[This sermon is one of a series entitled “Sermon on the Mount, Concentrating on the Beatitudes,” which is being preached on Sunday mornings by Pastor Tim Senter.]
Looking intently at verse 7 last week, we discovered a great many things. Probably the most prominent lesson is that faith produces different prayers than the prayers of unbelief. Faith also assures that God hears prayer. The prayers of an unbeliever or those without faith in their prayer become rather repetitious as though God did not hear the first time. The believer who is bringing prayers to the Lord in full faith of their answer will bring different prayers to the Lord as their heart changes. A believing heart bends and desires the will of God more and more as it is sanctified. The effect on the soul is quite amazing to witness as one shuns selfishness while the spirit is molded to become humble. The effect of prayer on the heart results from the righteousness of God in contact with that submitted heart. As the bereft spirit of man gains humility by seeking God’s righteousness, it develops a meek and gentle response to life. This submitted heart is purified in faithful prayer and becomes peace-loving as it grows in Christ. The Christian knows Christlike-ness and purity, righteousness and submission enrage Satan and his demons. We also know that these evil beings will attack and use unbelievers to relentlessly torment believers. Being maligned for Christ’s sake is a blessing (Matt 5:11). Further, suffering for Christ is a great joy for the Christian (James 1:2-3). The question for verse seven then is, “How can an individual growing in the Beatitudes pray using meaningless repetition?” The Christian knows God hears their prayer. They never presume He is ignorant of their needs, or that He might ignore their prayer. Christians know that it is the quality of time in prayer with God, not the quantity of one-way licentious and self-indulgent communication to God. The Christian knows the more we pray about nothing, the more nothing is heard.
In the weeks following, we will concentrate on a section of scripture well known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” All we have learned to this point is preparation for what is to come in chapter six, verses nine through thirteen. Let us continue our preparation for our Lord’s teaching.
Look at Matthew 6 and verse 8 please. Natural man (1 Cor 2:14) prays to God with a very surface or superficial attitude. The natural man claims sincerity, but if he were sincere, he would first ask God what He wanted in prayer. The natural man is simply not that willing to submit to, seek to obey or open himself up to God. We all have our walls, our barriers so to speak. We do not really want God to get beyond those barriers. In fact we often stack more things in front of it to barricade the entrance and keep Him out. We barely let the people around us in; why would we permit a perfect God access?
On the outside, to others, and even in an effort to convince ourselves, we try to put on a façade that appears pious, or tough, or meek. We all have the face we want everyone to see. This dualistic and deceptive spirit materializes many ways in man. A functional alcoholic can work perfectly well at their job. However, when alone or with those who accept the consumption of alcohol, the individual is a different person. Work and home life is another example. Many people operate sociably at work, however when they get home they become tyrants that hurt, and damage all with whom they come in contact. Many go unnoticed until reports of abuse arise that begin to display the individual’s wickedness. Spousal abuse, child abuse, pedophilia are perfect examples of the second face that people hide. People go to church, do great things there, claim to know God and show evidence of Christ in their lives. Yet in their private life or in the secluded home office they are no different from Joe pagan next door. They live a dual life that is as different as night is from day, as darkness is from light. This is the hypocrite being described in chapter six concerning prayer. We are admonished,
“Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
I have often caught my children in deceit, lies or inappropriate activity simply through my own experience. Every parent has known a child to hide a wrong doing in an attempt to avoid punishment. After all, who really wants a spanking? Chris and I adopted a practice of telling our grandchildren that when they disobeyed they were actually telling us they wanted a spanking. Their disobedience spoke to us as if they were talking to us.
Many of the things young people do or did as children, the parents have already done or experienced themselves. This is why we are parents and they are children. As my wife has often noted, if they knew better, God would not have given them parents. The fact is, children do not know better. The parents are the bastions of wisdom regardless what the children think they know. Children can actually benefit from obeying parents instead of trying to do it their way. Their parents, most of the time, have already tried the things children think to do.
