Scripture: Matthew 6:9-13

praying handsLast week we took a look at what prayer means, why we do it and what we might expect.

Now I know we are sitting in a traditional United Church. We are used to certain things. We are used to a certain type of worship. I remember the first time I went to a contemporary Christian church.

First, I have to admit I like all kinds of worship music. I love the old traditional, but I also love the contemporary music played in some churches.

So Bev and I went to this church we had heard about, it was a big church just outside Halifax. We knew they would be a contemporary church with a live band and the latest music.

The service began with a lineup of powerful music coming from the band. Some of it we knew, others were new to us.

As the service progressed, we felt like things were missing. There were no prayers together, like we do here. There was no confession, or dedicated scripture reading. And after the very fine sermon was given, all that happened after that was a “thank you and have a great week” kind of message. No benediction, no kind of “wrap up” before we left.

We enjoyed the service, but it wasn’t what we were used to, so it felt a little off for a first-timer. Would we go back again? Sure. But now we know what to expect.

Seeing things done differently, experiencing it personally, it helps us grow in a few ways. First, it helps inform us as to what we tend to prefer, and helps us put words to why we prefer it that way. New experiences also open us up to new experiences of God. New music. New styles of preaching. New prayers. New liturgies and so on.

It’s good to be stretched once in a while. I’ve been to a few conferences over the years where I haven’t always agreed with one of the speakers. Which is good. It’s good to be challenged, it’s good to be pushed out of our comfort zone once in a while.

Seems like a guy named Jesus liked to do that once in a while too, to help people see the world in a new light. To experience God and one another in a new way.

In the United Church we’re used to praying in certain ways. We like to do our unison prayers printed in the bulletin. We like when the person up front prays for the things we would like to have prayed for. In worship it seems like we like to have the “expert” pray on our behalf, whether the expert writes them, or performs those prayers for us.

That’s cool. I like to pray, I can do that.

But I’ll tell you something… I’m not the “expert.” I’m just the guy who stands up here and leads with some words.

I am not the prayer. The prayer is from our hearts. So while I may be saying the words, or writing them so we can share them from our bulletin, it is all of us together who are offering the prayers.

And it doesn’t need to be just me who makes those prayers.

Last week we experienced some of this together. We sat in groups and took part in prayer in what we can call “conversational” prayer. That is, we pray with each other.

I know a lot of you liked it. I also know that some of you were uncomfortable with the new experience. And that’s ok. We’re not going to pray like that every week, but we will do it again on occasion.

I see my primary function in the church as one who helps people grow in their faith and to experience God personally in their lives.

Over the last year I have discovered that the most effective way to grow in faith, including my own, is through prayer.

As we discussed last week, prayer is a conversation with God. It’s not a chance to dump on God all our problems and then go on with our day, It’s a time to also listen for what God has to say to us.

One of the problems we have in many churches is that we just don’t quite understand how to pray. We don’t quite now what we’re supposed to do. We aren’t taught this. We just know what it is we do on Sunday mornings. We aren’t quite sure what to do the rest of the week.

Today from our scripture reading, Jesus is in the middle of his sermon on the mount, where he’s teaching many people what it means to live a life devoted to God. It occurs to me that maybe we should look at this as a sermon series sometime on it’s own.

But for today, we’re going to take a look at what he has to say about prayer. What we read was the portion about how Jesus says we ought to pray.

But before we get to that point, let’s take a look at the verses leading up to Matthew 6:9.

Let’s back up to verse 5 and see what Jesus says before he invokes the words he wants us to pray.

“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. 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.

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8)

Jesus begins with warnings about those who go out and pray in public. He’s alluding to people who go out into public who seek to be revered for their ability to pray, using the right words, big words, to impress others with what they are doing.

Simply, they are doing their “prayers” for the wrong reason. They aren’t out there to move people’s hearts toward God, they are doing it to raise their own status in the community. I think we can agree this is not what we’re supposed to be doing.

So what are we supposed to do?

Jesus says, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret…”

Be alone with God. Now that’s not always possible, but it’s more a focus of the heart than where we are. We can be alone in our room, but we can still be far from God, am I right?

We might be alone, but our minds can be elsewhere, busy, lost in other places. We might be trying to pray, but instead we think about what chores we need to do, or who we need to talk to, or what’s going on at work. Many, many things challenge for time in this brain of ours.

Simply put, we really don’t multi-task well. We like to think we can do lots of things all at once, but the reality is that what we can do is lots of things for very short periods of time. We can only focus on one thing at a time.

So part of the challenge of going into our room or wherever we can be quiet to pray is that our brain is sometimes hard to shut off. Our brain likes to be busy, it’s how we’ve conditioned it to work.

So we need to learn to quiet ourselves so we can learn to sit with God and build this relationship we long to have. Simply put, if we find our minds wandering, we stop and turn our focus back to God. Maybe it will be helpful to have a piece of paper beside us to help right down those important things that come to mind so we won’t forget, and then we can get back to a focus on prayer and being in the presence of God. The stuff on the sheet can wait until later.

And then we can do as Jesus tells us, pray to our Father in secret.

He goes on to say, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Yes, God does know what we need before we ask. But do we know what God wants for us?

This is part of where learning to listen comes in. It allows us a glimpse into the plans God has for us. Which underscores the need to be somewhere quiet where we can seek to be alone with God.

We’ll work on this practice more when we start our prayer workshops, but for now, let’s just agree that prayer happens more effectively when we are able to be alone and away from distractions.

When we look at how Jesus instructed the crowd to pray, we see the beginnings of what we call the Lord’s Prayer.

