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When You Pray...

What Jesus taught about prayer has been misconstrued and distorted, reduced by the Church to a mere ritual of superficiality.


Jesus said:

When you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites... (Matt 6:5).

He was referring to the religious leaders in His day, mostly Pharisees and Sadducees. They did things to be seen of men, putting on a show of piety. Jesus called them pretenders:

...for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets [public places], that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward [they wonít be with God in heaven] (Matt 6:5).

Go into almost any Roman Catholic Church or Church of England today and you can see the same farcical religious display. Itís abhorrent to God, and completely at variance with the point of prayer.

Jesus explained what prayer SHOULD be:

But you, when you pray, go into your room [in private], and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matt 6:6).

Of course, there are times for public prayer, but the thrust of Jesusí words was that prayer is not meant to be a performance before others, but a sincere outpouring to our Creator. Sincerity is vital!

It should never descend into empty ritual:

...when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words (Matt 6:7).

Therefore, do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him (Matt 6:8).

But the liturgy adopted in many organised churches does just what Jesus spoke against! Men Ďprayí the same rehearsed prayers, time and again. Itís not spontaneous, often not sincere, and usually just performing before people.


Attitude

The purpose of prayer is to help you develop an attitude and habit of dependent trust in God. Itís not what you say that is as important as why you say it, and what it achieves in your spirit.

Billions of people know of Jesusí words that follow, but very few know what He was driving at.

In this manner, therefore, pray... (Matt 6:9).

The literal Greek could be rendered:

Pray ye, therefore, thus... (Paninís Numeric New Testament).

Or:

Thus, then, you be praying... (Concordant Literal NT).

Or:

So this is the way you must pray (Williams).

Jesus was NOT saying, ďwhen you pray, use these words...Ē He meant, ďpray in this manner

Itís the way you pray, not what you say, that is most important. That involves your attitude, reasons, motivation and purpose. What are you trying to achieve? What does God mean you to achieve?


Achievement

What Jesus then says explains what He means you to achieve in your prayer life. I have summarised this here in ten points, corresponding to the aspects mentioned in Matthew 6:9-14:

1. Our Father................ Relationship
2. Hallowed be.............. Attitude
3. In Heaven................. Humility
4. Your will................... Obedience
5. Give us..................... Knowing your need
6. Daily bread............... Spiritual nourishment
7. Forgive us................. Contrition
8. As we forgive............ Mercy, love
9. Deliver us from evil.... Hatred of sin
10. Itís Your kingdom.... Glory to God.

Letís take a closer look at each of these aspects.


Aspects

Relationship

Jesus is the Firstborn of many brethren (Rom 8:29). His relationship with the Father was so close. He said ďI and My Father are oneĒ (Jn 10:30).

For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does... (Jn 5:20).

Jesus died to expiate your sins, so that you may also enter that closeness with the Father and have the same wonderful relationship Jesus had. That relationship develops as you pray to Him. You learn to fellowship with His Spirit through prayer.

Hallowed be

You cannot come before God, in His holy place, without reverence and godly fear. God said:

By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy (Lev 10:3).

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom... (Ps 111:10).

Your attitude in prayer is all important. The proud and arrogant cannot come close, but the poor in spirit can (Matt 5:3) Ė those who are small in their own eyes and who have reverence for the holy God.

In Heaven

Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few (Eccl 5:2).

Remember you are a mere mortal Ė a physical being Ė made by the One who resides in a different dimension, a spiritual dimension, in absolute glory and magnificence in heaven! This realisation of our insignificance compared with His magnificence ought to cement in our minds the privilege we have to approach Him, and our unworthiness of ourselves.

It required Jesus to open up a way for us to approach this Awesome God, symbolised by what the High Priest did on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16; Heb 9:24-28; 10:10).

He gives more grace, therefore He says, ĎGod resists the proud, but gives grace to the humbleí (Jas 4:6).

Your will

Who do you live for? Yourself or God? Is your life so self-orientated that He is eclipsed or occluded? Or does He have an eternally abiding place in your heart? If you live to do HIS will, then you will have meaningful contact with Him in prayer.

Many believers, however, deceive themselves. Because they have some head knowledge, and read the Bible with a hunger to know more and to satisfy themselves spiritually, emotionally and mentally, they think that they automatically seek to do Godís will. Itís not always so.

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? (Jer 17:9.)

Certainly, many Christians donít know it. They assume they are doing Godís will when all they are doing is their own thing with a mental acquiescence to some of the knowledge of God. Knowledge about God is not the same as knowing God. You get to truly know Him by doing His will, and that requires you laying down YOUR life to adopt His within your spirit.

Itís an attitude thing. And so is true prayer.

Give us our daily bread

Praying ďgive us this day our daily breadĒ, you are not merely asking for your physical sustenance. More importantly, you need Him to feed you His Bread from Heaven. Jesus is that living Bread (Jn 6:48-51), who must live in you (6:53-56). He will come into you as you yield yourself to Him. Each day you pray for spiritual sustenance He will give it through His Word as you read it and through His Spirit as you yield and obey.

Forgive us

We each need Godís forgiveness. Acknowledging from the heart how far we have wandered into depravity and evil, and how much we have hurt God by our selfish, self-willed, hard-hearted approach in life, is the only avenue to receive His forgiveness.

Complacency or coolness about the sins we have committed blocks the flow of His mercy. We donít see our need for Godís clemency, so we donít receive it.

But when we have the broken, contrite heart that the prodigal son exhibited (Lk 15:21), forgiveness flows from the Father. Brokenness makes the channel for it to flow, and heartfelt gratitude can accept it.

As we forgive

You get as good as you give. There is a law of reciprocity at work in all giving and receiving.

Forgiveness is not easy for many. Itís simply not possible for the proud, for the self-assertive, for the stubborn. The attitude that gives forgiveness is the same as that which can accept it.

Only the humble receive. And the humble give.

Mercy and love are the outflow of forgiveness.

Deliver us from the evil one

Satan is out to get you and me. He wants to drag you back into sin, habitual sin that cuts you off from God. Each of us is prone to temptation. We all have weaknesses. The flesh is weak even when the spirit is willing. Our only hope of overcoming is in God through Jesus, with His Spirit dwelling in us.

When you know your need for God, you know how much you need deliverance from the forces of evil that can so easily beset us. And your heart will cry out to God for Him to keep you from those attacks of the enemy which would utterly defeat us.

Without a hatred of sin you cannot be protected from evil spirits. But humility and hatred of sin brings you under His umbrella of grace, where He shields you and protects you in His loving care.

Yours is the kingdom

...Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory (Matt 6:13b).

Those words are not in all the NT manuscripts, and the flow in the text continues along the theme of the need to be forgiving and humble. Even if they were not in the original text, they are very relevant.

Many live for their own self-glorification. Their motives are self-seeking and self-elevating. People want power and influence. But our lot in this life is to do what Jesus did Ė lay down our lives. The ego must die so that Jesus can live in you.

We are to live for Godís glory, not our own.

Prayer is an exercise in that dying to self and living to God. It is part of your means of yielding your self to Him. Prayer is right attitude, not mere words.

Malcolm B Heap
 

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