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Matthew 6:5-8



Intro:  Of all the privileges the saints of God enjoy, perhaps the greatest is the privilege of prayer.  To be able to go directly into the presence of the Lord is an honor beyond description, Heb. 4:16.  To be able to speak to the God Who created and controls the universe, and to know that He has promised to hear us and to answer us, Jer. 33:3; Isa. 65:24, is a blessing to great to comprehend.  When you consider the fact that real prayer is not just our sending words out into thin air, but that real praying is used by God to accomplish His purposes on the earth, it boggles the mind!  What a gift we have been given!  What a privilege is ours, to be able to speak to God; knowing He will hear and He will answer; knowing that He has invited us to be involved with Him in the work He is doing!

      But, like anything else in life, we humans can even mess up something as profound and beautiful as prayer.  Since the time of Seth in Gen. 4:26, men have been calling upon the name of the Lord.  Many have prayed properly and have seen God move in tremendous power as He heard and answered those prayers.  Others have prayed out of wrong motives and have received nothing in answer to their requests.

      In these verses, Jesus is exposing some of the problems in prayer that were rampant in His day.  He condemns the pretentious praying of the “hypocrites”, or the religious elite of that day.  Jesus tells us that their praying will amount to nothing!  Then, He tells us how men should approach God.  Today, I want to preach from these verses on this subject: Praying Without Pretense.  The word “pretense” means “insincere or feigned behavior: something done or a way of behaving that is not genuine but is meant to deceive other people”[1] In other words, pretense is another word for hypocrisy.  Pretentious, hypocritical praying will not be heard or answered by the Lord.  Therefore, you and I need to learn how to pray without pretense.  Let’s look at what Jesus said about this matter.



(Ill. The Jewish nation was a blessed and privileged people.  God has chosen them, given them the Law, promised to send the Messiah through them and gave them access unto Him.  They, of all people, should have known how to talk to God.  But, over the years, many errors had worked their way into Jewish worship and prayer.  These are the problems Jesus refers to here.  A quick rundown of those errors is in order at this point.

1.  Prayer had become nothing more than a ritual – The Jew prayed, but his prayers were scripted and the form was set.  He either quoted them from memory or read them.  Thus, a Jew could pray and not even think about what he was saying. (Ill. If you ever see footage of Jews praying at The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem that is what you are seeing.)

            Every morning and evening, faithful Jews would repeat the Shema.  This prayer was formed from selected phrases from Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Num. 15:37-41.  Often, the Shema was used in its abbreviated form.  This would be just Deut. 6:4.

            Another prayer they prayed morning, noon and night was called the Shemoneh ‘esray, which means The Eighteen.  This was a series of eighteen prayers that addressed various aspects of life.  The faithful Jew would prayer all eighteen of these prayers three times every day.

            Regardless of where the Jew was, at the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour he would stop what he was doing and he would offer the necessary prayers.  Of course, some could have prayed these prayers in sincerity, but most were simply following ritual.

2.  Predetermined prayers were formulated for every aspect of life – Every conceivable turn of life had a prayer that had been developed to deal with it.  This also led to prayer being something that could be recited from the head and not lifted up from the spirit.  (Ill. There is a modern trend in this direction.  Ill. The availability of books of prewritten prayers.)

3.  Prayer was limited to preset times and occasions – Instead of praying when they felt led to, or when a need arose, they all prayer at set times.  (Ill. Jews, Muslims and other groups do this today.)  We need to remember that there is nothing wrong with praying at a predetermined time, but we are called upon to be in an attitude of prayer always, 1 Thes. 5:17.

4.  Long prayers were held in high regard – The Jews believed that the longer and more elaborate the prayer, the more likely it was to be heard by God.  Jesus warned against this practice, Matt. 12:30.  Nothing wrong with long-winded praying as long as the Spirit is moving in it, but when a person prayer a long time to impress others, which is what the Jews were doing, they have cross the line into pretense.

5.  Many prayers were comprised of meaningless repetition – The Jews were notorious for repeating phrases and of adding adjectives to the name of God, thinking they would be heard by Him.  This was a pagan practice that, sadly, is found in some Christian circles today.

6.  The desire to be seen and heard of others – This is the worst offense of all.  Prayer had ceased to be about communion with God and had degenerated into an attempt to impress others.  This is the attitude Jesus is dealing with in these verses.

A.  Beware Of Wrong Motives – God tells us that prayer is not about being seen or heard by others.  But, prayer is a time of personal communion with God.  Many have read these verses and concluded that any kind of public prayer is off limits.  That is not true!  Jesus was not forbidding public prayers, but He was telling men to beware of who their audience was.  If men were praying in public to be seen and heard by other, then they had totally missed the point of prayer.  Prayer is about a man entering into the presence of God to have communion with Him.

