The Jews of Jesus’ day had developed a religious system they thought would get them into the Kingdom. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus said their theology missed the mark. In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus is addressing their religious activities. They were seeking the praise of men over the praise of God.
In Matthew chapter 6 He addresses the matter of alms giving, prayer, and fasting. In no uncertain words Jesus tells the scribes, the Pharisees, and the people, your giving is not proper, your praying is not proper and your fasting is not proper. In His discussion of their alms giving, praying, and fasting, the greater emphasis is placed on praying because it is more important.
Giving is important, but you are going to give properly only when you give out of constant communion with God, only when you are responding to God, only when your heart is filled with gratitude, only when you are giving out of the living vitality of a personal communion with God. In addition, fasting is meaningless apart from prayer. So the concept of prayer then is very basic to all giving and all fasting, and that’s why when the Lord picks out three areas of religious life, praying, giving, and fasting He emphasizes the importance of prayer.
Priority to Prayer
The Jews had given a priority to prayer, but in the process of time, they had abandoned the purity of genuine prayer for the routine and the ritual of their religious exercises. They had their little formulas, their set prayers that they prayed at set times and all of this had supplanted by Jesus’ day the reality of genuine prayer.
The Jews believed that they had an obligation to pray. Praying played a major role in their lives. They continually came to God, because they believed God wanted them to come to Him. They did not come to God as pagans do in fear and trembling, they did not come to God panicking; they came because they really believed God wanted them to come.
The Jewish teachers taught that prayer should be constant. They were trying to teach the people to avoid praying only when you get desperate. Like the people who think it is a parachute, you are glad it is there and hope you never have to use it. They wanted people to pray all the time. Therefore, the Jews are saying prayer is not some kind of an emergency appeal. Prayer is an unbroken conversation built around a living, loving fellowship with God. They were right. They had the right perspective, it was communion, fellowship, unbroken, prayer was to a God who really wanted to hear them, who really cared and whose mind was uncluttered by the multitude of prayers. They also believed that their prayers should include love and praise. That when you go to God there ought to be a sense of His worthiness and a loving adoration and praise, and they got this out of Psalm 34:2.
The Jews believed prayer should include gratitude or thanksgiving, and include a sense of God’s holiness, a sense of awe, and a sense of reverence. They did not rush into the presence of God flippantly; they went very reverently, they realized that when they entered into prayer they came face to face with God. Fourthly, the Jews felt that in their prayers there should be a desire to obey God that you do not pray unless your heart is right. You do not go to God in some ritualistic form, in some superficial shallow approach where you really were not committed to respond to that communion with obedience. In addition, the Jews included confessing of sin in their prayers because they knew that they were unclean, as David so many times had to get his sins straightened out before he could ever get into God’s presence.
The Jews believed that the prayer of the righteous would turn the heart of God. They claimed the prayer of a pure heart overturns the wrath of God. They believed that you could literally turn wrath into mercy with a pure heart. Therefore, confession of sin was part of their prayer. Further, they believed that prayer [praying] was to be unselfish. The Jews had a sense of community that we do not really understand, they had a sense of the national, they were a theocracy ruled by God, and the nation was essential. The fact that Israel still exists as a nation and that there are still pure Jewish people today shows you how vitally they have clung to the preservation of that national identity.
What is the one thing you pray for when you go on vacation, good weather? Lord, I am going on vacation, do not let it rain, or snow or whatever, and just give us good weather. In Jesus’ day, most traveling was done on foot, and when a man would go on a trip, the traveler would pray for good weather, accommodating skies, an easy journey. The rabbis said, Lord don’t hear that prayer, because that is one man on one trip, he may be praying for a fair day and everybody in that part of the world knows their crops need rain. Lord, do something for the majority.
Because most of us come to the Lord with a whole lot of personal pronouns, I, I, I, me, me, me, my, my, my. We pray, Lord do this for me. Lord, I have to have this, Lord, my needs are such, Lord, I am having this problem, and we tend to forget God has a master plan for His Kingdom and sometimes we have to sacrifice what in our own minds seem best for us because God has a greater plan.
We have developed self centeredness in prayer even in the church that is unbiblical. What is needed in most churches today is the people learn to pray in an unselfish manner. They need to learn to pray the disciple’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). In the disciples prayer there are no personal pronouns.
The Disciple’s Prayer is a model for every prayer you ever pray. What Jesus is giving here is a prayer outline, and we have to develop it into a meaningful expression in different situations. This prayer shows the purpose in prayer, number one, to hallow the name of God, number two, to bring in His Kingdom, number three, to do His will.
Everything in this prayer seeks to glorify God, seeks to lift up His name, seeks to exalt His holiness, and that is the purpose of all prayer, if you think prayer is for you, you have missed the point. We miss the purpose of prayer when we our praying for ourselves and do not take into account the whole community of faith and we do not take into account the whole will of God and the perimeters of His own Kingdom.
Someone said, “Every possible desire of the praying heart is contained in this prayer, it contains a whole world of spiritual requirements, it combines in simple language every divine promise, every human sorrow and want, and every Christian longing for the good of others.”
Focus on God
In addition, the Disciples’ Prayer focuses on God. In John 14 Jesus said, “Ask anything in my name, and I will do it, in order that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The reason you pray and the reason God answers is to reveal Himself and His glory. When you pray for someone who is not saved and they come to Jesus Christ it is not for your sake He did it, it is to show you the power of salvation.
When you have a physical need and God meets that need it is not so you can have what you want it is so that you will know that God meets needs. His glory is the issue. So when you pray, remember, you are not informing God He already knows everything. You are not forcing God. You are not badgering God, you are not irritating Him, you are not conning Him, what you are doing is submitting to His sovereignty, and that is the affirmation of the Disciple’s Prayer. That is why we want to examine it. It begins with, “Our Father, who is in heaven” and ends with “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”
Lord, teach us to pray.