Prayer: An Invitation to Intimacy
Topic: Sunday Sermons
A Christian author interviewed ordinary people about the topic of prayer. Is prayer important to you? "Oh, yes." How often do you pray? "Every day," was the common response. Approximately how long do you pray? "Oh, five minutes. Well, maybe seven." Do you find prayer satisfying? "Not really." The author went on to say, "Many of those I talked to experienced prayer more as a burden rather than as a pleasure. They regarded it as important, even paramount, and yet they felt guilty about their failure, blaming themselves." I would venture to say that most of us could identify with the please that the disciples made to Jesus when they said in Luke 11, "Lord, teach us to pray." We can be very grateful that Christ has done exactly that.
If you'll turn in your Bibles to Matthew 6, we're going to begin an extended period of time considering the teaching of Christ on prayer found in Matthew 6, beginning in verse 5 and going down through verse 13, and let me just read that entire passage here this morning as we begin. Our Lord said in verse 5,
5 "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 7 And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. 9 Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'"
Now, there is something that I want to point out to you just by way of introduction as we come to this text. We'll probably spend 3 or 4 weeks teaching out of the text that I just read in the coming few Sundays here, so we're going to spend some time here. That might seem a little bit extensive, perhaps, to you, but I want you to think about it this way. The Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gave covers Matthew 5, 6 and 7. It's a total of approximately 110 verses, depending on how you count and what you include, and Jesus is giving a comprehensive explanation of what the repentant life looks like. In Matthew 4:17 he said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and then what follows is Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7, explaining exactly what that call to repentance looks like and in this great and magnificent sermon, Jesus covers a broad, extensive, comprehensive view of life from beginning to end, you might say. He covers Christian character. He covers our priorities in the world. He covers our relationship to the law of God. He covers our relationships to men, our relationships to God. He covers anxiety, having a judgmental critical spirit. And ends it by calling men to true faith, to enter through the narrow gate that alone leads to life. It's a broad, sweeping, comprehensive sermon that goes to every corner of every aspect of your life.
And do you want to know something that's very fascinating about that in this breadth, in this singularly great sermon recorded for us? In the breadth of this expansive definition of what the repentant life looks like, Jesus spends the most time in that sermon on the topic of prayer. He gives a couple of brief verses, almost seemingly passing, by comparison to the issue of divorce which consumes a lot of people's time when they study the Sermon on the Mount, but for us as those who simply want to be faithful, devoted disciples of Christ, we take note of the fact that he devotes more attention to prayer in this sermon than to any other topic that he teaches on here.
That tells us something. That tells us this must be important. This must be really significant to living the life of a disciple of Christ. And when you consider what he says and what all of Scripture says about prayer, you realize that ultimately this is an invitation to intimacy with God. It is a commanded intimacy. It is an invited intimacy. It is an invitation to intimacy. It is a command to intimacy. It is a call of God that this is to be a central feature of life and yet isn't it true, by our own sad experience, that the lofty things of which Scripture speaks seem distant often from our own experience of it. Our prayers are often meager. Our prayers are often superficial. They are often passing while we're on the way to do something else. So somehow our experience of prayer is not matching up and lining up with what Christ teaches us about prayer throughout all of Scripture.
Now, I need to ask you to do something for me as you listen to me over the next 45 minutes or so. I really need you not to assume that you know what I'm going to say because you don't You really don't know what I'm going to say. And I have to preface it that way because I know, you know, I've been in pews when men, well-intentioned men, have taught on prayer and I know what the general standard is and generally what is usually said. You're given ideas about prayer lists and about being very committed in your time and you need to try harder to pray more, and you just end up walking out with this weight of unfulfilled expectation and not only do I fall short, I've got to try harder in order to fix it. Well, I have a way of expressing things on that. I like to state my assumptions so you know where I'm coming from. My working assumption here is that we're all falling pretty far short in prayer, what it needs to be and what it ought to be, and even what we would want it to be. That's my working assumption, that we fall short of that.