What is this prayer?

It begins with acknowledging God as our heavenly Father who is apart from this world, yet in the world as well.

The prayer continues with asking that His kingdom will come, and that His will is done on this earth as it is in heaven.

Think about this for a moment. We are asking God’s kingdom to come. We’re not asking that we one day will enter his kingdom in heaven, we are asking God’s kingdom to come here. We are asking God to restore His creation as He planned it to be.

Imagine for a moment if this happened. Imagine God’s kingdom coming down to the earth and all of creation living out our Father’s will each and every moment. What would the world look like if this happened? What if even a little bit of it happened? What would the world look like then? There would still be a huge change wouldn’t it?

Imagine of the world’s brokenness was healed. Imagine if war ceased. Imagine if no one went without food or clothing or shelter. Imagine if there was no racism, or sexism, or classes of people based on these things and more, like money and power.

And what if we were able to acknowledge our part in these divisions, or others, and be healed ourselves of these sins and work to create a better world.

This is not an easy process. It’s absolutely not. But with God anything is possible. Jesus tells us this.

Jesus also tells us to pray to God for our daily needs. Last week we looked at the text where God provides for the birds and animals and plants and flowers, and how God wants so much more to provide for us.

Part of receiving our daily needs is to understand what God wants for us. It’s understanding what is in our lives that we need, and those things we want, but don’t need.

And that’s a hard one because capitalism is a huge industry who are experts at making us believe our wants ARE our needs.

People lined up this week to get the latest iPhone. A phone which will require them to update many other things they are used to using today, including their headphones. Because Apple has taken it upon itself to force a change in how we listen to music. And they have mastered the science of making people think they must have them, they need them.

Yet, does God say we need them? What does God have to say about what we really need. Because that’s what’s most important. It’s not what big industry tells us, I can assure you that.

Jesus also teaches us to pray about our sins and the sins made against us. What does he say? Forgive us our debts, or our sins. Yes we make mistakes. Yes we sin. Yes we fall short. We do it pretty much every day. And we often have sin in our lives we don’t even realize. So again, we need to seek God’s forgiveness, but we also need to be aware of what our sins are.

Now I’m sure you have a spouse or a friend who would be more than happy to point out your sins to you. But I don’t recommend that approach. I want you all to stay married and have friends.

So how do we discover our sins? Again, we go to God and ask Him. Let Him show us our sins, because He will do it in a most loving way, and He will love us and forgive us of those sins. You will feel the burden be lifted from you. It will be like you’ve been set free from a prison when you realize the control that sin had over your life.

But first you need to let God in there to start the process of healing. And you don’t need to do it alone. If you are struggling with a sin in your life that you believe God wants you to take care of, and you don’t know what to do, call me. We can work it out together, and I promise no one else needs to know about it because it truly is between you and God.

Which leads us to the final part of this prayer from the Gospel of Matthew. Keep us from temptation. Keep us out of times of trial.

Don’t let us even go there God, because we need to be protected.

If we are seeking God’s will in our lives, then our ability to resist temptation and the evil of this world is stronger. That’s not to say that the evil one won’t try and up his game in order to pull us back into a sinful life. It can happen. When we seek to fully commit ourselves to God, the devil will do whatever he can to try and keep us from fulfilling that desire.

So we need protection, we absolutely need protection. So we ask God to watch over us, protect us and rescue us.

And we do all of this in the quiet of our homes, and also in the quiet of our hearts and minds.

Prayer is an exercise in aligning our hearts with the heart of God. It’s about drawing ourselves closer to our Father in heaven each day.

And it’s something we need to work on, not just on our own, but as a church, together.

We can be alone to pray here. Because it’s more about our focus more than our immediate surroundings.

If we are aligning our hearts with God’s heart through prayer, then it doesn’t matter if we are with 2 or 10 or 200 other people who are seeking the same. There’s incredible power in praying together.

When we pray together for the will of God to be known, then maybe someone else gets a message that can be shared. It could be for everyone, or it could be a message to be shared with one single person in a private conversation.

These things could also happen when we’re praying alone, we could receive a message for someone else we are praying for.

When I read Jesus’ instructions for prayer here’s what I see. I’m not saying I have the definitive answer on the topic, but my interpretation on it this morning.

Jesus says to pray in private and share in secret. Jesus says to not heap up empty phrases and big words.

So what should we be doing? What should we be saying?

Well, we can look at his prayer that he gave us as a starting point. And when we look at it we see it’s simple; it’s personal; it’s looking for help, protection, and guidance.

In short… prayer is from the heart.

It’s right from our heart to God’s heart, and if we listen carefully, we can receive from God’s heart to our very own as He speaks life and hope back to us.

I believe developing and growing in confidence with our prayer time is far more powerful and life changing than running Bible Studies or most certainly meetings and fundraisers or anything else we can think of.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do those things, but a true life of faith begins with a deep, meaningful, powerful prayer life.

If we are praying to the heart of God asking Him to speak to our heart, then we will grow far more in our relationship with our Father in heaven than any other method we can think of.

It worked for Jesus, it will work for us too.

Life changing.
Life giving.

A way in which we will grow as a child of God, and as a family, a church and a community.

Let us pray,

Lord God, we long to have You in our lives. We long for our hearts to be aligned with Your’s. May we seek You in the silence of our lives, in our prayers alone and in our prayers with others who wish for the same. Lord, may our lives be reflections of this relationship, and may You continue to mold us and transform us evermore into Your likeness. This we pray in the strong name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.