Pastor David B. Curtis


The Worship of Prayer

Matthew 6:5-8

Delivered 12/08/2002

In Matthew 6, Jesus focuses attention on a very basic matter - worship. In this section he contrasts true worship with hypocrisy. Beginning with chapter 6 Jesus contrasts what He expected of His disciples with what the scribes and Pharisees were practicing:

Matthew 6:1 (NASB) "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

This is a general statement about practicing righteousness. In the following verses, Jesus develops the concept of worship in three areas; giving, prayer, and fasting.

Please notice that this is a warning! The warning is about worship. The very things that we do to worship God - giving, prayer, fasting - can turn out to be nothing but hypocrisy if our attitude is not right. If it is not done for God's glory and His glory alone, it is not worship, it is hypocrisy.

Last week we looked at the worship of giving, this week we will look at the worship of prayer. Do you understand prayer to be worship? Worship is honor and adoration directed to God. When we pray, we are acknowledging God as God. We are thanking Him for all he has given us, and we are requesting of Him all our needs.

How many of you understand binary numbers and how they are used to make a computer work? How many of you use a computer? You mean to tell me that you use a computer even though you don't understand how it works?

How many of you understand how prayer can work when God is sovereign? How many of you pray? We can't change God's purposes, and if our prayers could shape God's policy, then the Most High would be subordinate to the will of man, and that is a terrifying thought. We know that we are commanded to pray, but because we don't understand how prayer can work when God is sovereign, we disobey His command to pray.

We don't have to know how a computer works to use it. And we don't have to understand how prayer works to pray. All we need to know is that God commands us to pray. How many of you have ever had an answer to prayer? Do you believe that God answers prayer? Sure you do. Since we believe that God answers prayer, why don't we pray more?

Matthew 6:5 (NKJV) "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

This is the first recorded utterance of Christ on the subject of prayer, and it is interesting to note that it opens with a warning against hypocrisy in the performance of this duty.

Notice that Jesus says, "when" you pray, not "if" you pray. Obviously, prayer is something that He expected every believer to be engaged in. And, like giving, prayer can be offered with a pure motive and also can be offered with a mixed motive. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is teaching the right spirit of prayer. What is the right spirit of prayer? Anybody want to guess? God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humility is the right spirit of prayer!

Our text contrasts the power of true prayer with the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees to teach the right spirit of prayer. The Lord is going to teach us the true spirit of prayer by giving us two opposites. He sets before us the spirit of hypocrisy to contrast the spirit of humility.

Struggling against hypocrisy is something that you and I have to understand, because the struggle against hypocrisy comes into the life of every one of God's children. It isn't that the scribes and Pharisees are over here and the Christians are over there. That is not what this is teaching. It is teaching about the Pharisee that is in our own heart; that spiritual struggle that comes within our soul

We are not to be as the hypocrites who love to pray in the synagogues or on the street corner so men can see them. Now follow this, their motive is to be seen of men.

Jesus showed us in Luke 18 the contrast between the prayer of the Pharisee and the publican:

Luke 18:11-13 (NKJV) "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'

Notice the posture of the heart in those prayers. Jesus used the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican to show us what our motive should be. The posture of the heart is the important element. What was the posture of the Pharisee's heart as he stood and prayed with himself? His heart was raised up with pride. "God, I thank You that I am not like other men...or even as this tax collector". This wasn't a real thankfulness, it was spiritual arrogance! He was saying, "I'm so spiritual, and that tax collector is such a loser. I'm so righteous, and other men are such sinners."

Now contrast the posture of the Pharisee's heart with that of the publican when he prayed. He sees himself as needy and cries out for mercy. See the differences in spirit and motive? This is humility before God. The publican, not the Pharisee, went to his house justified because the posture of his heart was brokenness of spirit; his prayer was in submission to God.

This verse is not teaching us that it is wrong to pray in public. It is not wrong to pray on the street corner; it is not wrong to pray in a public meeting. But it is wrong to pray anywhere if your goal is to be seen by men to impress them. The scribes and Pharisees loved to pray in public places because that was where men would notice them. They wanted people to say, "Wow, what a beautiful prayer!" They wanted people to regard their prayers as long and lovely. Such would surely indicate a good relationship with God. But the problem was that their whole intention in praying was to convince people of this. If you work on it, you can pray long and lovely. People will think it's beautiful. But it does not mean God is listening. Christians sometimes fall into this pattern.

The Lord Jesus tells us to take heed of a pretense of religiously serving God with a hypocritical motive of self-exaltation. Those who are strangers to this struggle against the ugly monster "I" have a problem. They are still spiritually infants, because they cannot see the leprosy of sin in their own heart. This spiritual struggle is going on in the heart of every one of God's people. We must struggle against, pray about, and act against that spirit of self-exaltation.

