The Sermon on the Mount
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

18 – Concerning Prayer

Chapter 6 of the Book of Matthew describes what true religion is in contrast to the practices of the pagans and also in contrast to the hypocrisy practiced by the scribes and Pharisees.  Christ lays the foundation in Matthew 6:1 where he says that our righteousness, our piety, or religion must not be like those of the hypocrites or the pagans.  Having laid this foundation, Christ uses three examples of religious practices that occur in some form in every religion:  almsgiving, praying, and fasting.  You will find these three in all religions in some form or other.

We dealt with almsgiving last week and in this study and the next I want to deal with prayer.  We will deal with verses 5 through 8 where Christ addresses personal, or private, prayer.  Next Wednesday we will deal with the Lord’s Prayer, which, of course, is the model that Christ used to instruct His disciples.  Let’s read verses 5 through 8 first and then we will look at them in detail.  Matthew 6:5-8:

“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.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

First of all, we better define the word “prayer.”  What does that word mean to you?  In all pagan religions, prayer was an essential part of their way to heaven.  They were required to pray.  For example, the Muslims are required to pray.  And those of us who have lived in a Muslim country have seen that, when it comes to prayer time, there is a man that stands up in that minaret and he shouts and the whole town can hear him.  And if you are in a taxi driven by a Muslim, he will stop — everybody stops — and they bring a little mat out, they face towards Mecca, and they begin their prayer.  Some of them three times and some of them five times a day.

The Catholics have rosaries.  When you do something wrong and go to confession, then the priest may say, “For your penance, you must do three rosaries.”  So you go back and you rattle away those three rosaries to do penance for your sins.  An essential part of salvation!  The Hindus have prayer wheels, flags, incense, and candles; every time the candle flickers it is a prayer.  Every time the wheel turns, it is a prayer; it is an easy way of praying.  Basically, to the pagan, prayer is an essential part, something that their god demands to appease his anger or in order for them to receive something that they want.

Christ said not to use vain repetitions the way the pagans did.  Now let’s look at the Pharisees.  They prayed (vs. 5) to be seen of men:

“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.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

They wanted to give the impression that they were very religious, very righteous people.  What was behind that?  The Pharisees were the leaders of their religion and they wanted to give the impression that they were very holy, so they would pray publicly on the street corners.  They could hardly wait to go to the temple; they would stop at the street corners and pray to display themselves.  And Jesus said that they already had their reward.  What did He mean by that?  If you are praying to be seen by men and they see you, then you have got your reward.

In contrast to all this, we need to look at what true praying is.  Jesus is not discussing praying in general.  He is not discussing public prayer here in these verses.  He is discussing personal, private prayer.  What is praying?  Look at verse 6:

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

We must not take the words “go into your room and close the door” literally.  [Some translations read “closet” instead of room.]  What He is saying is that prayer is communion between the believer and God.  It is a communion with God in a relationship of a child to a benevolent father.

To understand this, let’s go back to the original plan that God had.  When God created Adam and Eve, He would come and visit them every evening.  God created man to have fellowship with Him.  Then sin came in, and we read in Genesis 3:8-10 that, when Adam and Eve sinned and God came to visit them, they hid:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

The first thing that sin did was it separated:  it brought a barrier between a Holy God and sinful man.  They tried to cover their shame by leaves and it failed.  We read in Isaiah 59:2:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

Our sins produced a gap between earth and God.  This is something that we need to keep in mind because, in the light of the gospel, this has all changed.

The devil doesn’t want you to know this.  Very often a Christian who has had a bad day finds it very hard to pray.  The devil says, “You’ve been no good today.  You haven’t said your prayers, you’ve lost your temper, etc.”  And you feel so guilty that you don’t feel God can listen to you.  That is why I want to give you a couple of statements.  Turn to Galatians 4:4-6.  I’ve already shown you before that when Christ died on the cross He reconciled the human race to God.  But I want you to look at this text to see how that affects us in terms of prayer:

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

Why “under the law”?  Because the race he came to redeem was cursed under the law.

