August 8, 2004
A hush falls over the crowd as the offering basket approaches. Bob, you can sense the tension of this crowd as they await the outcome. No one knows for sure just what he’s going to do. Wait a minute, Bob. He’s reaching for his checkbook. Whoa! It looks like he’s already written his check ahead of time. Boy, that is strategy! And here it is. It looks like…Yes, it is! It’s $200! What an upset! That was far more than anybody expected from this Cinderella player. I wish you could be here to see the reaction of this crowd. At first there was just this stunned silence. No one could believe it. And then a collective “ah” followed by whispers. Then as people realized just what this man had done, the crowd began to roar. Right now they’re just going wild with applause. Ushers are screaming. It’s a mad house, Bob. It’s simply unbelievable!
Fortunately, we don’t have announcers for our Sunday morning offering. In fact, if you’re visiting with us today, I want to explain that our offering this morning was not what we usually do here at Fellowship Arapaho. You saw some unusual things this morning because today we’re going to talk about something that Jesus had to say about people who give money just to impress others. I hope you’ll forgive the silliness, but I wanted to make the point that it’s not just what we do to worship God. It’s very important why we do it.
This year we’ve been studying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. I call it “The Kingdom Handbook”, because Jesus is telling us, his followers, about his kingdom, the kingdom of God.
Jesus began by describing the character of the kingdom.
What’s the kingdom like? It’s a kingdom that welcomes the spiritually bankrupt, those who are deeply disappointed with life and those who just can’t do it on their own. It’s a kingdom of justice and mercy at the same time. Those who belong to the kingdom are ambassadors of peace even though they are persecuted in this life. They let people see the good in their lives so that others, too, will come to know God.
Next Jesus explained the code of the kingdom. He said that it wasn’t enough to just conform to God’s rules in our external behavior. He also wants us to change on the inside. He wants us to resolve our anger, to restrain any sexual desire that’s out-of-bounds, to refuse to divorce just because we’re tired of being married, to be truthful inside and out, to forgive those who wrong us, and finally to love even those who are not on our side.
That’s a brief summary of what we’ve studied in Matthew, chapter 5.
Today we come to chapter 6 and to the next series in the handbook as Jesus begins to discuss our motives for worship.
People perform acts of worship for many reasons, but those who belong to the kingdom need to watch their motives. It’s not just an issue of what you do to worship God; the reason why you do it is crucially important. Jesus introduces this new subject in Matthew 6:1.
He begins with a general principle and then follows it with three examples. First, let’s look at the general principle:
“Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
If you think back about what we’ve already studied in Matthew 5, Jesus was talking there about righteousness—that is the good behavior of those who want to follow him—those who belong to the kingdom. In chapter 5 he said that if you want to be in the kingdom, your righteousness needs to be better than the performance of those people who do the right thing on the outside but don’t do the right thing on the inside. God wants you to follow him, not only with your behavior, but also with your heart.
Now he says there’s something else you need to watch: your motive. When you do good things—“acts of righteousness”—make sure that you’re doing it for God and not just to put on a show for the people around you. (We get our word “theatre” from the word used here for “seen”.)2 In our day, just like in Jesus’ day, there are people who do good religious things, not because they are devoted to God, but because they are interested in looking good in front of their fellow human beings.
How can I look like a good guy to my neighbors or friends? Some people go to church. Some give to the poor. Some say their prayers. Some give up a bad habit for lent. Sometimes people are motivated to do these things because they want to impress God. Sometimes they do them also hoping that someone else—someone human—will notice what a great person they are. Maybe they’re trying to impress their pastor, or their fiancé, or their friends, or their parents, or their children. Religious stuff looks good on a resume. Everybody ought to have some.
But Jesus says that if you’re involved in a lot of religious activity just to show people how devoted you are to God, then it doesn’t mean anything to God. That’s not what it’s about. Don’t do good things so that people will see you doing good and think that you’re a great person.
Now we have a problem in this verse because there’s an apparent contradiction in what Jesus is saying here. Some of you might remember this from a few Sundays back. Matthew 5:16, in the last chapter, says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Remember when we talked about that, I said that we should be good people doing good things and we should let people see us doing good, so that they will also be drawn to a relationship with Jesus.
But here, it sounds like the opposite. Be careful not to do good things for people to see. But that is not a contradiction. Actually, the Bible is saying both. These two verses are really talking about two different ideas and the difference is very important. We should do good things so that3 people will see them and give praise to God. But we should not do good things in order to4 show off to other people so they will praise us. It’s really a question of motive. The first brings praise to God. The second seeks praise to myself. That’s a huge difference.
So the general principle that Jesus is trying to teach us is this:
If you perform religious acts
to impress other people
then you’ll miss God’s reward.
If your motive for going to church, or doing some good deed, or helping the poor, or praying to God or performing some religious duty—if you’re doing those things to impress the people around you—then it doesn’t mean anything to God.
It’s always easier to understand a general principle when you have a good example.
And in the next few verses, Jesus gives us three examples to illustrate what he’s talking about. They are giving, praying, and fasting. In Jesus’ day, these three were seen as the three great things a person could do to demonstrate their devotion to God. If you really loved God, then you showed it by giving to the poor, by praying and by fasting. So Jesus says, let’s not just talk about what you do to show your devotion to God. Let’s talk about why you do it. Let’s talk about your motives.
Today, we’re going to take the first example and talk about giving. Then, over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the other two examples, praying and fasting. So, first, how does this general principle apply to giving?
 "So when you give to the needy,
Jesus is not talking about giving in general. He’s specifically talking about giving to people in need. The word he uses here can mean “doing something kind for someone else”, but most often in the Bible, it is the word for money given to people in need. Usually, that meant poor people who didn’t have enough money. It included beggars looking for a hand out. It included the handicapped, who, because of their injuries, were not able to earn a living. Even today in the Middle East, you see crippled people begging on the streets.
For us, today, I think these verses are referring to what we give to people in need. So, for example, that would include giving to our church’s Love Fund that we distribute to help people in need, to help families who are out of work, or people with a financial crisis in their lives. Some of you have brought food to stock the pantry in the church office so we have something to give people off the street looking for assistance. It also includes what you do and what you spend as individuals to help each other in need. It includes things like sponsoring a child through Compassion International or sending a contribution to feed people through World Vision. It includes whatever you hand out the window
to a homeless person. It includes your donations to the Salvation Army. It includes at least a portion of your taxes that goes to help the poor or assist the retired. It includes supporting the kids who went to Mexico to build houses for people that could not afford them. All these things would be the giving that Jesus is talking about: giving to those in need.
Although often this word is used for financial needs, I think it is broad enough that it can also include other needs as well. So, for example, think about the money that you give to our church that we use to hire staff and open the buildings. Those gifts provide counseling, teaching and training for people with spiritual needs—including people in other countries. They provide childcare so parents can grow spiritually. They provide great programs for kids and students. They provide scholarships for retreats. If we charged people for all the services they received from our church, it could be pretty expensive—more than many people could afford. But your support for our church allows us to offer our ministry to everyone for free. That is giving that meets the needs of people in need. That is what Jesus is talking about here.
But I don’t think this is talking about everything you give the church. You know, everyone of us gets something out of this church. We all grow spiritually and get encouragement. We learn. We get a cup of coffee. We breathe the air conditioning. We make some trash and dirty some carpet. In other words, some of what we all give to the church is money that gets spent on ourselves. We’re really giving money to pay for some benefit that we’re getting out of the church.
I don’t think this happened at our church, but I heard a story about a little seven-year-old girl that came to church with her parents one Sunday morning. She watched her parents singing songs. She sat and listened through the sermon and the pastor’s prayer. She saw the offering go by, and watched her parents put something in the basket. And then after church, as the family was driving home, the mother commented, "I thought the music this morning was just awful." And the father added, "And the sermon was not only too long. It was boring." Their little daughter in the back seat heard all this and it really made her think. Finally, after a few moments of silence, she said, "Well, Mom and Dad, you've got to admit it was a pretty good show for a dollar."
