Robert Jeffress - Straight Talk About Your Prayer Life - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. The Lord's Prayer is arguably the most famous and loved prayer in human history, but our familiarity with this prayer sometimes blinds us to the bigger principles it teaches us. Today, we're going to learn how to pray and how not to pray and how to use the Lord's Prayer as a model for our conversations with God. My message is titled "Straight Talk About Your Prayer Life," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
What is the greatest discovery in human history? Some might answer, "Well, it was Copernicus and his discovery that the earth actually revolves around the sun and not the other way around". Some people might point to Newton discovering the law of gravity when an apple plopped on his head. Other people might point to certain inventions like Gutenberg's printing press or Edison's incandescent lightbulb, or maybe more recent discoveries like the personal computer or the smartphone, but as miraculous as those discoveries are, they pale in comparison to this one: You and I have the ability to talk to the Creator of the universe anytime we want to, and by what we say, we can actually move him into action. Isn't that a remarkable thought when you think about it?
Max Lucado said it this way: "Prayer impacts the flow of history. God has wired his world for power, but he calls on us to flip the switch". Prayer is that switch that unleashes the power of God. I don't agree with a lot of what theologian Carl Barth said, but he was right when he said this: "When we clasp our hands in prayer, it is a beginning of the uprising against the disorder of the world". Of course, that begs the question, "How do we know if we're praying correctly? How do we pray in such a way that God hears us and unleashes his power"? I'm glad you asked that question because Jesus answers that question for us specifically in the passage we're looking at today.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew chapter 6. We're right in the middle of our series on the Sermon on the Mount. We're calling it "18 Minutes with Jesus," because you can read the Sermon on the Mount in 18 minutes, and, yet Jesus talks about the issues that are most important to us, and in chapter 6, he's talking about how we should worship, a kind of worship that pleases God. The Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus's day, it was all external appearance to them, to look a certain way, to look righteous, but Jesus said, no, God's concerned about what's on the heart, and we talked last time about worshiping through giving. The Pharisees, when they gave money to God, they blew their little silver trumpet and gathered a crowd around them so everybody could see how holy they are.
Jesus said about that kind of giving, when you do it to be seen by men, a PayCo, you have your reward in full. God stamps the "Paid in Full" on your receipt when you get earthly praise for your righteousness. It's the same way with the topic of praying that we're going to look at today. Another way we worship is through praying, and Jesus is going to say, "When you pray, don't pray in order to be noticed by men. If you do, you have your reward in full," and just like the subject of giving, Jesus begins his discourse on praying by telling us how not to do it. Notice what he says in verse 5. First of all, don't brag when you pray: "When you pray, you're not to be like the hypocrites", remember that word, "hupokrites" actor, somebody who wears a mask? "Don't be a masked, two-faced person, for the hypocrites love to stand and pray in the synagogues, on the street corners so that they may be seen by men".
Now, there's nothing wrong with praying in public. As we'll see in a moment, Jesus prayed in public occasionally. Elijah prayed on Mount Carmel in front of thousands. It's the motivation of the prayer. "The Pharisees did it so that they might be seen by men. Truly I say to you that they have their reward in full". Remember the story Jesus told? We've talked about it often, Luke 18, about the two men who went to the temple to pray. First of all, you had the Pharisee. He lifted his head toward heaven. He stood. There was nothing wrong with standing. That's how Jews prayed. He stood, but what was in his heart was the problem. He said, "Lord, thank you that I'm not like this guy over here, unjust, immoral, but I'm a righteous man. I fast, I pray, I give alms to the poor. In fact, God, when you think about it, you're lucky to have such a holy man as me standing before you".
That was the Pharisee. The tax collector, far opposite. He didn't try to brag about himself. He beat his chest and said, "Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner". Don't brag when you pray. Secondly, don't babble when you pray. That's what he says in verses 7 and 8: "When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So don't be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask them". The Greek word translated "meaningless repetition" is "battalogeo". "Battalogeo". It's what we learned in English class is an "onomatopoeia". Remember that from your grammar classes? "Onomatopoeia". An "onomatopoeia" is a word that sounds like what it's describing, you know, "buzz" or "hiss".
Those words sound like what they're describing. Same thing with "battalogeo". Batta, batta, batta, batta, babble, babble, babble, babble. It's meaningless words. What does he mean, "meaningless words"? Well, he could mean words literally that have no meaning. Remember, the gift of tongues was a real gift in the Bible. It was the gift of languages, to be able to speak a language you didn't know to spread the gospel. That's the first time it was used in Acts 2, but by the time we get to Corinthians, the Corinthians had taken that real gift of tongues and had perverted it into something not good. They brought in their pagan worship practices to the church, and part of those pagan worship practices was the practice of ecstasy, where these pagan prophets would work themselves up into a frenzy, and they would race around the altar, and they would get so worked up, they started speaking babble, just, ecstasy, words that had no meaning, and some of the Corinthians took that to be the gift of tongues. No, Jesus is saying, when you pray, don't use words that have no meaning.
