Two Wrong Ways to Pray

Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

In Jesus’ command, “Pray then like this,” it is assumed not only that we will be a people who pray, but that there is, in fact, a wrong way and a right way to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a model. It shows how one should approach God with appropriate posture and priorities. This model prayer, however, is not given to us as an isolated instruction, rather it is the positive example which contradicts a negative example that Jesus has already given in his sermon on the mount.

#1 Superficial Prayer

Matthew 6:5-6 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In Jesus’ day, just as in our day, there were many who came to God in prayer with the intention of impressing. There were those whose religion was foundationally a way to win the praise of others. This religious production did not flow from a heart that was speaking to God in faith. Their praying was no communication with God, rather it was communication about God to other people for their own glory. The goal of prayer was not God, rather it was selfish gain.

This passage is a sobering reminder of something that is always true when we pray.  Prayer is communication with a God who sees every thought and intention of the heart, therefore, prayer cannot be faked. Hypocrisy might fool people but never fools God. Prayer, therefore, by necessity is a transparent endeavor with the God of the universe. He knows you, sees you, and hears not only the words you say but the intent behind the words you say.

This is both freeing and frightening. It is freeing because you do not have to hide when you come to speak to God. It is frightening because you can’t hide when you come to speak to God. This communication is by its very nature deeply personal because you are speaking with the being that knows you more deeply than you know yourself.

God is seeking for himself a people who pray to him as Father both in public and in the privacy of a quiet moment in their home. He is seeking a people who will seek him authentically.

#2 Superstitious Prayer

Matthew 6:7-8 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Prayer is not divine manipulation. In other words, Prayer is not a tool that you wield so that you can get God to do what you want. Jesus condemns a sort of praying that pagan religions were partaking in. It was a sort of superstitious praying that heaped up as many phrases as possible in particular orders and in particular forms so as to persuade or appease their gods by their many words. This type of praying assumes that God can be controlled or persuaded as long as you take the right steps and go through the right motions. Biblical praying, however, is not like saying a magic spell, rubbing a rabbit’s foot, or stroking a genie’s bottle while you await your three wishes. Prayer is not the deposit of spiritual change into a cosmic vending machine. Prayer is speaking to a God who knows all things, sees all things, and controls all things before you even speak a word.

As a teenager, the greatest exposure I had to the Lord’s prayer was not on Sunday mornings, but on Friday nights before our Football games. For those of you who do not know, most high-school football locker rooms are hardly sanctuaries of spiritual vitality. I learned many things in the football locker room, none of which came up on a test in seminary. But, every Friday night, after our coach had packed enough Copenhagen into his lip to make sure that he could spit it in our face throughout the night, he made the whole team get on a knee and in this sort of cold scary cast a spell on you kind of a way we said the Lord’s Prayer in unison. I will never forget doing that for the first time only to stand up and hear, “now let’s go whoop some ******.” Is that a prayer that God hears, blesses, and enjoys?

There is a right way and a wrong way to pray. God desires genuine personal communication with his people that is neither superficial nor superstitious.

(This post is an excerpt from a sermon which can be found at this link)

By His Grace & For His Glory,

Pastor Brandon Langley

St. Rose Community Church

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