Some of what you put in the offering today is just paying for whatever you get out of this experience. But I hope that that’s not all you’re giving. I hope that you’re giving more to this church than what you’re getting out of it—more than what it costs us for you to be here. Because whatever you give beyond that is money that is given not to meet your needs, but to meet the needs of others. That’s the kind of giving Jesus is talking about here in this verse and that’s the kind of giving that brings God’s reward.
I know some of you cannot afford to do that. Maybe our church’s ministry to you costs more than you can possibly give in return. You know what? That’s fine. Don’t worry about it. You have many other things that you can offer the people around you and God has put you here both to benefit from this church and to benefit others—even if you can’t afford to give.
If you’re visiting our church this morning, then what I just said is not really for you, either. It is our great privilege to offer our ministry to you without charge, and without any expectation that you will give us money.
What I’m saying is for those of us who have made this church our spiritual home and for the many of us, including me, who can afford to give more to the church than we receive from the church. If you can give like that, then I hope you are giving like that. I’m being very frank with you. But I’m not saying this because I’d like a bigger salary or more staff or more stuff. It’s because God honors that kind of unselfish giving that goes beyond just paying for what you consume and meets the needs of other people.
The kind of giving that Jesus is talking about here includes a lot of different things. It doesn’t include what we give to meet our own needs. But it includes everything that we give to meet the needs of others.
So, let’s look again at Matthew 6:2 and see what Jesus says about giving to meet the needs of others.
 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.
There’s really no evidence that people in Jesus’ day actually blew trumpets to announce their gifts. Jesus is using a metaphor here to colorfully describe the people who made sure that everyone knew they were giving to the needy. Basically, he’s saying, “When you give, don’t make a big deal out of it.” Don’t attract attention to it. Don’t advertise how much you’re giving. Don’t show off your generosity.
Jesus refers to “hypocrites”. Once again, this is the word for an actor, someone who plays a role. Here, the idea is someone who is pretending to give because they care about the needs of people or because they want to give as an act of worshipping God, but their real motive5 is to be honored by their peers. They want people to see how generous they are. They want people to be impressed with their spirituality or their devotion to God or their kind heart. But Jesus warns us not to follow their example because God does not recognize their generosity and will not reward it.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
The word Jesus uses here is a business term. It means to be paid in full and issue a receipt. Those who give to impress other people get what they want—in fact, they get precisely what they want and no more. If the reason you give is to get human recognition, then that’s all you get: human recognition. If that is your motive, then your generosity means nothing to God. You have earned only human praise and God owes you nothing in return.
This is ostentatious giving, religious acts of worship designed to impress people instead of serving God. Notice the key elements in this type of giving:
By contrast, Jesus tells us in verse 3 how we should give to people in need:
 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret.
This phrase “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” essentially means “Don’t even tell your best friend.” Jesus says that the cure for ostentatious giving is to keep it a secret. The word “secret” refers to “a secret place” and is drawing a specific contrast with the hypocrites, mentioned before, who distributed their gifts in the public synagogues and streets where everyone would be sure to know what they were doing and even perhaps how much they were giving. Jesus tells us to do our giving in private. Keep it confidential.
This is one of the reasons why we handle contributions the way we do here at Fellowship Arapaho. None of the elders or pastors knows who gives to the church and who doesn’t. None of us knows how much anyone gives.
Part of the reason for that practice is for us as elders and pastors. We don’t want to be tempted to treat anybody with favoritism because they give a lot of money to the church. And we don’t want to be tempted to treat anybody dismissively because they don’t give the church a lot of money.6 And so we simply don’t know how much anybody gives. Only the accounting people know and they don’t tell anybody else.
Many of you know that my wife Julie is a CPA and that Julie does the church books. It’s probably hard for some people to believe that Julie doesn’t come home and tell me who gives money and how much everyone gives. But she doesn’t. It wouldn’t be illegal for me or any of the elders to know. And it would be easy information for me to discover even if Julie wasn’t our accountant. But the reason I don’t know is because I don’t want to know. It’s a practice based on a personal decision, not on policy.
So partly, we have that practice for our own sake. But there’s another reason we keep giving information confidential and that’s for you. We don’t want you to be tempted to give to the church so that people will think more highly of you. It’s exactly what Jesus is talking about here.
What would happen if I stood up every Sunday and thanked our major donors by name? Or what if we engraved bricks with the names of the people who pledged to build this building, along with the amounts they pledged? There’s nothing illegal about that. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything particularly immoral about it either. But there is no doubt that it would make it much more tempting to make a contribution only for the public recognition that it would bring. But if no one knows what you give, or how much you give, then there’s not much temptation to give in order to get the praise of men.
So, in case you’ve made a sizable donation to the church, and you were surprised that neither I nor anyone else called you to thank you personally, now you know why we didn’t call. 1) We didn’t know you did it. and 2) We wanted to protect the reward that you’re going to get from God. We wouldn’t dare spoil that by offering you mere human praise.
I don’t think this verse means that all giving MUST remain confidential.
One day Jesus sat at the temple with his students,7 and together they watched how much people were putting into the collection. And when this widow came by and put in two small coins, Jesus drew everyone’s attention to her gift and praised her for her generosity.
Likewise, Paul praises the Macedonian churches for their generous gift for the poor people of Jerusalem.8 And he boasts about the pledges that the church in Corinth made to the same relief project.
Jesus is not laying down a rule here. He’s not saying that only secret giving honors God. He’s saying that if you’re tempted to give for the wrong motives, if you might be tempted to give so you’ll look good in front of other people, then you can remove that temptation by doing all your giving in secret. Keep it confidential and your motives won’t be in question.
I think it’s really important to be precise here in our understanding. Jesus is not saying that you have done wrong if people know about your gift. He’s not saying it’s wrong if people are impressed by your gift. What he’s saying is that it is wrong to give for the purpose of impressing people. It’s not an issue of who knows about it or what they think about it. It’s all about your motive. Why did you do it? For people? Or for God?
The reason it’s so important to guard our motives in giving is because the reason WHY we give will determine how it effects our lives. Jesus urges us to give in secret, so that our motives will be completely pure. And
Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Those who give from pure motives will be rewarded by God.
Just what is this reward? (If you have a King James Bible, you’ll notice that it says God will reward you “openly”. However, the word “openly” is not in the original text.) God’s reward could be open or it could be secret. His reward could come now is this life or it may not come until later when we arrive in heaven. Or, he could reward us both in this life and in the next. Jesus doesn’t promise a specific reward or mention a specific time, but he does say that we will be rewarded. The word he uses for “reward” literally means, “to pay back a debt.” That’s the way the Bible describes it. If you give to people in need with a pure motive, not for how it will look, but because you love God and want to honor him and obey him, then God will pay you back. God owes you. Does that sound too crass? Listen to
Proverbs 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.
Giving to the poor is compared to loaning money to God. Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 9:6, 11 that God will meet generosity with generosity.
Whoever sows generously will also reap generously. …  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.
And he gives this promise in Philippians 4:18-19
I have received the gifts you sent. …  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
There is a reward for those who give to people in need. It may be more money. It may not. It may be repayment. It may be recognition. It may be now. It may be later. The one who gives to the needy will be rewarded. But that reward is only for those who give with a pure motive.
Now we can see the complete contrast between ostentatious giving and secret giving:
God wants you to give to meet the needs of other people. It’s not because he needs your money. It’s because giving to people in need is an act of worship. And that’s why it’s so important that you give with the right motive. If you make a huge contribution to the poor so that people will praise you, then all you get is people’s praise. But if you unselfishly take care of people in need because you want to honor and obey God, then God will reward you. The question is not just, “Are you giving? The question is, “Why are you giving?”
1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the Kingdom Worship series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on August 8, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.