Pharisees and hypocrites did not only live in the time of Jesus. If we have ever learned to know our own hearts, we will realize that the same spirit of the Pharisee and hypocrite is as alive and well in the hearts of men today as it was in the time of Jesus. Whether or not that spirit is alive and well is not the important question. The question is: Is there a struggle in our hearts against that spirit of hypocrisy?

Believer, no matter how much you love God and grow in His grace, we always have the battle within us of self-glorification. Look at Moses for example. Moses was the meekest of all men. Moses was so meek, he was able to talk to God face to face. However, his sin at the waters of Meribah show his desire for self-glorification.

Moses fell under the power of self and did not sanctify the Lord, but he exalted himself. How?

Numbers 20:10 (NKJV) And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?"

Moses said, "...must WE bring water for you...." Do you see that sin of self-exaltation?

Numbers 20:12 (NKJV) Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."

The Lord did not allow Moses to enter the promised land because he did not sanctify the Lord at the waters of Meribah. Moses took the glory for getting water out of that rock. We must be aware of the treachery of that sin of pride that dwells within us. What a craving there is in the human heart to have a little glory for ourselves. It is so strong that even as we worship God, we try to exalt ourselves.

The Lord Jesus, who knows the heart, said in our text about seeking the praise of men: "Verily I say unto you, They have their reward," the actor's reward. It is the reward of praise from men for putting on an act. Such a reward is the shallow, flighty applause of men. It has no spiritual or eternal value. The value ends when the praise of men ends:

Matthew 6:6 (NKJV) "But you, when you pray, go into your room, 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.

Is this to be taken literally? No! And we can see that by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Our text teaches personal and private prayer. "But you, when you pray, go into your room..." is not condemning public prayer. We know this because the early church prayed together; to see this, let's go to the book of Acts and just walk through it together and see for ourselves.

After Jesus had ascended to heaven, the 11 apostles gathered to pray:

Acts 1:14 (NKJV) These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

There were about 120 in all, and they prayed together for about ten days.

After Peter's sermon at Pentecost, and the conversion of 3,000 people, Luke describes their life together like this:

Acts 2:42 (NKJV) And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Peter and John were arrested for teaching in the Temple about Jesus. They kept them over night, threatened them, and then let them go. They went to their friends who were praying together. Acts 4:24-30 records the prayer that went up from the group - a prayer that magnifies the sovereignty of God and glories in his power.

Herod was holding Peter in prison after killing James, the Lord's brother. The response of the church was to get together to pray:

Acts 12:5 (NKJV) Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

In Acts 13:2-3, we learn that in Antioch some teachers and prophets were together worshiping and fasting, and the Lord spoke to them that Barnabas and Saul should be set aside as frontier missionaries. So they prayed and fasted some more and then laid hands on them and sent them off.

In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas are in prison in Philippi. It is midnight, and they are singing hymns and praying.

At his final departure from Asia, Paul met the elders of the Ephesian church on the beach at Miletus and spoke to them one last time. Then verse 36 describes their final act together:

Acts 20:36 (NKJV) And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.

Jesus is referring to personal, not corporate prayer in Matthew 6:6. We must sort that out so we don't take this verse in a general and legalistic way, taking it out of context.

Read it again to see how personal this message is. "But you, when you pray, go into your room, 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." All the words for "you" and "your" in this verse are singular (unlike English, Greek distinguishes plural and singular "you"). But all the rest of the pronouns in verses 5-15 are plural. Eight times we see a personal pronoun, so we cannot apply this verse to public prayer.

When we pray our personal prayers, Jesus says, "...go into your room..." We get a much richer understanding when we go into the original. The Greek word for room is the same word which is translated in Matthew 24:26 as "secret chamber." It means: "a private place". Now that doesn't mean that you have to build a certain little room with a door on it so you can go in and close the door to have prayer. Any place where your heart is, in private, is acceptable; you can be sitting in a multitude of people, silently meditating with the Lord and be complying with that verse. It isn't a matter of where your body is; it is not the physical posture. The Lord is speaking about the posture of the heart.

The woman of Samaria said in:

John 4:20 (NKJV) "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."

She thought that it had to be either on this mountain or in Jerusalem or some geographical spot. But Jesus answered in:

John 4:21-24 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

In other words, we don't worship Him in Jerusalem; we don't worship Him in that given mountain, or in that given closet, or that given spot. We don't have to come to a certain geographical, physical spot to worship. Jesus says, "No," the location is not the point; we worship in Spirit. Worship is a heart matter; it is a matter where the heart goes out to the Lord.

If we sincerely wish to commune with God and not impress others, what would be a more fitting place than a private one? Why do we close our eyes when we pray? We close our eyes so our hearts are not distracted with anything we see. We are isolated with the Lord. If we are really in prayer, meditating before the Lord, we don't want any distraction.

