Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
Introduction to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
Jesus is preaching His inaugural sermon that is entitled by many commentators as “The Sermon on the Mount”. What is perhaps the ethical and spiritual foundation of the New Testament, “The Sermon on the Mount” takes the reader into the heart of what makes New Covenant Christianity tick. Virtually all of its teachings can be found repeated throughout the New Testament. The acorns of truth deposited by Jesus in this grand sermon will prove to be mighty oaks upon which the Apostles will later climb to take their readers into the realms of powerful, practical Christianity. In our last post we considered powerful, practical Christianity in regards to stewardship and giving from Matthew 6:1-4 and Mark 12:41-43. In today’s post we aim to consider Jesus’ words on the subject of powerful, practical Christianity with regards to having an effective prayer life..
Powerful, Practical Christianity in your prayer life. Matthew 6:5-15
Now we see the second occurance of the word “when” that indicates a new topic, which in this case is the subject of prayer. Jesus treats this area much like the area of giving of alms, with a brief section on prescribing what not to do versus what to do (6:5-8). He then launches into His famous “Lord’s Prayer” wherein He gives His listeners a model for effective, powerful, practical prayer in 6:9-15. What should prayer look like, sound like and be like once we are carrying out our daily prayers? What things ought to be included in the prayer-life of the believer? We could say that Matthew’s rendering of Jesus’ instruction on praying speaks of a “normal pattern” of praying that should be taking place throughout the believer’s life.1 Certainly our prayer lives ought to be weighed and measured by this general template prescribed by Jesus in Matthew 6:5-15. So lets unpack Jesus’ words in an “A,B,C” format to see how we can have a powerful, practical Christian life in prayer.
Aim to seek the Father. Matthew 6:5-10 The overwhelming emphasis in Jesus’ model prayer is the radical focus on God the Father. Jesus begins with the Father in Matthew 6:5-10 and then ends the prayer in 6:14-15 with the same focus. In principle Jesus is teaching His disciples that where you begin – you end. If you and I begin with God as our focal point and end with Him as our destination, we will be able to frame our concerns and life properly and proportionately. Jesus brings out a full and complete theological picture of the One to Whom we direct our prayers.
a. God is near us, or immanent. 6:5-6 b. God knows all things, or is omniscient. 6:7-9 c. God is uniquely able and good, or Holy. 6:8 d. God is all-able, or omnipotent. 6:9-10
Bring your needs to God. Matthew 6:11-13 We noted a moment ago that beginning and ending our prayers with God in view properly frames the contents of our prayers. As we aim to begin and end with God, we can see how what we are praying for is placed in the right proportion and perspective. Having aimed our focus on God from beginning to end, we now can bring our needs to God. Jesus gives in short order the three biggest needs that can be brought to God in times of prayer.
a. Needs. 6:11 b. Forgiveness. 6:12,14-15 c. Temptation. 6:13
Effective prayer enables the believer to put their needs in the right proportion and perspective. meaning that the bigger we understand God to be, the smaller the amount of resources needing to meet our needs will appear. Additionally, a bigger view of the Father will yield more faith in trusting in His ability to forgive through Jesus Christ. Knowing that God is more than able enough to meet our needs and forgive our sin gives us the ability to escape temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Philippians 4:6-7 reminds us: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” So when you and I pray, we need to aim our focus on God from beginning to end and bring our needs to Him. As Jesus winds down this portion of His teaching, we see the final element needed for a powerful, practical Christian prayerlife, namely…..
Cherish God. Matthew 6:14-15
Salvation brings with it the desire for God. Forgiveness has at its heart reconciliation to the One who reached down to us by the sending of His Son to die and raise from the dead on our behalf. (Romans 5:12-21; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21) In forgiveness I discover how much God did in expressing His cherishing love to me. Romans 5:8 states: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In understanding the great love of God for His people in the Gospel, the Christian reciprocates with a growing cherishing love for God. As John writes in 1 John 4:19: “We love Him because He first loves us.” To not forgive not only means we are having a disconnect about God’s cherishing love for us, but somewhere along the way we have chosen to cherish our bitterness more than the Lord Jesus Christ.
To see how important this final principle of “cherishing God” is in our prayer-life, we can cross-reference Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant who simply “just-didn’t-get it”.
Matthew 18:21-35 21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”22 Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him thedebt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
This parable drives home this final thought of cherishing God through forgiveness. Our drive to respond in forgiveness rather than bitterness can only stem from cherishing God so much due to knowing how much He cherishes us through Jesus. The practical side of this teaching is worked out in our prayer-life, which in turn enables us to access God’s mighty power. Whatever we glean from our time in prayer will translate into what we do in our relationships and activities in our daily life.