By the way, when Jesus prayed his most important prayer, the prayer in Gethsemane, or the prayer in the Upper Room for the unity of believers, he prayed in a way that was intelligible. He used words. When Paul prayed, he used words that had meaning to them. Don't pray empty words. Or he may also have in mind just pride, banalities that have no real meaning. Have you ever found yourself, when you're praying, you kind of put your mind in neutral, and you find yourself going into these meaningless phrases? "Bless, bless, bless," that's one of 'em, or "lead," "guide," and "direct". "Lead," "guide," and "direct," can somebody tell me the difference between "leading," "guiding," and "directing"? I mean, we just fall into these traps of praying that are empty words. They mean nothing. Don't do that.
And notice, he says part of this is meaningless repetition. Some people think, if they'll just pray long enough and say the same thing over and over again, God will finally be coerced into doing something he doesn't wanna do. That's how the pagans pray. Remember in 1 Kings 18, on top of Mount Carmel? The pagan prophets of Baal and Asherah were praying that their false god would answer with fire and consume the sacrifice they had prayed on the altar, and 1 King 18, says they started praying in the morning, and they prayed until the time of the evening offering, but the heavens were silent. We're not to be like that. Somebody said, "It's a heathen folly to measure prayer by the yard".
We think the longer the prayer, the more effective it is. No. Would do well to take Solomon's advice in Ecclesiastes 5:2, "Don't be quick with your mouth. Don't be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven, and you're on earth, so let your words be few". Your heavenly Father knows what you need. You don't have to ask and ask and over and over again. Don't pray by babbling things that are meaningless repetition, and certainly don't brag when you pray. Now he's gonna tell us how to pray, beginning in verse 6: "But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you".
Now, again, let me say, Jesus is not condemning public praying. Jesus prayed before he fed the 5.000. Thousands heard it. Jesus prayed before he raised Lazarus from the dead, and Elijah prayed on Mount Carmel before thousands of Israelites. There's nothing wrong with praying in public, but as my friend David Jeremiah says, "Our prayer life ought to resemble an iceberg". You know, only one-eighth of an iceberg is visible above the water where everybody can see it. Eight-ninths of the iceberg are below the water where nobody sees it. Our prayer life ought to be like that. We ought to pray a few times in public, but the majority of our prayer time ought to be in private. By the way, D.L. Moody had a great line. He said, "Pray short in public; pray long in private". We get it reversed.
Have you ever known people that tried to get all their prayer time in while they had you as a captive audience? No, when you pray publicly, pray short. Pray long in private. "Pray in your inner room". What does he mean by your "inner room"? That word, "tameion," Greek word, "tameion," means a "storage room where treasures are kept". I love that picture. When we go before God, we're entering into a storeroom. Just think about it. God, in his storeroom in heaven, has all kind of gifts he wants to give to you. Your name is written on those gifts. They're yours for the asking, but you have to ask. James says, "You have not because you ask not". If there are any regrets in heaven one day, I think it will be if we get to see what could've been ours if only we had had the faith to ask. "Go into your inner room".
I think this is also saying that we need a private place to pray with God, and as we'll see in a moment, prayer, you can talk to God anytime and ought to. It ought to be a continual discussion throughout the day, but there also ought to be an appointment time and place that we meet with God. Do you have such a place?
I remember when I was in high school, my place to pray was in a park right across from our high school. I went there almost every morning to pray before classes. When Amy and I first got married, there was a little ball field a couple of blocks from our house that I would walk to, to pray at. Today, it's a couch in my office that I kneel beside every morning and go through my prayer list. We all need a place to pray and a appointment with God as well as a continuing conversation with God. Secondly, he said, when you pray, not only pray secretly, pray simply. Pray simply. In fact, in verse 9, he's gonna say, "Pray in this way," and he's going to give us that prayer that we know as the Lord's Prayer. And stay with me on this. Jesus didn't say, "Pray this prayer".
In fact, did you know there's no record of the disciples ever actually praying this prayer? In fact, no prayer in the New Testament is this prayer ever recorded except here in Matthew 6, and, then, the Luke 6 version of it, the synopsis of it in Luke's account, but outside of that, the New Testament Christians didn't pray this, word for word. This is not a mantra to be repeated, word for word. It's a model for how we're to pray. "Pray in this way," and it's not an incantation, a incantation or a code we have to unlock. It's a simple prayer.
Now, notice, in this model for praying, the audience for our prayers. The audience for our prayers, "Our Father". People ask me, "Pastor, when we pray, do we pray to God the Father? Do we pray to Jesus the Son? Or do we pray to the Holy Spirit"? What did Jesus say? You pray to your heavenly Father through the authority of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, but our prayer is addressed to God the Father, "Our Father". Now, that term "father," in English, it has a certain formality to it that I don't think Jesus intended necessarily. You know, when our girls were little and living at home, if they wanted something from me, they didn't come into the living room with little frilly dresses and their hands clasped and looking like characters out of "Little Women," saying, "Father, oh, Father, could we please", no. They'd say, "Hey, Dad," or if they really wanted somethin', "Daddy," you know? They knew that would get to me: "Daddy, would you consider," "Would you do so-and-so and so-and-so"?