Now, here's the way that I think about that and I think that this is supported biblically, although I'm going to use a current illustration to make my point. Suppose that you went to a restaurant and you were served a really bad meal and the food was rather rancid, it was not pleasing in its appearance, and it was not nutritious or anything like that. It was not fit for human consumption, suppose it was like that and you complained to the manager and the manager says, "Here, I know what I'll do to fix this for you. I'll give you more." You'd say, "No! No! No! That's not the point. This was never fit to eat to begin with. It's not going to help by giving me more. The whole quality of your meal needs to be delivered differently."
You see, that's the way that I think about Christian prayer as most of us know it here in the 21st century, anyway. Your temptation, your first thought when the topic of prayer comes up is to say, "Oh, I need to pray more, then. I need to devote myself more. I need to get up earlier. I need to be more structured and more regimented and I need a longer prayer list and all of that." Don't you see that if you've been praying wrongly for a long period of time, don't you see that it's not going to help to do more of the same thing? That it's not going to fix the problem to do something badly more often and for longer periods of time? We need to step back and completely rethink the whole way that we approach the matter of prayer and that's what we're going to do over these coming weeks. Today is going to be a bit of an introduction to it, to just kind of start to stimulate your thinking, but what I want you to know and understand is that nowhere in this message is there going to be a call for you to try harder at what you're already feeling weak at, it's not going to lay a sense of demand upon you that you need to do more than what you're already doing, we need to approach this from a completely different perspective and that's what we're going to do here this morning and this will set the stage for us to more profitably receive what Christ has to teach us in this passage in the weeks to come. So today there is an invitation to intimacy with your God in prayer, but we're going to approach it differently than what you, perhaps, have heard it taught in the past.
Let's start it this way, let's start with our first point this morning and just consider the biblical invitation to prayer. The biblical invitation to prayer. I use the word "invitation" because it is an opportunity. That's not to lessen or diminish the fact that God commands us to pray but when God commands us to pray, he commands that for our good, right? When God commands things, he's commanding that which would be good for us and so we approach this with a sense of expectation as we come. And we can just say this: God wants you to pray and God intends to bless you in it, and to the extent that your experience of prayer is reflected in that which was the subject of the Christian author that I read earlier, you know, five minutes, seven minutes, really not very satisfying and I feel guilty about it, let's just take all of that and just kind of put it in the dumpster, realize that there's not much value in that and start over and to come to Scripture with fresh eyes to see what it says, that perhaps we might find going forward a better experience of prayer than what we have known in the past.
So the invitation to prayer and all I want to point out to you here in this section, I'm just going to read with Scripture citations the vast number of places in the New Testament that call us to pray. It's easy sometimes to forget and to overlook the broad biblical mandate to prayer. So, for example, in Romans 12:12, Scripture says, be "devoted to prayer." In Ephesians 6:18, it says, "with all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit." In Philippians 4:6, it says, "be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God." In Colossians 4:2, it says, "devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving." In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, it says, "pray without ceasing." In 1 Timothy 2:8, the Apostle Paul said, "I want the men in every place to pray." In Hebrews 13:18, it says, "pray for us." And in James 5:16, it says, "pray for one another."
Now, those are just illustrations, those are just passing examples, and in that brief period of time we covered eight different New Testament epistles addressing the matter of prayer and finding that it's using words like "all" and "at all times" and "pray without ceasing." Scripture calls us to be men and women of prayer, as those who are following Christ. So this is just a little bit of a refresher of the fact, reminding us of where the biblical focus is, that prayer is to be central to the Christian approach to life. And so we should rightly ask ourselves, we should step back and say, "Does it have that role in my life? Does it have that place of pre-eminence in my life?" And I would venture to say that the answer for most of us is, no, it doesn't. Not in a central defining way of defining life. And so we realize that there is some kind of disconnect. Perhaps it's related to the general prosperity in which we live. We're driven to prayer in times of dependence, right? And when we live in a society of prosperity and self-sufficiency, that kind of drives out the whole spirit of prayer that is needed for it.