Our prayer life is our spiritual thermometer with which we can receive an indication of our spiritual health, fervency, and warmth. The true spirit of prayer is when we are the lowest, on our knees. When God is exalted to the highest, and man is abased to the lowest, there is a communication line, speaking with God face to face.

Before we move on, let me point out that we must be careful not to run to the opposite extreme at this point, otherwise we make this verse clash with other passages. On the one hand we must be careful to avoid putting on a show and seeking the praise of men, yet on the other we must be on our guard against intimidation and being unfaithful through the fear of men. Daniel didn't close the windows of his room when praying, even though he knew that he was endangering his life:

Daniel 6:10 (NKJV) Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.

Was Daniel doing this to be seen of men? Not hardly! He was doing what he had always done. He wasn't going to stop praying because ordered to.

Even when in a public place, we shouldn't allow the fear of others to hinder us from bowing our heads and thanking God for our food. We don't do this so men will think we're wonderful, they will probably think we're foolish. We do this as an expression of thanks for the food that God provides.

Notice the end of verse 6, "...your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." This is amazing to me, because we are promised rewards for praying biblically. You may be thinking, "I am not going to pray because of a reward. That does not sound very spiritual." But Christ Himself says that God will reward us when we pray biblically. As we do so, we are submitting ourselves to the Spirit of God and the Word of God. God will then reward us for what the Spirit will accomplish in and through us as we submit to Him, even in prayer.

This is a reward for righteous behavior. Believers, when we live as God has instructed us to live, He rewards us for it, both temporally and eternally.

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

The words "vain repetitions" is from the Greek word battologeo, which comes from the verb legeo (to speak) and the prefix batta. Batta is a figure of speech that in English we call an "onomatopoeia," which is a word that sounds like what it is, buzz, zip, zing, rip. Jesus was literally saying, "When you pray, don't say, 'Batta, batta, batta, the gibberish that the pagans offer to their gods."

That which our Lord here condemned is not our asking again and again for the same thing, but the reducing of the duty and privilege of prayer to a mere lip labor. In Psalm 119, we find David praying, "teach me Thy statutes" no less than seven times. Our Savior, in the garden, repeatedly asked for the removal of the cup, and Paul three times besought the Lord for the departure of his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:8). It is vain repetitions that are prohibited.

The heathen used vain repetitions in their prayers that were more showy than valuable. We see an example of how the heathen used vain repetitions in:

1 Kings 18:26 (NKJV) So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, "O Baal, hear us!" But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.

That was their whole prayer before Baal: "O Baal, hear us, O Baal, hear us." They used that vain repetition from morning until noon. Repetition, repetition! There was no answer. They leaped upon the altar. They put on a show; they put on a scene, and they kept crying, "O Baal, hear us."

We also see the heathen's vain repetitions in their prayers in:

Acts 19:34 (NKJV) But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"

Jesus said not to use vain repetitions as the heathen do. What we say should be said from our heart, and it doesn't have to be repeated, and repeated, and repeated. Don't use vain repetitions!

The commentator, Lenski, writes, "The heathen tried to tire out their gods with such endless prayers. Mere formulas were repeated over and over again; the Jews had such prayer formulas, Catholics also have them in the form of their rosary."

Rosaries are recited with the vain belief there is credit gained by much repetition. There are people who will go over and over their rosaries believing they are gaining credit before the Lord with repetitions. Jesus said, "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do."

Jesus is not saying that all repetition is wrong. He is warning against vain repetitions that are, "Empty of substance; i.e., more showy than valuable." The Lord is not saying we cannot repeat true Godly, self-abasing prayers. Humble, contrite prayers may be a repetition, but they are not vain and empty. The Lord is not tired of hearing them.

The shortest prayers are most often loaded with thanksgiving and requests; they are most often said when the soul is in the deepest travail. Look at Peter's prayer:

Matthew 14:30-31 (NKJV) But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!" 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Peter didn't have time for a big long petition; three words was all he could bring. Our Father sees in secret, and He knows what we need before we ask. Peter's life was in danger. He said a short prayer, but it was pleasing unto the Lord.

Jesus was teaching the contrast between true Godliness in spiritual worship, and the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. The Lord Jesus teaches us to discern the hypocrisy in our heart. This does not mean that any or all long prayers are wrong, but prayer is not to be vain or empty; it is not for the purpose of self-exaltation:

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

Since God knows our need, why ask Him? Just what is the purpose of prayer?

The Purpose of Prayer:

Prayer is a declaration of our dependence upon God. Every time I pray, I am saying, "God I need you!" We ask God's forgiveness because we know we are dependant upon Him to forgive. We thank Him in prayer because we know that what ever we are or have has come from Him. We petition Him because only He can give us what we need. We know that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and prayer is humility in action. It is saying, "God, I can't do this, so I come to you acknowledging my need." Does your prayer life declare that you are dependant upon God for everything?