2 Robertson’s Word Pictures, vol. I, p. 50.
3 BAGD: ὅπως 2. as a conjunction, w. the subjunctive
a. to indicate purpose (in order) that
4 BAGD: πρός III. with accusative
3. of the goal aimed at or striven toward
—a. with conscious purpose for, for the purpose of, on behalf of
5 ὅπως same as 1 above.
6 James 2:1-4
7 Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4
8 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:2
Sometimes when we pray, it’s hard not to wonder what other people are thinking about our prayer.
Did I say the right words?
Did they notice that I had trouble finding that perfect phrase? Did they think it was too long? Or maybe they thought it wasn’t long enough! Did I “wow” ‘em? Did I embarrass them? Or did I just embarrass myself?
All in all, praying in public is a lot of pressure. There are just so many ways you can goof up a prayer—and then what would people think?
Last week we began a new series about worship. Kingdom worship. That is the kind of worship Jesus wants us to experience. For Jesus, it’s not just an issue of what you do to worship God; it’s the reason why you do it that is crucially important.
You remember that last week we first looked at a general principle found in Matthew 6:1 where Jesus says,
Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
There Jesus is stating a general principle:
If you perform religious acts
to impress other people
then you’ll miss God’s reward.
People worship for many reasons, but those who belong to the kingdom need to watch their motives. When you do “acts of righteousness”—worship—make sure that you’re doing it for God and not just to put on a show for the people around you. In our day, just like in Jesus’ day, there are people who do good religious activities just because they want to look good in front of other people. How can I impress my neighbors or friends? Go to church, give to the poor, say my prayers? Jesus says that if you’re involved in a lot of religious activity just to impress people, then it doesn’t mean anything to God. That’s not what it’s about.
If your motive for going to church, or doing some good deed, or helping the poor, or praying to God or performing some religious duty—if you’re doing those things to gain the admiration of the people around you—then it doesn’t mean anything to God.
To explain the general principle, Jesus gives us three examples to illustrate what he’s talking about. They are giving, praying, and fasting.
Last week we talked about giving to people in need.
Today, we want to talk about praying. Jesus says, let’s not just talk about what you do to show your devotion to God. Let’s talk about why you do it. Let’s talk about your motives for praying.
[Matthew 6:5] And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.
In Jesus’ day there were people whose prayer was nothing more than performance. There were certain customary times for prayer, and these people made it a point to make sure that when it came time to pray, they were in a public place where everyone would be sure to see them praying and hear them praying. They got a lot of attention and they loved it. So they stood out on the street corners or got up in their house of worship and they prayed a prayer that people would remember. They were champion prayers—prayer warriors. And Jesus said, don’t try to be like them. That’s not what prayer is all about.
These people may be claiming to talk to God, but in reality, they’re talking to the people around them. Their motive is not to worship God, but to impress people. So God says, they’ll get just what they’re looking for:
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
If you were here last week, you might remember that this is an accounting term. It means “paid in full” and it was the word you used when issuing someone a receipt. Those who pray to impress people get the reward of impressed people. And that’s all. The prayer doesn’t mean anything to God. It wasn’t really a prayer to him or for him and so he doesn’t really have anything to do with it.
That is ostentatious prayer, a religious act of worship designed to impress people instead of serving God. Notice the key elements in this type of prayer:
How many of your prayers are ostentatious prayers? How many of your prayers are said not for God’s benefit, but for the benefit of the people who are listening?
I think it’s easy to slip into this kind of prayer. I learned how to do this when I was just a little guy. We’d have people over for dinner and Dad would have one of us pray for the meal. I’d try to pray like I’d heard my Dad pray. And after the prayer, someone might say, “Great job! Well done!” as if I’d just finished a performance—and maybe in a way I had.
Prayer can be a kind of performance, saying the right words in the right way, smoothly, loudly and clearly, pausing at just the right moments for effect. For some, talking to God requires a special language to show proper respect. Everyone knows that God speaks Old Shakespearean English from the 1600’s. Otherwise he wouldn’t have written the Bible with all those thee’s, thou’s and shalt not’s. Prayers must begin a certain way and end a certain way. Apparently it’s very important to get the form just right. And that’s one of the reasons that they make written prayers, especially those in rhyme—so we can know what to say when we pray:
Now I lay me down to sleep.
Pray the Lord my soul to keep.
You know I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with written prayers or with King James English. What I am saying is that when we pray, we’re often too concerned with “getting it right”, and that the reason we’re so concerned about that is because other people are listening, and we want our prayers to sound good to them.
But Jesus says, that’s not the kind of prayer I want you to learn. And by contrast, he tells us in verse 6 how we should pray:
 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
When you pray, make it a prayer between just you and God. Go someplace where you can’t be seen—a hidden place—and God, who also can’t be seen, will meet you in that hidden place.
I’ve got a confession to make. You know what’s really hard for me about prayer? It’s hard for me to pray to God because I can’t see him. I’m a big people person. I love to talk to people. But I can see people. And I can’t see God. So it’s really hard for me to pray to the unseen God. When I’m praying all by myself, I get easily distracted. My mind wanders. Suddenly I realize that somewhere about 5 minutes ago I must have stopped praying. You know what helps me with that? Praying with other people. We’re there for a common purpose and that helps me focus on prayer. My visible brothers and sisters help me sense the presence of the invisible God. So for me, it is big help to pray together in a group and to pray out loud.
But here’s another way you can keep your focus on God during prayer: pray out loud, even if you’re alone and no one else but God is listening. That also helps me. Your hidden place doesn’t need to be in a closet. It doesn’t even need to be indoors! Go for a walk and talk to God. You might look a little strange to the neighbors, but so what? Talking out loud helps me have a conversation with a God that I cannot see.
I don’t think this verse means that all prayer MUST be done in private.
Jesus himself sometimes prayed out loud with his disciples present. In the book of Acts, there are several examples of public prayer in the early church.
What he is trying to say is that prayer is something you say to God. Even if it’s out loud and other people can hear it, remember that you’re not talking to all those other people. Prayer is talking to God. You’re just letting them listen in on your conversation. So Jesus is saying, even if you’re with other people, keep your communication between you and God.
Remember the “dome of silence” from the old TV show, “Get Smart”? Whenever Max wanted a private conversation with the Chief, he’s insist on using the “dome of silence” and this big plastic dome would drop out of the ceiling and cover just the two of them. It’s kind of a corny illustration, but that’s what prayer should be like between you and the Chief. When you pray, no matter how crowded the room, no matter who’s listening, enter into that secret place where you can have a one-on-one conversation with the hidden God and with him alone.
If this is a problem for you, and you need to pray in your closet so you won’t be tempted to impress people with your prayers, then go pray in your closet. That way your motive couldn’t possibly be to gain human approval.
I think it’s really important to be precise here in our understanding. Jesus is not saying that you’ve done something wrong if people hear your prayer. He’s not even saying that it’s wrong if people are impressed by your prayer. What he’s saying is that it is wrong to pray for the purpose of impressing people. It’s not an issue of who knows about it or what they think about it. It’s all about your motive. Why did you do it? For people? Or for God?
A lot of times people are afraid to pray out loud in front of someone else. Probably some of you feel that way. It’s OK to pray to God in private when no one else can hear. But you feel uncomfortable praying in front of other people. If you feel like that, I know it’s hard, but I’d like to suggest something. Ignore all those people. It doesn’t matter what they think. Just express to God your real thoughts in your own words and in your own way. Be yourself. God already knows you and he knows your thoughts and he loves you, so just talk to him and don’t worry about anyone who might be listening. It’s none of their business.
And by the way, if you’re one of those people who think that it is your business, cut it out! God didn’t appoint you to be the prayer sheriff.
You know, as a pastor, I’ve had occasion to say a lot of prayers in front of other people, and I’ve had people evaluate them and find them wanting. I’ve had people say, “He shouldn’t pray like that. He should have added this or left out that.” And I just want to say to them, “Uh, excuse me, but I wasn’t talking to you.” Because when we pray we aren’t talking to each other. We’re talking to God in front of each other.
