Sermon: How to Pray
Scripture: Matthew 6:5-8
In this week’s lessons, we learn three great principles of prayer, and how we can pray with confidence.
Theme: Praying to God
Now, of course, all of these problems were also present in Christ’s day. Thus, when Jesus began to speak about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, He began to deal with them directly. He did so first by instruction, and then by a sample prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer. The instructions say, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and at the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy room, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the pagans do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye, therefore, like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:5-8).
Many foolish things have been written about these verses. Some persons have understood them to teach that there is to be no such thing as public prayer. But this is foolish because both the disciples and Jesus Himself prayed publicly. Some have said that there is to be no such thing as prayer with others, no prayer meetings. But this is nonsense too, and the practice of Jesus and of the early Christians refutes it.
Actually, these verses are concerned with the tendency that all men have to pray to themselves and to other persons rather than to God. They teach that prayer must always be made to God, and that as a consequence it must be made in the knowledge that God is always more ready to answer than we are to pray to Him. Let me make this the first great principle of true prayer. True prayer is prayer that is offered to God, our heavenly Father.
Now someone is going to say, “But isn’t that obvious? Aren’t all prayers offered to God?” The answer is “No.” All prayers are not offered to God. In fact, I would be willing to argue that not one prayer in a hundred is really offered to God, our heavenly Father. You say, “Oh, I think I know what you mean. You are referring to the prayers of the heathen, those that are offered to idols.” Well, partially. But there are other prayers that are not offered to God also. You say, “Oh, you must mean prayers to the saints.” Yes, that too. But not only that. I believe that not one prayer in a hundred of those who 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 the preachers as well as those of the members of the congregation. Years ago a minister from New England described an ornate and elaborate prayer offered in a fashionable Boston church as “the most eloquent prayer ever offered to a Boston audience.” This was perceptive, for he meant that the prayer was much more concerned with impressing the preacher himself and his listeners than with approaching God.
Do your prayers bring you into the presence of God, or do they make you like the Boston preacher? Isn’t it true that often, perhaps most of the time, when you pray, you are really thinking far more of your friends, your busy schedule, or what you are asking for than you are of the great God whom you are approaching and of whom you are asking it? Dr. Reuben A. Torrey, the great Bible teacher and evangelist, used to say correctly that “we should never utter one syllable of prayer either in public or in private, until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to Him.”1
With what tendency are these verses primarily concerned?
Explain why our prayers may not always be directed to God.
What is the first principle of prayer?
Reflection: When you pray, are you conscious of having come into the presence of your heavenly Father?
1Reuben A. Torrey, The Power of Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1955), 75.