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Friday, March 24, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 21 of 40: Humility in Prayer

Matthew 6: 5-8
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think 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.

In all of our spiritual disciplines and actions, Jesus asks us to examine our hearts; to ask ourselves, "What is my motivation?"  Do we wish to please God or ourselves?  Do we want to impress others or to be in communion with God?  Do we want to reach out in love to others or to further our ambitions?

The hypocrites are those who practice their piety for all to see.  To comply with Jesus' instructions some people refuse to pray in public and only pray in a room or an out-of-the way spot in their home for their prayers.  While this is ok, this is not the thrust of Jesus' message.  It is not wrong to pray in front of others (as we do in church and at restaurants).  In fact, the Apostle Paul encourages us to pray continuously, in all places at all times.  But it is wrong if we pray for the sole purpose of being seen or being heard by others.

Any spiritual act, such as praying, should be done in response to our love for God and not in response to the love that we have for ourselves. The spiritual disciplines (prayer, study of scripture, worship, service, fellowship, forgiveness, etc) are disciplines that enable us to nurture our relationship with God.  We practice the spiritual disciplines expecting to encounter God.  If we are to encounter God, all of the disciplines are to be approached in an attitude of humility.

Too often we approach prayer as a time to unload all of our desires, cares, wants, and fears.  While this is one purpose of prayer, another purpose of prayer is to hear the voice of God and to discern His will, to be touched by God, and changed by God.  In order to accomplish this second purpose, we must incorporate a time of silence into our private prayers.

If our prayers are motivated by our desire to know God, prayer will change us.  It will deepen our relationship with God.  It will equip us and strengthen us in our faith.  Prayer changes us, so that we may then change the world.

Tomorrow we will study how to pray, Part I.

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