Acts of Worship: Prayer

Matthew 6:5-15

Showy prayer

5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Proper prayer

7 “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. 9 Pray like this:

Our Father who is in heaven,

uphold the holiness of your name.

10 Bring in your kingdom

so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.

11 Give us the bread we need for today.

12 Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,

just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.

13 And don’t lead us into temptation,

but rescue us from the evil one.

14 “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

A lot of people might not realize it, but this passage is probably one of their favorite ones in the Bible. Most of us do not like to pray in public and here in Matthew we have a clear command from Jesus to not pray in public. We can all heave a big sigh of relief. Next time your pastor tries to get you to lead a prayer before a meeting or your families members look expectantly at you for the Thanksgiving dinner prayer, you can just say Matthew 6:6 and bow your head for a moment of silent prayer.

Why is it that so many of us, pastors included, do not like public prayer? Some of us are just shy and do not like public speaking of any form, but that does not explain why so many people do not like it or why we might be reluctant to prayer even in a more private setting like our family dinner table. I think the reason is deeper. In Luke, when Jesus teaches the disciples the Lord’s Prayer it is in response to a question about how to pray. From my experience the reality is a lot of us are not comfortable with how to pray. For that reason, whether it is in public or private we do not like to lead prayer because beyond the familiar and known prayers we are not sure what to say.

Last week we talked about the importance of remembering why we praise God as the heart of our worship experience. Prayer is important because it is how we are in a relationship with God. Relationships require communication and prayer is part of how we communicate with God. This week we will look at how we pray so that it might help to build on our sense of how we worship God and how we stay in relationship with God.

I mentioned that Matthew 6:6 could be used as a reason to not pray in public but I think that this would be a mistake. Jesus is not actually decrying public prayer, like we do in church. Rather, Jesus is instructing the crowds to remember why we are praying. If we are having a private prayer with God, we should do so in private. On the other hand, if the purpose of the prayer is for the community to connect to God, then we can pray in a community.

Knowing why we pray is helpful in another way, it helps us know what we want to say. When I was a little kid I remember being horrified about having to call a friend from school and invite them to my birthday party. I do not know why that experience was so terrifying, but it was the start of a long life of not liking to make phone calls. When I am calling someone I often take some time before hand to think about why I am doing it and so what I want to say. Am I calling to ask for a favor? Am I calling to see how they are doing? Am I calling for information? When I know why I am calling it helps to think about what I want to say and to get over some of the nerves I still feel to this day.

When we get ready to pray it is good to think about why we are doing it. Are we asking for God’s blessings on our food? Are we praying to God to give thanks for something that has happened in our lives? Are we lifting up someone who is hurting and in need? Are we just praying because we want to talk and hear God’s voice? All of these reasons shape how we pray and give us something to think about as we form our words. Each one gives us a different purpose for what we are saying and helps us to know how to say it.

There is lot to love about the Lord’s Prayer. First of all, it gives us something that is easy to remember which can be good. Memorizing prayers can make it easier to know what to say when we want to pray. Another thing that is great about it is how it covers all the important bases. It starts with praise for God, helping us to remember that “why” we talked about last week. Next, we pray for God’s will to be done. One of the biggest dangers with prayer is that we make it about us and reduce God to another version of Alexa or Siri. When we pray for God’s will to be done, it keeps us from our own selfish instincts. We pray to God for our daily bread, which is a reminder of how we need God in our life each day, and how even the things we think of providing for ourselves, like food, ultimately come from God. We ask God for forgiveness, and again we remember that it is not just about us, but about those around us. Finally, we put our trust again in God because God has been, is, and always will be.

There is a rich fullness to the Lord’s Prayer that speaks to the deep yearnings and needs of our hearts. It runs the gambit from our physical needs to spiritual needs. It helps us to remember our place in the world and with God. Finally, it keeps us focused on doing God’s work. If you need to pray, and don’t know what to say, you can never go wrong with the Lord’s Prayer.

I will say there is one danger that I have found with the Lord’s Prayer, it can become so familiar that we lose our focus on it. Most of us find it hard to think about one thing and talk about another. The danger with the Lord’s Prayer is it becomes so familiar to us that we can be tempted to do just that. I know I can find it hard on a Sunday to be focused on the words I am saying and not moving ahead in my mind to whatever is next in the worship service. Parents who use the same table grace each night might have a similar experience when your kids can rattle off the prayer without really thinking about it. When that happens maybe it is either time to slow down or to switch things up. We don’t pray before a meal because saying the words is important. We pray before a meal because we want to be mindful of the God who has given us the food that is before us and offers us a nourishment far greater than any meal we could ever eat.

Praying does not have to be hard. Praying can be easier when we just let it express what is on our hearts. We do not need perfect words and beautiful images. Instead, our prayers to God should be open and honest. If you look at the psalms, they express a deep range of emotions. Some of them even take a pretty hostile stance towards God at times. The reason is that they are expressing real feelings. We are not always happy with God. Sometimes we can feel hurt by God or be mad at God. These feelings need a place in our prayers as well. We cannot be in a full relationship with God if we keep things from God. We cannot be faithful to God if there are things we hide from God or do not trust God with. We need to be honest with God about what we are thinking and feeling. Our prayers need to reflect it all.

If we are going to worship God with our whole heart, we need to share those whole heart with God. We need to lift up the good and the bad. We need to express our joys and frustrations. We need to share our hopes and we need to listen to God and hear what God has to say. When we can do this, then our prayers will be a part of how we worship the God who created us, knows us, loves us, and is always with us. Thanks be to God.

 

Questions to Ponder:

What are the ways that you like to pray to God?

Who is someone you know who is good at praying to God?

What are some of your memories or experiences with prayer from when you were younger?

Prayer:

O God, too often our minds grow blank and we struggle to find the right words to say. We stumble in our prayers and mumble our thoughts to you. Give us the courage and clarity to open ourselves up more to you. Help us to find the ways to speak what is on our hearts. Open our minds up to hear what you are saying as well. Bless us and be with us each and every day. Amen