Preached at Cornerstone Church In Cascade, IA on June 1, 2014
Open your Bibles to Matthew 6:5-8. Today we are beginning a sermon series within a sermon series. This morning we are embarking on a five part sermon series on prayer. This could not come at a better time, for as you can see from our announcements, I desire to start heavily promoting our Wednesday Night Prayer meeting at Cornerstone Church.
The reason for this is because I believe, based on God’s Word, that the rise and fall of Cornerstone Church is deeply connected to our hearts being stirred to pray. Every Wednesday Night a small group of us meet from 6:00-7:30 to pray. I would love if this group went from small to large, not because I care about numbers for numbers sake, but because I want us to be a people of prayer.
My prayer this week and for the next five weeks will be that God’s Word and His Spirit would draw you into a new or renewed prayer life with God.
After assuming that all Christians will pray, Jesus warns his followers not to pray wrongly. Yes, I said wrongly. There is, in fact, a right way and a wrong way to pray. Jesus says so himself.
In the days of Jesus, prayer was very prominent in the Jewish nation. It was standard practice for the Jews to pray in the third, sixth, and the ninth hour of the day. This equates to 9:00 a.m., noon, and 3:00 p.m. It was part of their routine. At those times, there may have been a call to prayer, and no matter where you were at you prayed.
The intention behind this was to be a people of prayer. Just like we have a designated prayer meeting on Wednesday night, they had designated times during the day to pray. What is important to understand, is that the routine was not the issue, the issue was the heart of those who participating in the routine.
Let us now examine we should not to pray. The first group of people who prayed wrongly were the ones who prayed to the wrong audience.
The issue that Jesus was addressing was when people would conveniently position themselves in places of prominence at the time of the call to prayer. They would show up at busiest corner in town, or when they knew certain leaders would be at the Synagogue so that when the call to pray came, they could strut their religious stuff for people to see. Their prayer was a performance for men. Their desire, their heart was to win the approval of sinful man.
Isn’t it amazing to see how sinful humanity is? God has graciously given us the ability to approach him in prayer. An infinitely Holy and Sovereign God allows men to make requests, and what do we do? We take this great gift and use it against God to exult ourselves and not Him. It is definitely true that nothing good comes from our flesh, we are sinners through and through.
In my opinion, this admonishment hits home most for pastors, elders, deacons, small group leaders, directors of women’s ministry, and AWANA commanders, those who have a leadership role within the Church. There is a pressure to maintain a perception of holiness and piousness in front of your students and your peers. Sometimes we sinfully rehearse our prayer in our head while others are praying so that we don’t mess up. The irony is that when we do this, when we are rehearsing our prayer, we are already messing up before God.
Why do we do this? Because we are sinners and our flesh craves to be worshiped, and we tend to use all the gifts of God against His glory and for our own, including prayer. This is not what pray is to be about. It is not an opportunity to flout your theological feathers.
Many of you are now thinking, this does not apply to you, because you have never prayed in public. However, depending on why you have never prayed in public, you may be equally guilty, but just on the opposite end of the spectrum. Why? For the same reason as the hypocrite, they are worried about what people think. They are trying to maintain a certain level of respect from others and they worry if they don’t quite pray right, people will think they are not holy, or not pious, or religious. Whether you are praying to be heard, or not praying to not sound silly, the issue is the same, you are focused on the wrong purpose of prayer. Prayer is about speaking to God, not about impressing men.
Jesus also mentions a second wrong way to pray.
Here is the irony of this warning. Following this warning not to pray with empty words, comes the Lord's prayer. Sadly, the Lord's pray is by far the most frequently empty prayer prayed around the world.
Many people have been trained to pray the Lord's prayer over and over and over and over again. They are told just to rattle it off, and the implication is that God will be pleased with you if you heap up more and more of the Lord's prayer. The irony is that we have turned the Lord's prayer into vanity. Into nothing. Instead of dwelling upon the words, and making them come from our heart, they have become merely mindless chatter. God does not want mindless chatter. This is not what prayer is about.
The Lord's prayer is just one example. How many of you pray before meals or bedtime, hopefully all of you. But how many of those prayers become generic? As you pray before every meal and before going to bed you find yourself in a prayer rut, you know you should pray before eating, so you quickly close your eyes and spit out some words. When you do this, you view pray as an obstacle to eating, so you fulfill your religious obligation with the equivalence to spiritual white noise. Is this what God wants? Absolutely not!
Why do we pray wrongly? Why do we have a tendency to pray to man and to heap up empty words? Because we are sinners and we forget what the purpose of prayer is.
Now before we move past this, let us dwell upon this for a moment. God, whose power is beyond measure. Who spoke the Heavens into place. A God who gives life and death, allows you and me to speak to Him. How wild is this? He is the King of Kings, and at the drop of a hat, we can be in the midst of His throne room in prayer. Not only does he allow it, but he desires it. He encourages us to pray, and not just before meals and bedtime. He wants to pray all the time.
This is what so many people don't get, God desires us to be completely dependent on Him. He is not bothered by us picking up the phone and calling him on trivial matters. Nothing is trivial. He wants us to trust Him so deeply that all decisions are run by Him.
So how are we to do this thing called prayer?
When you do this, you need to shut everything else out. If you are able to get away into a quiet room and pray, great, but make sure when you do, you are focused on who you are talking to. If you are praying in a room full of people, you must forget about them, and at times, forget about yourself. Close the door to your random thoughts. Shut the door to listening to the noise in the room. Be completely focused on speaking to the great and Awesome God. This is what God wants from us, deep and authentic intimacy with Him.
Prayer is not about information. Jesus tells us this, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “ The point of prayer is not to fill God in and what is going on in your life. The purpose of prayer is to be in the presence of God, one-on-one, and to display your faith by making your requests known. When you pray to God, you are proclaiming to Him your trust.
When we do this, Jesus promises, that God will see us, and not only see us, but reward us. He will give us exactly what we need, no more and no less. These are words that should send shivers up our spine that when we pray rightly, when we seek the Lord in prayer, and place our faith in his Wisdom, God will not disappoint us.
These words should draw us more deeply into prayer. Knowing that our prayers are not bouncing off the ceiling, if we are praying the right way, from our heart, and recognizing that we are speaking to our Father who loves us.
With this said, I want all of us today, to make a commitment to be people of prayer. Not in the sense of heaping up empty words, but a people who long for one time with their Father. A people who are entirely dependent on the Lord, seeking His will and trusting in His Grace.