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Praying for the Wrong Reasons

Tom Pennington • Matthew 6:5-8

  • 2013-01-13 AM
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Sermons


Well, this morning it is my joy to take you back to the Sermon on the Mount, back to our journey through this magnificent sermon of our Lord's–His most famous, and the longest recorded sermon in Scripture from the mouth of our Lord. We have made our way through chapter 5 and we are in the first18 verses of Matthew 6. Let me remind you of the structure of that paragraph that begins in Matthew 6:1, runs down through verse 18. The structure's pretty simple. It begins with the general principle in verse 1. Jesus says, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." Now Jesus goes on in the following verses to explain what He means by practicing your righteousness. He's talking about righteous actions or spiritual activities. And He says be on your guard as you practice those important and biblical activities. Be on guard against doing them (notice verse 1) "to be noticed by men." God isn't merely concerned that we do the right thing. He is equally concerned that we do it for the right reason. We must beware of the deadly danger of hypocrisy.

Now Jesus follows that general principle in verse 1, with three specific examples in verses 2 through 18. Notice the first example begins in verse 2: "When you give to the poor…" The second example begins in verse 5: "When you pray…" And the third example begins in verse 15: "When you fast…" Now Jesus chose those three spiritual activities because in the Jewish thinking of the first century, those were the greatest and most important spiritual activities. And so Jesus seizes those, and teaches us a lesson about doing them for the wrong reason. Giving to the poor, prayer, fasting – those are all important spiritual activities, as we're learning together. But Jesus says that if, when you do them, you care more about people seeing you than God seeing you, then don't expect to get anything from God.

Now we've already examined the first illustration, giving, in verses 2 through 4. Today we come to a wonderful study of the second illustration and that is praying. It begins in verse 5 and runs all the way down through verse 15. Now let me illustrate for you how this passage flows, as He deals with this issue of praying. In verses 5 and 6, Jesus stays with the theme of hypocrisy that He has begun back up in verse 1. But then in verses 7 and 8, He begins to deviate a little from the overall theme of this section, and He deals more extensively with the issue of prayer. In verses 7 and 8, He identifies yet another wrong motive for prayer - not only praying to be seen by others, but also praying in meaningless repetition. And then in verse 9 down through verse 15, Jesus goes on to outline a pattern for prayer, what we call the Lord's Prayer. And I'm looking forward to working our way through that magnificent pattern that our Lord has given us. But today I want us just to look and to really focus our study on verses 5 through 8.

Now I know you probably don't believe I can make it through four verses in one message but I can. We're going to do it together, so here we go. Matthew 6:5.

"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. 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. 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. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."

Now in those four verses, Jesus identifies two wrong reasons for praying. And He illustrates those wrong reasons on two different groups. He ascribes the first of the wrong reasons in verses 5 and 6 to the hypocrites, probably a reference to the scribes and Pharisees. The second wrong reason He ascribes to the Gentiles or the pagans in verses 7 and 8. Having unmasked and shown those wrong reasons for praying for what they are, He then goes on, in each case, to give us a prescription or a remedy to correct each of those wrong motives.

So let's look at these together. The first wrong reason for praying is to gain a reputation with people. We see this in verses 5 and 6. Look at verse 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." Now as we often have to do with the Sermon on the Mount, because there's been so much bad thinking and bad teaching about it, let me begin by telling you what Jesus is not teaching us here. Because if you read, you will come across these ideas and it's not at all what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not teaching here that it is wrong to stand when you pray. In fact, He's not taking issue with a specific posture in prayer at all. When you look at the scripture, you see that there are a number of different postures in prayer. Jesus often prayed standing. If you read the gospels, you see that. And He expected that would often be our posture; in fact, this may surprise you, but the most oftenly reflected posture in prayer in the Scripture is standing. And He expected that we would. Mark 11:25 – "Whenever you stand praying…" David prayed sitting. In 2 Samuel 7:18, we read: "Then David the king went in and sat before the Lord, and then he prayed, 'Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?'" Often, prayers in Scripture are offered while the person is kneeling. It's a sign of honor to God. One example of that is in Acts 21:5 where we read: "After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another." In scripture, when someone really wanted to express in a powerful way their utter dependence on God, their utter shame before Him, and if not shame, their submission to Him, they would prostrate themselves completely on their face on the ground before God. On a number of occasions, you see this happening. Even our Lord, obviously not for shame, but in a demonstration of His submission in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:39, He threw Himself on His face on the ground and prayed to God. So Jesus isn't prohibiting a certain posture in prayer. This isn't about that at all.

