Sermon: “Pray then like this…”: Matthew 6:5-15

New Testament Reading: Matthew 6:5-15

“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. 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. 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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:5–13, ESV)


One of the challenges that I have brought to you over the past couple of weeks is the thought that as Christians we must discipline ourselves to pray.

It would be wonderful if we naturally went to prayer. It would be wonderful if we automatically and always desired to pray. But the truth of the matter is that we don’t naturally go where we should go, nor do we always desire what we should desire. Obedience in prayer, along with obedience in every other aspect of the Christian life, is something that must be cultivated within us.

It’s called sanctification, friends. The old sinful flesh must be, more and more, put to death, and we must learn to walk by the Spirit. The old man must be put off, and the new, regenerated man, must be put on. Sanctification – here I have in mind progressive sanctification, which is the process whereby we are made more and more holy and into the image of Christ – is not automatic. Regeneration is automatic. Justification is automatic. Adoption is automatic. These things come upon those who belong to Christ fully and at once at the beginning of the Christian life. But progressive sanctification is a process involving work. True, ultimately it is the work of God. God is the one who sanctifies us. But we are a part of this process of sanctification. It takes effort. We must learn to obey. We must put off the old and put on the new, with the strength that God provides.

A disciplined prayer life falls under this category.

Brothers and sisters, do not wait for the desire to pray – you may never make it to prayer. And if you do make it – if God does bless you with the desire to pray – remember that the desire may soon flee from you. Feelings are a terrible motivator for righteous living because they are unreliable. Nowhere do the scriptures command us to feel like obeying, or feel like praying. What is required is that you do obey. Friends, it is far better to build your life upon the solid foundation of Christ and his word, being obedient to it, rather than the shifting sands of your ever changing emotions.

So pick a time, brothers and sisters. And pick a place. And begin to faithfully labor in prayer. And see if over time, as, by the grace of God, you discipline yourself to pray, your appetites and affections do not begin to change. You’ll find that through discipline your prayer life will grow consistent. And as it grows consistent, your appetite for prayer – your affections for God in prayer – will grow.

One time I decided I should start to run. So I went on a run. I remember that I didn’t like it very much. It was hard. It didn’t feel good. But I had decided to run. So I ran the next day, and the day after that. Those days were not easier than the first, but more difficult because the muscles were sore. But over time I started to, strangely enough, enjoy running. I looked forward it. It began to feel good to run. I felt good. I had developed, through discipline, an affection for running.

And then life got busy, and I stopped running. A day or two passed, and then a week. And do you know what happened when grew undisciplined? That precious desire to run that I had acquired also slowly faded away. I was back to square one. I knew I should run. I remembered how good it felt to run. But the desire was no longer there. What’s a man to do, then? Wait for the desire? Wait for the appetite to reappear? Friends, it may not come. And if it does, it might not remain, at least not consistently.

Friends, it is better to do what we know we should do because we know we should do it rather than doing only that which we feel like doing. If our hearts were perfectly pure, we might be able to follow our feelings. But because our hearts are crooked, we must choose to obey. Our hearts have a way of deceiving us, sending us off in the wrong direction. Our affections are sometimes misdirected. We desire what we should not desire, and we have no desire for that which we should desire. Our hearts must be straightened out by God. And, Lord willing, he will straighten them out through the process of sanctification, leading us to, more and more, love what is good and hate what is evil. But until then – indeed, until the very end – Spirit empowered obedience to God’s word is the road upon which we are to walk.

Why do I belabor this point? Why the redundancy? It is because this principle is so important to every aspect of the Christian life, and yet it is often missed. Obey God, friends! To heck with what you feel like doing! God says, “Husband, love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” You say, “But God, I do not feel love for her.” God says, “when did I ever ask you to feel anything? I told you to love! Obey, son. Show love to your wife, and see if the affection for her does not return. And if it does not return, then show her love anyways. Give yourself for her as Christ gave himself for the church.” God says, “children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” The child says, “but I do not feel like obeying my parents.” God’s reply: “When did I ever ask you to do something based upon feeling? I know you do not feel like it, that is one reason why I commanded it. Obey, and see if over time the desire to honor your parents does not grow.”