Let's assume something else here as we think about the way that we typically approach prayer. I'm making a lot of assumptions here. I acknowledge that. Just kind of mechanically going through prayer, just kind of going through a prayer list or just kind of not really being engaged, doing it because you feel like you're supposed to but not having it be something that really becomes the joy of your life. You know, what's the disconnect? If that is, in fact, your experience, you would say the last thing, if you were honest and I'm just trying to be honest here. I think honesty is important, don't you? I'm just trying to be honest and I realize that I'm not speaking for everyone in everything that I say here, speaking to what I suspect is the majority of us. Why would you have any interest in devoting yourself to that which is mechanical and rather lifeless if that is, in fact, your experience of prayer? Why would you do that? There is nothing attractive about that. There is nothing that's inviting about that. Why would I want more of what, the truth of the matter, isn't that significant to me? I do it but I don't find joy and satisfaction and power in it. Why would you do that, then?
Well, look, let's make an assumption together here. Let's just assume one thing together as we consider the biblical teaching on prayer. Let's assume that God is good and that God, likewise, has no interest in mechanical repetitions of prayer. Let's assume that. In fact, we don't have to assume it. Look at chapter 6, verse 7 of Matthew. I'm assuming your finger is still there. God doesn't want that meaningless, rote prayer anymore than you want to do it. We're wasting everybody's time if that's our approach. Jesus said in Matthew 6:7, "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." Apparently when we fall into this mechanical, rote trap of things, God's not interested in that either. Apparently, then, you see the whole point here is trying to come to grips with what exactly is prayer, what exactly is it that God is calling us to, and the whole point here is that to the extent that your experience of prayer is superficial, shallow, mechanical and not very meaningful to you, is to understand that that is not biblical prayer, and that when Scripture calls you to prayer, it's not calling you to more of that, there is a whole different quality that God has in mind.
Let's assume that God is intelligent, let's assume that God is personal, let's assume that God is wise and God is involved and that, therefore, he intends for this experience of prayer, this practice of prayer in your Christian life, let's assume that he intends for it to be meaningful; that there is to be substance to it; and that the problem, to the extent that that's not your experience of prayer, the problem is not what prayer is and what God intends it to be, but rather somewhere along the line, perhaps in prior teaching and prior religious experience, perhaps for a lack of true biblical instruction, you've never known what it was supposed to be like, perhaps you've never been with people who truly prayed and you're just kind of on an island and you've never known what true prayer was like. You see, the whole point here, and just to tell you what I feel like I'm fighting against, not against you, we're all on the same side, I'm on your side; what we're trying to deal with here are concepts and ideas and philosophies and approaches. It's nothing personal to anyone but an approach that makes prayer something mechanical and meaningless, that's what we're fighting against. So we have to realize if our prayer is going to be meaningful, that this mechanical thing has to be set aside. We have to recognize it for what it is and reject it and say, "That is not it." Now, you may not know what's supposed to be in its place, that's okay, but just say, "That can't be it because the character of God and the teaching of Scripture forbids that it would be what I've known it to be in the past." That's the idea. The Bible calls us to be men and women of prayer and we're going to make the assumption that God intends for that to have meaning; that that is to be something of substance to us spiritually.
Now, with that assumption, we see the biblical invitation to prayer, multiplied references to it, multiplied calls, multiplied commands recognizing it can't be this way, and the whole point is that now we're intrigued. Now we're intrigued. Now we're not being called to just do more of that which we really don't like anyway, that which seems irksome to us. It's not that. Now we say, "Okay, let me approach it with a fresh mind. Let me come to Scripture and have it teach me. Let me see what it's supposed to be like and maybe my heart will aspire after that in a way that the false things did not appeal to me." Well, let's come to our second point here this morning: the example of prayer. The example of prayer, and Scripture gives us multiplied examples as we pray in response to this invitation to prayer. You can look at it from the perspective of Jesus, you can look at it from the perspective of the early church.
