Why do you pray, if you pray? One of the things that Jesus is concerned about is praying in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. You will notice that in the middle of discussing the need for the people of God to practice their righteousness to be seen by God and not by people, he expands on what prayer should look like. In Matthew 6:5-6 he warned against praying on the street corners to be seen by people. We spoke about this idea in the last lesson. But Jesus has another warning about how we should not pray before he explains how we ought to pray.
Prayer Errors (6:7-8)
Not only are we not to pray to be seen by other people, we are also not to pray by heaping up empty phrases and thoughtless repetition. The reason people did this is because they thought that the length of the prayer or the repetition on certain words would compel God to listen. Prayer is not about demanding God’s attention. Saying certain words or speaking for a really long time does not cause God to have to listen. Jesus is trying to tell us that we have the wrong picture of God if you think you have to get his attention. This is the meaning of verse 8. You do not have to get God’s attention. God did not fall asleep and prayer is the means to wake him up and see your condition. Do not think of God in this way. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. You are not getting God’s attention in prayer. You already have his attention. Sometimes we can miss this glorious point that Jesus is making. The length of your prayer is not getting God’s attention because you already have his attention. He already sees you and knows what you need before you said one word.
Now this will sometimes lead to a nonsensical question. I will call this a nonsensical question because it really shows the wrong perspective about God. Sometimes it is asked, “If God already knows what we need, then why do we have to pray?” Now I hope that we can think about why this question misses the whole idea. This is like saying, “Why should children talk to their parents since good parents already know what their children need?” Why should children talk to their parents? Because parents want a relationship with their children. Parents do not want to have a relationship that is only about listening and looking at their children only when they need something. Parents want a relationship so that they can always know what is going on in their lives. Having children that are young adults really underscores this need. As parents we are asking questions about their lives. Right now, they are like, “Why are you asking so many questions? Why are you being so intrusive?” The reason is because I just want to know you and what is going on with you.
This is what Jesus is showing us about our Father. Why pray if he already knows what we need? Because God wants to have a relationship with you and not be to you a genie in the bottle granting wishes. God is looking at you and listening to you all the time, not just when you need something. Think of prayer as a conversation. Prayer is not thoughtless repetition. Prayer is not a show. Prayer is not preaching to God. Have you ever heard that happen where the prayer is telling God what the scriptures say. Prayer is a conversation with God about what is on our hearts. So what should this conversation look like? Jesus tells us some talking about for our conversation if we are struggling with knowing how to talk to our Father.
How To Talk To Your Father (6:9-13)
The first conversation point is about seeking God and his will. The prayer begins by just declaring that we desire God. Not only do we desire God, we desire God’s plan and purpose to be accomplished in this world and in our own lives. We recognize that God’s name is holy and we want to be holy and revered in all the earth. We want God’s kingdom to continue to conquer peoples and nations through the proclamation of the word. We want all people to belong and submit themselves to God’s kingdom. We want God’s will to be done in everything. Our prayers are to be filled with seeking God, seeking his glory, and seeking his will.
The second conversation point is to seek God’s care. To ask for our daily bread is a reminder of Israel’s time in the wilderness where God provided for his people every day. Every day that they woke up, God had taken care of them. Their shoes did not wear out. Even though they did not know where water and food would come from, God brought them the water and the food they needed at just the right time. They had what they needed for survival. This is a picture of our ability and willingness to trust God when we do not know how we will be cared for tomorrow. It is truly living hand to mouth or paycheck to paycheck. It is a complete dependence on God. What a blessing that we can pray for our physical needs and concerns! We can pray for God to take care of us each day. I have what I need because you, Lord, have given it to me. Please give me my daily necessities tomorrow.
The third conversation point is to seek God’s forgiveness. More important that even our physical daily needs are our spiritual daily needs. We need forgiveness every day. Lord, forgive my failures. Forgive the debts I have incurred against you and against us. Forgive me for my violations of your law and love. It is hard to not think of a time in prayer that we would not desire to add the request for our Father to forgive us for all that we have missed and failed at this day.