We can talk to God as our “Dear Father” thanks to the cross of Christ.  Turn back to Romans 8:14.  You have the same thing there:

...Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Who are those who are led by the Spirit?  Those who have accepted Christ as their Saviour.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of the gospel and we accept it.  Now look at verse 15 onward:

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

We do not come to God like the pagans in fear, but like a child to a loving parent.

When I was first becoming an Adventist and I went and saw my Roman Catholic priest, he felt that I should not pray to Jesus but that I should pray to Mary.  She was the one who could help me to solve this confusion that the Adventists were putting in my head, he said.  He reminded me of what I was raised up with.  This is the idea they have:  God is a very severe judge and if you want something from God you cannot go directly to Him or through Jesus Christ.  You need a mother.  And this is the way they taught me:  When you want something from your father, don’t you go to your mother?  (And very often this is true.)  And they gave a wonderful example.  They said, “Look at the first wedding feast that Jesus attended.  The juice was gone and they were scared to go to Jesus, so they went to His mother.”  And the tragedy is that many Adventists look at God in the very same way, as somebody who is very reluctant to bless or listen, so we have to go through a mediator.  The Bible tells me that we can call God “Dear Father.”

Jesus said that praying is communicating with your heavenly Father just as a child does with a Father who is understanding and willing to help you out.  There is a problem as we go back to Matthew 6 and that problem is that you cannot see God with your physical eyes.  So Christ tells us that, when we go to God in secret (please remember we are dealing with private prayer), we don’t have to even speak our communication.  We can talk to God even by our thoughts.  Christ meant that He sees us secretly.  He can read your thoughts, He can read your motives, and you can be sure that you don’t have to hide anything from God.  In fact, if you try to hide something, you are bluffing yourself only.

When you fall down (spiritually), it doesn’t take God by surprise; He already knew it.  When you realize that God is on your side, He is out to help you, He gave us His Son so that we may be reconciled to Him, and when we know that He knows even our innermost thoughts, we need to practice (what a Roman Catholic called) “the presence of God.”  We need to sense His presence and the reason for this is because there will come a time when there will be nobody to help you.  There will come a time when we will have crises and there will be nobody:  not the pastor, nor church members, nobody.  We need now to learn to practice the presence of God.  He is right there in you, listening to your thoughts, and He wants to talk to you!  This is one of the things we need to learn.

Now I want to cover two things in regard to prayer.  Why should Christians pray?  Remember that praying is communicating with God as a child to the father.  Children, before they grow too big, are very dependent on their parents.  As an example:  At the end of a worship service, when the children come out and I go to shake hands with the little ones, they run and grab their parents.  They are saying, “Daddy, I am not sure if this fellow is for me or against me.  Help!”  The first thing we must remember is that, as children of God, we are totally God-dependent.

First, I will give you a text from the Old Testament.  One of the reasons we pray is because we need strength.  We are living in a world that is too great for us.  We are living in a world controlled by Satan and we cannot conquer it.  Look at 1 Chronicles 16:11:

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

We need to know that God is on our side.  There are times when you will feel that He is not on your side, but don’t depend on your feelings.  We must base our relationship with God on truth, not on feelings.  And whether you feel that God is listening to your prayers or not is immaterial.  He will always listen to you.  In other words, God doesn’t listen to you only when you are good; He knows your struggles and the problems you are facing and you must seek His face continually.

There is a similar idea in Luke 18:1.  This is Jesus talking:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

The parable He tells is the “Persistent Widow” (or, in some translations, the “Unjust Judge”).  Luke 18:2-7:

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?”

And He says, “This widow did not give up.”  It isn’t that God is reluctant to answer our prayers but, at the end of the parable, He makes a statement in connection with persevering.  Look at verse 8:

“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?”

So one way to keep your faith unshakable is to have a constant communion with God.  And you can only have this when you have understood that, in Christ, you stand a child of God.  May I repeat:  God doesn’t look at you as you look at yourself.  God looks at each one of us as we are in His Son.  I want to remind you that at least three times God said, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”  So don’t let yourself believe the devil when he tells you that you aren’t good enough to pray.  You do not pray because you are good enough, you pray because you are a child of God.