Many children, too (I know I was) are surprised when parents tell their kids what they are about to do. This is definitely a magic moment for parents and an eye opening one for children. Young people should quickly realize that the reason their parents are so smart is not because they are just brilliant, although that can be the case. They are smart because they have done or experienced the things that their children are doing or planning to do. Now, I am not setting this up to say that God has experienced our sins and our evil heart in Himself and therefore like a parent He knows what we need before we ask. There is a likeness though in experience. God has seen so many human beings do the same things over and over, He knows what we need. More than that, before He created us He knew us just as He knew Jacob and Esau would be at odds through their entire lives; and that John the Baptist would be a pure and godly man. God knew these men while they were in the womb (Jer 1:5). God created us and He knows us better than we know ourselves.
The truth is that “Praying honestly recognizes the transparent condition of our heart.” True believing and heartfelt prayer is honest. Honest prayer lays it all out before God, searching for the true answers. Honest prayer recognizes God as God. It is prayer that thanks God for being God. We have problems with this even when we are going to Him in prayer. Here we are directly communicating with Him, the all knowing and omnipotent God and we still think we can effectively hide things. We hide them in the name of “self awareness.” We know better what we need. We can tell what our bodies need by some form of osmosis. There are actually child rearing books that teach this nonsense. As if a child knows what it needs. Children would eat chips and popcorn, pancakes and cookies for every meal if they could. Every grown adult is the same with God. We would gladly enjoy fast food from the pulpit or just the sweets in scripture presented to us repeatedly if we had our way.
Some prayers come out in the form of direction to God for what He should do, “God give me the strength to…” Some prayers come out in the form of a request, but in the mind of the person, it is a fiat-accompli because they have decided what is best “God, I really love her – please bless our wedding…” These are not prayers seeking the change required to submit to God’s will. These prayers are reactionary. They have been practiced in the wicked hearts of men around the globe for centuries. That is a useless, vain, repeating prayer of the unbeliever.
We think if we try very hard, we will be what God wants us to be. The problem is that we are focused upon ourselves once again. Even if it is a noble effort, it is still about us wanting to control the change and ultimately take credit for the outcome – Christlikeness. If we would simply face the fact that “God already knows” who and what we are and that He knows what we need to change, we would be much better off, we would pray better, and we could better submit to His will. In our verse today we find two different things. First, we find that we are encouraged to not be as the unbeliever. Second, we learn we are to understand God as God, even in prayer.
First we talk of the unbeliever, the heathen, the pagan, the individual who does not believe God is God. We can put many in this category but the simple fact is that unbelievers deny God’s sovereignty, power and wisdom in their prayers. Instead of looking at Him in the spiritual world and considering His great strength in that alone, natural man attempts to place God on his own physical plane, in an attempt to make Him malleable and moldable as well as vulnerable to man. The one true God is none of those things.
I. Unbelievers deny God’s omnipotence (Verse 8a)
Buddhist monks pray together for days crying aloud the sacred syllables, “Um mani padme aun.” They have a variety of chants they perform, both written and memorized. They all involve a preparation or meditation to prepare the mind. There is no thought to preparing the soul of man for God. Broadus notes:
“Buddhist students in Chinese Tartary, … put a written prayer on a wheel, which is turned with a crank or even by wind or water; and they believe that every revolution is a prayer, and adds to their merit.”
As with every other man made religion, Buddhists believe they can gain merit or favor with their false god. In this example, they do not even have to do anything except write down a prayer and adorn something with the paper. They do this, then attach the paper to a wheel and believe that every revolution of the wheel repeats the prayer and gives blessing or assures it’s being heard.
The Islamist is much the same with their repeated prayer. Islamists, as we noted last week, pray the same prayer five times a day. Sometimes they spin in circles chanting, “Allah.” The target of these prayers realizes relief from this immature and shameless display when the chanter falls to the ground, ending the “nails on the chalkboard” recitation. At times, after funerals, Islamists will repeat the phrase “Allah el Allah” (god is god) three thousand times. Consider chanting your earthly father’s name three thousand times. One would think that God, much like your earthly father, would tire and become frustrated in the same vein as “Are we there yet?”
