The Code of Humility: Prayer

Shortly after David fled from Saul he sought refuge at the Philistine city of Gath. However, David was forced to feign insanity in order to escape the Philistine King (see 1Samuel 21.10-15). David’s life was in peril; he could not go home, but his military successes meant that no other nation would grant him refuge. What could he do? He prayed, knowing there was One who would hear him! “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.” (Psalm 34.15). Prayer is man’s opportunity to approach their Creator, for sons to go to their Father. Sadly, what should be a humbling experience has become an opportunity for some to stumble in pride. In this section Jesus puts prayer into perspective by first reminding His disciples WHY they pray and then instructing them HOW to pray.

Why We Pray (vss. 5-8)

5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6.5-8)

While approaching it from the negative standpoint, Jesus reveals two reasons why we should pray to God. First, prayer is to a Father who can truly reward (vss. 5-6)! The Pharisees had lost site of this, making prayer another opportunity to receive the praises of men. Whether basking in the attention of leading the synagogue in prayer, or positioning themselves in prominent places at times of prayer, they were only after the attention of others. They would receive the attention and praise of others, but they could not expect any greater reward. By contrast, Jesus wants His followers to be rewarded by their Father, and He will reward them if they make Him the object of their prayers. That is the real aim of Jesus’ words in vs. 6, to have His disciples make sure their prayers are directed to God and not to others. Jesus prayed when others could hear (John 17) and so did His disciples (Acts 1.24), but they prayed with the purpose of communing with God. “The greatest distraction to true converse with God is not noise or other people but the human ego. It is from this self-seeking mind that we must hide ourselves in order to pray to our Father acceptably.” (Paul Earnhart)

Second, Jesus wants His disciples to pray understanding that their Father desires to respond (vss. 7-8). The Gentiles did not think of their gods as beings who wanted to help them, but they did believe that if they made the right prayers often enough, then even their callous gods would respond to them. “The pagan worshipper could rest no hope for a hearing on either the gods’ sense of justice or their compassionate concern since they were devoid of both. Everything depended on the correctness of the formulas.” (Paul Earnhart) But our Father already knows what we need! Implied in Jesus’ words is God’s willingness to grant our petitions, a point that Jesus makes in Luke 11.9-13: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

How To Pray (vss. 9-15)

9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ 14 “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6.9-15)

These verses comprise what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, but sadly they have been misused and misunderstood throughout the years. Many have taken Jesus’ words as the prayer His disciples should repeat, rather than an example of how to pray. Others have refused to say the prayer, believing that it is no longer applicable since the Kingdom has now come (more on this later). Let’s put that aside to focus on what Jesus actually said about prayer and how we can insure our prayers are pleasing to the Father.

  1. Remember WHO you are praying to. A first century Jew would have thought of God as being unapproachable, but Jesus told His disciples to appeal to God as “our Father”. Our society has gone the opposite direction, viewing God in a very casual and irreverent way. Thus, Jesus also reminded His disciples that their Father “is in heaven” and that His name is to be “hallowed”. Jesus’ point is that the one we pray to is BOTH the object of our reverence AND our Father that loves His children.
  2. Pray for His will, not your own. How many times do we focus our prayers on our wants and needs, making petition after petition to God? But the emphasis of Jesus’ prayer was that the Father’s “will be done”. The Kingdom coming with the exaltation of Jesus was certainly the Father’s will and it has been done (cf. Colossians 1.13). But there is still a sense in which we await the Kingdom (see 2Timothy 4.18) and so thus we continue to pray that the Father’s will be done. “The kingdom of God was destined to come in the power of the crucified and resurrected Lord (Mark 9:1; Romans 1:4), but the concern of this petition, as in the former one, is not that power be given to Christ (that was inevitable) but that men would acknowledge and submit to that power gladly.” (Paul Earnhart)
  3. Pray for the small stuff. Our focus should be on the Lord’s will, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t concerned with our everyday needs. He is, and we should pray that He will see to our needs with the assurance that He will (see vss. 25-32).
  4. Pray for a right relationship with Him. The prayer concludes by focusing on things which might damage our relationship with God. An unforgiving attitude on our part destroys our relationship with God (see Matthew 18.23-35), so as we pray that God would forgive us, we must make sure that we are forgiving others. Praying that God would “not lead us into temptation” sounds odd, but Jesus’ emphasis is on our deliverance from Satan. Thus, “Lead us, not into temptation, but away from it, into righteousness, into situations where, far from being tempted, we will be protected and therefore kept righteous. As the second clause of this petition expresses it, we will then be delivered from the evil one.” (D.A. Carson)

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