Friends, do not misunderstand. Affections, feelings and emotions are indeed a vital part of the Christian life. We are emotional beings, and our emotions matter. Our desire is to obey Christ from a transformed heart. Our prayer is that God would cultivate godly affections within us. But the question is, how does the human heart get to be transformed? How do these godly affections grow? It is by the word and Spirit, of course. But it is also through the long and arduous process of renewing the mind and disciplining one’s self to put off the old and to put on the new, which is ours in Christ Jesus. To put it another way, and to borrow from a friend who shared this illustration with me this past week, obedience is the engine, and feelings are the caboose in the discipleship train.

We must discipline ourselves to pray – pick a time, pick a place, and pray – but once there, we must also develop discipline in prayer. In other words, it is one thing to make it to prayer – but it is another thing to pray well.

You say, “well how hard is it to pray? Don’t we naturally know how to pray? Shouldn’t we just poor out our hearts before God?” 

Friend, I wonder if you have you been paying attention at all? Why would you assume that our hearts would automatically lead us to pray well? Just as our hearts cannot be trusted to drive us to prayer, neither should they be trusted to guide us in prayer.

Again, I do not deny that the Lord can and will transform our hearts. I do not deny that we are invited as God’s children to poor our desires before him, speaking to him from the heart, as it were. What I am questioning is if our hearts can be trusted to finally and infallibly direct us in our prayers.

It is not that prayer is complicated. It’s actually quite simple. The problem again is that our hearts are bent out of shape. We do not naturally pray well. We tend to be lethargic in our prayers – unfocused. Have you ever struggled in prayer because your mind runs this way and that? Sometimes we pray pridefully to be seen by others. Sometimes we pray as if the purpose of prayer were to inform God of things he did not already know. Sometimes we ramble and babble in prayer, spinning around in circles, sputtering out meaningless and repetitious words and phases thinking that God will respond to us because of our many words. Sometimes we pray for things so that we might spend them on our pleasures. I could go on. The point is that it is wrong to assume that we are naturally good at prayer.

If we were, then why did Jesus find it necessary to teach us how to pray? Why did his disciples come to him, saying, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1, ESV) If prayer were so natural to us, then why this request? And if it is natural to us, then why did Jesus not say, “just do your thing. Let your heart guide you. If you pray from the heart, you can’t go wrong.”

No, instead Christ taught us how to pray. He warned us and instructed us. He’s given us tracks to run on so that we fly to him efficiently and with precession.

Notice that in Matthew 6:5 Jesus first offers words of warning.  “You must not be like the hypocrites”, he says. And a little bit later he warns us, saying, “Do not [be like] the Gentiles…”

Hypocrites will pray, but only in public. They want to be seen by others to appear righteous. For them, that is the purpose of prayer. They’ll rarely be found in the closet praying to God because they do not care to commune with God. They only want to appear righteous! Do not be a hypocrite!

These words of Jesus do not forbid public prayer, by the way. That would contradict many other passages of scripture. In fact, Jesus himself would be in violation of this principle if what he meant to say was, never pray in public, but only in private. His point, rather, is to warn us against pray in order to be seen by others. Also, he is reminding us that the purpose of prayer is communion with the living God, not showmanship. So go and commune with the God who sees all, even the secret intentions of the heart. We really have no business praying in pubic if we do not first labor in prayer in private. Do not be hypocritical in prayer, desiring people to see you as one thing, when really you are another.

Also, we are not to be like the Gentiles when we pray. Jesus characterizes the prayers of Gentiles (here we are to think, not of non-Jews, but of heathens – Godless people) as a heaping up empty phrases. We are to imagine heathens crying out to their gods as if they could manipulate the gods through their loud babblings and repetitions.

