The Sermon on the Mount is all about the kingdom-righteousness that Jesus creates in the lives of His people. In Matthew 6:5-14, He teaches us how members of His kingdom should pray. What lessons can we glean about prayer from this section? Let’s take a look.
“5And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when 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.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
We can learn at least nine lessons from this section from Jesus’ sermon:
1. Prayer is not for show (6:5-6).
Jesus denounces those who pray so that others will see them. “They have received their reward” (v. 5). They will not receive anything back from the Lord. All that they will receive is the empty praise of man.
2. Prayer is not ritualistic or mindless (v. 7-8).
There were people who ‘prayed’ using repetitious phrases believing that if they said enough of the right phrases, that God was bound to answer. But prayer is not a recitation of special phrases that binds God to answer. He doesn’t want to hear our Christianese phrases that we believe constitutes a truly ‘spiritual’ prayer. He wants to hear us.
3. Prayer is based on a relationship (v. 9).
Jesus begins his model prayer with “Our Father” for a reason. Prayer is meant to be relational. It is a conversation between God and His children. This is why it should never be for show or ritualistic. God desires intimate communion with His people. He doesn’t want us to say the same things over and over again with no thought to them. He wants to converse with us. What a thought!
4. Prayer should be focused on God, His glory, His will, and His kingdom (v. 9-10).
The primary focus of our prayers should be God Himself. We do not come to Him in prayer to get things from Him, but to get more of Him. As we focus on Him, our chief concern should be praying that He would be glorified, that His will would come on earth, and that His kingdom would expand.
5. Prayer should include asking for our needs (v. 11).
Even though we begin with a focus on Him, God does not want us to stop there. He wants us to ask Him to meet our needs, even though He knows what we need before we ask (v. 8)! Why? Because He is after a relationship with us. He wants us to consciously depend on Him. He wants us to ask for our physical and spiritual needs to be met, as well as those around us, because he actually cares for us and our needs and wants to meet them (1 Pet 5:7).
6. Prayer should include confession of sin and asking for forgiveness (v. 12a).
Here again, think relationship. Unconfessed sin can come between us and our relationship with God. Therefore, confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness is a privilege. It gives us the opportunity to recognize our sin (via the conviction of the Holy Spirit), confess them to God, and remind ourselves that we are completely forgiven because of the work of God’s Son. It reminds us of God’s grace and restores peace with Him in our conscience.
7. Prayer should include forgiving others of sin (v. 12b).
This is an under-emphasized aspect of prayer. We should spend time thinking of anyone that we need to forgive, and forgive them in the moment of prayer. We can pray and ask God for strength to forgive, we can take our frustration/disappointment to him, and we can pray for that person.
8. Prayer should include concern for spiritual growth and holiness (v. 13).
Asking God to lead us not into temptation is the same as asking Him to keep us from situations that might lead us to sin. However, when we find ourselves in those situations, we should still continue praying that He would help us resist and fight temptation. We can pray that He will make clear a way out and deliver us from evil. But we should pray not only to avoid sin and temptation, but for our personal pursuit of holiness and righteousness. We should be concerned for our spiritual growth, as well the growth of those around us!
9. God promises to reward those who seek Him in prayer (v. 6).
God promises to reward those who diligently seek him in prayer (v. 6; Heb 11:6). What might this reward be? I think it could be several things. Maybe it is more of God Himself. It could be a deeper love for God and for prayer. It could be the joy of growing in one’s intimacy with God. It could also be the incredible experience of seeing God answer prayers! Whatever it may be, it is a real reward from God. Therefore, our prayers are never meaningless. They will be heard, answered, and rewarded.
There are, of course, many other things we could say about prayer. The only thing that I would add to this list to is: prayer should include giving thanks, as seen in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
What else would you add?