Sermon Notes

How to pray


  • For the last two weeks, we’ve been learning about prayer in what has become a sermon series on prayer, as we study the sixth chapter of the Gospel, according to Matthew.
    • In the first week, we looked at ‘what is prayer’.
    • And, in the second week, we looked at ‘why prayer’.
    • Today, we are going to start learning ‘how to pray’.
  • What is prayer? It is, intentionally conveying a message to God. And the miracle of it is that you ought to be burnt up and consumed in the wake of God’s Holiness. Yet, not only are you spared by Him; you are sustained by Him, and even more, granted by Him that wretched worms like us might call upon His Name.This is a staggering reality, and I agree with John Piper when he says that those who dismiss this immeasurable mercy called prayer, one has to be colossal fool.
  • Why must we pray? If not for the great mercy of this very provision of prayer given to us, then because of its significant power in the life of a Christian, and our desperate need for it.
  • Usually at this point, I would be reminding you that in order to fully understand how to do something, one must fully understand the what and the why of it.
    But that is not so with the exercise or the practice of prayer. It’s like learning how to drive or to play cricket. You are first given a rundown of the basic principles, and then you learn by practice. The more you practice, the more you learn by experience the value and worth of the principles.In much the same way, the mere intellectual understanding of what prayer is and why it is important, does not produce the consistency or the pleasure in prayer. It is praying that produces the love for prayer. It is prayer that moves your mind from an intellectual understanding of prayer, to a deep spiritual conviction and belief in the value of prayer.I hated it when I had to sit in for theory classes during PT is school. All I wanted to feel was the football next to my feet. I couldn’t wait to play. Are we like that beloved, in these weeks of learning the what and why of prayer? Are we eager to feel the carpet under our knees and Bible in our hands as we offer our prayers to our King?
    In preaching about how to pray, that is the outcome I pray for.

Exegesis – How to pray

  • Let me remind you on the onset, as I mentioned last week, that this portion in Matthew 6 is specifically dealing with the question of how to pray. The what and the why of it helps us have an anchor on how to pray.

    Matthew 6:5-8 “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. 

    • We can move on from verse 5 because we have seen in the last two weeks that the what and why of prayer pretty much takes care of such vain attempts and praying.
    • We do not pray to show off.
      We do not pray to please men.
      In fact, we do not pray in any sense to be seen by men.
      Prayer is conveying a message to God, and the only persons we are burdened to please is God. And we pray out of our love and our need for God.
  • Our focus today is primarily on verses 6 & 7-13
    Here, we find Scripture address two requirement on how we must pray.
    In verse 6, Jesus addresses the context of our prayers, and in verses 7-13, He address the content of our prayers.
    By context, I mean the physical and environmental situation in which we pray, and by content, I mean the words that make up our prayer.

The Context of our Prayers

  • Matthew 6:6But 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.
    • when you pray
      Beloved, let me impress upon your hearts that we must stop being Christians of if we will pray, and become Christians of when we pray.
      Given the principles of what prayer is and why it is important in our lives, we must not be a people who fail to pray. And all the more when we pray well, our desire to pray more will only increase.Now, here is the context of prayer
    • go into your room and shut the door and pray
      I make several observations in this text that helps me understand on the appropriate approach to prayer at a practical and physical level.