Abraham Lincoln said, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day."

Fellow Bereans, if we want our church to be effective, if we want God's grace, we need to pray. We need to pray for the spiritual growth of each other, that God would use us in His service:

Jeremiah 33:3 (NKJV) 'Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.'

Do you believe this? If you do, then let's make it a priority to pray for each others' spiritual growth, and that God would us this church for His glory.

The Importance of Prayer:

Why is prayer so important? Prayer is important because what matters most in life cannot be produced by man, but only by God: the new birth, conviction for sin, faith in Christ, forgiveness, a clear conscience, devotion to Jesus, love for the body of Christ, intensity in worship, and boldness in witness. These are the important things in life. These are the essentials. But whether I am healthy, or good looking, or accepted by others, or making lots of money, or having a nice vacation or car or home or clothes - these things are secondary. And they derive their relative importance from how they relate to the essentials.

But none of us, no matter how diligent or smart or good, can produce these essentials by ourselves. I can't make the new birth happen, or give faith, or forgive sin, or make anyone worship Christ, or love the church, or be bold in witness. That is why prayer is so important. Prayer is a cry: We need you, God - to do in us what is really essential! Prayer is an admission that by ourselves we can't make happen the things that matter most.

In Luke 11 a disciple seeing Jesus pray asks this:

Luke 11:1 (NKJV) Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."

"Lord, teach us to pray." Why, of all the things they could have asked Jesus, why did they ask that question? I think it was because they saw the results of prayer in His life. They saw Him pray, and they saw what happened. It's interesting that the disciples watched Jesus preach the greatest sermons ever; they watched Him do miracles, heal the sick, raise the dead, and all kinds of things. But never once did they say, "Lord, teach us to preach", or "Lord, teach us to do miracles", or "Lord, teach us to raise the dead". Instead they said, "Teach us how to pray." They saw that was the life support system of Jesus Christ. They recognized that was the key to His life. There is nothing more vital to your Christian life than prayer.

The Effectiveness of Prayer:

Psalms 50:15 (NKJV) Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
Psalms 91:15 (NKJV) He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.
Jeremiah 29:12 (NKJV) Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

God promises over and over to hear and answer our prayers. Hezekiah was a man of prayer and we see prayer's effectiveness in his life. Hezekiah was the king of Judah (South) just before Israel (North) was taken into Assyrian captivity (700 B.C.):

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 (GWT) Many people from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not made themselves clean. So they ate the Passover, but not in the way the written instructions said they should. Hezekiah prayed for them: "May the good LORD forgive 19 those who have their hearts set on dedicating their lives to serving God. May the LORD God of their ancestors do this for those who are not clean as required for the holy place." 20 The LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people.

Hezekiah prayed for the people, and the Lord heard his prayers and healed the people. Please notice what the Scripture says, "The Lord listened to Hezekiah and healed the people."

When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came against Jerusalem, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer:

2 Chronicles 32:20-22 (NKJV) Now because of this King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, prayed and cried out to heaven. 21 Then the LORD sent an angel who cut down every mighty man of valor, leader, and captain in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned shamefaced to his own land. And when he had gone into the temple of his god, some of his own offspring struck him down with the sword there. 22 Thus the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side.

Believers, prayer is effective - Hezekiah prays to God, and God delivers Judah. Hezekiah's prayers were also effective in his personal life:

2 Chronicles 32:24 (NKJV) In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death, and he prayed to the LORD; and He spoke to him and gave him a sign.

What would you do here? What did Hezekiah do? Did he say, "Well God, is sovereign, and He said I'm going to die, so that's it, I'm dead." No, he did the same thing you would do:

2 Kings 20:2-5 (NKJV) Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3 "Remember now, O LORD, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5 "Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD.

Over and over in the life of Hezekiah, he prayed, and God answered. What we see in the life of Hezekiah is that prayer is effective.

Have you spent time in prayer talking to God today? Think about it - prayer is an opportunity for God's children to talk to Him personally. That is mind-boggling when you think about it. Prayer is perhaps the greatest privilege we can experience. That we, fallen human beings, should be redeemed and privileged to walk into the very presence of God with boldness, as the Book of Hebrews says, and speak to God about whatever is on our minds is beyond our ability to comprehend. We can lay on Him the desires and burdens of our heart and have Him listen with the desire to respond and give us the desires of our heart. That is amazing! Sometimes when I think about this I am dumbfounded that I do not spend every minute of every day in prayer. What a privilege! But notice how this privilege gets warped and ruined. If we are not careful, we start praying to be noticed by men because we want them to think we are spiritual. Then our praying, our very worship, becomes hypocrisy.

Media #260b

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322