You know, I admit that it’s hard sometimes for me to keep my focus on God when I’m praying. When I pray in the worship service, I want people to have a meaningful worship experience. When I pray with people in a crisis, I want them to feel God’s comfort. But every time I pray, I try to remind myself that I’m not talking to people. I’m talking to God.
And I find that I have to remind myself every time I pray. Otherwise I end up talking to people. Does that happen to you, too? Bring down the dome of silence. Every time. And then you’ll be praying for God instead of praying for men.
The reason it’s so important to guard our motives in prayer is because the reason WHY we pray will determine the outcome. Jesus urges us to pray in secret, so that our motives will be completely pure. And
Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Those who pray from pure motives will be rewarded by God.
Just what is this reward? What is the reward of prayer? I think that the reward he’s talking about is that God will hear your prayer and answer it.
The word “reward” is used elsewhere for “paying back a debt.” That’s the way the Bible describes it. If you pray to God with a pure motive, not for how it will look, but because you love God and want to honor him and obey him, then God will pay you back. That is, he will answer you.
I think it’s important to remember that the answer God gives us may not always be the answer we want. But God promises that when we pray to him—not pray so others will applaud—but when we really pray TO him, then he will answer our prayers by giving us whatever answer is the very best for us. Check out this verse:
Psalm 145:18-19 God’s there, listening for all who pray, for all who pray and mean it. He does what’s best for those who fear him—hears them call out, and saves them.
Notice that this verse is talking about those who really mean it when they pray. In other words, they really are talking to God and not to men. And God knows the difference.
1 Chronicles 28:9 God examines every heart and sees through every motive. If you seek him, he’ll make sure you find him. (The Message)
If you’re seeking human approval, you will find it. But look at this verse. If you are really seeking God, then you will find him. That’s the reward of secret prayer.
1 John 5:14-15 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
The one who prays to God will be rewarded. He will be heard. He will be answered. But that reward is only for those who pray with a pure motive.
Now we can see the complete contrast between ostentatious prayer and secret prayer:
There’s one more thing Jesus adds about prayer:
 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Many ancient religions had the idea that someone could persuade the gods to act if they just said the magic words over and over again. The word “babbling” means “to say ‘batta, batta, batta”. Batta is just a meaningless phrase. It’s kind of like a rain dance—just hit on the right magic formula and keep repeating it until you get results.
But that’s not just an ancient problem. Sometimes people today treat prayer exactly the same way. Say a “Hail Mary” and catch a fish. Keep saying “Our Father’s” and God will protect you. Even in our circles, prayer can become rote and meaningless, just a bunch of magic words we say to try to get God’s attention, to get our desires answered.
And it’s not just the words. Everything we do on a regular basis is in danger of becoming rote and meaningless.
We say, “Let’s pray.” and everyone closes their eyes and bows their head. Why is that? Is it because there’s some verse in the Bible that says, “Here’s how you pray” with a little diagram next to it? (There isn’t.) Or is it because your mother said, “Bow your head, fold your hands and close your eyes”? Where did Mom learn the “right way” to pray? Probably from her mother, and so on, and so on. I suppose way back originally, bowing your head to pray was done as a sign of respect. I don’t know where folding the hands and closing the eyes came from unless it was just to keep the kids from hitting each other during prayer. Kneeling is big in some churches. But a lot of those traditions have become so rote that they have lost all meaning.
You know what? In the Bible there are examples of people praying not just while they’re kneeling but while they’re standing or sitting. And sometimes lying flat on their faces on the ground or the floor. There are no verses that talk about folding your hands, but several that talk about people lifting their hands toward the sky. There are no verses that talk about people closing their eyes to pray, but several that talk about people looking up toward heaven to pray. And yet the habits are so engrained in us and so meaningless that we don’t usually even think about it at all!
One time I was speaking at a high school group and I said to the kids, “Before we begin, let’s lift our eyes and our hands to heaven and pray.” You know what they did? Every single person in the room closed their eyes and bowed their head. Why? Because we don’t even think about it. It’s meaningless. We hear the word “pray” and we immediately enter “the prayer mode”. We even have code words to signal the beginning and the end of “prayer mode”. Try it. Say, “Dear Heavenly Father” and watch everyone close their eyes. That’s “prayer mode”. Or try ending a prayer without saying the code word “Amen”. Everyone still have their heads bowed? Prayer mode.
Look, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with kneeling, bowing, closing your eyes, folding your hands, or saying “Amen” at the end of your prayers. What I am saying is that many of those things we do by rote without any meaning, without any sincerity. We don’t take the time to stop and THINK about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. But that is exactly what prayer is supposed to be: intentional, thoughtful, meaningful words and actions directed toward God.
Does prayer prayed at church count more? Is prayer every day more effective than prayer once a week? Does a one-hour prayer work better than a five-minute prayer? Real prayer—kingdom prayer—is not about posture, or location, or frequency, or eloquence, or using the proper words. It’s about sincerity. It’s about meaning. It’s talking to God as if you really were talking to God because you ARE talking to God.
So don’t worry about the formulas. Just express yourself.
 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Sometimes people wonder, “If God already knows what I need, then why should I tell him about it in prayer?” I think the answer is that even though God doesn’t need us to tell him, we need us to tell him. When we talk to God, it reminds us that we depend on God and it demonstrates that we trust him. And we need that. We don’t need to wake God up or get his attention. He never sleeps and he’s already watching us. All we need to do is talk to him, honestly and sincerely.
Once again, Jesus isn’t saying that there’s anything wrong with repeating yourself in prayer. The Bible records one time when Jesus prayed the same thing three times in a row. And he once told a story about a persistent widow to teach us that we should keep praying for something and never give up.
The point is that prayer should not be automatic or a mindless tradition. It should be filled with meaning and significance. We should pray as if we were actually talking to God, because we are. That’s the kind of prayer that God appreciates and God answers.
God wants you to pray—not because he needs to know what you want or what you think. It’s because praying to God is an act of worship. And that’s why it’s so important that you pray with the right motive. You can say the longest, most eloquent prayer for the wrong reasons—so that people will praise you—but then that’s all you get—people’s praise. On the other hand, the shortest, most simplistic prayer, offered sincerely and offered only because you want to honor and obey God—that prayer will bring God’s reward. The question is not just, “Are you praying? The important question is, “Why are you praying?”
We’re going to talk about prayer some more next week, so I encourage you to come back. But before we go, let’s lift our eyes and our hands toward heaven and pray. And by the way, you’re welcome to listen, but what I’m about to say, I’m not saying to you. Let’s all direct our thoughts to the Lord.
Luke 6:12 (NIV) One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
Mark 14:39 (NIV) Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.
Matthew 26:44 (NIV) So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Mark 1:35 (NIV) Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Luke 9:18 (NIV) Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, Who do the crowds say I am?
Luke 5:16 (NIV) But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Luke 22:44 (NIV) And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NIV) pray continually;
Ephesians 6:18 (NIV) And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Romans 8:26 (NIV) In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Luke 18:1-8 (NIV) Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'  And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
1 Peter 4:7 (NIV) The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
Luke 6:28 (NIV) bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 22:40 (NIV) On reaching the place, he said to them, Pray that you will not fall into temptation.
Acts 26:29 (NIV) Paul replied, Short time or long--I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.
Luke 21:36 (NIV) Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Romans 15:31 (NIV) Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there,
2 Thessalonians 3:2 (NIV) And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.
1 Timothy 5:5 (NIV) The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.
Ephesians 1:17-18 (NIV) I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Ephesians 3:16-17 (NIV) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
Colossians 1:9-10 (NIV) For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 (NIV) With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.  We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 6:19-20 (NIV) Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV) Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.
Philemon 1:6 (NIV) I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Colossians 4:3-4 (NIV) And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.  Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
James 5:13 (NIV) Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.
James 5:14-16 (NIV) Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
1 John 5:16 (NIV) If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.
James 5:16 (NIV) Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Acts 8:22 (NIV) Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.