Let's think for a moment about Jesus in prayer. In Matthew 14, it says Jesus "went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone." In Mark 1:35, it says, "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there." Turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of Luke 5. Luke emphasizes the prayer life of Jesus extensively in its narrative and we'll look at a few of these passages together. Luke 5 in verse 15, it says "the news about [Jesus] was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray." Look across your page to Luke 6:12, "It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God." In Luke 9:28, "Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray." And in Luke 23, on the cross you find Christ praying. Luke 23:33. We're just kind of getting some biblical texts out on the table for us to inform our thinking. In Luke 23:33, "they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying," what was he saying? He was praying. "'Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.'" And in verse 46 of chapter 23 of Luke, "Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.' Having said this, He breathed His last."
Now, Jesus in prayer is something that's kind of beyond my ability to comprehend. The Son of God praying to his Father, you might say what does Jesus have to pray about? He's Incarnate God. He is sinless. And yet he prays? How are we to understand this desire for communion that he has with his Father? And the question is often asked and well stated that if Christ himself prayed, how much more must we need to pray? How much more should that be a priority for us? And as you study the life of Christ in prayer, what you find is he's praying in the morning, he's praying in the evening. He prays long prayers and he prays short prayers. He prays with others, he prays alone. He prays in joy, he prays in sorrow. He prays when people are sinning against him, he prays at the moment of his passing and says, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." If Christ prayed, how much more then us?
Extend that out and you consider the early church in prayer. The early church in prayer. The first Christians that Scripture records followed our Lord's example. Look at Acts 2 with me. All of this is leading up to a greater point. Acts 2:42, we'll start in 41, "So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." You can consider the example of the Apostle Paul when he was under affliction. He said, "I implored the Lord three times that it might leave Me," 2 Corinthians 12:8. His report of his own prayer life as he considered the lost souls of his fellow Jews, he said, "Brethren, My prayer to God for them is for their salvation."
And he gives instruction to believers. Look at Ephesians 1 where in verse 15 he says, "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers." Then he goes on and he gives the content of his prayer and we begin to see the depth and the meaningfulness of the prayers. Not simply, "God bless the missionaries. God bless all the animals." Not these general, uninformed, generic prayers. Paul prayed like this in verse 17. What is his prayer? "My prayer is that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe." He said, "My prayer for you is that you would understand the glory and the power of God, that he would open your eyes and that it would transform your heart into a heart of worship. That's my prayer for you," Paul said as he wrote that epistle.
Over in Colossians 1, you don't need to turn there, but it's a parallel passage, and Paul said, "For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."
If Christ prayed, if the early church prayed, if the Apostle Paul prayed, don't you see, beloved, that as a Christian here in the 21st century, that prayer is somehow supposed to have an elevated place in your affections? An elevated place in your desires? An elevated place in the way that you approach life? Don't you see that?
Now, if you're like me when you see this, you see the long list, the frequent biblical commands and invitations to pray, you see the high example of Christ himself praying, you see Paul praying, you see the early church praying, and praying with content and with meaning, Christ on the cross saying, "God, these people are sinning against me. I pray that you would forgive them." You see Paul with the best interest of his readers in mind and he prays for them lofty exalted prayers that they would know God, know his power and be transformed thereby, to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. You see all of that and if you're like me, you feel convicted and you just say, "God, I haven't prayed like I should. God, truth be known, I've never prayed like that." And you say, "It grieves me and you're worth so much more and I see how far short I fall."