      • For one, this, in the immediate context of the preceding verses, suggests that Jesus is directly opposing the proud and obnoxious practice of praying in public in order to praised by people.
        Now, as I mentioned last week, public prayer or corporate prayer is a biblical requirement, but never for such sinful motives. 
      • Also, it is worth noting that Jesus’ teaching on prayer is not talking about corporate prayer, but private and personal prayer. In short, one who prays in public ought to be one who prays in private. For the primary and essential context of prayer in the life of a Christian is inside their rooms. All other prayers, in every other physical context, whether in church gatherings, or small groups, or just friends praying for each other, or even an official prayer in secular gatherings; all other prayers must be an outflow of one’s personal prayer. 
      • Therefore, in order to learn how to pray, we must begin in the privacy of our rooms, where it is just between God and us.
      • your room – is a significant phrase. The greek word ταμεῖον (tam-i’-on) used for room here specifically refers to an inner chamber, like a storeroom or a secret room.
        It is not just any room in the house, but the secret room. The closet. The inner room where people are not busying about. The kind of place that people forget was there, and newcomers don’t even know exists. That place of secrecy. That’s where you go.
      • shut the door – close yourself in. This is your private space.
        Again shutting the door is a further indicator of privacy. However, it is also an indicator of the people or the things that you leave behind. Leave your phones outside. [Jesus healing the young girl, Elijah healing the Shunammite’s son in 2 Kings 4]
      • pray
        Now, it doesn’t help to do all this and not pray. Sometimes, we have the tendency to get the context right, and then miss out on spending that quality time of prayer. We will ready the room, but the new Bible just for our prayer time, maybe even some sticky notes to write down prayer points, and then sit there in that room day dreaming. 
      • I can think of many more practical reasons for why such a context is helpful, but the main purpose, the one clearly shown in the text is in knowing what prayer is all about.
    • pray to your Father who is in secret
      That is a profound call to faith. Why would anyone in their right minds pursue such a calling to secrecy? Because such people have a clear knowledge of who their God is.
      Such a call to a secret, private, and personal prayer is only possible for those who care only about God hearing their prayers. For they go to the inner room to meet God who is in secret.I want you to think about the intent and expectation of someone who does this. Remember, what we looked at last week when we covered the power of prayer – your audience is God.
    • And your Father who sees in secret, And likewise, His seeing us is also in secret. The Lord isn’t distracted by the noise in Heaven or on earth. You have His undivided attention.
      If anything, this is Jesus impressing the value and the power of prayer. What is the power of prayer? That God hears us. And here we see that He hears us in secret in our inner room, away from the rush of the world.Know who your audience is when you pray!
    • will reward you
      The joy of personal prayer is the promise that the Father sees and rewards us.Last week, when we looked at the different kinds of prayer mentioned in Scripture, we saw how prayer is a means that God has ordained to accomplish the ends that He has ordained.A lot of reformed Christians tend to squirm in their seats when they hear that God will not work in many areas of your life if you do not pray. God simply will not work. Don’t believe me?
      Matthew 7:7-8“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
      Luke 11:9-10 (another instance in Jesus’ ministry)And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; tseek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.If you think I’m making an argument out of silence, here is James
      James 4:2(b) – You do not have, because you do not ask.Could it be beloved that the reason for our sub-standard Christian living in many aspects of our lives is a direct result of the fact that we have not prayed.
    • So, prayer training 101 – that’s the context.
      The sum of it all, I believe, is not only about avoiding other people from seeing what you’re doing and ensuring true motives for praying, it is also about the intent, the privacy, the laying aside of worldly concerns and distractions, and the theological reminder and weight such a context helps bring to us when we pray.

The Content of our Prayers

  • Matthew 6:7-8 – “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.
    • And when you pray
      Not only are we to pay attention to the context of our prayer, but also to the content of it. Remember prayer is intentionally conveying a message to God. Therefore, we need to have a sufficient theological clarity in order to be able to articulate prayer properly – the standards of prayer.The conjunction and, here suggests to me that it is of equal urgency that you consider the matter of your prayer, as you consider the motive of your prayer. 
    • do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do
      The NASB translates this as meaningless repetition.
      The Gentiles believed that if they chanted the name of their gods repeatedly that they would be heard. But this is untrue of the reality of prayer.
      If I may paraphrase, this is Jesus telling us that prayer is no ritual.And that is a deep and deadly pit that many Christians fail to avoid.
      Beloved, written prayers are not a sin. They are a blessed gift. The Bible is full of prayers that we can pray. The Valley of Vision is a book on puritan prayer. They teach us how to pray well, and how rich and deep the contents of our prayer can be.
      But if you think that your prayer is more powerful because of better articulation, you are deadly wrong!A lot of traditional churches have written prayers. Now, when I engage them, they usually say something to the effect that the meaning in these prayers are deep and rich. And I have no problem with that. However, if you are going to always, every time, borrow from the meanings written by another person, and have no word coming from your heart, then you are not praying beloved! You’re reciting. One way or another, you end up doing what the Gentiles do!You’re not heard for the quality of your articulation.
      The Gentiles think that way, that they will be heard for their many words.
    • your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
      Hallelujah! Beloved, God knows! God knows before you ask Him! You don’t have to carry the burden of performing to some man-made standard in your prayers.
      You simply have to stand before God in the privacy of your room, and lay your heart before Him. Pray!

      • The question that you may have at this point is – why does God expect us to pray if He already knows what we need?
        Psalm 139:1-6 – O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
        You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
        You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
        Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
        You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
        Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.That is not a question for David, it is immeasurable joy beyond comprehension for him.
        Because God values relationship!!! [remember how we started chapter 6 – knowledge must produce relationship]
  • Our Father – At the foundation of every prayer, is a relationship. God is not just God. God is our Father.
Michael Teddy Fernandez

Author Michael Teddy Fernandez

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