Jude 1:20 (NIV) But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.
In the Bible people pray prostrate (Num 16:22; Josh 5:14; Dan 8:17; Matt 26:39; Rev 11:16), kneeling (2 Chronicles 6:13; Dan 6:10; Luke 22:41, Acts 7:60; 9:40; 20:36; 21:5), sitting (2Sam 7:18), and standing (1Sam 1:26; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11, 13).
Numbers 16:22 (NIV) But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?
Joshua 5:14 (NIV) Neither, he replied, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come. Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, What message does my Lord have for his servant?
Daniel 8:17 (NIV) As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. Son of man, he said to me, understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.
Matthew 26:39 (NIV) Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
Revelation 11:16 (NIV) And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God,
2 Chronicles 6:13 (NIV) Now he had made a bronze platform, five cubits long, five cubits wide and three cubits high, and had placed it in the center of the outer court. He stood on the platform and then knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.
Daniel 6:10 (NIV) Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Luke 22:41 (NIV) He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,
Acts 7:60 (NIV) Then he fell on his knees and cried out, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Acts 9:40 (NIV) Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, Tabitha, get up. She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.
Acts 20:36 (NIV) When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.
Acts 21:5 (NIV) But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.
2 Samuel 7:18 (NIV) Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?
1 Samuel 1:26 (NIV) and she said to him, As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD.
Mark 11:25 (NIV) And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Luke 18:11 (NIV) The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.
Luke 18:13 (NIV) But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the Kingdom Worship series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on August 15, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.
Last week, as we continued our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we began talking about prayer. We learned two things about prayer:
First, we don’t pray to show off our spirituality to other people.
We pray to talk to God and when we pray we really are talking to God.
The clip you just saw from The Fiddler on the Roof is a great example. When this guy prays, it doesn’t sound fancy or pretentious or ecclesiastical.
It just sounds like he’s talking to someone who’s right there beside him.
It sounds like a real conversation, because it IS a real conversation.
That’s the way our prayers are supposed to be, too. Real. Natural.
Second, we learned that Jesus wants our prayers to be meaningful.
That means the words we use and the way we begin and the way we end and the posture we’re in. These things shouldn’t be automatic or rote.
They should be filled with meaning, with conscious significance.
After listening to the message last week, did any of you feel self conscious about how to pray? Did you wonder if you should close your eyes or say “Amen” at the end of your prayer? Remember it isn’t that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s that when we do that, let’s do it for a reason and do it with meaning, and not just do it on auto-pilot.
Using “Amen” at the end of a prayer is a great example. Usually we just say it out of habit. But do you know what it means? No, it doesn’t mean, “Dig in!” It means, “Yes!” Saying “Amen” is like shouting out “OK. I’m with you. I agree.” Or as Austin Powers would put it: “Yeah, baby!”
So if you say “Amen”, say it with meaning. Or if you say, “Yeah, baby”, just make sure that you’re with someone who will understand what on earth you’re talking about.
Tom Parker was telling me last week about a missionary in China that was praying one day in Chinese in front of a large group at church. Apparently there is a certain formula that you’re supposed to use when you’re finishing a prayer in Chinese and unfortunately this poor guy just couldn’t for the life of him remember what it was. And so he had no alternative. He had to just keep praying and praying while he was racking his brain, trying to remember what it was that you were supposed to say at the end of a Chinese prayer. Finally, after an unusually long prayer, just as the service was about to go into extra innings, he ran out of things to pray for and he gave up. He finished with the only words he could remember that seemed even partially like an ending. He’d heard them somewhere on TV the week before. And so he wrapped up his prayer by saying in perfect Chinese, “That’s all, folks!” Not very religious—but full of meaning. You know what? If you want to end your prayers that way, you go right ahead.
So anyway, that’s what we learned about prayer last week. We pray not to impress people, but to talk to God. And the words and actions of our prayers should be meaningful, not routine. As Jesus spoke to his disciples about prayer, he didn’t stop there. He went on to give them an example of how to pray. He gave them a model, a template. It’s very well known. You probably know it as “The Lord’s Prayer.”
In Latin, it’s called “The Paternoster” from the Latin words for “Our Father”. Millions of people know it by heart. And many of them recite this prayer as a paragraph of empty words almost without any personal meaning at all. Many of them don’t even understand it.
Isn’t it amazing, that Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of a lesson about praying with meaning, and yet the prayer he gave us has become the most common, most frequently-repeated rote prayer in human history?
For some, the Lord’s Prayer is a punishment instead of a prayer, as in, “For your penance, say 30 ‘Our Fathers’”. I imagine that the original intention of that kind of assignment was to get people to meditate on the truths expressed in the Lord’s Prayer. But I think more often people get just about as much out of that as Bart Simpson gets out of writing sentences on the chalkboard.
But Jesus intended it to be so much more. He didn’t give it to us as a script of what we should pray, but rather as an example of how we should pray. Let’s look together at Matthew 6:9.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
The Lord’s Prayer is widely used in liturgical worship (and it was used even very early in the church’s history as part of the liturgy). But originally it was intended as a model for all our prayers. Mainly, it gives us an outline for the content and priorities of our prayers.
It begins with an address and reminds us who we’re talking to when we pray:
"'Our Father in heaven,
In these few words, there are actually three important observations.
First, notice the word, “our”. This is not the prayer of an individual. It is a corporate prayer, a group prayer.
This short phrase also tells us two important things about our audience, about God.
First, He is our Father. In the Old Testament, there is very little reference to God as our Father. But when Jesus shows up on earth, that’s the way he consistently refers to God. God the Father is basically a new concept introduced by Jesus. He calls God the Father 195 times. Not only that, but here he uses the word “Abba”, an intimate, sitting-around-the-kitchen-table family word that’s more like saying, “Our Daddy”. By saying that, Jesus is emphasizing the close intimate relationship with God that only those who follow Jesus can claim. There is a sense in which all men are God’s children. But this is a special intimacy with God that only believers enjoy. We’re speaking with Daddy.
But Jesus also adds, “in heaven”, words which emphasize not the closeness of God, but rather his distance. He does not belong to this earth which is limited and corrupt. He belongs to a wholly other place and he himself is wholly other. He is transcendent—beyond our experience, even beyond our categories and our understanding.
We are speaking to a God who is the omnipotent King of the Universe whom we fear, and at the same time is the loving Daddy who we know in an intimate, personal relationship. That is the wonder of prayer,
that anytime at all we can have a personal conversation with God
who is both far away and near at the same time.
The Lord’s Prayer actually contains six requests. Six things we want.
The first three requests relate to God.
hallowed be your name,  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Notice the repetition of the word “your”: your name, your kingdom, your will. These are three exactly parallel sentences. Each one of them is a longing, a desire, a request that God be glorified. In most of our prayers we start off immediately asking for something we need.
But in Jesus’ example, he begins by praying to advance God’s glory.
These are three things that we want to see happen here on earth among the people of this world in their relationship with God. First,
The word “hallow” means to treat as holy, to hold in reverence, to give a unique place. The word “holy” actually means something like “reserved”.
When we speak of God’s name, what we really mean is God himself. So this first request is a longing to see God treated as special, to see him recognized as God and treated as only God deserves to be treated.
There are two separate aspects to this request: one in the present and one in the future. There will be a time when God is finally treated as holy by all of creation. That’s way in the future. Partly this prayer is longing for that day to come when everyone in the world recognizes and honors God. But there is also a present aspect. This is a prayer that right now, among us, more and more people would recognize who God is and begin to treat him the way only God deserves to be treated.
Our Father, hallowed be your name.
May people come to respect you and honor you as God.
The second request is that
Once again there are two separate aspects to this request: one in the present and one in the future. There will be a time when the Kingdom of God is finally established in full form and Jesus will rule over the world as the King of all kings. This prayer is asking for God to speed his coming, just as John prayed in Revelation, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.” This prayer is longing for Christ to return and establish his Kingdom.