Like I say, beloved, I'm not critical of anyone when I say this, I'm just assuming that I've described most of you because it just seems to be the general tenor of Christianity in America. And so we're all in the same boat. We're on the same side here. We're convicted by this. We realize that we fall short. We say our lives are so busy and we get all of that, we get all of that, but it is right exactly here, it is right exactly at this point of conviction that we must do our most careful thinking and not just react emotionally to the moment under the teaching of the word of God, say, "Oh, I fall short. Now I feel bad and here's what I'm gonna do." Let's not go there. That's not helpful. That's not even useful to think that way. The temptation is, "Oh, then therefore I have to pray more. I have to get up earlier. I've got to try harder." Right? That's the way we've been taught to think. That's the way we've been taught about prayer. Here's the standard, you fall short, try harder. You say, "Okay, I'll try harder." And you know what the outcome of that is, don't you? Haven't you all experienced at one time or another, "I'm gonna try harder," and it goes okay for a couple three, four days, maybe five if you were really motivated, and pretty soon you're circling back down the drain again and life comes back and you realize you haven't made that much progress after all.
Here's the point, the whole point of today's message, the whole point is that that response that says, "Therefore I must pray more, therefore I must get up earlier," that response is exactly wrong. That is exactly the wrong way to think. That is exactly mistaken. Beloved, whatever you do, don't respond like that. "Do you mean to tell me a Christian pastor just said that? Do you mean to tell me that? I'm thinking I need to pray more and you say don't do that? How could that possibly be right? This man is insane!" No. No. It's not insanity, it just comes back to what we've said before: why would you do more of what's already failing? Why would you try harder to do that which is not working? Don't you see that there must be something more fundamental that is amiss? That's where we need to go. That's what we need to do. What we need to do in the coming weeks as we see what Christ is teaching us on prayer, is...
Let's approach it this way. This is a major tangent. Isn't the whole idea of repentance is that you're turning your back on your prior way of life? That repentance is a rejection of sin and a denial of self and an embracing of something new in Christ? And isn't that the core of repentance, isn't there an idea that you need to reject the fundamental way that you think about life in order to submit to a new biblical worldview that would transform your mind and transform your thinking and that your life would flow out of something new that comes from the very core of who you are? Prayer is an aspect of that and I'm convinced, I'm convinced that the Scriptures would teach us that. The fundamental problem with our approach to prayer is not that we're not doing enough of it according to the way that we think about it, but rather that we need to think completely differently about it. We need to start over. We need our mind renewed.
What if the answer to prayer, the issues that you have in your prayer life, what if the answer was not to try harder, but rather that the answer was you need to rethink your entire approach to prayer? You need to fundamentally start over? What if that was the answer to it? I think that it is. I think that it is. You start further back, you step back and say, "What I've been doing isn't working. I'm not motivated to do it. I don't do it." And what you do is shaped by the way that you think. The issues of life flow out of the human heart and when we are dead in prayer, when we are indifferent to it and when it is not a priority to us, it's because somehow we're not thinking rightly about it.
So this takes a little bit more work, it takes a little bit more time, it takes a little bit more spiritual effort, but if we're going to enter into the spirit of prayer as the early church knew it, enter into prayer as the Apostle Paul knew it, enter into prayer as Christ practiced it, to enter into a prayer that actually meaningfully honors all of those biblical calls to prayer, then we need to start further back. We need to ask.... Here it is. Here it is: we need to ask a different question. You need to ask a different question because you want to ask the question, "What do I do? What do I need to do? How much more? How much time would actually please God?" Let's take that thought and run with that for a minute. You realize, right, that you can never pray enough? You realize that, that if you're praying for 30 minutes a day, that's not enough, and if you're praying for two hours a day, that's not enough. If you go down the path that says a good prayer life is measured by how much time you put into it, you can never put in enough time because you don't have enough time in your life to raise up and to honor God as he deserves in prayer. You cannot do that. It can't be about the time element alone that would justify your life in prayer. You could pray 24/7 and never exhaust the glory that needs to be given to God. You could pray 24/7 and never exhaust the intercession that the people of God need. You could pray 24/7 and never adequately confess your sins.