Let me give you another text regarding why we should pray:  Matthew 26:41.  Remember that praying is not necessarily going on your knees.  Praying is keeping in contact with God.  Keep this in mind as we read this verse:

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

What did Christ mean here?  The context is Gethsemane.  The disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open.  What He is saying here is that the flesh, the body, cannot conquer temptation.  I want to pause a moment here and explain the situation.  The mind of the believer is the battleground.  Both the Holy Spirit and the devil wants to control your mind.  And if your mind is preoccupied with talking with God, then the devil has a hard time getting a word in.  But if your mind is idle, then it is much easier for the devil to get you.  And he does it very slowly.  He puts ideas into you.  Little ideas that may not be too strong and then, gradually, he gets you.  Remember that praying is one way to handle temptation.  If your mind is controlled by the Holy Spirit and a temptation comes, the mind, because it is controlled by the Holy Spirit, will respond instantly, No.  But if your mind is idling, then you will begin to play with that idea:  yes, no, yes, no.  Finally you will say, Yes.  Then you will go on your knees to God and say, “God, I did not mean what I did.”  But the flesh meant all the time what it did.  But you are not forsaken.  You may have to come to the foot of the cross many times because of your shortcomings.

There is another reason why we should pray and that is in the context that the Church is the body of Christ.  Ephesians 6:18.  I would really like to put some emphasis here because the need is very great:

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.

We human beings have a tendency, when something goes wrong, to gossip about it.  But Paul is saying that when you see a brother go wrong, you pray.  Sometimes that is the only thing you can do for them.  Sometimes visitation does more harm than good.  Sometimes they have built a barrier.  But they need to be visited and they need to be prayed for.  And if there ever was a time that we needed to pray for each other, it’s now.  Because the devil knows his time is short and he is coming strong on us.  There are some believers who cannot handle the pressures and we need to support them and we need to pray.  Remember our studies on Romans 14 and Romans 15?  Those who are strong must help the weak and one of the ways is praying, sharing our burdens with God.  We want to be part of the family of God, instead of condemning and gossiping about them.

The next thing I want to say is, in order for our prayers to be as Christ wanted in Matthew 6, there has to be a certain attitude of the mind.  The attitude of self-righteousness is not the attitude of true praying.  Remember the parable of the two men who went to pray [The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector]?  Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  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.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“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.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What did the Pharisee say?  “God, I thank you.”  He was praying but he was praying with himself.  Let’s now go back to Chronicles; that book has some very good advice regarding prayer.  This time we’ll go to 2 Chronicles 7:14, and I want you to notice what we read here:  Solomon’s counsel to us.  He was a man who had wisdom.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

The word “seek” in Hebrew also means “who will listen.”  And what does God say?  “Please don’t run away from me.  I am not here to punish you; I am here to save you.  Who will listen me, who will call me by my name — my God, my Saviour — and who will commune with me?  I will be there to answer their prayers.”  The thing that I want you to keep in mind is humility.  We come to God not to tell Him how good we are.  That’s the Pharisees.  We come to God not because we have to fulfill certain obligations so that He might listen to us.  We come to Him because He is our Father, our Friend, and One Who wants to help us.  We come in humility.

The mindset we must have is that we must come in faith.  Turn to Mark 11:24.  I want you to notice that this is Christ speaking:

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Believe that God wants to hear and answer your prayer!

He did not say “feel” that God will answer; He said “believe” that God will answer.  If you read this text by itself, you will come to me and say, “I have prayed many times and He hasn’t answered me.”

Let me give you another text, in 1 John.  And that is the third requirement — humility, faith, and submission.  1 John 5:14.  There are times that you will say to your children “no” because you know that what they have asked for is not good for them.  They may not appreciate it at that time, but, when they grow up, they will.  But often God answers our prayers with “no.”  1 John 5:14:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God:  that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

The confidence is this, that God will give us only that which is good for us.  Good in what sense?  Number one, good in the spiritual sense.  For example, if wealth will deprive you of spirituality, He will deprive you of wealth for your own sake.  He will say, “Can you wait and be poor for awhile because I know wealth is not the best thing for you.”  Remember what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil....

