By Ray Luck
Pastor, Oak Grove Baptist Church, Athens
If we are ever going to know God then we must pray. It is through prayer that we are able to hear His heart speaking to our heart. In Matthew 6 Jesus challenged the people and religious leaders in regard to the following; their giving and fasting practices and why they fasted, where their treasure is, their lifestyle, and what was first place in their life. In the middle of this discourse He places before us a real challenge in regard to our prayer life. He pointed out that the length of our prayers is not what is important to God, but the quality and humility of the prayer. In Psalm 51:15-17 David talks about the kind of sacrifice God accepts, a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. This refers to a spirit that is broken down with sorrow over sin, is humbly, sincerely, and thoroughly repentant before God. As we look at this passage we see that Jesus is admonishing us about how not to pray and then tells us how to pray. In verses 5-8 Jesus follows up verses 1-4 which talks about our attitude in giving with words on how not to pray.
The thing we need to understand about the Jews of Jesus’ day is that they were a praying people. They had their set times of prayer and did certain things during that prayer time everyday as required by the law. Yet Jesus admonishes them because, in doing what they were doing, their heart was not right with God and there was no brokenness in their prayer life, again referring back to Psalm 51:15-17. The disciples, even though they were Jews observed that Jesus’ prayer life was different from theirs, implored Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1, “Lord, teach us to pray…”). Jesus then proceeds to teach them the true elements of prayer.
The first half of the Model Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer as many refer to it, focuses on God, His Kingdom, and His Divine Will. The second half focuses on our need for daily sustenance, for forgiveness and our need to forgive others (verses 14-15 serves as a commentary to this aspect of the prayer) and our need for God’s protection from the evil one. The Model Prayer closes by refocusing our attention on God reminding us that the Kingdom, the power, and the glory are His forever, Amen!
The last verses of this passage teach us how to fast when we do fast. It does not say that we have to fast at certain times, but what it does do is teach us how. When we fast we are not to make a big show of it because fasting is something between us and God. Therefore, do not be down in the mouth when you fast, but carry a cheerful countenance. This is similar to what He said in verses 5-8 about how we are to pray. In this great Scripture passage Jesus took the elements of the Law about prayer and fasting and taught what it really meant. God is not interested in the ritual, even though He established it, but in the heart behind the ritual. Anything we do can often become meaningless, but ritual is not all that bad if our heart is right with God. May our heart, in prayer and worship, always be humble and sincere before God.