Neither is Jesus teaching that it is wrong to pray in public. There are countless biblical examples of this. One that pops to mind is 2 Chronicles 6 where Solomon, in that magnificent prayer of the dedication of the temple, prays by kneeling on this massive platform in front of all the people of Israel, and he dedicates the temple. Our Lord often prayed publicly, even here in this gospel. In chapter 11, verse 25 for example, you find Him praying publicly to the Lord. The apostles and the early church prayed publicly. Read the book of Acts and you'll see prayer after prayer that was together. And in Acts 1:24, a hundred and twenty of them were together, praying together. In fact, in 1 Timothy 2:1 we are commanded that when the church comes together for the corporate worship, we are to pray – corporately, publicly. So that's not what Jesus is teaching.

So what exactly is our Lord teaching us here? He is dealing with the wrong reason or motive to pray. Notice first of all as we look at verse 5 that Jesus assumes His disciples will pray. Notice how He begins: "When you pray…" The pronoun you is plural in the Greek text and so we could translate it like this in English: When you all, when all of you who are My disciples, pray, and I'm assuming that you will. Of course for the Jews and for the followers of Jesus in the first century, this was a part of daily life. In fact, there were actually set times for daily prayer. If you lived in Jerusalem, then you went to the temple at the morning and afternoon sacrifice, and the reason you went to the temple was to pray. If you didn't live in Jerusalem, then typically there were throughout the country of Israel morning and afternoon and evening prayers. You see this reflected in the Old Testament. In Psalm 55:17, the psalmist writes: "Evening and morning and at noon… He will hear my voice." This was Daniel's pattern. In Daniel 6:10, you remember after the edict was passed and Daniel heard about it, we read: "Daniel continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously." The Jews understand and even Jesus' followers came to understand, that Jesus expects His disciples to pray, and to pray regularly. Oh, and by the way, He still expects His disciples to pray and to pray regularly. We're going to look at that more over the coming weeks.

But look again at verse 5 because He gets to the wrong reason: "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites…" Now hypocrite as we have seen a number of weeks ago now, is actually a Greek word. If you know the word hypocrite, you know Greek. It's a Greek word that has been transliterated into English. The word was used literally in secular Greek to describe an actor. It was customary for the Greek and Roman actors in their massive stage productions to wear large masks. Now that was important because if you've ever visited or seen pictures of those massive Greek outdoor amphitheaters – if you had the misfortune to be seated on the back row, it was really hard to distinguish what actor was playing what role. And so to help the audience know, the Greek and Roman actors would typically wear large masks so that they could be distinguished in the role they were playing. So the word hypocrite or actor came to describe someone who wears a mask, someone who plays a part, who pretends to be what or who they, in fact, are not.

How do hypocrites approach prayer? How do those who pretend to be spiritual, who put on a mask, who act spiritual but in reality are not – how do they approach prayer? Verse 5: "don't be like the hypocrites; for (here's what they're like) they love to stand and pray…" Now if that's as far as we went, it might be okay. As one author put it: "What He says of the hypocrites sounds fine at first. They love to pray. But unfortunately, it is not prayer which they love, nor the God which they are supposed to be praying to. No, they love themselves and the opportunity which public praying gives them to parade themselves." He goes on to say: "they love to stand and pray (notice) in the synagogues…" Now in the first century as even today for those who are Jewish, the synagogues were the center of community life and they were also the place of worship. And so the synagogues were the place where worship was supposed to be offered, where prayers were supposed to be made. Public prayers were part of the typical synagogue service. In fact, they tell us that in the first century, the way it would work is this: the leader of the synagogue would ask a particular member of the congregation to pray, a male member of the congregation to pray, on that particular day. And he would go and stand near the ark which contained the scrolls, the law. And there he would lead the people in prayer. Now, for a hypocrite, a person who's not what he seems, who's pretending to be spiritual but in fact is not, you can see how easy it was, then, in that situation to succumb to the temptation of praying not so God heard him, but so the people there heard him and were impressed.

The hypocrites of the first century also loved not only (notice) to pray in the synagogues, but on the street corners. Now the word for street here is a different Greek word than the word for street back up in verse 2. There it's a narrow, alley kind of street. This Greek word is a broad thoroughfare, a spacious street, one of the main roads through town. And they loved to find the corner on those main thoroughfares. You see, on those days that were designated as public fast days, and even perhaps on every day at the time of the afternoon sacrifice, a trumpet would sound to signal the time for prayer. If you've ever been to a Muslim country today and you hear the call for prayer, it was something like that, in the sense that there was a set time when you were supposed to pray. Wherever you were, you were supposed to stop and pray. Now the hypocrites would schedule their time so that they arrived at the most public places, coincidentally, just at the time of the call for prayer. And it just happened to be at the busiest street in town and at the corner of the busiest street in town so they could be seen from all four directions. The Talmud tells us that there were men like this who would sometime stand on a street corner and pray for three hours – oh, and in a posture of prayer, so that it was clear that's what they were doing.

Again, Jesus is not prohibiting, here, public prayer; instead He is forbidding us from loving to pray publicly, and from loving to pray publicly for one particular reason. Notice verse 5, how it ends: "so that they may be seen by men." You see, what's forbidden is the kind of prayer in which the motive is not to talk to God, but to speak so that those around will think you are really deeply spiritual. Augustine put it like this: "It is not the being seen of men that is wrong, but doing these things for the purpose of being seen." And they were all about that. Jesus, in His pronouncing of woes upon the Pharisees, said this in Matthew 23:14: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you for a pretense make long prayers…" They did everything they could to call attention to themselves, even in their praying.

When I was in seminary, there was, not far from the campus a Western Sizzlin' Steakhouse, which, as poor seminary students, was a perfect place to go, because you could go pay one small fee and eat all you could eat at the salad bar. I think they finally went out of business for obvious reasons. I didn't actually see this happen, but a friend of mine did see it and reported it to me, that one night at that Western Sizzlin' Steakhouse, one poor well-meaning or, probably not well-meaning seminary student got his meal from the salad bar and put it on his table. And–I'm not making this up – he then pulled out his chair, stood up in his chair and began to pray out loud– and to pray loudly enough so that everyone in the restaurant had their attention arrested by it. Now I'm not sure, but I think that might be a violation of this passage.

We can laugh at a guy like that because most of us have never been tempted to do anything that outrageous. But what I want you to see is hypocrisy in praying also takes some very subtle forms. Let me give you a little checklist as I had to give myself this week. Here are some specific ways that we have all been tempted to do what our Lord is forbidding here. Do you pursue opportunities to pray publicly in order to be seen by other people, to be thought spiritual? I need to pray because other people are praying and if I don't pray, they'll think I'm not spiritual. Or I'm going to speak up first because that'll show how deeply spiritual I really am. James Montgomery Boice, before his death, wrote these really scathing words. He said: "I believe that not one prayer of a hundred of those that fill our churches on a Sunday morning is actually made to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are made to men or to the praying one himself and that includes the prayers of preachers as well as those of the members of the congregation." We cannot do that.

You know, one of the most humorous examples of that I ever experienced was in my seminary days. Again, a well-meaning older man who was given the responsibility to be in front of people when he probably shouldn't have been, was praying one day, and he realized in the closing prayer that he'd failed to make an announcement that was a really important announcement that needed to be made. And so at the end of his prayer, he prayed, "And Lord, even though I forgot to announce it, help these students to remember that they need to be at such and such a place by such and such a time today. Amen." Now who was he talking to, do you think? We cannot pray to others.

Secondly, another specific way we've all been tempted, is praying longer prayers to seem more spiritual, praying more in public than we do in private, talking a lot to other people about how much we pray, choosing words or phrases in our prayers that are designed to impress the people around us and are not directed primarily to God. Orchestrating our schedules so that we can be seen praying - this was what was happening with those who prayed on the street corner, and it happens among Christians all the time. Again, when I was in the Christian college I attended, there were some genuinely spiritual people there. But at the same time it was both hilarious and sad to see how overtly others disobeyed this command. I remember the first time I saw it, it shocked me. I walked out in my hallway at 5 a.m. one morning to study for a test and I saw the hallway littered with these men with their Bibles in front of them down on their knees in the middle of the hallway. Lloyd-Jones writes: "It is possible for a man to pray in secret in such a way that everybody knows he is praying in secret, because he gives the impression that by spending so much time there he is a great man of prayer."

You know, every single one of us has been tempted to do what our Lord is forbidding here in one way or another. It can be funny, but it's really not funny, because when we succumb to thinking more about the people around us than about God when we pray, then notice what Jesus says at the end of verse 5: "Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." In other words, when that happens, we already got what we wanted, and so God doesn't feel obliged to answer. We wanted people to notice. We got that and that's where it all ends. Philip Ryken writes: "By the time the hypocrite says amen, he has already received everything he will get for his prayers."

How do we move beyond this? Well, in verse 6, our Lord gives us the remedy. How can we avoid being one of the pretenders and praying for the wrong reason of gaining a reputation with people? Well, Jesus tells us how in verse 6. And here He turns from the plural you all when you pray, to the singular and He addresses each one of us individually. It's as if Jesus is talking to you and to me individually. He says in verse 6: "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room…" If the circumstances demand that you pray publicly, fine, pray publicly. The Bible's filled with examples of public praying. But whenever it's within your control, Jesus says do everything you can to make your prayer private.

Look at the word inner room. The Greek word that's translated that way refers to a private storeroom that was in a typical first century home. You see, the average first century home was really not very secure. In fact, the poorer homes it was just one room, and in the case of many of them, there would just have been a piece of fabric or animal skin hanging over the door. Many of them, however, would have exterior doors. But even that door was not able, sometimes, to be locked or secured. But even if you could lock the front door–think about it, most of the walls were made by mud and mud bricks. That's why later in this sermon Jesus says don't store your treasure where thieves can break in–they can dig in literally, and steal. So, to overcome the security problem in the first century, most homes that had more than one room would have in the very center of their home–the farthest from the exterior wall–they would have a small room that had its own lockable door and that's where they secured the household valuables. In a first century house, you couldn't get more private than in that room. That's the room Jesus is referring to.

And He adds, when you go into that room, "close your door…" What's the implication there? Jesus says not only are we to pray where we can't be seen by those outside of our household – therefore we're to be as far as possible from windows and outer walls – but we're also told to shut the door so that even those within our own household can't see us. Oh, by the way, Jesus is not forbidding here praying in other private places. He Himself often did so. In fact, His favorite place to pray, according to the New Testament, was outside. He often went up on a mountain or into the wilderness. For example, later in this gospel in Matthew 14:23, we read: "After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone."

Now the main point that Jesus is driving to comes next in verse 6. He says: "You, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door (here's the main point) and pray (and by the way, this is the first time we have this command from Jesus to His disciples to pray. It's going to come again later in this text - pray) to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees (in secret) what is done in secret will reward you." Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Get the point that Jesus is making here. He's actually making two. He's saying, when you pray in secret, the Lord (notice) is in secret. He's there with you. We pray, 'Our Father who is in heaven.' That gives us a sense of the majesty of God. But guess what? When you pray in that private, secret place, He is there with you. He is in secret. And He also sees in secret or hears in secret, is the idea. Psalm 34:15. "The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry." Jesus says, pray to your Father, pray to God. Listen carefully. The point of verse 6 is not about where you pray, but to whom you pray. Prayer is, at its essence, conversation with God. And wherever you are, private or public, in your house or on the mountain, if you're not talking to God, then you're not praying, and, by the way, He's not listening.

One author, Filson, puts it this way: "Prayer does not exist where man's aim is self-promotion; such parade is not prayer to God but self-worship." It's idolatry. It's right back to the earlier passage in this same chapter, where they were seeking to be glorified, rather than God being glorified. Prayer, to be genuine prayer, must be sincere conversation to God. And if you really talk to God and you aren't trying to impress the people around you, Jesus says God hears. And then Jesus makes us an amazing promise. This is His promise, not mine. He says when that happens, "your Father who sees in secret will reward you." That doesn't mean you'll always get what you pray for; Scripture's clear about that in other places. But it does mean this: God will answer your prayer and He will always give you what He thinks is the best response to that prayer.

Jesus here wants us to examine our prayer lives. He wants us to see if our prayers have been tainted by hypocrisy. Do you enjoy spending time in secret prayer with God or do you pray more in public than you do in private? When you pray publicly, are you trying to come up with expressions that will impress the people around you? And who are you thinking about when you're praying publicly? If you're tempted to pray so that you will be noticed, here's Jesus' remedy. Very simply, find the most private place you can to pray, and then make sure you're actually speaking to God, who sees and is in secret. The first wrong reason for prayer is to gain a reputation with men.

Let's look at the second wrong reason He gives us in verses 7 through 8. It's to gain merit with God. Notice this wrong reason explained to us there in the beginning of verse 7: "When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition…" The Greek word that's translated meaningless repetition means to stutter or to stammer, to speak without thinking, to babble. Jesus says don't babble on in prayer, don't keep speaking without thinking. Now this doesn't mean, by the way, that you can't make long prayers to God. Jesus prayed on several occasions all night. One of those is recorded in Luke 6:12. This doesn't mean that you can't say the same thing several times to God, or a number of times to God. Our Lord, again, did this. The most famous example would be on the night of His betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew 26:44, we read: "He left the disciples again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more." And he tells us in that same passage He prayed for about an hour on those three different occasions. Jesus also taught us in Luke 18 that we are to persist in prayer.

So what does He mean? Well the rest of verse 7 clarifies Jesus' real point. Notice: "When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition (here's the key) as the Gentiles do (as the pagans do)…" Now at the moment He said that, Jesus' disciples understood, because they had seen numerous examples of this. They saw them in the Old Testament. Probably the most famous Old Testament example is on Mount Carmel. You remember the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal? And in 1 Kings 18:26, we read this: "The prophets of Baal called on the name of Baal from morning until noon (for hours, and this was their prayer): 'O Baal, answer us." O Baal, answer us, O Baal, answer us. And they cut themselves and they danced all around the altar, we're told. And the writer of Kings says, "but there was no voice and no one answered." And that's when, of course, Elijah began to ridicule them. But that's the kind of repetition that pagans use.

You know, the disciples of Jesus were exposed to that in their culture in the first century as well. There's an example a little later than this passage, but it was in the same basic culture in Acts 19:24. You remember when Paul was in Ephesus, and the people of Ephesus resented Paul's influence. And they assembled in that great amphitheater there in Ephesus where I've had the chance to actually have a worship service with fellow believers. They began to chant for two hours: "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." Pagans are given to such repetition.

It's still, however, very much in fashion today. For example, Tibetan Buddhists have adopted modern technology to strengthen their prayer lives. I was told this by one of our missionaries. Essentially now, they'll put a million prayers, reduce them to microfilm, and then paste that microfilm on a cylinder that has wings on it so that it'll catch the wind. And then they'll post that prayer wheel, they'll mount it where the wind always blows. And the theory is every time that prayer wheel turns once, blown by the wind, they've the equivalent of having prayed a million prayers.

In our own culture, we see that meaningless repetition in the false religion of Roman Catholicism and the Rosary. Some of you were saved out of that background; you know what I'm talking about. The Rosary is given in honor of the Virgin Mary. It consists of a set number of specific prayers. There are, first of all, the introductory prayers, one Apostle's Creed, one Our Father, three Hail Mary's and one Gloria Patri or Glory Be. That's just the introduction. Then comes the meat of a rosary and a rosary takes about forty-five minutes to an hour to work through. And the meat of the rosary is called The Decades. There are fifteen Decades in a full rosary. Each of those fifteen Decades is composed of ten Hail Mary's bracketed between an Our Father and a Glory Be. So each decade has about twelve prayers. In one full forty-five minute to an hour rosary, the Catholic faithful say more than a hundred and fifty Hail Mary's, sixteen Our Father's and sixteen Glory Be's.

Now folks, why do people do this? Why do people practice this sort of mindless, meaningless repetition? Well, our Lord tells us in verse 7: "for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words." They think it will make God more predisposed to hear them. Or let me cut it down to its simplest terms. At its heart, they believe that by doing this, they can gain some merit with God that will encourage Him to respond. They're trying to gain merit with God. Jesus says don't do that.

Let me ask you. Do you think that something you do in prayer will make God more likely to hear you and respond - your posture, your words or phrases, the length of your prayers? Listen. Folks, there is nothing wrong with being in a respectful posture. There's nothing wrong with choosing your words carefully. There's nothing wrong with praying for a long time. But if you think that anything you do in prayer will make God more predisposed to hear you, you have missed the entire reason God hears our prayers. The reason God hears our prayers is the same reason He saves us, and that is by grace alone. It is a demonstration of His incredible goodness to those who deserve exactly the opposite. That's it.

And what matters to God is what's going on in your heart. John Chrysostom, one of the earliest expositors among the church fathers, wrote this: "Whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls." Thomas Brooks, one of the Puritans, writes: "God looks not at the elegancy of your prayers, to see how neat they are, nor yet at the geometry of your prayers to see how long they are, nor at the arithmetic of your prayers to see how many they are, nor yet at the music of your prayers, nor at the sweetness of your voice, nor at the logic of your prayers, but at the sincerity of your prayers – how hearty they are. There is no prayer acknowledged, approved, accepted, recorded or rewarded by God, but that wherein the heart is, sincerely and wholly." Listen. God doesn't care about your words. He cares about your heart.

Now what's the Lord's remedy to this wrong reason for prayer? Verse 8: "So do not be like them; (how? He goes on to say the way to overcome this is to remind ourselves of what is true about our God. Notice verse 8) for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." What is thoughtless repetition in prayer intended to do? It's intended either to cut through God's indifference, and by my actions make Him more likely to hear me, or it's to provide Him with information. I've got to let Him know because He doesn't know. Jesus says we don't need to do the first because God is already our Father. You understand? God is more concerned about what you need, than you're concerned about what you need, because He understands that better. Just like you know what your children need, and you look out for them more than they even know what they need, or care about it. That's how it is with God. I love the quote by Philip Brooks that says: "Prayer is not conquering God's reluctance, (let me say that again - prayer is not conquering God's reluctance) but taking hold of God's willingness." He has already accepted you because of the merit of another–because of the merit of His Son, Jesus Christ. And nothing you can do will merit anything from God, including His response to your prayers.

And as far as letting God know what you need, Jesus says, Oh by the way, He already knows. He knows what you need before you ask Him. And He has promised in sovereign grace to supply it.

Look down at verse 32 of the same chapter. We'll get to this, but He's talking about living for the kingdom and not being distracted by the needs of this life. He says, verse 32:

"The Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

If you want to avoid praying with meaningless repetition by some ill-conceived effort to gain merit with God, then remind yourself of what's true about God. Remind yourself that God is already your Father and remind yourself that He already knows what you need. He just wants you to acknowledge your dependence upon Him by sincerely asking for what you need.

Now let me sum it all up. D.A. Carson puts it like this: "Jesus wants to teach us that praying, to be a genuine act of righteousness, must be without ostentation, (without show) directed to the Father and not to men, primarily private, and devoid of the delusion that God can be manipulated by empty wordiness." As we pray, Jesus says the reason can never be to gain a reputation with people. It can never be to gain merit with God.

So the question is, what should our motive in prayer be? You ever ask yourself, Why pray at all? I mean, if it doesn't gain any merit with God, if it doesn't give God any new information, if He's already decided what He's going to do; then why pray? It's absolutely crucial for you to understand that prayer doesn't change God. He is immutable. You've heard that saying "prayer changes things?" I think it's better to say prayer changes me. Prayer gives us a chance to express our absolute dependence on God and to bring us into line with God, rather than bringing God into line with us. We'll see that as we work our way through the Lord's Prayer. The Puritan, Richard Baxter, described it this way. He said: "It's like standing in a boat with a fishing line and you cast your fishing line onto the bank. It feels as if when you pull, you're drawing the bank to yourself, but in reality you're drawing the boat to the bank." That's how it is with prayer. Prayer changes us. Prayer brings us into line with God and His plans.

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not at all saying that God doesn't answer our prayers; He does. The Scripture's very clear about that. We'll see some examples in coming weeks. So the question is, how does that all work together? I'm commanded to pray, but God already has this sovereign, eternal plan. How do they fit? And here's the answer, here's the key. The same sovereign God that in eternity past determined the ends, also determined the means by which He would arrive at those ends. And one of the means that He sovereignly determined to use to accomplish His eternal purpose, is answering our prayers.

Let me give you an illustration of it. When God saved you, did He not make a promise to ultimately sanctify you, to conform you to the image of His Son? Is that true? Absolutely. Paul says in Romans 8: "He predestined us to (what?) be conformed to the image of His Son…" That's His eternal plan. It's going to happen. But have you noticed in Scripture that we're encouraged to pray for our sanctification? Have you noticed that our Lord Jesus prayed for our sanctification? John 17 – "Father, sanctify them in the truth…" Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, prayed for the Thessalonian believers and for us: May they be sanctified. We're commanded to pray that.

So how does that all fit together? God has this sovereign, eternal purpose to sanctify you, to make you like His Son, but He also decreed that one of the means (one of the means, not the only means, but one of the means) by which that process would happen, is in answering your prayer and the prayer of others. That's how it all fits together. Here's the amazing reality. When you pray, God is giving you the privilege to be a part of the outworking, (can I put it this way?) to cooperate with Him in the fulfilling of His great eternal plan. That's why pray. And when you pray, don't pray in order to gain reputation with others, and don't pray to impress God and to gain merit with Him. Find a private place and pour out your heart to Him.

Let's pray together. Our

Father, this passage touches each of us where we live because we are so prone to think like this. Father, we are so prone to think in terms of increasing our reputation with the people around us, even when it comes to prayer. And we are so prone to thinking that we can somehow merit Your favor. Father, bring us to understand this text, and by Your grace to live it out. Make us men and women and youth of prayer. And Father, teach us to do it for the right reason, ultimately the reason we do everything else – for Your glory, for the advancement of Your cause and the exaltation of Your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

The Sermon on the Mount