Praying Through the Bible #116
TEXT: Matthew 6:5-8
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
In Matthew chapter 6, we find Jesus Christ addressing three practices that were viewed as necessary to Jewish religious life during the first century. These three practices were almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Every good, religious Jew would engage in these activities frequently. Many Jews gave money (or tithe) to the Temple, for example the poor widow who put her last two pennies in the money chest in the Temple. Those who could not give money gave animals or produce from their farming activities. Unfortunately, like some preachers today, the temple leaders profited off of the religious generosity of the people. Instead of using the wealth and resources of the Temple to feed the hungry and provide for the poor, they used the gifts that were given to fatten their own pockets and finance their opulent lifestyles.
Fasting was done as an act of piety as well. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, observant Jews fasted on two days out of the week. And, Jewish fasting was not just abstaining from food, but from water as well.
Jesus Christ addressed both of these issues in this passage, and He also addressed the issue of prayer. In these four verses, He gives His disciples ten principles of a successful prayer life. We are going to look at each of these principles in detail.
Jesus Christ teaches that prayer ought to be a regular, everyday activity. Notice that three times in this passage, Jesus uses the phrase, “when thou prayest.” The use of the word “when” lets us know that disciples of Christ are expected to pray. Prayer ought to be a natural part of the Christian’s life, just like eating and sleeping are a part of your physical life. Matthew Henry said, “You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray.”
What is your perspective on prayer? Do you view prayer as optional? Do you think prayer is something that is good for you to do if you find the time or if you feel like it? That is the problem that many people have today when it comes to prayer. They do not view it as an absolute necessity. They do not see it as something they will do come hell or high water. Because of this, their prayer life is sporadic and inconsistent, and so are their answers to prayer.
You must not base your prayer activity upon the amount of time you have in a day. You have twenty-four hours just like everyone else. There are certain things that you find the time to do each day or each week simply because you have determined that they are things that cannot go undone. You must make prayer one of those things. Andrew Bonar said, “O brother, pray. In spite of Satan, pray; spend hours in prayer; rather neglect friends than not pray; rather fast, and lose breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper — and sleep too — than not pray.”
Instead of thinking of prayer as something you have to do, determine to make prayer a part of your life; make it something that you cannot do without — like breathing. Listen to what Dr. John MacArthur said about this matter: “I believe that prayer is like breathing. There aren’t certain times [when you breathe]. You don’t say, ‘It’s 12 o’clock; I’m going to breathe now.’ No, you breathe all the time — inhale and exhale. I think prayer is probably illustrated as well in terms of breathing as any illustration I know of. Prayer is the constant inhale, exhale of communion with God that goes on in the life of a believer all the time. Not to pray is to hold your breath.” And I would respectfully add to his quote, and “therefore kill yourself spiritually”
Ladies and gentlemen, you must also not allow your prayer life to depend on your feelings. It is very rare that you will feel like praying. Because prayer is a spiritual activity that God has commanded you to do, the devil has made it his business to do all he can to discourage you from doing it. The simple trick to overcoming him is to make up your mind that you are going to pray and pray anyhow. There are many things that we do not get a good feeling about having to do. We may not like paying our utility bills, but we do it because we want to live comfortably. Some of us do not like to go shopping, but we do it because we want to be able to sit down and eat a good meal. Many people do not like their jobs or the people on their jobs, but they show up faithfully every day because they want to receive that paycheck.
It must be the same with prayer. We must not let our feelings dictate our behavior. We must not let the time we have or the perceived time that we do not have decide whether or not we are going to pray. Jesus did not say, “if you pray,” but “when you pray.” If we are to be true disciples of His, prayer must be a regular, daily activity.