B.  Beware Of Wrong Methods – These people Jesus called hypocrites were guilty of standing in public places, such as synagogues and busy street corners and praying loud and long prayers.  Their desire was to impress others with their piety and religiosity.  Jesus soundly condemns this kind of praying, because it draws attention to man and not to God.  It glorifies the flesh and not the Father!

            Again, there is nothing wrong with praying in public.  There is nothing wrong with a person standing in public to pray.  God is not concerned about the posture of the body; He is concerned about the attitude of the heart!  If a person’s public praying is different from their private praying and is designed to appeal to others, instead of pointing men to God, then it smacks of hypocrisy and pretense.


      (Ill. It is a blessing to hear some people pray.  They pray in such a way that you realize they don’t care if you are there or not.  They aren’t talking to you, they are talking to God.  I heard about Bill Moyers, who was on President Lyndon Johnson’s staff.  One day, he was asked to say the blessing on a meal in the White House.  As he quietly prayed to the Lord, he was interrupted by President Johnson who said, Speak up Bill, I can’t hear what you are saying.”  Bill Moyers replied, “I wasn’t speaking to you Mr. President.”  That is the essence of prayer!  It is not about impressing men; it is about communing with the Lord!)



(Ill. Having told His men how the hypocrites prayed, Jesus proceeds to tell them how they should pray.  Why the warning and guidelines for prayer?  Even in an activity like prayer there is still the danger that the flesh will get involved, or that we will be led astray by Satan. 

      Two of Satan’s strongest attacks against Jesus came during times of intimate communion with His Father, Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 22:39-46.  If Jesus was attacked by the devil, then you and I can expect the same treatment.  Satan will try anything he can to hinder your prayer life.  He will try to get your flesh involved if he can.  He will turn your prayer time into a time of self-promotion and self-centeredness.  Here is what Jesus says about our private prayer time.)

A.  Real Prayer Is A Priority – “when thou prayest” – Jesus does not say, “If you pray,” He says, “When you pray.”  It is expected that God’s people will pray.  We are commanded to pray, Luke 18:1; 1 Tim. 2:1-8.  Since we are told to pray, we must make prayer a priority.  If pray is not made a priority in your life, then you will never pray!  It is sad but true, some people only pray when they are in public, or when they go to church or a prayer meeting.  That should not be!  Communion with God should be the highest priority of each day.  You will never grow in the Lord beyond the depth of your prayer life!

B.  Real Prayer Is Personal – In contrast to the hypocrites, who liked to pray in public places to be seen of others, Jesus tells His people to go into a private place to pray.  There are things that need to be said in prayer that do not need to be said within earshot of others.  When we pray in private, we can have liberty to declare our hearts to the Lord.  We can pray about personal, private matters that would embarrass us if others heard.  We can call out the names of people that burden us in our private time of prayer.  We can be honest with the Lord.  We can humble ourselves before Him.  We can be who we really are, for in private prayer there is no one to impress.  It is our time with God!  Do you keep a regular time of private prayer with the Lord?

       (Ill. Again, there is nothing wrong with praying as a group.  Notice verse 9.  Jesus tells us to say “Our Father.”  This implies corporate prayer.  Still, there is nothing more precious than spending time alone with God in private prayer.

            By the way, you don’t even have to pray out loud!  A fourth century believer by the name of Chrysostom said that many people in his day prayed so loud in their prayer closets that everyone could hear when they were saying.  That is the same attitude as the hypocrites!  Friends, there are some things I don’t want you to hear!  There are some things I don’t want the devil to hear!)


C.  Real Prayer Is Precious – When Jesus uses the phrase “pray to thy Father which is in secret,” he is referring to the very dwelling place of God.  For the Jews, this was a startling revelation.  For centuries, the High Priest was the only one allowed to enter the Holy of Holies.  He could only enter once per year, on the Day of Atonement, and he could only enter with blood to atone for his sins and for the sins of the people.  Jesus tells us that when we enter into genuine prayer before the Lord, that we are able to enter the “secret place” with Him.  Literally, we are allowed access into the “Holy of Holies” in Heaven.

            When we pray, and pray properly, we are allowed access into the throne room of grace, Heb. 4:16.  We do not have to have some human priest to stand in for us, but through Jesus Christ, we have access to the very throne of our Father in heaven.  We have the privilege, during our seasons of private prayer, to step out of this world for a time and to enter His presence to commune with Him.  That is why private prayer is so precious and so powerful.  It literally takes you into the presence of God and it brings God’s presence near to you, James 4:8.