It's not about that. And once you realize that this time element, when you think it all the way through, that it's a dead end, then you come back to the starting point and say, "What am I supposed to think, then? How am I supposed to approach this?" Beloved, here's the opportunity in prayer, this is our third point for this morning, here's the opportunity in prayer: you have got to stop thinking about yourself and you have to remember who God is. This is where it starts. And you say, "But that's so simple and so basic. How could that possibly be right? You spent 40 minutes introducing it to say that?" Beloved, this is exactly the whole problem. We do not think rightly about God. We think that we're giving him something in prayer. We think we're doing something that makes him like us more and if we do it more, he'll like us more. It's just such a totally perverse way to think about God.
What is the opportunity of prayer? Point 3: you need to remember who God is. You need to remember who God is. Beloved, the reason that you struggle in prayer is because you don't know God well enough. The reason that prayer seems irksome to you, the reason that it seems like a burden is because you don't know God like you should and like you can. That's the problem. It's not because you need to try harder. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way that you're thinking about God and the way that you're approaching him, and when you start back there, then you're actually in a position to go somewhere with it.
What better place to start on prayer than in the words of Christ? Let's go back to Matthew 6 and we're about to wrap this up for this morning. I'm just trying to make a simple point. Matthew 6, beginning in verse 5, Jesus says, "When you pray," so he assumes that you're going to pray and he starts with negative instruction and I want you to notice something here. What we did, what we've done here for the first 40 minutes of this message is we have approached it from a negative perspective and said, "Don't do things this way. Don't do it like you've been doing it. Don't do that. It's been negative in that sense and saying, "This is what you don't do." What I want you to see as we come to this passage from our Lord Jesus Christ is that he is approaching it in exactly the same way. You have to stop doing what you're doing if you're ever going to improve, if it's ever going to be what it needs to be.
Christ says, "When you pray," and then he starts with a negative command. He starts with a prohibition. He says, "you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." He clears the deck. He rinses the pallet, so to speak. He cleans off the table. He wipes off the table and says, "Let's get the cruddy stuff out of the way here. Don't do that."
Now in verse 6 he says, here it is, here's the invitation, here's the open door to true prayer. Verse 6 he says, "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." He goes back to the negative, verse 7, "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." You have to recognize that probably in your spiritual experience you have built up bad habits, you have built up wrong thinking, and your prayer is flowing out of that bad thinking and bad practice and that's where the trouble begins. So he says, "Stop that."
The place to start improving your prayer life is not to resolve to pray more. Notice something really crucial. I'm going to say this again in coming weeks. Don't you think that when Christ is going to give foundational teaching on prayer, don't you think that he will tell you what is essential for you to pray well? Right? Can we all agree on that, that Christ out of his love for his people, out of his knowledge of God, out of his knowledge of what is crucial, that he'll tell you what's important to do and important to think about prayer, right? He'll tell us that. Scripture is sufficient and Christ knows what he's doing and so when he teaches us on prayer, we can trust it to be the sufficient guide that we need in order to pray well and to have a meaningful prayer life, right? We can trust him to do that for us, right? We can do that, right? We're just going to lean on what Christ says here in his word rather than draw upon what perhaps well-intentioned teachers have taught us that were outside the four corners of the Bible. This is so fundamental.
Notice that when you read Matthew 6:5-13, you will not find Jesus Christ telling you what time to pray or how long to pray. Somehow that must be pretty secondary, then. If he's giving us what really matters and what is really important, then let's just focus on what he says and start with the recognition that Christ does not set schedules or time frames for prayer. He doesn't say that. He doesn't go there. He says, "When you pray, don't do this but do this," and in that you don't find the chronology that is at the basis of so much modern teaching on prayer. Apparently, we're not to be so concerned about the clock when we're on our knees before God. And so we set an artificial standard, "I'm gonna pray for 15 minutes," we pray for 15 minutes and we think our duty is done, never letting it once cross our mind that 15 minutes was never a standard set in Scripture to begin with.
