When You Pray - Matthew 6:5-15 (Sermon)



How do you pray? What are your prayers like? Years ago, I talked to a person and asked him about his prayer life. He told me something like he didn’t pray. I wanted to clarify. “How often do you pray during the week or month?” And he said something like, “I don’t.” So I tried another approach, thinking I was not hearing him correctly, “Do you pray before meals or driving or at the beginning or the end of the day?” “No, I don’t pray.” I wish I had asked him more questions. 


Do you pray? Not all prayers are equal. People can pray to the wrong god or the right God but with the wrong motives. For most people, prayer comes naturally. It is a reflex in crisis. You likely have heard that there are no atheists in foxholes, meaning people plead to a higher power in war or life-and-death circumstances. At the same time, prayer can be difficult. I have been in places where I couldn’t pray. I had nothing left in me. How do we pray? Two thousand years ago, Jesus modeled prayer and taught about it. This morning we will dive back into the Sermon on the Mount and pick up where we left off. We are in chapter 6 of Matthew, verse 5. 


Let’s look at the text. If you have your Bible, open to Matthew chapter 6. We have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s Word. Stand with me now. I have J.W. and G.W. reading for us. 

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:5–15)


Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for your Word. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to lead us in the way everlasting and teach us what it means to be righteous. Thank you for the gift of prayer. It is good to talk to you. We need you. We ask you to use this time for your glory and our joy in Jesus’s name, amen. You may be seated.


Jesus was teaching his disciples on a mountain, describing what it means to follow him into his kingdom. He cares about hearts. He cared about their attitudes and actions. He talked directly to them, telling them they were salt and light, preservatives and blessings in the dark and decaying world. Jesus went on to contrast his followers with the Pharisees. He said his disciples would have to be more right with God than the religious experts of the day. To enter heaven, they had to do better. That must have been shocking to them. If the experts of the law had no hope, what kind of hope did the average person have?


Jesus didn’t let up. He began to contrast a simplistic view of spirituality and goodness. He used six principles to get at the difference between a superficial understanding of rightness before God and one that goes deep into the heart. He used the benchmarks of murder, adultery, divorce, lying, revenge, and justice. People viewed being good with God moralistically and legalistically. You were good as long as you didn’t murder anyone. Jesus explained that although murder is horrible, homicide begins with anger. Name-calling can amount to murder in the sight of a holy God.


In the same way, Jesus acknowledged that adultery is evil, yet, it begins in mind with lust. Pornographic desires are the seedbed of perversity. He then went after casual divorce, lying, and vengeance similarly. Instead of treating righteousness or good as a simple to-do list, he called his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. He told them to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect. How could that be possible? His words are hard to process and hear. However, I think that was Jesus’s intention. We need to stop and listen to what he is saying. 


Many of us tend to skew how we view ourselves. I picture myself as basically a good guy. We generally use comparative morality as a scale, not the pure, blameless God. We are better than criminals or tyrants. Our culture agrees. My flesh wants to agree. How about you? 


Jesus wants us to go back to the beginning of his sermon and become poor in spirit, meek, sorrowful, hungry, and thirsty for righteousness. Those are the people who will inherit the kingdom of heaven, not the people who outwardly look good but inwardly aren’t. Chapter 6 explores righteousness from this angle. It looks at three spiritual disciplines. People seem to measure their goodness by rule-following or doing religious things. People can think they are right with God based on their actions. That is not where hope resides. Today, we will explore the practice of prayer. 


Let’s walk through the passage verse by verse. If you are taking notes, there are four sections. 

Verse 5  The hypocrites’ prayer to be seen by others

Verse 6  The righteous prayer to be seen by God

Verses 7 and 8  The Gentile’s prayer for their way

Verses 9 through 15 The righteous prayer for God’s way 


Jesus gave two examples of how not to pray and two examples of how to pray. His main idea was Pray to God without pretense or presumption. The righteous person prays to God without pretense or presumption. It is not about what others think about us. We are not pretending. Nor is prayer about trying to bend God’s will to ours. We don’t presume he has to do things our way. Instead, prayer is about a relationship with our Heavenly Father, God. Let’s walk through the text to see this for ourselves. 


Look at verse 5. 