D.  Real Prayer Is Powerful – We are told that “thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”  When we pray to the Lord out of a sincere desire to have communion with Him, He will honor our faith and our humility and will answer in such a way that will demonstrate the fact that we have been with Him.  If we will refuse to show off in prayer; then He will show out in His answers to prayer!

            Jesus is telling us that when prayer ceases to be about us and our being seen by others, and it becomes all about Him, then we can expect Him to move in response to our prayers.  You see those who pray for the applause of others get exactly what they want, verse 5.  But, those who see prayer as a time of private communion with the Lord, and are not concerned with personal glory, see God move in mighty power, and He gets all the glory!



(Ill. Having told us what not to do and what to do, Jesus offers a few more conditions related to our personal prayer lives. These are important, so don’t miss them!)

A.  v. 7  Refrain From Repetition – Pagans, as well as many of the Jews, believed that they would be heard by the Lord if they repeated their prayers, or the same phrases over and over.  An example of this is seen in the Baal prophets in 1 Kings 18:26-29; and with the people of Ephesus in Acts 19:24-34.  Jesus does not want His people to engage in meaningless repetition!  The same thing occurs still today.  “Many Buddhists spin wheels containing written prayers, believing that each turn of the wheel sends that prayer to their god. Roman Catholics light prayer candles in the belief that their requests will continue to ascend repetitiously to God as long as the candle is lit. Rosaries are used to count off repeated prayers of Hail Mary and Our Father, the rosary itself coming to Catholicism from Buddhism by way of the Spanish Muslims during the Middle Ages. Certain charismatic groups in our own day repeat the same words or phrases over and over until the speaking degenerates to unintelligible confusion.”[2]

            But, if we are not careful, that is exactly when we will do!  We will pray the same prayer over every meal.  We say the same phrases morning and night when we pray.  We use the name of God, or Father, or Lord, over and over when we pray.  We are to refrain from repetitious praying!  We will try anything to help pray longer, or to make us sound more religious when we pray.

            We must remember that it is not the length of our prayers that matter, nor is it the eloquence of our words and it is not even the content of our prayers that is at issue.  What matters most is the condition and attitude of the one doing the praying and the motive behind the praying!

            Let me add that it is not wrong to repeat the same requests to the Lord.  It is wrong to enter into a mindless state where prayer becomes something we do, but to not think about.  To drone on in repetitious praying is an insult to the Lord!

B.  v. 8  Rest In Your Relationship – Jesus reminds us that God is our “Father.”  As such, He knows what we need before we ask and He is concerned that our needs be met, Matt. 6:24-34; Luke 12:32. 

      Some might say, “If God already knows what we need, then what is the point in praying?” Prayer gives God the opportunity to hear His children express their love for Him, their dependence upon Him and their faith in Him.  Pray affords God the opportunity to demonstrate His love, power, glory, providence, sovereignty and provision for His children.  Besides, prayers not prayed will be prayers not answered, James 4:2.

C.  v. 8  Rely On His Resources – Since He is God and since He is our Father, we can go to Him in confidence and faith believing that He has the power to answer us when we call upon Him.  Faith in God, through prayer, is essential to prayers being answered, Heb. 11:6; Matt. 21:22; James 1:5-8.

            Folk, I just believe that our God can do anything, Eph. 3:20; Job 42:2; Luke 1:37; Gen. 18:4.  Since that is true, we need to engaged in prayer, resting in His resources, believing in His power and rejoicing in His answers to prayer!


Conc:  Folks, I do not want to be a hypocrite in my prayer life!  As God is my witness this evening, I don’t want to impress you with my prayers.  What I want to do is to develop my private, personal prayer life, until it is everything God would have it to be.  I want to avoid pretense in my praying.  How about you?

      Is your prayer life all it should be, or has the Lord touched a sore spot or two through His Word?  If He has, or if you just want to grow deeper in your prayer life, the place to begin is in this altar.  If the Lord is calling you to a more powerful, more effective life of prayer, then why mot just mind Him and come before Him this evening?

      If we will come to the place where our prayer lives honor the Lord, He will bless us in a tremendous way.  It was said that D.L. Moody was so overwhelmed with the blessings of the Lord upon him that he prayed, “God, stop!”  God wants to fill your cup.  He wants to bless and use you beyond anything you have ever imagined.  But, everything in our walk with Him begins and ends with the quality of our prayer lives.

[1] Microsoftฎ Encartaฎ Reference Library 2004. ฉ 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


[2] John A. Broadus, Matthew [Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1886], p. 130.

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