But there is also a present aspect. There is a sense in which the Kingdom of God has already come. That is what Jesus announced. God’s Kingdom is at work in each person who has accepted Jesus as their King. And this prayer is a longing to see many other people also accept God’s sovereignty and submit to his rule over their lives.
Our Father, your kingdom come. May we quickly see you return and rule the earth just as you already rule in our hearts at this moment.
The third request is that
Here also we find two separate aspects to this request: one in the present and one in the future. There will be a time when God’s plan is ultimately accomplished and when everyone will do God’s will. The Bible says that in heaven there will be no sin. No one will violate God’s will and all his purposes will be accomplished. This prayer longs for that day.
But in the present, this prayer is a request that individuals will do God’s will. In other words, it is a request that God help us to obey his orders.
It is a longing that God’s purposes be accomplished in our own lives and that our lives carry out God’s directions. It is asking God to do what he wants. Isn’t it funny? So often people think that prayer is about getting God to do things our way. But really, prayer is about God getting us to do things his way.
Our Father, your will be done.
May your purpose be accomplished. May we do what you want us to do.
The first three requests end with the phrase,
And that phrase refers back to all three requests.
In heaven, God is honored. He is the sovereign ruler. All his creatures carry out his will. Oh, that it would be so on earth! That is the first half of the Lord’s Prayer.
We want people (here on earth):
to honor God’s name
to submit to God’s reign
and to do God’s will
just as all of heaven already does. 2
When we pray, Jesus says that it’s not about our names, our plans, and our desires. It’s about God’s name, God’s plan, and God’s desires.
So all these first three requests all have to do with advancing God’s glory.
The next three requests have to do with meeting our needs. Notice the repetition of the word “our” through the next few verses.
The fourth request in the Lord’s Prayer is that
 Give us today our daily bread.
Bread here is probably representative of all food. It might even suggest all our material needs, whatever is necessary for daily life. Notice that it asks God for our bread. In other words, I’m asking God not just to meet my needs, but also my brother’s needs. We’re in this together.
The word “daily” probably means “food for the coming day”. So if this prayer was prayed in the morning, it meant today’s food. And if it was prayed in the evening, it meant tomorrow’s food.
In Jesus’ day, workers were commonly paid each day at the end of the day. They were used to living one day at a time. And this is the attitude that Jesus wants us to have too, no matter how often we get paid.
We trust God for the immediate future, for our daily provision. This is about my needs, not my greeds.
Our society teaches us the value of self sufficiency, always being prepared for the future by having more than we need today. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, with saving money or preparing for the future. But the Bible warns us not to trust those things. We’re not going to be all right because we have savings or insurance. It’s because we can ask God to give us what we will need each day. That’s why we will be all right.
In September, we’re going to talk about this idea again, because Jesus has a lot more to say about trust and savings. But when we learn to trust God day by day, it makes anxiety unnecessary.
Our Father, give us our daily bread.
Provide for us each day just exactly what we need for that day.
The fifth request is that
 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Jesus probably spoke Aramaic when he was teaching. It was the common language for his people in his day. In Aramaic, the word for debt is regularly used to mean “sin”.3 And that’s what this verse is talking about: not financial debts, but spiritual debts, sins.
This verse is a request for God’s pardon, for his forgiveness.
You might be wondering, “Hey, wait a minute. When I trusted Christ, I thought all my sins were forgiven. If that’s true, then why do I need to pray to ask for God’s forgiveness?”
It’s true that when we put our trust in Jesus, God forgives everything we have done and everything we will do. He erases our punishment. He removes our obligation to pay the penalty. We are declared innocent before the judge.
But there’s also another aspect of forgiveness. That is the restoration of our relationship with God. When you trusted Jesus to save you, you enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. But as soon as you first sinned again (which might have been less than five minutes into the new relationship) your sin became an obstacle between you and God. It blocked your complete fellowship with God.
That’s why 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Our confession restores our complete fellowship with God. It isn’t that God stops loving us when we sin or that he’s angry with us when we sin. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to hell. It means that we’re out of whack. We have “unfinished business” between us and God, until we fess up and admit that we’ve sinned and claim his forgiveness.
Being forgiven should be accompanied by being forgiving. This verse says, God forgives us as we forgive others. That doesn’t mean that we are forgiven because we forgive others. We are forgiven as we forgive others.4 It’s even possible to translate this phrase, “God, forgive our sins, as we, just this moment, hereby forgive those who have wronged us.” 5
Refusing to forgive someone who’s wronged you is a sin. And that sin blocks your ability to enjoy a clean relationship with God and unfettered fellowship with God. You can’t experience God’s forgiveness as long as you won’t forgive those who have wronged you. Jesus has already paid for it. In a sense, you already are forgiven. From God’s side, you are clean and acceptable to him because of Jesus. But on your side, there is this sin standing between you and God. And you cannot experience forgiveness, know it, and enjoy it while you remain unforgiving.
That’s the idea behind verses 14-15. In fact, let’s jump ahead for a minute while we’re on the topic of forgiveness. This isn’t part of the Lord’s Prayer; it’s kind of a footnote that Jesus adds immediately after the prayer.
 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 6
As long as we harbor an unforgiving spirit toward those who sin against us, we will never be able to experience and enjoy the forgiveness that Jesus has already purchased for us. We cannot walk in fellowship with God because, on our side of the relationship, sin is in the way.
Genuine repentance means that we understand the enormity of our sin against God. And that makes everyone else’s sins against us miniscule. If we aren’t forgiving other people, it shows that we don’t understand our own sin and our hearts aren’t yet prepared to receive God’s forgiveness.
An unforgiving spirit means that we are out of touch with God, because God is forgiving.7
Our Father, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Let us experience the fullness of the innocence you have given us. Help us to forgive others just as you have forgiven us of so much more.
The sixth and final request of the Lord’s Prayer is that
 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'
The word “temptation” in the Bible can mean either, 1) a trial, a test, persecution or 2) enticement to sin.8 But since we know from James 1:13-149 that God never entices anyone to sin,10 this must be referring to a test or trial. This is a prayer that God won’t put us through experiences designed to test us, strengthen us, and prove our character. God, please don’t test us.11
Now one problem with that kind of prayer is that we’re praying for God to protect us from something that he says will definitely happen to us.12 (The Bible says we’re even supposed to rejoice when it happens!)13
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask God to spare us from something we don’t want to do. Even Jesus asked God to spare him from suffering on the cross, which he knew was part of God’s purpose for his life and an inevitable part of his immediate future. So if he can ask God for that, can’t we ask God to spare us from trials and tests, especially from those that might be too hard for us to bear? I think we can.
In Mark 14:38, Jesus tells his disciples to “pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” In other words, into a temptation that is bigger than you can handle.14
That is a very reasonable thing to pray for. But if we pray that prayer, we also need to be ready for God to say “no”. Jesus asked God to spare him from suffering on the cross, but he also said, “God, the bottom line is that I’ll do whatever it is that you want me to do.” We can and should ask God to spare us from testing, but we need to be ready to go through it anyway.
In fact, that’s the meaning of the second part of this verse, “but deliver us from the evil one.”15 In other words, this request is saying, “God, please don’t make me go through this test, because I could fail. But if in your wisdom, you decide that I must be tested, then please save me from Satan. Don’t let him overpower me. Rescue me from the devil, who is always looking for a way to trap us.” This is a request to be excused from testing and for deliverance from Satan if the testing is necessary.
Our Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Protect us from difficult experiences, but if we must face them, then protect us from our enemy.
The Lord’s Prayer often ends with these words:
For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
You might be surprised that this final phrase doesn’t appear in the NIV. In fact, Jesus’ prayer ends rather abruptly. But this phrase (which appears in the King James) was not part of the original text. It was probably added later by people who were making copies of Matthew’s gospel.
