The Sins We Commit in Prayer – Matthew 6:5-8

In Matthew 6:1-4 Jesus taught us how not to practice our righteousness, mainly in terms of our giving to the poor. Then in verses 5-8, He tells us how not to practice our prayers. He said,

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  6 “But you, 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.

7 “And 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.  8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

From this passage we may identify two sins while going to prayer, or even in prayer. The first is that we may pray to be known and seen by others. We can call this sin…

1. Putting the Focus on Self When We Pray

So, first of all, when you hypocrites pray you are anxious to be known by others as being a great prayer warrior, or a holy man of prayer. Perhaps in your prayer group you get pleasure knowing that people think of you as a person of prayer. And so, thinking that they may regard you that way, you do everything possible to support their thoughts. Thus, you are quick to be the first to pray, and you will pray extra loud so that they can hear you.

But not only is the prayer-hypocrite anxious to be known by others as a person of prayer, he also wants to be seen as a man or woman of prayer. So, you may position yourself to be seen praying. Do you have a prayer room in your church? Do you enjoy having people see you go into the prayer room?

Prayer should not be that way. Prayer, Jesus said, is to God only. It is not for the eyes and ears of others. We should work on not being conscience of each other’s praying—that is, how they pray. Rather, when we pray, we should be carried on the wings of prayer so that we are always thinking on God.

The second sin we often commit in prayer is…

2. Thinking Too Much on The Form and Length of Time We Pray

We think that we will be heard for our beautiful words of prayer. You may think of this as “vain repetitions.” Perhaps you have heard of the terms “counting beads,” or “prayer wheels,” or “walking a labyrinth.” And many take great pride in repeating prayers over and over, thinking that this impresses God or others, or even yourself.

In all of what is said here, it is all the sin of self and pride—even in prayer. It is the sin of self-worship and self-adulation. When we try to worship God in our pride, we are actually worshipping self. Now we know that the best picture of man is to look at him on his knees waiting upon God. But even in that picture man sins if he thinks about himself as performing a holy act before God. Hence, sin is something that follows us into the presence of God.

So, when you pray try to shut out and forget yourself or what other are thinking about you.  Instead realize that you are in the presence of God and that He is listening to you and wants to meet your needs. Realize that He knows all your needs already and He desires to give you what you ask for.

Love Your Enemies

In Matthew 5: 43-44, we have this teaching to love our enemies, in contrast to the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes, to love their neighbors, but to hate their enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

It is well known that the Jews in biblical times separated themselves from all others and regarded them as dogs. They drew their teaching from the Old Testament, where we find that God commanded His people to exterminate all the pagans in Cannon: the Amorites, the Moabites, the Midianites, and the Amalekites. And they also drew their teaching from the imprecatory Psalms, where the psalmist called curses on certain of God’s enemies.

But our answer is that their extermination was not a matter of personal hate, but of judgment and for the glory of God. God loves all people—all of His creation—but at the same time He must deal with us according to our sin. So, there is love, and there is also judgment. God loves all. He causes His sun to rise on the evil as well as the good; and so, He blesses all, even those who hate Him. But at the same time, unless man repents, they will eventually be judged by a righteous and holy God.

The Command to Love

In Matthew 5:38-42, we are instructed to resist not evil.  For example, if someone slaps us on the cheek, we are not to resist him. But then, our next step is to bless the one who hit us with kindness and love. What can we say or do to bless him? What would Jesus do? Scripture says that we are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect. This is the way of a Christian, the way of love.

How to Love

I think the most basic principle of love is that it is not dependent on what others say or do to us, but is governed by our view of the needs of others. That is, we must look to see how we can help them.

This attitude requires that we be detached from ourselves. That is, we must look away from our own feelings, away from any pain and hurt and pride; we must learn to put all that aside and focus on others—to love them, to love them with a disregard for ourselves and what it may cost us. Even if they do not except our love, and if they scream at us, and even hit us; we are to understand them and persist with our mission of love to them.

Here is a three-point requirement for anyone who is interested in loving others:

1. We must understand why people will reject our love to them—because they are governed by the god of this world.

2. We must do all we can to rescue them.

3. When you love them, do it not to befriend them, but to help them and to display the love of God to them. Let them see the love of God in you.