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

Jesus brought up this group called the hypocrites in verse 5, as he did last week in verse 2, and he will in verse 16. What differentiated the follower from the hypocrite was that the hypocrite was an imposter. They appeared to be doing one thing, but they were doing something else. Prayer for the hypocrite was more about them than it was about adoration, confession, or petition. Have you ever experienced that? For example, have you ever sensed someone was lecturing when they were praying? You might have wondered, are they trying to speak to God or me? Maybe you felt like they were trying to impress you with flowery words, a unique tone, or a different voice. Were they genuinely talking to God? I have heard prayers in church, graduations, and political rallies. Maybe they were being sincere and talking to God. God knows. I should not judge. We know that a group of people called hypocrites loved to stand in front of people to pray to be seen by others. 


Note that Jesus said they received their “reward.” What was that? Their reward was that people saw them. What do you think about that? How great is that? Would you prefer that reward to the one God gives? I don’t know about you, but the Maker of the Universe seems like his gifts would be better than the average Joe. 


Michelle Heit asked me to pray at a Chikaming Township meeting this summer or last. It was an honor. I wrote out something. I was nervous. I cared what other people thought of me and my words. How could I not? I was praying to God, but I was conscious of how I would come across and sound. I felt special. I was doing it for God, but part of me wanted to come off well, to be invited again, to be noticed in a good way, and to not fall on my face. How do we silence the part of us that desires too much attention, recognition, and affection? 


I think back to something Martin Luther once said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair.” We can’t control the thoughts that come into our minds. But we can choose how to deal with them once they are there. Jesus, in verse 6, gave one way to handle such temptation.  


Look at verse 6. 

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).  

Jesus gave a practical solution to temptation. If praying to be seen by people tempts you, then take your prayers to your bedrooms, backrooms, and bathrooms. Get in the habit of praying in private. Even though we can’t see God, he sees us. 


Mind you, Jesus was not condemning public prayer. We read in his four biographies that he prayed publicly. He prayed on the cross; his disciples heard him praying in the garden, the upper room, and outside. He prayed before 4,000 men over a meal one day and 5,000 men another day. Jesus was and is okay with praying in public. Verses 5 and 6 help us fight the temptation of praying for the wrong reasons. If we are good with praying in seclusion, then the motivation of people pleasing and impressing an audience may have less of a hold on our hearts. 


So, we see in verse 5 what not to do and 6 what to do. Then, in verses 7 and 8, Jesus gave another example of what not to do. Look at those verses.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7–8)

Jesus said Gentiles heaped up empty phrases. What would be an example of that? We see this in the Old Testament. In 1 Kings chapter 18, Elijah, the prophet, was challenging the prophets of Baal. Each had a bull they were sacrificing. The contest was to see who could get their god to light the bull on fire. The prophets of Baal began. In verse 26 it says, 

They took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. (1 Kings 18:26) 

This appeal to Baal came up short. They tried to manipulate their god to do their will. They thought they could control him. But, like the hypocrite, the Gentile had defective theology. The hypocrites made themselves gods, while the Gentiles thought they could control the gods. Friends, there is no God but our God. He is Lord and will do as he pleases.  


A side note, is it wrong to repeat ourselves in prayer? No. I say that because the Bible often has and encourages repetitive prayer. For example, Psalm 136 repeats the phrase “his steadfast love endures forever” twenty-six times! In Isaiah chapter 6, God gave him a picture of heaven and the angels around his throne crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3). The Apostle Paul wrote that he prayed that God would remove a proverbial thorn in his side three times. Jesus commended the persistent woman pestering an unrighteous judge as an excellent example of prayer. So, repetition is not categorically wrong. What is wrong is a small view of God. Prayer is not about our name, our kingdom, or our will. 


Jesus was getting at the heart of prayer. Look at verse 8.  

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).

God knows before we even ask what we need. If that is so, you might wonder, “Why pray?” Friends, prayer is about a relationship with God, not a transfer of information. It is not theater, a bully pulpit, or putting God in a headlock until he does our bidding. Prayer is talking to God, who holds the Universe together with a word. Jesus was obliterating misconceptions. Our Father knows what we need better than we do. Yet, he wants us to pray to him. He wants us to talk to him. Imagine having a relationship with your kids and never communicating. Parents often know what their kids need better than they do. However, knowing and seeing don’t take the place of communicating. The Father wants us to talk to him. 


So, if we are to pray privately and respectfully, how? How is it supposed to sound? Jesus answered that in verse 9, 

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9). 

