A Fresh Glimpse of Prayer
Matthew 6:1-6 RUMC
21 February 2016
In this Christian season of Lent, one of the traditional means to improve our spiritual lives and become closer to God is through prayer. This is my focus for today. Before we read our scripture, I would like to share with you some quotes on prayer. I would say that some of them are humorous and others are thought provoking.
- Do not expect a thousand dollar answer to a 10 cent prayer.
- In times of prosperity, people ask too little of God. In times of adversity, they ask too much.
- A short prayer will reach the Throne of Grace if we don’t live too far away.
- Please don’t pray for rain if you’re going to complain about the mud.
- Prayer is more than asking God to run errands for us.
- Do not pray for an easy life, instead pray to be a stronger person.
- Prayer is a little like eating salted peanuts; the more you do it, the more you want to do it.
- An unreasonable prayer is this: “Lord give us this day our daily bread-with butter”.
- Kneeology” will do more for the world than “Theology”
- America was better off when folks opened meals with a prayer instead of a can opener.
- Keep your chin up and your knees down.
This morning my scripture text is Matthew 6:1-6. It is my hope that during this time of Lent, our devotional lives will become ignited and strengthened to the Glory of God.
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.[a] 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever 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. This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.
When Jesus spoke these words, our Lord must have had in mind a situation that often took place on Monday’s and Thursdays. That was when farmers, merchants and shoppers would all go into town to buy and sell their produce and supplies. Mondays and Thursdays were also fast days and the Pharisees, who were the most devout of all the Jews, would certainly never miss the fast nor the opportunity to prayer which took place at 9am, 12 noon and 3 pm; it didn’t matter where they were or what they were doing.
When it was time to pray, the Pharisees would face Jerusalem and lift their prayer shawls onto their shoulders. They would begin to rock back and forth so that they could praise God with every fiber of their being as they followed a set formula which lasted about 20-30 minutes.
What bothered Jesus about this practice, was that some (not all) of these Pharisee took advantage of the crowded street corners and made their prayers a show.
Now there is nothing wrong with praying at a major intersection, if that is where you happen to be. But it is wrong, if you are trying to be seen as you act spiritual.
The word that Jesus used to describe such people was the New Testament “Koine”. The Greek word is “hupocrites” or hypocrites. In classical Greek and Roman culture, a hypocrite was associated with actors and actresses who wore masks while they said their lines and performed on stage.
When we pray, there should be a connection with our lips, our hearts and the way we live our lives. It is very difficult to give a heartfelt prayer if we do not walk in the ways of the Lord.
When the gospel is about to be read in the Roman Catholic Church, the congregation will stand and the priest will say: “A reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew” and the congregation will respond, “Glory to you O Lord” and with their right thumb, they would make a sign of the cross on their forehead, their lips and over their heart.
It is the same principle as Disciples of Christ; we need to have the word of God, which influences minds, to extend to our speech and actions. This extension has a direct effect if we are going to have our prayers answered.
I find the hardest aspect of prayer is actually getting around to it. For me to be successful, I need to set a time. This may sound odd, but to make our devotions work, we should make an appointment with God. If we do that, the chances are very good that we will keep it.
This may sound unusual, but I like getting certain messages on the answering machine. For example: “This is a reminder for Paul O’Neil. You have a dentist appointment at Zahner Dental on 3 Main Street in Ellington on Monday, February 22 at 11am. If you cannot keep this appointment please call the office to reschedule your appointment. We will see you soon.”
Remember that funny saying #7? “Prayer is a little like eating salted peanuts, the more you do it, the more you want to do it. God’s reminder might be a stirring of the heart; he wants to meet with you.
With Jesus as our example, Mark 1:35 tells of a time of day he prayed.
- Mark 1:35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Psalms encourages us to have a time as well and suggests the morning.
- Psalm 5:3 “In the morning, O Lord, you will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to you and eagerly watch.”
- Psalms 119:147 “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for your words.”
If we have devotions with the Lord, in time we will get answers and also guidance on the many aspects of our lives.
I see a similarity with the affects of the devotions and the WBZ radio helicopter pilot who follows the traffic in and around Boston, reporting it to the radio audience. What the helicopter pilot can see is the big picture, and it has personally helped me as I have driven the Mass Pike to 495 to 95 to 93 to my father’s home in Quincy MA. By listening to the broadcast, I learned of traffic jams to avoid by taking a different route. Or if I am stuck in traffic, I have a better understanding of the reasons for the delay; which makes a better commute.
In a spiritual sense, God is the ultimate pilot, and he is there to guide our life. Prayer is how we talk to him and listen to his responses and impressions.
After I pray over something and there is a feeling of peace, then I am certain I am going in the right direction. But if I have a feeling of uneasiness, then I know something might not be right; I need to be cautious or avoid the situation. Following impressions is not an exact science, but we have to be discerning.
Our prayers need to be conversational and, like I shared in one of my children’s messages, I set an empty chair to help me focus. This brings me into a deeper and more simplistic level of communing with God.
So I would encourage all of us here to set aside time. Make that appointment. Look at your calendar and put down devotions. Then get up early, go for a walk and talk with God. If you are a night person, turn off the computer or television and reserve the last part of the day to have your conversation with the Lord.
Let me close with the prayer of the Confederate Soldier:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I may humbly obey.
I asked God for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I may be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
I am among all men, most richly blessed