You know how uncomfortable you feel when someone finishes a prayer, but doesn’t say “Amen”? Well apparently that’s not a new problem. Because Jesus didn’t end his prayer here with the customary ending and some scribe copying the manuscript just couldn’t stand to see the prayer end without an ending. So he added one. There’s nothing wrong with what he wrote. It just isn’t a genuine part of the Bible. And that’s why NIV leaves it out and NAS puts it in brackets. But if you’d like an ending, there it is. That’s all folks!
We tell God that we want people:
to honor his name
to submit to his reign
and to do his will
We tell God that we want him:
to provide for us
to pardon us
and to protect us
This is the kind of prayer that Jesus wants us, his followers, to pray.
[Run video on The Lord’s Prayer.]
As we close in prayer, I’m going to ask you to stand with me and let’s say together the words of the Lord’s Prayer. You can keep your eyes open if you need to see the words up on the screen. But as we pray, I’d like you to really think about the meaning of each phrase. We’re going to say this slowly. And as you think about each phrase, make it your own prayer to God. Don’t just repeat the words. Say them with personal conviction. This is you, having a real conversation with a real God. So let’s say each word from us to God with meaning.
Let’s stand and pray together:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the Kingdom Worship series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on August 22, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.
2 Next time, you should outline it like this:
Honor God’s person
Submit to God’s program
Obey God’s purpose
Ask for God’s provision
Seek God’s pardon
Plead for God’s protection
3 France, p. 136; Bruce, Hard Sayings, p. 79; Expositor’s.
4 Compare Eph 4:32.
5 That would be a fair translation of the Aramaic present perfect which could lie behind the aorist in this verse: “as we herewith forgive…” The aorist emphasizes the accomplished fact regardless of time. See France, p. 136; Expositor’s. Contrast Bruce, p. 79: “This wording implies that the person praying has already forgiven any injury received; otherwise it would be impossible honestly to ask God’s forgiveness for one’s own sins.”
6 See also, Mark 11:25 (NIV) And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
7 “The point is not that forgiving is a condition of being forgiven, but that forgiveness cannot be a one-way process.” France, p. 137. Compare Bruce and UBS who both take this to mean that our being forgiven depends on being forgiving. Expositor’s says the community of disciples must be forgiving if their prayers are to be effective!
8 OR…Deliver us from The Tribulation (so Toussaint, p. 111). Revelation 7:14, 2 Peter 2:9. But, there is no definite article here. (See UBS Handbook and Expositor’s.)
9 James 1:13-14 (NIV) When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;  but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
11 Compare Bruce, p. 82 “It is highly unlikely that it means ‘Do not let our faith be tested.’” and Expositor’s, “To pray for grace and endurance in trial is understandable; but to pray not to be brought to testings is strange.”
vs. France, p. 136. “But disciples, aware of their weakness, should not desire such testing, and should pray to be spared exposure to situations in which they are vulnerable.”
12 UBS Handbook, “According to the Old Testament, God does put people to the test to find out if they will obey him (Gen 22:1-2; Exo 16:4).
13 James 1:2 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:12 (NIV) Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
14 Compare Galatians 6:1 (NIV) Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. and
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
15 See Expositor’s. “Deliver” after “apo” is predominantly used of persons instead of things (which “ek” introduces exclusively).
Doesn’t that make you hungry? Today we want to finish up our study about our motives for worshipping God. People perform acts of worship for many different reasons. But those who belong to the kingdom need to watch their motives. It’s not just an issue of what you do to worship God; the reason why you do it is crucially important.
Do you remember the general principle that Jesus taught about worship at the beginning of Matthew 6?
Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
The general principle expressed in that verse means something like this:
If you perform religious acts
to impress other people
then you’ll miss God’s reward.
When you do something to worship God, make sure that you’re doing it for God and not just to put on a show for the people around you. In our day, just like in Jesus’ day, there are people who do good religious things, not because they are devoted to God, but because they are interested in looking good in front of others.
But Jesus says that if you’re involved in a lot of religious activity just to show people how spiritual you are, then that has no value to God. That’s not what it’s all about. If your motive for going to church, or doing some good deed, or helping the poor, or praying to God or even fasting—if you’re doing those things to gain the recognition and admiration of the people around you—then it doesn’t mean anything to God.
That’s the general principle of Matthew 6:1, and to illustrate what he’s talking about, Jesus gives us three examples: giving, praying, and fasting. We’ve already talked about giving and praying.
Today we come to fasting. Jesus says, let’s not just talk about what you do to show your devotion to God. Let’s talk about why you do it. Let’s talk about your motives for fasting.
Before we go any further, I think it would be good to talk about what fasting is and why people do it. Some of you might not be familiar with fasting. And even if you are, there are a lot of different ideas out there about what it is and why you should do it. So I thought it would be good for us to take a look first at what the Bible says about fasting itself.
Fasting means to give up something that you normally enjoy. Usually it refers to skipping one or more meals, or limiting the kinds of food you eat. Now, unfortunately, we are probably all too familiar with this concept of passing up food. But here in America, we call that dieting, not fasting. Really, the idea isn’t much different. Fasting from food simply means not eating what you’d normally eat when you’d normally eat it. It might last part of a day, all day or several days. It might mean abstaining from all food and water, or just certain foods or beverages.
Sometimes the word “fasting” is used in the Bible of missing a meal because you simply don’t have a choice. For example, some people don’t eat more because they’re poor and they can’t afford it.
Sometimes people stop eating because they just don’t feel like eating. That’s especially true when people are weighed down by some tragedy or anxiety. They are so sad or so worried or so upset that they simply forget to eat. Food is not the most important thing on their mind, because they are completely preoccupied with a huge problem. I bet you’ve experienced that. Have you ever been so troubled by something that you felt sick to your stomach? Or, so focused on a problem that you lost your appetite?
That is the kind of fasting most frequently mentioned in the Bible: people so preoccupied with problems that they just didn’t think about eating. Compared to whatever they were worried about, food was unimportant.
In the Bible, fasting is often about expressing deep sorrow or mourning. In the cultures of that day, someone who was terribly sad would set aside their regular clothes and wear sackcloth—kind of like a gunny sack. In fact, feeling extreme sorrow, some of them would actually rip up their clothes into shreds and then put on these burlap rags. They would take ashes from the fire, shake it on their head, and smear it on their face, their arms, and their legs. And that told everybody that they were incredibly sad and worried about some terrible news. It might have been the death of their closest friend, the death of a beloved national leader, or a major defeat in battle where a lot of soldiers were killed. It might have been terrible news of some impending disaster. But this wasn’t the normal reaction for an everyday tragedy. This was something sparked by a special, deeply significant event—something on the order of the attack on 911. In the Bible, fasting is very often associated with wearing sackcloth and ashes. Fasting is another expression of deep pain, sorrow and regret. People were so upset, they just didn’t think about eating.
There are many times in the Bible where these drastic expressions of deep sorrow are the result of people realizing the depth of their sin—finally understanding the horror of what they have done and what they deserve. And their response to that new insight into their own vile depravity is fasting, sackcloth and ashes. In several passages in the Old Testament, fasting is associated with humbling yourself before God, turning from your sin, and seeking his forgiveness and protection.
When people are in pain, or in trouble or when they recognize how ugly their sin is, it’s natural for them to turn to God and pray. And in the Bible, we also see fasting associated with prayer. This is especially true when someone had a very critical, deeply emotional request (like Hannah who wanted a baby, but couldn’t get pregnant, or David whose infant son lay dying). The idea wasn’t that their prayers were more powerful if they fasted. The idea was that they were so occupied with praying to God for their needs, that food was just no longer important to them. They were so concentrated on prayer, that they had no interest in eating.
The other time fasting is mentioned in the Bible has to do with the beginning of a significant new spiritual movement or ministry.
For example, Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the 10 commandments.
Jesus fasted for 40 days before choosing his apostles and starting to preach. The church in Antioch fasted and prayed before selecting and sending Barnabas and Paul to evangelize Galatia. And they fasted and prayed before appointing elders in the new Galatian churches.