God is our Father, not one of many gods, a forgetful, deaf deity, or an alien force. It is easy for us to see God as Jesus’s Father. He is the Son of God. Here we see that he is our Father as well. As followers of Jesus, we have an intimate, tender Father who cares, hears, sees, and knows. He is powerful and good. Do we see that? Do we know that? Do we feel that? Not all of us have had a good father figure in our lives. I have talked to some whose bad fathers make this analogy rocky. This would be an example of where we want Scripture to shape our understanding, not experience. Jesus was correct in how he began this sample prayer. God is our Father if you are a follower.


Verse 9 turns to a three part blessing to our Father. First, 

“Hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). 

Hallowed means holy. Jesus is teaching us to accent our prayer with God’s praise. He wants God’s name to be regarded as sacred. That means set apart, perfect, and transcendent. 


Verse 10 is the second request. Not only did Jesus pray that God’s name would be known as holy, but his kingdom would appear. He said, 

“Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10).  

We have been talking about Jesus’s kingdom in this series. This is a significant theme of the book of Matthew. His kingdom is the Father’s kingdom. Jesus asked us to pray for God’s kingdom to arrive on earth. It is not yet fully here because evil is still present in injustice and wickedness. In chapter 3, verse 2, John the Baptist said that the kingdom was at hand. In chapter 4, verse 17, Jesus preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. God was and is on the move. He reigns supreme, yet, there is still work to be done. Jesus prayed to that end in verse 10. 


He went on to give the third request.  

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). 

When God’s name is holy, and his kingdom comes, his will will fully be realized on the planet. Right now, God is supreme. A molecule of dust does not fall to the ground that surprises him or disrupts his plan. However, his moral will is not occurring. It is not happening in Berrien county, Laporte county, Michigan, Indiana, America, or Russia. Friends, the days are evil. They were in Jesus’s day, with dictators like King Herod, and they are still in our day. Yet, one day, wickedness and injustice will cease. God’s will will be done on earth as in heaven, which will be a wonderful day. The hypocrite and the Gentile were thinking about their name, kingdom, and will. But, on the other hand, the follower flips the script, puts God first in prayer, not himself or herself, and looks upward to God and forward to that day.  


After verse 10, Jesus prayed for three basic needs. I used more alliteration in this message to remember it better. Jesus prayed for food, forgiveness, and freedom. Look at verse 11. 

“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

This is saying it is essential to share with our Father our needs. We have daily deficiencies, desires, and dreams; there is a little more alliteration.  


As Jesus turned to teach praying for one’s self, he said to pray for bread. It is right to ask for food. In America, you will be hard-pressed to find someone hungry, but they exist. I read this week that twelve million kids struggle with hunger. I imagine more do in the developing world as they did in Jesus’s day. (https://www.savethechildren.org/us/charity-stories/child-hunger-in-america#:~:text=Today%2C%20there%20are%20an%20estimated,with%20children%20struggle%20with%20hunger ) Verse 11 is a placeholder for our basic requests. The Spirit of this prayer is to use it as a springboard for our simple petitions. What do you need? What do you worry about? What do you think about it during the day? What are your hopes? Share them with God. It is very easy to strategize, organize, and posture ourselves to get what we want. We can skip asking God about things and live like it all depends on us. Instead, the Apostle Peter teaches us to cast our cares on God. Tell him what is on your mind. He cares about you and wants a relationship with you. 


The other day I went shoe shopping. I asked God to help me find a pair of shoes and fast. My son and I were in and out of Kohl’s in fifteen minutes. It was an answer to prayer. Now, God could have given us the same experience without prayer. But, since I prayed, God got the credit. What if we came away without shoes? Or it took a long time. His answer would have been a “no,” and that would be okay. God still would be on the throne. The point is that our Father wants a relationship. Our job is to talk to him about what is going on. No human relationship exists without communication. Pray to God without pretension or presumption.


The question for us this morning is, do we? Do we ask God for our deficiencies, desires, and dreams? Do we go to God and ask for help? Or do we muscle through life? You are intelligent and hardworking. You can accomplish much without prayer. That can be our tendency. We don’t want to be a bother. We want to get things done. Church, Jesus wants us to ask our Father for help. Don’t demand it, but make your request known to him. 


The next thing Jesus taught was to pray for forgiveness. 

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). 