Spending time by itself will not improve your prayer life if you're not praying rightly. Praying for three hours will not help you if you don't know God. You might as well talk to a wall. So what is it that will improve your prayer life? How is it that you can pray better? I have two words for you: remember God. Remember God. Beloved, remember who it is that you're talking to. Remember who he is. And when you remember who he is and your mind begins to meditate and saturate itself on who God is then, beloved, praying will start to take care of itself. The amount of time that you pray will start to take care of itself. The things that you discuss with God in prayer, will start to take care of themselves. In other words, beloved, what I'm saying is don't make this too complicated. Don't multiply rules and regulations that are left over from bad teaching in the past and try to reproduce those. Don't do that. Just remember who God is. This is what Christ calls us and teaches us and this is his instruction for prayer. Remember God. In other words, call to mind his omniscience.
Look at what Christ does here. He says in verse 6, he says, "when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret." And what's my motivation? How does that help me? "Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." You start by remembering, "Ah, God sees me here. When I approach God in a humble repentant spirit, he sees me. And I don't need two or three to pray to God." I don't need to apply wrongly the idea when there are two or three gathered in my name, there I am in their midst. That's instruction about church discipline. It's not about how you get God to hear your prayer. Jesus here says, "You go and you get alone. You get alone with God and remember that he sees you in secret." You remember who God is and you remember his omniscience and as you do that, you're mindful all of a sudden, "I am actually in the presence of God addressing him as I pray." You remember who God is. He sees in secret.
And there's another aspect of what his omniscience does for you. Look at verse 8. He says, "Don't be like those Gentiles who babble the same meaningless words time and again. You don't need to do that because your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." All of a sudden the whole agenda has been changed. All of a sudden it's not you coming, "God, I need to inform you of what's happening here." All of a sudden all of that goes away. You go and say, "God, you already know what's happening. Let me pour my heart out before you."
Call to mind his omniscience, remember who God is, that he sees in secret, he knows what you need before you ask and all of a sudden you're on a completely different trajectory for prayer. How do you start to pray better? You remember God. You call to mind his omniscience. Beloved, how do you pray better? You remember God, call to mind his goodness. Call to mind his goodness.
Look at verse 6 again. Jesus says, "go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." Isn't that good? Isn't that good of God? That you go off some place where men have no idea what you're doing, you're alone with God and you're praying and you're talking with him and you're pouring out your heart to him, and all the while saturated in an environment that he sees that, that he knows that, and his intention is to reward you and bless you for that time that you spend with him, doesn't that change everything? Rather than saying, "I've got rules here that I've got to keep and I've got a schedule that I've got to meet for God to be satisfied," you step back and you say, "Jesus doesn't talk about any of that stuff." The shackles are gone. You look over and you say, "God is good and God knows and God cares about me and he invites me into this intimacy with him," and all of a sudden your heart says, "I want to be here. I want to be where that place is. I want to be in on that action because God loves his people. He's good to his people and he has appointed prayer as a means of blessing for us. I want that. I know who he is. I know that he sees. I know that he loves me. I know that he's good. God, let me pray now."
Do you see, beloved? I am begging you to see the difference. I am begging you for the sake of your own spiritual good to see the difference between what Christ says about the goodness and omniscience of God to motivate you to prayer as opposed to self-imposed regulations that have no basis in biblical teaching.
