Praying Without Hypocrisy
This morning I will have the privilege of continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve been looking at the 6th Chapter. And this morning, we find ourselves in verses 5-8. (read) 5
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “
Now any time you get into any discussion of prayer, you get into a certain area of difficulty. It’s hard to completely comprehend how prayer works within the plan and the sovereignty of the mind of God. And I’m not here this morning to unveil all the mysteries about prayer. But what we do know about prayer and what we must be committed to is that when the Bible teaches principles of prayer, God expects us to heed them. Whether or not we can fathom the mystery of how it works isn’t the issue. So we hear some teaching about prayer from the lips of our Lord Himself, concerning the dos and don’ts when we enter prayer .
Now let me give you some background. In the text, He is not only speaking to His disciples, He is also speaking to the Pharisees and the scribes who represented the phony religious leaders of the nation, and also to the people gathered with them on the side of that hill.
One of the main points in that sermon on the Mt. was to show the difference between the true spiritual life and the false standards of the Pharisaic, Judaistic system of that time. He has already told them that their theology is inadequate in Chapter 5. And we saw last week, their giving was hypocritical and now He deals with the hypocrisy in their pray life.
We will see that in every dimension of their religious experience seem to involved some kind of hypocrisy. They were phonies when they gave. They were phonies when they prayed and later we’ll see that they were phonies when they fasted. And Jesus lets his disciples know that God’s standards for His kingdom is more than what they were doing. And so He tackles them on this matter of prayer in verses 5-8.
Now, prayer was a major issue among the Jews. It was a tremendous factor in their religion. They were highly involved in praying. In fact, the rabbis said, “prayer greater than all good works.” The rabbis also said, “he who prays within his house surrounds it with a wall that is stronger than iron.” Some rabbis wrote that they regretted that they couldn’t pray all day long. Now no nation has ever viewed prayer higher than Israel. No religion ever set a greater standard of prayer than the Hebrew people.
But unfortunately as we have learned so far in this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lets them know that what they are doing is wrong. As they’re giving deteriorated into a show, so too did their pray.
Now I want to share with you several of the faults that crept in to the prayer life of the Hebrew people.
#1. Their prayer became ritualized.
Ritualistic prayers replaced a pure outpouring of a heart to God. I think we all can identify with prayers that become routine, prayer that become a ritualistic, that become simply an exercise with little or no meaning or significance.
You see, every day, if you were a Jew, in the morning and at night, you had to repeat the Shimah. And the Shimah is basically Deuteronomy 6,
“Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”
And they recited from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and then Numbers 15:37-41. They recited all those verses together and they made this long prayer out of them, and the Jew had to pray this prayer every morning and every night. So every morning and every night this was the routine. And by the way, if the Shimah was a little long for you, they had adapted a summary that you could pray if you were in a hurry. Secondly, they had what was known as the SHEM ON EH ‘ES REH. And the SHEMONEH ‘ESREH was another formulized kind of prayer. It was composed of 18 smaller prayers concerning different things. For example, I’ll give you prayer #12. “Let thy mercy oh Lord be showed upon the upright, the humble, the elders of thy people of Israel and the rest of its teachers. Be favorable to the pious strangers amongst us and to us all. Give thou a good reward to those who sincerely trust in thy name.”
And they had 18 of these individual prayers in the SHEMONEH ‘ESREH, that they had to recite each morning, afternoon, and evening in addition to the Shimah. They also had an abbreviated version of this if you were in a hurry. So it became pretty much the standard that there was prayer at the third, the sixth, and the ninth hours of each day no matter where you were or what you were doing.
This is still quite common for the followers of Muhammad. They’ll stop, roll out their prayer matt at the prescribed time and say their prayers. So it pretty much became a routine. Prayer became a ritualized function. Unfortunately it ceased to be a personally meaningful communion with God. Now I’m sure for some it was a truly honest, a pure-hearted loving communion with God. But most of the people probably weren’t in that category. They probably fell into one of the two categories. They became like the Pharisees, prayed to demonstrate how religious they were. And then I sure there was a group of people who didn’t honestly pray, they just mumbled their way through those prayers just to get it through them. Whatever it was, they just went, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, muttered along, just to get through them so they could get back to whatever they were doing beforehand. So in one we see pride involved in prayer and these others they were indifference to it.
#2 The second fault that crept into the Jewish prayer habit, was the development of special prayers for special occasions. They had prayers for everything. I mean, it didn’t matter what it was, they wrote a prayer for it and when that thing happened, you prayed that prayer.
They had prayers for light and prayers for darkness. Prayers for fire, prayers for lightening, prayers for seeing a new moon, prayers for a comet, prayers for rain and droughts, prayers for a tempest, prayer for the sea, prayers for the lakes, the rivers, they had prayers when you received good news, they had a prayer when you received bad news. They had a prayer when you got new furniture. They had prayer when you left the city. They had prayer when you were on the road. And they had a prayer when you entered the next city. And that’s just a few of the prayers they had.