Does this forgiveness seem conditional to you? We are asking God to forgive us as we have forgiven others. Are you comfortable with God forgiving you as you have forgiven others? At this point, I think I am good. However, what if I am hurt tomorrow? What if a friend deeply wrongs me? What if I am betrayed? What if someone hurts those I love? Quickly, I imagine I feel bitterness and hardheartedness seep into my soul and hinder this forgiving spirit. What is the implication of verse 12? What was Jesus getting at? Why didn’t he say forgive us our debts? He drove us to the proper perspective on righteousness, spirituality, and prayer. He was prodding our hearts. Forgiveness does not come cheaply. It is not something God owes us or that we can demand based on our merit. We can’t say, “Look at all I have done for you. Look at how good I have been. Look at how great I am?” That doesn’t fit with the rest of this prayer or Sermon on the Mount.


Jesus used the word debt, and that is helpful. Let’s explore that image. Picture your bank forgiving your mortgage. Wouldn’t that be incredible? I saw online that the average millennial has $117,000 of non-mortgage debt. What if all that was forgiven? BAM! How would that feel if that were you? 


When my family moved here ten years ago, the value of our home had dropped by a quarter from what we paid for it. We were underwater on our mortgage. The market looked horrible. People were getting laid off. The economy was tanking. But I got an offer on the house. Unfortunately, I owed more than the buyer was willing to pay. What did I do? We had a particular first-time home borrower loan from our county that, when I talked with them, they agreed to erase it. That made moving here sensible, and the sale went through. My debt was forgiven. This forgiveness was a release of obligation. I was free from that responsibility and bondage. They can never bring it up again. That experience helps me understand God’s forgiveness. He is the measure and the initiator of love. In his time of cheap grace and ours, Jesus seems to be confronting a prevalent view. 


Consider verses 14 and 15. 

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15). 

Friends, we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. How do we forgive those who owe us? How in the world can we do that? How can we do this? We need to go back to the beginning of Jesus’s message. We are dependent people whom God broke into our lives to reach. He loved us when we were still his enemies, doing our own thing our way. Friends, we may need forgiveness for our lack of forgiveness. And if that is so, we can go back and pray for what we need more than bread itself, God’s help. We can’t follow Jesus on our own. We need his Word, Spirit, and church to do his will.  


On another note, do you ask for forgiveness? Do you even see your sin? The reality is that we sin daily. We sin more than we know. Therefore, it is healthy for us to be honest with ourselves and God. If you agree, when was the last time you asked for forgiveness? It should be as frequently as we shower, maybe more, especially for you junior high boys. We don’t need to be afraid, to be honest with God. 


1 John 1:9 says, 

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Confession is an agreement with God about what is real. It is taking responsibility and not excusing ourselves. It is admitting what we have thought, said, and done. 


Church, the blessing of confession and asking for his forgiveness, reminds me how as a child and adult, owning up to my mistakes and sin worked better than not. 


Jesus concluded the prayer with a request for freedom from temptation. Look at verse 13. 

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).  

Do we ask God for protection like that? I don’t. Do you? We need God’s help. This is not a safe world. God wants to come to our rescue. He has ordained prayer to be a means of his shelter and guidance. So let us pray to God without pretense or presumption.


Church, let us close by praying through the Lord’s prayer. I will have us do this very differently than we have ever done. I will say a phrase and then give us instructions and space when I say the first part of the prayer. I want us to praise God out loud, all at once. It may sound a bit odd. But God understands. He can make sense of it all. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….Amen.


Now, I will pray for the part about food. I want you in your heart to pray for your deficiencies, desires, and dreams. Cast those cares to God like throwing a fishing line in the lake. We will do that quietly in our seats and hearts now. Give us this day our daily bread…. Amen. 


Now, I will pray for forgiveness. I want us to confess in our heads the sin we have committed this week and month. Perhaps you are not aware of your sin. Ask God to show it to you. He will. You have sinned. I have sinned. Then ask him to forgive it. In doing so, perhaps you realize you need God’s help to forgive someone who has hurt you. Ask God for help like you asked him for bread. and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…. Amen.


Finally, let’s pray for freedom from evil. I will lead this section for a few moments. Pray in your heart for yourself. Pray for the leadership of the church, our kids, our community, and our country. We need God’s help. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen. 


*All Rights Reserved. Use by permission only.


Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Popular Posts