I'll give you something else to make you want to pray. You remember God. You remember that he's brought you into his family. You remember the Lord Jesus Christ. You remember that he gave his life, he gave his blood to save you from your sins; that while you were an enemy, Christ loved you and gave himself up for you by name. You see, beloved, you can't turn that into a matter of arithmetic or a matter of setting a clock by it. You can't set your clock at 5 o'clock and get up and say, "This is what I do," and in that spirit of being driven by a clock, driven by a schedule and think that that's going to transform your heart into love for God and love for prayer like dwelling on the shed blood of Christ, the righteousness of Christ applied to your account, that this God knows you, that he loved you and in your sin Christ gave himself that you might be forgiven, that he might make you into a son of God. That will motivate you to prayer because your heart will be drawn to it and no matter how long you make your prayer list, no matter how early you set the alarm, no matter how deep the resolutions of your own heart are, none of that is going to draw you into prayer than remembering who God is, who Christ is, his omniscience, his goodness and the shed blood of Christ for your soul.
If you can start there and say, "That is why I pray, this is why I pray, it's because who God is and that he calls me," then the stage is set for everything else to change. If you don't start there, nothing that I can say will ever help you because we start with God, we start with Christ and it all flows from that. In other words, we start with him and not with ourselves.
Would you like to pray better going forward? Remember God. Remember who he is. The old Bible teacher, R. A. Torrey, said this and I quote. Listen carefully, beloved. Though it was said about 100 years ago, it's just as true today. He said and I quote, "When I realized that prayer was having an audience with God, it transformed my prayer life. Before that, prayer had been a mere duty and sometimes a very irksome duty, but from that time on, prayer has not merely been a duty but one of the most highly esteemed privileges of my life. Before, the thought had been, 'How much time must I spend in prayer?' The thought that now possesses me is this, 'How much time may I spend in prayer without neglecting the other privileges and priorities of life?'"
Beloved, our God invites you to intimacy with him in prayer. The motivation for that is his own blessed character and what Christ has done on the cross for you. The motivation for prayer is that your heavenly Father who loves you, who has appointed life to bring good to you in the end, that he invites you and that in secret he will reward you. We'll see what all this looks like in the weeks to come. I hope you'll be back with us.
Our good God, we bow before you. Our omniscient God, we pray knowing that we need give you no information. Our magnificent Christ, we realize that we enter into the presence of God not on our merits but on yours; that it is your righteousness that entitles us to heaven; it is your righteousness that gives us grounds to approach our God; it is you shed blood that has washed away our sin. God, help us to see. Help my brothers and sisters in Christ here to see that you are already favorably disposed toward us; that you already love us; that your goodness is already going forth to us; and that we're not trying to pray in order to change your reluctance into a willingness to bless us. You're far more willing to bless us, far more willing to hear us, than we are to come.
O God, cleanse our minds from all of the misguided teaching on prayer that we've had in years gone by. Clear our minds and clear our hearts from the resentful grudging spirits with which we have approached you in the past and forgive us for thinking so lowly of your goodness and your love. Forgive us for being more impressed with our schedules than with Christ.
And Father, in the days to come, take all of these things and transform us and change us, that we would see you for who you are; to see you in your glorious perfections; and that as our thoughts of you are elevated and transformed by the clear teaching of Scripture, that our desires for you in prayer to have an audience with a receptive God, to be at the knee, as it were, of a loving Father who delights to bless us and to answer our prayers, to see you rightly, Father, and then to have prayer changed into what you would have it to be.
So take us by the hand, lead us in the coming days and in the coming weeks as we study Jesus' teaching on prayer. Lord, that you would permanently change us, permanently transform the way that we speak to you, and that we would leave all of this other stuff behind. Sanctify us in the truth. Your word is truth and we long for your presence. We long to be with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Triune God who planned, executed and applied redemption to our hearts.
And Father, as we study these things in the days to come, I pray that you would particularly convict those who do not know Christ. Father, their lives perhaps marked by hypocrisy, one face in public, another face in private, convict them, Father, that they might seek genuine redemption in Christ.
And Father, as a church we pray that these coming days, these coming weeks, would make us more a church of prayer, make us more a people of prayer, make us more men and women and children of prayer. We start by looking to you, looking to your good hand, and praying that you would now accomplish in us that which you would find pleasing. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.