(Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 1-15)
We begin to see Jesus teach about our behaviours in front of others in this section. He tells us that being a Christian is not like a spectator sport. We should not prance about as someone or something important nor do things that draw attention to ourselves. Our aim is not self-aggrandisement but rather it is to do the will of God. Thus when we do things in public it should be done quietly and without pomp and ceremony. If we are doing good for someone we do not have to shout it from the roof tops and nor should we be like that boy in the nursery rhyme, little Jack Horner who said, “What a good boy am I.”
When we seek the praise of other men we have missed the point of Christianity. There is a reward in doing good and doing what is right, and that reward comes from God. But if we seek a man’s praise then we will not have God’s reward for the praise of man is our reward. We have got what we wanted. But if we seek God’s reward then we are much better off for His reward leads to eternity. Nothing that we do that is good will go unrewarded but it depends what our hearts desire is as to whether we receive that reward from man or from God. If we seek to look good before man, then the motivation is vanity and earthly gain, but if we are seeking God’s approval we are motivated by humility, love and godliness.
Jesus then moves into teaching us about prayer and how we ought to pray. Firstly he teaches that when we pray our personal prayers that we should go somewhere apart from others so that our conversation is between ourself and God. There is also a place for community prayer, but personal prayer is a private matter and again it is not a spectator sport. There are people who do pray on street corners in some places and who look pious and very religious through doing so, but Jesus is saying that this is not what he wants. Those who pray in public like this are basically making a show of themselves and again are seeking man’s approval and that will be their reward. But it would be better they had sought God’s approval so that their prayers might be answered.
From verse 7-15 we see a well-known and badly mis-used piece of scripture. This section contains what is commonly known as the Lord’s prayer.
Now what is interesting in this section is that Jesus begins by saying, “…in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words.” Empty words are like chants or prayers that are repeated by rote for their is no thought in them. A prayer that is repeated by rote is just a regurgitation of someone else’s words or thoughts, but not the words of the person speaking. Jesus is seeking a conversation with his people through prayer, but using empty words, chanting and praying from a prayer book by rote is not a conversation. He wants to know what our individual needs, desires, joys, pains, issues, problems, pleasures and fascinations are that we bring to him in prayer. He does not want to hear someone else’s words repeated over and over for that is just many words empty of substance.
One of the greatest mis-uses of empty words is the often heard repetition of the Lords prayer. Jesus gave us this teaching not so we would repeat it by rote, but so that we would know how to pray, not the words to say. In the Luke version of this section we see it is preceded by a request from the disciples saying, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) The disciples were not asking what words they should repeat over and over, but wanted Jesus to show them the form of prayer and how they should go about praying to the Lord in a way that He wanted to hear. Likewise we see that in Matthew 6:9 Jesus says, “Pray then LIKE this.” (my emphasis) Again he did not say to pray these specific words but that this was how a prayer needs to be constructed. When people repeat the Lords prayer over and over they are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus both wanted and intended. So when you pray, use your own mind and say what you are feeling and ask for the things you need or want.
Now let’s look at this example prayer to see how the Lord intended we should come to God in prayer.
It starts in vs. 9 with a salutation addressing the person to whom we are praying. And this would be normal in any conversation. If you see your friend walking down the street you would call out to them to get their attention. When we pray to God we likewise address him. The prayer then shows respect to God and recognises his greatness for the blessings he has given to us. It recognises him as God and we as his humble servants and sets the right scene for the conversation. We are coming to him to speak and to ask and we should recognise that he is greater than we are. Ultimately in all the we may ask of God, it is his will that will be done, not ours. There will be times when we may not receive the things we ask for our own good. Sometimes we may need to go through a period of suffering to test and strengthen us and sometimes we may be asking for something that is not what we really need. God knows the path he has set us on and where he is trying to lead us so we need to recognise his knowledge and wisdom in dealing with our lives and we do this in our prayers.
As the prayer progresses we see Jesus says it is OK to ask for physical things saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There are physical needs that we have and we can ask the Lord for them. In trying times we may have a need for money, clothing, shelter or food and not know where they will come from. There may be the need for a job or some other thing. What the Lord showed here is that it is quite acceptable to ask for such things for he knows we need these things.
Then there is a request that looks at relationship issues. He framed this in the next segment of the prayer saying, “…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This is a reminder that as we seek forgiveness, so too we should give forgiveness to those who might have wronged us in some way. In the beatitudes we saw it said that, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” Here in the Lord’s prayer we find that sentiment repeated. It is important for us to treat others in the same way we would want to be treated. Do we want forgiveness from God? Then we need to likewise forgive our brethren.
He then says we can ask for matters of a spiritual nature with his example saying, “…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We can ask the Lord for his protection and security both from the things and people we can see as well as from the hosts of wickedness that surround us in the spiritual realm. This is also a call for the Lord to give us the strength to be able to overcome temptation when or if it is presented before us. And it is acceptable to ask for such things.
Finally the Lords prayer closes by acknowledging the greatness and power of God saying, “…for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.” Elsewhere in the scripture we are told to address our prayers to God in the name of Jesus and likewise we should close in His name which recognises his power over all things.
The Lords prayer was never meant to be something spoken by rote. It was never meant to be repeated over and over again, and especially in a community setting. The Lord’s prayer was an example of a personal prayer given to show the disciples and us how we should pray. This is the method for prayer when we are alone in our rooms and come before God. It is a powerful teaching and a great example and it should not be wasted through mis-use and repetitive chanting which renders the lesson worthless, even opposed to the word of God.