confidence knowing that their Father knows what they need before they ask. You see Jesus says that we are not to pray like people who have no knowledge of God, who think that God is more likely to hear and do something if they wear Him out with their words—its kind of like a nagging child whose mother finally gives in and grants the child's demands, just so that she won't have to listen any more. Jesus says, don't be like that—these people demonstrate nothing by their prayers except a want of true knowledge of God. Religious or not, Jesus says they are truly pagans! Jesus says God is our Father and as such knows what we need before we ask. This is where the idea of confidence comes from—Our father knows what we need already. We don't need to try and placate Him or beat Him into submission by our many words. Apparently Jesus is saying that God wants to answer our requests. In fact the apostle John says that "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us...like a good Father He listens to the desires of His children...and if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we've asked of Him." We can pray with a great deal of confidence that God is listening ever so closley.
In his book entitled, "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life," Donald Whitney describes something called the Very Large Array or VLA for short. Perhaps some of you are familar with the VLA. The VLA is the world's largest radio wave receiver located in New Mexico. According to Whitney the VLA is a "series of huge sattelite disks on thirty-eight miles of railways. Together the dishes mimic a single telescope the size of Washington, D.C." The function of this thing is to receive even the weakest radio signals emitted from outer space. Apparently it is able to pick up extremely faint radio signals—the impact of such signals being comparable to the impact of a single snowflake hitting the ground. Basically the device functions as a huge ear, listening to what's going on out there in the universe.
Our Father has a similar ear. We might even say that He has a VLE or a Very Large Ear. He is listening even to the fainest of prayers and desires to answer them. Knowing what we need even before we ask, He waits and listens for the request and then desires to reward us by answering our prayer—be it in line with His will.
Do you feel that way when you pray? I know that there are many times when I pray that I just feel like giving up because it seems that He doesn't hear or for some reason does not want to respond. But we need to keep in mind that Jesus says that God does listen and our Father loves to reward us by answering our prayers, prayers that we can make with the utmost confidence that He is indeed listening.
We do live in a world confused about how to relate to one another and even more confused about how to relate to a personal God. Many times we are not at all unlike the Pharisees who attempted to use God for their own ends and we are equally as guilty of treating God as the pagans treat Him—Somebody unknown. Jesus says when it comes to prayer you need to understand something: If you want God's reward, that is, His answers to your prayers, then you must pray sincerely and with confidence. [Note: For those teaching this material, you will want to finish here with a positive example of your central proposition, i.e. an example that is personal and embodies what our Lord is saying.]
2 pagans are defined here as anyone who does not have enough knowledge of God as Father to put an end to vain repititions in their prayers. In other words, these people do not understand some of the most basic attributes of God; His personality, omniscience, love and mercy.