This same thing takes place when we bow our heads and pray in our mind or through our mouth, but not from our heart. Much like the infidels of Buddhism, Islam and the Roman Catholic’s rosary, there is repetition. In all these instances, these people believe if they do not say it, even if they have already spoken it before, god will not hear. Their god is small and powerless. That is why they act as they do. Much like the child throwing the temper tantrum, they are not being heard and not getting what they want.
We pray going down our list but we are not really seeking connection spiritually with God through prayer in our heart. We ignore the true connection, sacrificing it for the duty of prayer, the obligation of prayer, the loyalty of prayer. We are faithful to have prayed down our list. In this way, we know we have merited with god – right? We touched every bead on our rosary so god must hear us.
To the Christian, God is all-powerful (Job 42:2). He knows all His creatures, and all things about them (Heb 4:13). The Christian knows these things and acknowledges them in prayer that is worshipful and spiritually connects with God. However, the infidel denies them in their self-righteous and physically oriented prayer. Unbelievers who repeat words, phrases, sentences or whole rote memory prayers only call attention to themselves in doing so. This is verse five again, as they metaphorically stand upon the street corner saying, “Look at me, I am praying to god.” This is especially true of the Muslim who cuts himself as the priests of Baal did in 1 Kings 18. We see these priests of Baal in the many cults today as they chant aloud, or pray so diligently they might faint from lack of food or water or go hoarse from yelling at the top of their voice until they can no longer talk. That testimony says, “Look at my dedication” and it receives its reward – that other men notice. This means nothing to the one true and real God. In Roman Catholicism, we see this in the pilgrim climbing the Scala Sancta. This is a set of steps that adorned Pilate’s palace, which were supposedly shipped to Rome by St. Helena.. Roman tradition believes that Jesus, after being scourged, climbed these steps and His blood dripped upon them and adorned them. Catholic pilgrims, make the trek to the Catholic holy land (the Vatican) like Islamists to Mecca, ascending these steps on their knees chanting a series of prayers for each of the 28 steps they endure. This, coupled with performing or taking place in other extra-biblical ceremonies and ritual rights, gives special favors called indulgences.
The only God of this world is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of Moses is the one God who defeated the gods of Egypt in the ten plagues. This God delivered His people from Egypt, rewarded them with freedom and chastised them when they acted as impertinent children. The one true God gave His Son Jesus of Nazareth for the sins of the world. There is only one God who does everything to make man like Himself. Only one God acts to make man fit to enter Heaven. That God is the Christian triune God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because unbelievers do not believe in the one true and real God, they believe in nothing and this is clearly evidenced in their prayer habits. They all look for what they can do for God instead of what God wants them to do for Him.
The scripture says we are not to be like these faithless people. We are not supposed to repeat prayers in doubt that God will hear, let alone answer them. We are supposed to pray about ourselves, about our lives, about our testimony, about your family members, about our churches and about all the things upon our hearts. However, we are to pray in faith, in hope, in love, and in the spirit, as prayer is worship (Jn 4:23-24).
What a difference a believer in Christ can realize in their life as they lay their entire being at the feet of the real true God of the Universe. They do so in complete faith that a God of gods, a King of kings hears their prayer.
II. Believers celebrate God’s omnipotence (Verse 8b)
The question then might be – what things do we need? The primary concern in prayer should be your concern for the situation or condition that brings you to prayer. It may be the beginning of the day, where you ask God to change you into a more Christlike creature. It may be a trial that seeks God’s strength to endure. It may be a great emotional loss that seeks God’s comfort in knowing He is sovereign. There may be a loss of a loved one. Whatever the situation, the Christian knows Matthew 7:7-12 where Jesus, the creator God tells us that He loves us enough to give us everything we need. Jesus prayed for different things on differing occasions and prayed for extended periods as well (Lk 6:12; 18:1). God loves us as a father loves a son and gives his children the things they need to survive. God is better than our earthly father in that He will never fail us. He will never leave nor forsake us. God knows what the birds need, and gives to them all that they require (Matt 6:26).