The scene that comes to my mind is the one from1Kings 18 where the prophet Elijah found himself in a contest of sorts with the 450 prophets of Baal. Do you remember the scene? Wood was piled up, an offering was laid upon it, and each side was to call upon God. The true God would answer by sending fire to consume the alter and the sacrifice. I will not tell the story in full here. I only wish to point out the way that the two sides prayed.

The prophets of Baal spent all day hopping around the alter, franticly crying out to their god, who is no god at all, even cutting themselves thinking that this would compel Baal to act. Nothing happened.

But how did the prophet of the one true God pray? After having water poured over the alter three times,

“Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.’” (1 Kings 18:36–39, ESV)

Notice how the way of Elijah’s prayer was different from the way of the prophets of Baal. He was direct, composed, and collected – rather dispassionate. Why? Because he was the prophet of the one true God who sees and hears and act according to his will. There’s no need for hysteria with our God. There’s no sense in trying to manipulate him, for he is the unchanging God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Notice also how similar Elijah’s prayer was to the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, which we will come to in a moment.

Unfortunately the prayers of many Christians today resemble the prayers of the prophets of Baal more than the prayers of Elijah. Many think that if their are to be heard they must pray with, so called, passion – with intense emotion, much repetition, and even tears. Some think that if they are really to be heard by God they must speak in an unknown tongue. But Elijah’s prayer was plain. And the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray was plain too.

Friends, we do not naturally pray well. We must learn to pray.

Pray Then Like This

And where should we go to learn to pray?

Well, “the whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer, but the special rule of direction is that prayer, which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lord’s Prayer.” (Baptist Catechism 106).

The whole word of God directs our prayers in that the whole word of God informs us about who God is, who we are, how we are to relate to God, and what his plans and purposes are for this world. Your prayers will be misdirected unless you know these basic truths from the whole of scripture. In that sense, the whole of the Bible informs and directs our prayers.

But more specifically, Christ taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer, which is,

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”
And the traditional ending is, “For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen.”
(Matthew 6:5–14, ESV)

It is good to memorize this prayer, friends. Not so that we might mindlessly repeat it. And not so that we might only repeat it. No, we should memorize the Lord’s prayer so that when we recite it, we can recite it thoughtfully. And more than that, so that we might use it as a guide to our prayers.

What Christ has given us are categories for prayer. He has given us direction. He has provided us with tracks to run on so that we might pray in a way that is focused, for things pleasing to the Father, and for things good for us and for others.

Friends, prayer is such a fundamental part of the Christian life. And how important it is to learn the fundamentals well! When you learn to read and write you begin by learning the alphabet. When you learn to play golf you start by learning to hold the club. Things are wooden and robotic at first. But over time they become more natural to us so that we read and write and play without thinking much about the fundamentals. So it is with prayer. We must learn the fundamentals of this fundamental thing called prayer.

Our catechism concludes was a section on the Lord’s Prayer. Questions 105 – 114 walk us through it. Why? Because prayer is fundamental to the Christian religion. We must learn to pray well. And we must teach our children and those new in the Lord to pray well. Do you want to learn how to pray? Go to the Lord’s prayer. And do you want some good teaching on the Lord’s prayer? I would highly recommend that you go to our catechism.

The Lord’s prayer consists of seven parts and a conclusion, which is probably traditional, and not a part of the original scripture text, being based upon 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. Let’s walk through the parts together.

Our Father In Heaven

The first part of the Lord’s Prayer is the preface, or introduction.

And “what [does] the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us? The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, ‘Our Father in heaven,’ [teaches] us to draw near to God, with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us, and that we should pray with and for others.’” (Baptist Catechism 107)

When we pray, “Our Father in heaven”, we ought to be reminded of these precious truths:

You, through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the only begotten Son of God, have been invited to draw near to God in prayer. We are to come to him, therefore, in Jesus’ name, not in our own. We do not come to God by our own merits, but by the merits of Christ alone. He has made sons and daughters so that we can draw near.