The final conversation point is to seek God’s direction and deliverance in trials and temptations. Keep us from temptation and deliver us from evil. We need rescue from evil and the evil one. I think that this might be one that we forget to talk to God about. Ask God to keep us from temptations. Ask God not to lead us into temptations and trials. Ask God to deliver us from those moments. Lord, I know temptation is coming today. Lead me away from those temptations and deliver me in those moments.
Take a moment and consider if you are missing some of these conversation points in your discussions with your Father. Do we talk to God about seeking him and his glory? Do we talk to God about seeking his will in my life and in the world? Do we talk to God about deliverance from temptations and trials? Do we talk to God about our need for forgiveness? Do not forget to talk to God about these things.
Key Truth About Forgiveness (6:14-15)
But we consider why we pray, please notice that Jesus wants to instill in our hearts a key truth. Look at verses 14-15. If you forgive other people their offenses and trespasses, then your heavenly Father will forgive yours also. If you do not forgive others, then your heavenly Father is not going to forgive you. There is nothing more terrifying than to say that you cannot forgive someone for what they have done to you. We will not be forgiven by our Father if we refuse to forgive others. We are to be forgiving because we have been forgiven.
How could we ever say that we cannot forgive? How could we say or think it? We are not poor in spirit, mourning over our sins, humbled, meek, pure in heart, or any of the descriptions Jesus gave in the Beatitudes if we say that we cannot forgive. You may ask yourself, “How I can I possibly forgive what this person has done to me? Do you know what they have done?” Jesus tells us what powers forgiveness: our desire for God to forgive us. Do you want other people to forgive you for what you have done? Do you want God to forgive you for what you have done? Then you must forgive others. Loving God and loving others means that we will forgive people for what they have done against us. When we pray for forgiveness, we should immediately struck by a question: Am I forgiving others so that I can even make this request to the Lord?
The Goals of Prayer
This leads us into considering the purpose of prayer. Jesus has taught us how to pray. But as Jesus taught these things, these directions are also showing us why we pray. There are purposes to prayer that are being given to us. The goal of prayer is to reorient ourselves to our right place and reorient God to his rightful place so that we seek him and his will. By affirming God’s holiness and our desire for God’s will to be accomplished in the world, then this immediately reorients my position before God and the nature of my request. If my conversation with God is about his will being done, then this immediately affects my prayer requests. Now my praying lens will reflect the one that Jesus had, “Not my will, but your will be done.” My desires for life are being reoriented around God’s purposes. So now I am not just praying for my pain, but desiring to understand how this pain is working to accomplish God’s will in my life and in the world.
Second, the goal of prayer is to depend on God and not on ourselves. The nature of this prayer shows that God does not want us to depend on ourselves but on him. We are asking God to give us what we truly need today. Give us the care we need. Give us the food we need. Give us the clothes we need. Give us the shelter we need. But by saying, “Give” we are expressing our understanding that God gives all things. We are expressing our complete dependence on God. We are telling God that we know that anything that happens today or tomorrow is by his will. The apostle Paul proclaimed in Athens that it is in God that “we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). This perspective changes how we look at God, how we look at the world, how we look at our lives, and how we pray. Now we are talking to God, not about what we will do, but what God will give us and will for our lives. James speaks about how life changing this idea is.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13–16 ESV)
Our whole life depends on God. Our breath depends on God. Our plans depend on God. So our prayers will reflect this understanding and dependence. So the goal of prayer changes us to desire God’s will above our own and changes us to see that every moment depends on God.
Finally, the goal of prayer is to propel us to seek spiritual growth and life direction. We are talking to God about our temptations. We are talking to God about the trials we are enduring. We are asking God to deliver us from evil. We are asking God to help us resist the devil. We are asking God to take us in the right direction in life. We are asking God to lead us to make spiritually wise and discerning decisions that honor God. Closely tied to the prior idea of dependence, we are praying for God to lead our lives. As we pray for forgiveness, we are seeing our need to grow in forgiving others and loving others.
So how do you pray and why do you pray? Let me give a word of hope before we close. None of these things that Jesus says to pray for are impossible. This is a prayer of hope for us. God will give you your daily bread. God will forgive your sins. God will not bring you into temptation. God will deliver you from evil. Pray for hope as God listens and responds to our requests.