Another aspect of this is the repetition of words. Jesus Himself prayed three times that the Father might remove the cup from Him (Matt 26:39-44). As Bloomberg notes, the emphasis is on “vain” not on “repetitions.” The difference is that the repeating prayers we have discussed are not prayers seeking God’s will, but prayers seeking favor of God regardless of His will. Or worse yet, prayers that are simply repeated as some ritual man made up to try to honor God. Jesus told the Jews rituals were not the issue, it is worship from the heart that is important (Matt 15:8; 22:37). Jesus knew God loved Him as much as He ever could. Jesus also knew God loved His creation. Therefore, Jesus knew that in this love He would do as the Father wills – give Himself for you and for me at Gethsemane.
Contrary to the natural man’s various faiths and beliefs, Christians rest in God’s care. They do not look for ways to circumvent what they are told to do. Christians desire to implement the things of God in their lives. They look forward to the spiritual change that transforms us into the image of God (2 Cor 3:18). Christians look for the paths of righteousness and the light that is produced around that path to guide us through life (Prov 4:18). Believers do not look at God’s laws as restrictions, but rather as things to be obeyed and followed with joy. Christians seek God’s assistance in doing this very thing as they ask for their hearts and minds to be open to change and instruction (Ps 119:18). Christians know and rest in the truth that God knows the secrets of our heart (Ps 44:21b). As we pray in the spirit, we worship in the spirit, and we begin to walk in the spirit as we seek God’s perfection in our hearts and lives (Rom 8:4).
In this study we have found we must bow our hearts and recognize our empty spirit. This mourning heart seeks God to develop purity and righteousness. Knowing our true position before an omnipotent God, we develop meekness. We come full circle as the empty spirit seeks more of God, hungering and thirsting for the righteousness that is God. We are merciful to all those who know God, and especially to those who do not know Him because we recognize their eternal destination. This drives us back to mourn those souls. As we seek righteousness, we develop purity in our hearts. It is with this heart that is undergoing constant purification that we go before God in prayer.
This prayer life pours itself out in the form of changes in giving, changes in praying, changes in attitudes, changes in our lives, changes in our whole being. We give, pray, witness, fulfill the law, seek God’s righteousness, and become a light in the world of darkness, the salt of God on the wound of mankind. We give our all for the Savior who gave Himself for us. We know the truth. We begin living the truth. As the truth of God shines from us like the lighthouse beacon, people find us. We try to show them the rocky reefs. We reach out to others to plead for their eternal life with them. This is the meek, mourning, poor spirit within us.
These are the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. All we have learned up until now culminates in this teaching that we are to worship God as God in prayer. He already knows what is in your heart. Being afraid to reveal your true heart to Him in prayer is as foolish as not wanting to tell the doctor your arm is severed and you are bleeding profusely. The doctor already knows; he can see it. It is rather obvious. Would you foolishly chance death because you are embarrassed about what happened? There is a difference though. The doctor knows how to and will fix your arm regardless of what you tell him. God on the other hand will not force His way into your heart. You have to invite Him.
What are you going to do Christian? Are you going to invite Christ into your heart? Do not think for a moment that God does not know, does not see, does not understand what is already there. There is nothing beyond His understanding (Ps 147:5). If He can remove all the sins you have committed to make you righteous to enter Heaven, He can do anything. We serve a great God. Pray to Him in spirit and for His glory.
 John A. Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, (Kregel: Grand Rapids, 1886), 130.
 Indulgences began around the time of Martin Luther. Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar sold indulgence notes under a false promise of assurance that a stay in purgatory would be cut short. One could purchase the early release of a loved one. Indulgence sales gathered funds to rebuild St. Peter’s Church in Rome (Papal edict of 1514). With an indulgence, you could drink, be promiscuous or just sin wantonly. Your stay in purgatory was guaranteed reduced. The more you pay, the shorter your time before reaching Heaven. Luther’s congregants were purchasing indulgences. He found some unconscious and inebriated in ditches (sewers). When Luther asked them he found they thought they were doing just fine spiritually.
 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary, New International Version, (Broadman: Nashville, 1992), 117-118.