Now, be ready to do battle. Even when you love, the world will naturally hate you. But be persistent in your reply.

  • Reply to bitter words with kind words.
  • Reply to spiteful actions with good deeds.
  • Reply to persecution with your prayers for them.

And remember, your goal is not to befriend them or get them to like you, but to allow them to see the love of God, so that they might glorify Him.

SOURCE: Studies in the Sermon of the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

An Eye for An Eye – Matthew 5:38-42

I have been blogging from the book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The book is actually a copy of his sermons and well worth reading. Today we will cover this familiar text and see what Jesus says about it.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matt. 5:38-42)

This Mosaic teaching about an eye for an eye, etc., was from Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. According to Lloyd-Jones, the main intent of the teaching was to control anger and the desire for revenge, and to make sure the punishment fits the crime.

Now the Pharisees taught that it was the right and the duty for each person that was violated to get his own revenge. However, it is important to understand that God gave the prescribed punishments to the judges to dish out and not to individuals. They were the ones to make sure that the punishment fit the crimes. Also, we are not to understand that the judges were always to take God’s prescribed punishment, “an eye for an eye,” etc. literally, but was meant only to teach fair judgments.

So, the Pharisees taught that we should enact our own revenge toward anyone who is evil toward us. That if they strike us, we should strike them back with the exact same force. But what does Jesus teach in regard to how we should act toward someone who is evil toward you? He says that we are not to resist them. What does that mean? Here are the points that Lloyd-Jones gives us:

1. The teaching is only for Christians. We can’t expect a non-Christian to act like a Christian in this way of not resisting evil. They will not understand it, nor do they have the Spiritual power to do it.

2. The teaching here applies to the relationship one has with another person, not to the government.

3. The teaching is directed toward my own attitude toward myself. Jesus tells us that we should not take personal revenge or have anger toward another for whatever they do to us. We should leave revenge to God and to the authorities. I should not be concerned with losing personal possessions and even damage to self. Our attitude as a Christian must be to deny self, to be dead to self.  

My Book, Prayer A to Z: Why A Book on Prayer?

In this blog post, and the next few, I will be writing about my books. I have written nine books and will soon be completing a tenth book. Today I will start with Prayer A to Z: A Comprehensive Bible-Based Study of Prayer. I began putting it together in 1992 and it was published in 2013. So, it took me a while to write it. But it’s long, 735 pages.

As you can tell by the title, it’s a book on prayer and was meant to be very comprehensive. Some may ask, why do I need to read a book on prayer? Especially a book of that length? I remember one person saying to me, just as I was beginning to write the book, that he didn’t need to be taught how to pray; he just needed to pray more. He was saying, in effect, that just by his practice of prayer, that, in itself, would make him better at prayer.

Well, I agree that the more we pray the better at prayer we will get and the closer our relationship with Him will be. But I also think that some instruction is necessary. In fact, we know that from what Jesus taught His disciples. He took the time to instruct them on how to pray. In chapters 17 and 18 of my book, I point this out. In chapter 17, I give eight of Jesus’ teachings on prayer. Then in chapter 18 is my study of the Lord’s Prayer, which is really Jesus’ lesson plan (or tutorial) on prayer to His disciples—and to us.

So, we really do need to be taught how to pray, and we especially need to pay attention to Jesus’ teachings on prayer. And really, all through the bible we can find prayer help and instruction. I especially like the Psalms.

And for those who think that all we need to do is pray, I want to give this warning: if you do that, you will be fighting against the Holy Spirit and your praying will not be according to His will or what He desires. For if He has given us instruction on prayer in His word, and we choose not to follow it, then we are being disobedient to the Holy Spirit and all our efforts at prayer will fail and may even cause us to be misled.

In my book, I not only present all the biblical teaching I could find on prayer, as I searched the Scriptures; I also read from about 100 books and articles offering their biblical studies on prayer, being careful not to include any material that was not biblical. I think there are too many books out there already that offer only people’s experiences. In my opinion, those kinds of books will do more damage than good. In terms of prayer, the only thing we need is God’s word and the testimonies of those who followed His word. Anything else is simply speculation.

I think this is enough for this post. Next time I will try to summarize the book by briefly going through the chapters.