Take Time to Listen When You Pray, Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
Title: Take Time to Listen When You Pray
Text: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:6)
Bible Reading: Matthew 6:5-13
The Bible reading is Matthew 6:5-13. I’ll read those verses after a few words about our subject, which is prayer.
For an athlete to excel in the sport of his or her choice they must submit to the physical disciplines that will prepare them for excellent performance. Likewise, to truly be followers of Jesus Christ, we must follow certain exercises and disciplines. Jesus’ prayer life was not a mere routine or habit that He followed. His prayer life was a dynamic experience with God the Father that so enriched Him that one of our Lord’s disciples said to Him, “Lord teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). The art of effective praying needs to be learned and Jesus is the reliable Teacher that we should listen to and imitate. We need to recognize that prayer was meant to be a conversation in which communication takes place in both directions rather than being a monolog.
After hearing several sermons that emphasized this concept of prayer, a creative young person composed a song that he titled “Listen When You Pray.” The chorus goes like this:
Listen, O listen when you pray
To hear what God might have to say.
Listen, O listen when you pray
To hear what God might have to say.
It is interesting to note how many times in the Old Testament the people of God are accused of the sin of refusing to listen to God’s voice. It’s also interesting to note how many times in the New Testament our Lord says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:9). This phrase is repeated seven times in Revelation 2 and 3 and it’s used to indicate the importance of what comes next. If you have ears to hear, listen, as I read our text; Matthew 6:5-13.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye (say it with me): Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
The first thing that can be seen in this passage is that Jesus assumed that His disciples would pray (Matt. 6:6).
People pray because they must. The Greek word for man is Anthropos, which means “an upward looking creature.” Humans are made with a hunger for God. Praying, like giving, is to be done unto the Lord, not unto man. Many professing Christians, if they were honest, would have to admit that they pray to be heard of men. Jesus said that the people of His day love to pray standing in the synagogues. Having both a time and place for prayer was customary in the ancient Jewish synagogue (Mk 11:25). Therefore, Jesus is not condemning the practice of public prayer, but rather the misuse of it! Because of the statement “enter into thy closet” some have suggested that all public prayer is wrong. This would be contrary to what the rest of the New Testament says about prayer, and to commandments and restrictions we are given regarding prayer, and to examples of prayer meetings such as the one mentioned in Acts 12:12 where we are told, “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, …where many were gathered together praying.” The notion here is that the believer should not make a show of his prayer or of the answers he receives to prayer in such a way as to call unnecessary attention to himself. Remember, it is God who sees in secret, that rewards us openly. The intimate father-child relationship between God and man is clearly seen when the two come together during prayer. It is the practice of private prayer that ultimately prepares one to pray effectively in public. Most people, who say they cannot pray in public, do not pray effectively in private either!
Jesus assumed that we would hunger for fellowship with our heavenly Father. This hunger is what leads us to engage in both public and private prayer. Our public praying is only as good as our private praying, and our private praying should be secret, and it should be sincere and logical. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern for us to follow so that we will put God’s concerns first and not forget to forgive others. He assumed that we would hunger for fellowship with the family of God when we are talking with our heavenly Father. The concept we are dealing with here is world-shattering.
Did you notice the Lord uses the term, Father? These are citizens of the kingdom and members of the family of God that the Lord is talking about. Someone may want to know how you become a child of God today. John 1:12 gives us the answer: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power the authority to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” Our Lord even said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again;” until then you can’t call God your Father. Did you know that in the Old Testament you will not find the word Father used in relation to a man with God? God said of the nation of Israel as a whole, “…Israel is my son” (Ex. 4:22), but He did not say it about an individual.
The Lord Jesus is speaking of a new relationship. Probably Jesus assumed that we would pray because of an overwhelming sense of helplessness and need. Have you ever thought you were at the end of your rope? When that happens, remember God lives at the end of your rope. Sometimes you need to arrive at a place where you realize you can’t do it by yourself, before God will help. The great need of humans in their struggle with evil causes us to want to pray.
• THERE IS EVIL WITHIN US. There is a constant battle going on within all believers. The new nature Christ gives us when we are saved cannot sin, but we still have our old sinful nature, and at times our old nature controls us. The battle between our two natures will go on as long as we live, but at death, the old nature must stay in the grave as our spirit flies to the Lord. Unbelievers only have the sinful nature they were born with, and that’s why:
• THERE IS EVIL ABOUT US. All you have to do to see the evil that exists all about us is to read the paper or watch the nightly news. Some of the things reported are terrible. I read a true story that tells of one of the horrible things evil people are capable of doing. Calvin Miller is a popular author, preacher, and professor. He recently told about a little girl who didn’t think anybody cared whether she lived or died. Her body was fished out of a river in Kansas City and the rescue team found a note pinned to her dress. The washed-out ink revealed the thoughts she had written down before ending her life. The note read, “I don’t have a friend in the world. Nobody cares for me.” What a mess when little lives are self-destructed because they don’t feel concern coming from those around them. Folks, we should let every child know we care about them. It’s evil, in us and around us that causes a little girl to feel like no one loves her. And who is it that’s behind the evil; causing it and promoting it? The Bible has the answer; we are told:
• THE EVIL ONE WALKS ABOUT SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR. Satan knows how to use pride to defeat you as he defeated Eve (Gen. 3:1–6). Are you laughing when you should be weeping over your sins? Are you resisting the devil or resisting the Lord. Adrian Rodgers told his congregation, “If you’re sinking in quicksand, Satan will gladly pat you on the head.” But, it has been said that Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his or her knees. James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (4:8). When we pray we need to remember the chorus: “Listen, O listen when you pray to hear what God might want to say.” We have seen that Jesus assumed His disciples would pray, and: