As Pastor Shaun begins our series from the Lord’s Prayer, he will start with some background in place to help us gain a better understanding of what Jesus was teaching His disciples. Was this simply a pattern prayer to be repeated by generations to come or was there more? We want to learn not only what Jesus said the prayer should include, but also what he was teaching about prayer itself.
In verse 1 of chapter 6 Jesus says plainly “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” He goes on to talk about those who make it a point to be noticed for their compassionate giving to others, being sure to draw attention to their philanthropy. It really goes to motivation. Did you notice the phrase “in order to?” When our purpose is to be noticed, something must change. Having mentioned the danger of wanting to be seen for our righteous activities, Jesus turns to one of the pivotal parts of the Christian life; our prayer life. He gives 2 warnings.
- Don’t pray to be seen (verses 5-6). Jesus describes in these verses, a person who makes sure their praying is seen in public (in the synagogue or even on the street corner). His point is not that we should not ever pray publicly, but that our desire in our prayer life should not be for others to see how spiritual we are. The point is, prayer is designed to be a private conversation between my heavenly Father and me. It is not intended to display my spiritual prowess.
- Don’t pray to be heard (verses 7-8). There were those (often the Pharisees) who felt themselves very advanced in prayer and would stand in the synagogue, piously repeating, with great skill, prayers designed to impress people with the spiritual prowess of the one praying. Jesus’ point is that it doesn’t impress God. He also mentions the piling up of “empty phrases.” Repetition in our prayer life can be a useful tool to help us remember various truths about God or to focus our attention on some biblical truths as we learn and grow in our prayer life. In fact, many people repeat the Lord’s Prayer on a regular basis. Jesus is not teaching against any and all forms of repetition. However, the goal is not to sound impressive, rather to speak from our heart to the heart of our heavenly Father.
When we go in our Bibles to Luke 11, we find a new setting. The first couple of verses let us know that it was in the context of a prayer time that Jesus was having with His disciples. As they finished, and as the Lord Himself finished praying, one of the disciples requested that Jesus give them some instruction on prayer. Jesus responds to His disciples and says, “when you pray…”
That little 3-word phrase, is significant. It is the title the first message in our series on prayer. I think it is as simple as this: Jesus, when He teaches on prayer, assumes that the people were already praying. This was not a new habit that needed to be developed. It was not a new discipline being introduced. It was to be understood as an ordinary practice of the Christian life.
If someone were to ask me how to communicate with their spouse, I would not begin with, “you need to start by talking to them.” It is self-evident that if you want to have effective communication with your spouse, you need to be talking with them already. I heard the story of a couple that once came to a marriage counselor where the wife complained, “he never tells me he loves me.” When the counselor asked the man why this was true, he answered “I told her I loved her when we got married. If I ever change my mind, I’ll let her know!” Not cool.
If I want my prayer life to become more effective, the first and most important step is to begin praying. The initial steps in prayer seem a little awkward because we are not used to doing it, but as we practice the art of talking with God and sharing our heart with Him, we learn to become more comfortable with the whole idea. Prayer is not primarily about listing our requests and desires and waiting for the answers to come. Prayer is an ongoing, relationship-building conversation with our heavenly Father in which we learn to get into the flow of God’s purposes. If I only come to God to talk with Him when something changes (i.e., a new life experience takes place, something comes up, a bad circumstance happens), I’ll never learn to pray effectively.
So, the instruction of Jesus is actually quite simple. It is not, “you should start praying and this is how it goes.” His instruction is, “when you pray, keep it simple, keep it focused on the glory of God and do it as an integral part of your relationship with Him, not as an opportunity for others to see how advanced you have become in your spiritual life.”