When we do come , we should come “with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father.” Confidence? Yes! But also reverence. Reverence? Yes! But also confidence. This is how we approach our earthly Fathers (or should). And this is how we are to approach our heavenly Father.

We should also remember that that God is “able and ready to help us”. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11, ESV) That is the idea.

We are also reminded by the preface that “we should pray with and for others.” How so? Notice the use of the plural in the Lord’s prayer. It is to “our Father” that we are to pray; And little later, “give us this day…”; and after that “forgive us our debts…”; and finally, “lead us not into temptation”. Learn to pray using the plural pronoun, friends, so that when you pray, you pray, not only for yourselves, but for others to.

Here is what I am proposing, brothers and sisters. When you sit down to pray, do not simply say, “our Father in heaven”, but spend time praying from the heart (now that it has been directed by the Word and Spirit) according to the category introduced by the summery words of Christ, “our Father in heaven.”

Perhaps we would pray something like this, then: “Father in heaven, you are immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute. You work all things according to the counsel of your immutable and most righteous will for your own glory. Who am I to come before you? I come to you, not because I am worthy in and of myself, but by the merits of Christ alone. It is by his obedience that I come. It is by his shed blood that I approach. By nature I am no son of yours, but through Christ – through faith him – you have made us to be sons and daughters. Oh, how amazing is the grace that you have shown to us! Truly you are most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth. You forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin. Thank you, Father, for the adoption as sons. Thank you for all of the privileges and benefits associate with that. Thank you for Jesus Christ. I come in his name. Help me to pray well, Father. Guide me by your Word and Spirit that I might pray well, for myself and others.

Or, maybe we could pray like this: Daddy in heaven. Thank you for forgiving my sins. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for making us your children. Help me to pray for myself and others, Lord.

Would not both prayers be precious in the sight of God, provided they be prayed by faith and with pure motives?

The point is this: The Lord’s Prayer provides categories for us. It gives us direction. It sets our minds on a particular track. And once on that track we are free to pray, being informed by the whole of God’s word and led by the Spirit, for things dear to us.

This is true of every petition. Let’s very quickly walk through each petition. I will not take time to elaborate on them as I have with the preface. One, we do not have the time. Two, I hope that you learn from the Pray Guide that we provide each week on The City. And three, I hope that you come to our monthly prayer service where we will labor in prayer together, and also learn to pray.

Hallowed Be Your Name

After the preface there are six petitions.

And “what do we pray for in the first petition? In the first petition, which is ‘Hallowed be [your] name,’ we pray that God would enable us and others to glorify Him in all [things], and that He would [us] all things [for] His own glory.” (Baptist Catechism 108)

Notice that this is the first petition.

Your Kingdom Come

And “what do we pray for in the second petition? In the second petition, which is ‘[Your] kingdom come,’ we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed, and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced; ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it, and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.” (Baptist Catechism 109)

Your Will Be Done On Earth As It Is In Heaven

“What do we pray for in the third petition? In the third petition, which is, ‘[Your] will be done in earth as it is in heaven,’ we pray that God by His grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to His will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.” (Baptist Catechism 110)

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

What do we pray for in the fourth petition? In the fourth petition, which is, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ we pray that of God’s free gift, we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life and enjoy His blessing with them.” (Baptist Catechism 111)

And Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors

“What do we pray for in the fifth petition? In the fifth petition, which is, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” we pray that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are rather encouraged to ask, because by His grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.” (Baptist Catechism 112)

And Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil

“What do we pray for in the sixth petition? In the sixth petition, which is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.” (Baptist Catechism 113)

For Yours Is The Kingdom, And The Power, And The Glory, Forever, Amen

“What [does] the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer teach us? The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, ‘For [yours] is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen,’ [teaches] us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise Him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to Him; and in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.”

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