In the experience of the early church, there were many, many new ministries started and many new spiritual movements. I’m sure that they all began with prayer. But there are only a handful that began with prayer and fasting. It was an unusual event and in the New Testament, it seems to be much more spontaneous than planned. People were just so wrapped up in talking to God about spiritual things that they simply stopped thinking about food.
Now that might be a little different picture than what you’d expect to hear about fasting—especially if you’ve read any Christian books or articles that encourage people to fast. It’s easy to get the impression that fasting is a program that you can follow to super-charge your prayers. Somehow when you don’t eat, God is bound to listen to you better. Some think of fasting as a way to earn spiritual brownie points with God. It’s a sacrifice that we might make in order to be really spiritual or mature. I’ve even read articles that promote the physical benefits of a regular fasting regimen and one that touted fasting as God’s solution to America’s problem of obesity! It might surprise you to hear that none of those ideas come from the Bible. Some of them originated in Greek mythology; some came from the ancient Jews; other ideas crept into the church after the second century; and we even added in some of our own modern health theories.
I’m not here to say whether or not fasting is healthy. I have no idea!
I know it doesn’t FEEL healthy to me! But fasting in the Bible doesn’t have anything to do with better physical health or racking up points with God or empowering your prayers. Fasting in the Bible happened when people were so occupied with how much they needed God that they simply failed to remember that they also needed to eat.
Jesus fasted before his ministry began, but we never hear of him fasting after that. Jesus assumed that his followers would fast, but he never instructs us to do so. We see a handful of examples of fasting in the experience of the early church in the book of Acts, but the New Testament epistles are completely silent about the subject. Fasting in the Bible is something that is described, not something that’s commanded.
There is one example in the Old Testament of God commanding Israel to fast. That was the Day of Atonement, an annual, national day of mourning about sin. But the ancient Jews were lovers of holiday tradition and so over the course of their history, many more organized days of fasting were added to the calendar. By the end of the Old Testament, there were at least four national days of fasting every year. Through the prophets, God told the people that he wasn’t at all interested in their fasting if they didn’t bother to obey him. The way they treated the poor, the way they massacred justice—these actions spoke much louder about their spiritual devotion to God than their repeated days of fasting ever could.
In addition to the national days of fasting, some of Jews practiced a regular regimen of personal fasting. The Pharisees, who were the conservative religious leaders in Jesus’ day, fasted twice a week. And apparently when they fasted, they must have also put ashes on their heads as a sign of sorrow and penitence. These are the people Jesus is talking about as he begins to speak with his disciples about their motives for fasting.
 "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.
Jesus uses a couple words here to describe the way these showoffs were fasting. First the word “somber” means simply that they put on very sad faces. They looked terrible. It also says they “disfigured” their faces which sounds like they cut themselves or something. But literally the phrase means that they made their faces “invisible”. You know what that’s probably talking about is the ashes that often accompany mourning and fasting. In other words, they smeared ashes all over their faces, which made their faces invisible, but made their fasting very visible. It was obvious to everyone what they were doing. And that’s the point. They wanted it to be obvious they were fasting, so that people would notice them and recognize what wonderfully spiritual people they were.
But Jesus says, they are completely missing the point of fasting:
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
When people noticed them fasting, that was the only reward they got. They wanted the recognition of men and that’s what they got. That’s all they got. Their fasting was not sincere worship; it was ostentatious. They were showoffs. And that’s not the kind of worship God desires.
That is ostentatious worship, religious acts designed to impress people instead of serving God. Notice the key elements in this type of fasting:
Action: It is public suffering: visibly sad and pitiful.
Motive: It is done for man’s praise.
Result: The reward is paid in full. You receive human praise.
By contrast, Jesus tells us in verse 17 how we should fast:
 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,  so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen;
The point here is the opposite of letting everyone know you’re fasting. The oil he’s talking about here is just a regular part of hygiene in that day.
It means basically that when you fast, wash your face and comb your hair. Don’t try to make sure that everyone knows you’re fasting, like the guy in the video. Are you fasting to concentrate on God? Great! Then it’s really just between you and him. No one else needs to know. So don’t be obvious about it.
Does that mean that you must keep all fasting a secret? I don’t think so. I don’t think this verse means that all fasting MUST be done in private. There are examples in the New Testament of groups fasting together. And as we saw earlier, Jesus doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with people knowing that you give, that you pray, or that you fast. The problem is when you do those things SO THAT people will know you’re doing them.
Jesus is not saying that you have done wrong if people know you’re fasting. He’s not saying it’s wrong if people are impressed by your fasting. What he’s saying is that it is wrong to fast for the purpose of impressing people. It’s not an issue of who knows about it or what they think about it. It’s all about your motive. Why did you do it? For people? Or for God?
So, even if you’re fasting with other people, keep your fasting a personal thing, just between you and God, and then your motives won’t be in question. God sees even what no one else can see.
The reason it’s so important to guard our motives in fasting is because the reason WHY we fast will determine how it effects our lives. Jesus urges us to fast in secret, so that our motives will be completely pure.
and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Those who fast from pure motives will be rewarded by God.
Just what is this reward? The Bible doesn’t promise a specific reward for fasting. But I think we can make a pretty good guess. In the Bible, the thing that drives people to fast is their deep concern, their profound need for God to hear them and act. Perhaps that is the reward of fasting. If you are so intent on connecting with God that you skip a meal or two, then you will connect with God. It’s not because you were fasting. It’s because you were sincerely seeking God. And those who really seek him will find him. However, those who pretend, those who put on a show of seeking God, just so that people will admire them, they won’t connect with God. All they get is human admiration. The one who fasts will be rewarded. But that reward is only for those who fast with a pure motive.
Now we can see the complete contrast between ostentatious fasting and secret fasting:
Action: is not a public performance, but a private discipline.
You are so focused on God that you’re not thinking about eating. It’s fasting for an exclusive audience of one.
Motive: The reason for fasting is not to get recognition from
men, but rather to honor God and concentrate on him.
Result: The result is not praise from men, but rather
a reward from God. You really do connect with him.
This last act of worship, fasting, is a little bit different than the other’s we’ve talked about: giving or praying. God wants you give and he wants you to pray. Those are commands. But you know what, I don’t think God really cares if you fast or not. What he wants is your complete devotion. And at times, that devotion may be so focused that you don’t care about eating. And that honors God—not because you went hungry, but because you evidently cared so much about him that food—something you need to survive—was just not that important to you.
So if that’s why you’re fasting—because you desperately want to worship God—then go ahead and skip your meals. God is honored by that kind of devotion.
That’s why it’s so important that you fast with the right motives. You can go without food for 40 days for all the wrong reasons—so that people will praise you—but then that’s all you will get—people’s praise.
On the other hand, you can skip a single meal—only because you truly want to honor God—and for that God will reward you. The question is not, “Are you fasting? The important question is, “Why are you fasting?”
The other idea about fasting is that it helps to exercise the spiritual muscles that allow us to refuse to indulge the desires of the flesh. The desire for food is a bodily desire (though not forbidden). Saying “no” to that bodily desire may help us learn the discipline of saying “no” to other bodily desires that are forbidden. I think in practice this works. However, there is no biblical support for this purpose in fasting unless there is a deeply veiled allusion to fasting in 1 Cor. 9:27, “I beat my body and make it my slave.” In the same way, fasting may indeed have a health benefit. But that does not make it either a biblical or a legitimate reason to fast.
The other popular idea, that fasting supercharges prayer, is based in part on a textual variant of Matt. 17:21 and Mark 9:29 which says some exorcisms can only be accomplished “by prayer and fasting”. This idea is not in the autographs. There is no biblical support for fasting in order to empower your prayers. Once again, in practice this may work. God may indeed be more likely to answer the prayers of those who fast. The reason, however, is not because they are fasting, but because they are sincerely and wholeheartedly seeking God. That kind of seeking—with or without fasting—is going to get God’s response.
1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 4 in the Kingdom Worship series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on August 29, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.