He did not say money was the root but the love of money was the root of evil.  Here’s the rest of that verse:

...Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

You must remember that, when you ask God for something, you do it believing that His answer is what will be best for you.  God has an advantage.  He knows the beginning from the end.  He may allow something that may be terrible to you.  You may have a five-year old child suffering from a terminal disease and you plead with God and He says, “No, my answer is that child must go to sleep.”  It may be your only child and you may be devastated, but please remember that I would rather see my child go at the age of five and be given back to me in the resurrection than for my child to grow up and be lost.  Remember that God knows what is best.  That is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Our prayer relationship is based on certain facts:

  1. God loves us.
  2. He has redeemed us from the curse of the law.
  3. He wants fellowship with us.

In heaven we will see Him face to face but now we have to practice His presence.  It is my prayer that we will become a praying people.

I would like for you take the Index to the writings of Ellen G. White and just look under the heading “Prayer” and you will notice what she says about private prayer.  The Bible is clear that God wants us to pray but He does not want us to pray like the heathen, simply repeating the same thing over and over again.  He wants us to pray so that we are communing with Him from the heart.  It is a heart issue.  It is not an outward display.  We may bluff our fellow members that we are holy people by outward display but we cannot deceive God.  God wants your heart.  “Give me your heart,” He says.

It is my prayer that we will spend much time learning how to pray while we are driving the car and doing our work, especially when the work has become automatic.  We must learn to pray.  When I work on my car and I am trying to undo a nut that is refusing to budge, I say, “God, what is wrong with this nut?”  I talk to Him.  Learn to talk to Him because He is interested in every detail of your life.  Then, in the time of trouble, the habit will be very useful.  We must learn to practice and God will answer our prayers according to His will and He will give us what is the very best for us.

But that communication will build up your faith and you will become strong believers.  Praying involves two things:  (1) listening to God and (2) what Christ is dealing with in Matthew 6: our talking to Him.  We don’t always have to talk to Him in terms of our needs.  He knows our needs.  He wants us talk to Him just as a child would share with a Father the things that are close to him.  God wants us to have a prayer life.  He is talking to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount and He says, “I want fellowship with you but please don’t pray like the heathen or the hypocrites.  Let’s have a one-to-one relationship.”  You will find that your faith will increase and you will become stronger and stronger in Christ.

That is what Christ had to say about prayer.  In our next study, we will go on and look at the Lord’s Prayer, which is described in the New Testament as the model prayer.  I want to read the Lord’s Prayer and analyze it.  I want you to notice what Christ is trying to say in the Lord’s Prayer.  He is not giving us a form, He is giving us a model.

The best way to teach a child to pray correctly is to reveal to them a God that is like a loving Father.  Many children are given the idea that God is someone who is “up there” and you are down here and that is too far away.  They need to have the idea that God is near to help them.  Unfortunately, children have a tendency to project their human fathers on to God.  That is a problem when a father is very abusive they have the same concept about God.  You need to reveal God to them through Jesus Christ.

Very often, children will talk to God about their little concerns more than older folks do.  In some churches, children are taught prayers.  I was taught the rosary; that was our family worship and it became a form.  As I was saying the rosary, my mind was wandering.  When the child learns that God is there to help their every need, they will develop a conversational method.  They must be able to talk to God with common language and yet have reverence.  Some children are raised that they must say “Thou” and “Thee.”  The word “Abba” in Hebrew is the common word for “Dear Father.” This was in contrast to the Jews.  They were so scared of God that, even when they wrote God’s name, they would use a special pen.  When they were copying a Bible passage and God’s name appeared, they would use a special pen because they were afraid if they used a common pen God would strike them dead.

We must teach our children that God loves them.  Their prayer life will be in direct proportion to the image of God that they have.  We must present a correct image of God and the rest will take care of itself.  We need to represent to our children a God who understands their weakness, their needs, and that they can turn to Him at any time without Him saying, “I’m too busy; I can’t listen to you.”  God is able to hear all of us at the same time.  We can pray without ceasing.  There is much instruction in the Bible on praying without ceasing.  In other words, keep communing with God and teaching our children to talk to God as our Friend and loving Father.

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