Well, the word here Jesus uses, it's Aramaic... Jesus probably spoke Aramaic, which is a cousin of Hebrew, is the word "Abba". You've heard it translated, "Papa," or "Daddy". That may be a little too informal. Maybe a better rendering is "Dearest Dad," "Dearest Father". It is a term of relationship. We approach our Father in heaven as a Daddy, a Father who loves us, who wants the best for us. That's the audience of our prayers. And then, notice the petition of our prayers. Jesus mentions five things that we ought to pray for. Two are related to God, and three are related to us. First of all, pray for God's reputation to be honored in your life. "Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name". That word, "hallowed," is a translation of the Greek word "hagiazo". It means "holy," "to be holy," or "to show to be holy".
You know, one of the chief characteristics, attributes of God is that he is holy. Holy, holy, holy. That word, "holy," comes from a Hebrew word that means "to cut," "to separate". When we say, "God is holy," what we're saying is "He is separate than anything here on earth. He is a cut above anyone or anything". That's what we mean by the holiness of God, and our lives should be dedicated to reflecting the holiness of God, of pointing people to God as the one true God. That's why we are left here on earth, to glorify God, to turn people to God.
That's why God answered Elijah's prayer in 1 Kings 18, just 64 words in the English language, and, yet it brought down the fire of heaven to consume the sacrifice. Remember, twice in 1 Kings 18:36-37, Elijah said in his prayer, "Let it be known today that you are the true God," and then he said, "Lord, answer my prayer, that this people may know that you are God". That's the kind of prayer that God answers, and when we pray, we ought to remember our purpose in life is to glorify God. "Hallowed be your name".
Secondly, he said pray for God's will to be done in the world and in your life. Pray for God's will to be done in the world and your life. "Your kingdom come," verse 10, "your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven". When we talk about God's kingdom, what are we talking about? Listen, a king's kingdom is wherever what the king wants done, gets done. That's what a king's kingdom is. It's the area over which he has authority. So where is God's kingdom? What is God's kingdom? Where is it that God's will is being done perfectly? Did you know God's will is being obeyed perfectly?
Throughout this entire universe, every square inch of this universe is subjected to the will of God except one small corner of it, a little dirt ball called planet Earth, and there's a little rebellion going on right now on planet Earth against the Creator of the universe, but soon that rebellion is going to be quelled forever, and when we're praying for the kingdom of God, "Your kingdom come," we're praying for that future time when what the king wants done here on Earth is actually going to be done. We know in Bible prophecy that that time, first of all, is the millennium when Christ comes and sets up his Kingdom. Christ rules from Jerusalem, and everyone will be subject to the King until the very last moment, but we won't go there. Too complicated today.
But, for the most part, everybody will be subject to the King, and then God will destroy this present heaven and earth, and in the new heaven and the new earth, everyone will obey God. That's the kingdom of God. We're praying for that future kingdom to come, but, in a sense, we're praying for aspects of it to come now. We don't have to wait completely for there to be an end to evil. We need to do what we can right now to push back against evil in the world. I don't like the term "social justice" because it carries with it a lot of political baggage and connotates things we don't mean, but I do believe there's such a thing as biblical justice, and I think Christians ought to pursue biblical justice.
And, by the way, when you pray for God's kingdom, God's rule to extend to Earth, that includes your life and my life. To pray for the kingdom to come, to pray for God's will to be done is to pray for it to be done in my life. I want you to think about this for a moment: If throughout all eternity, you and I are going to be obeying God, don't you think we ought to get used to doing that now? Why would Christians wanna spend eternity with God, if we're gonna obey God continually, if they find it so difficult to obey God now? I was thinkin' about that old joke about the tourist, in New York City, who was lost. He was lookin' at the map. He couldn't make sense of uptown from downtown, and he asked a stranger on the sidewalk. He said, "Sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall"? And the stranger said, "Sure, practice, practice, practice".
How do you get to be an effective servant of God, a resident of the kingdom? By practicing obedience now. When God says, "Yes," you say, "Yes". When God says, "No," you say, "No". We need to start practicing obeying God now because that's gonna be what we spend eternity doing. Kent Hughes talked about that implication when he said, "When we pray, 'Your will be done,' when we pray this prayer, we're asking God to do what is necessary to make his will prevail in our lives and then comes with gracious, kind violence to root out all the impediments to our obedience. To pray this prayer may terrify us, but it will also deliver us from ourselves". That's what we're praying, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth and in my life as it's being done in heaven".
Then, thirdly, we're to pray for God to take care of our daily needs. We turned it from God's interest to our interest. "Lord, give us this day our daily bread". Now, that seems a little bit quaint. You know, in the Bible, the term "daily bread" is a reference to all of our needs physically, food, water, clothing, shelter, and remember, in this culture, people received their wages every day. You got just enough to meet your daily obligations. Now let's be honest. For us to sit around our kitchen table and pray, "Oh, you know, give us our daily bread when we have a pantry full of food," seems a little bit disingenuous, and we know, if we ran out of food, we can, you know, get something from Amazon Prime delivered in a few hours on our doorstep. So why do we need to pray for our daily food when it seems we have plenty?