They had a prayer for everything, and so the common habit was to find out what the prayer was and learn it and whenever something happened, you rattled off the prayer that was fitting for that particular event. Now, I’m sure the original intention of the rabbis was to bring everything into the presence of God to make every part of life, every act of nature and every event in the world something that drew them to God. But instead, the Jews became a more committed to reciting prescribed, predigested, pre-developed prayers.
Now I believe that prayer is like breathing. You don’t say it’s 12 o’clock, I’m going to breathe now. No, you breathe all the time. Prayer should be a constant inhale and exhale of communion with God that goes on in the life of a believer all the time. Not to pray as to hold your breath. But for them, prayer became a regiment of reciting a certain thing at a certain hours.
#3. A third fault that crept into the Jewish prayer pattern was that they seem to think it was more spiritual to pray long prayers.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with a long prayer as long as it’s really a heart felt communication with God. But you miss the mark if you think by saying a long prayers you are more spiritual than those who pray short prayers, or that God is going to be more impressed with you, or you do it trying to impress others.
The rabbis used to say whenever a prayer is long, that prayer is heard. And the implication is that you’ve got to spend the first few minutes just getting God’s attention. But is that true? Of course not.
#4. That lead to a forth fault in their prayers. They picked up vain repetition from the pagans. The pagan approach to prayer was you keep repeating yourself until the God gets so weary of hearing you that He does what you want. That’s basically it. Just keep doing it and doing it and saying it and saying it until He gets so sick of hearing it, that He finally reacts.
And so the Jews picked this up and we find some old Jewish prayers which ramble on.
#5. But the worst fault and the one mentioned in our text, is that they prayed to be seen by men. That’s a major fault.
Look at verse 5. It says that “they loved to pray.” Now at first glance that sounds wonderful, “for they love to pray.” But the question is why do they love to pray? Did they love to pray because they loved God? Did they love to pray because it ushered them into His blessed presence? Why did they love to pray?
Knowing the hearts of all men, Jesus said that they loved to pray to be seen by men. They wanted to be on the stage. The Word Hypocrite, or the original Greek work Hu po kri tase originally referred to an actor. They were actors in a theater, in their case on the street corner. They were putting on a show for everybody to see. Oh look how holy they are.
That was the wrong motive, that’s what Jesus wanted to deal with here; the motive of our prayers. We may never unscramble all the mysteries surrounding prayer, but we can certainly deal with the issue of the motive as the Lord does here. Our prayers are not an exercise to puff up our ego, or to impress other. But rather its a talk with God.
Do you ever pray and pray, and after you pray in some group you think to yourself in your mind, ‘Boy I bet they thought that was a good one?’ Or perhaps you thought, ‘Boy, I’ll bet the people enjoyed that.’
I just want you to understand something about prayer, and you need to learn this, prayer is not so sacred that Satan can’t invade it. Did you know that? Prayer is not so sacred that Satan can’t invade it.
If we never learn anything more out of this text, we need to learn that there’s no holy ground that Satan doesn’t try to get in on. You’d think that when you are in your deepest devotion and walk into the throne room of God to commune with Him in His holy presence that we cannot sin, but we can.
Sin and pride can follow us into the very presence of God. And it’s so sad when it does. In those quiet moments when we try enter His presence and worship Him in purity, we can find ourselves being tempted to worship ourselves, or judge others, or pray selfishly.
There’s no sacred ground for Satan. He invades it all. And I believe that the two greatest times of temptation Jesus ever experienced in His life was in the wilderness and then in the Garden of Gethsemane. And on both occasions He was by himself, and in communion with the Father. And it was there in that very private place of His communion with God in prayer that Satan invaded with temptations, probably stronger than any others in His life. If it happened to Jesus it can happen to us and unfortunately we give in and do selfish things.
Look at verse 5; and the whole passage will open to you now.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
These men gave in to their own selfish desires.
But when you pray, He says, don’t be like the hypocrites. Don’t be a phony.
Can we pray in public? Sure we can. Can I pray al long pray, and pray for the same things over and over. I truly believe we can. Want Jesus is addressing here again is our motive, our sincerity, the condition of our heart. Sometimes the only thing that will give us strength and courage in a time of need is to pray long and hard. So do you really want men to hear your prayer or do you want God to hear? Do you want to be rewarded by God or by men?
As we pray I truly believe our prayers should not be pretentious, nor ritualistic but rather should always be a communication of words and emotion from our heart. I believe when we learn to commune and pray like this, we grow closer to the Father. We bond with Him. We find comfort in having someone to talk to that loves us more than any man.
The sample prayer that Jesus gave when He tells them what to pray Honors our Father in heaven, recognizing His Lordship in all creation, and then Jesus lets us know that it’s ok to ask our God to help us with our needs. But in it He again reminds us that that we have to have the right attitude, a humble forgiving attitude.
And so today I challenge you to do your best to develop this kind of prayer life. And remember not to let Satan tempt you to sin as you talk with your Heavenly Father
(Based on a sermon by John MacArthur)
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