Morning. David Sorn, pastor of Renovation Church.
Well, for quite some time now we’ve been intensely studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (which many of called the Greatest Sermon ever preached), thus the name of this series
Since we’ve been studying it so intensely (only looking at a few verses each time), we’ve kind of split it up into sections…rather than do 18 weeks in a row on it.
Today, we are concluding our second section…and we will return to it sometime this summer.
Next week, we will start a new series on “Joy.” Which should be fun. J
If you weren’t here last week, or you’re visiting for the first time today, let me catch you up to speed on what we talked about last week.
Last week we studying a passage in Matthew 6:1-4, where Jesus talked about not doing your good deeds in front of people. He talked about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, and doing good things (as much as you can) in secret.
And he warned us that we have to examine our motives
He’s going to continue in a similar vein today, but focuses more on how we should talk to Him
We’re also going to do a little skipping around in the sermon on the mount today
Going to talk about prayer in verses 5-8, then skip the Lord’s Prayer section (talk about this summer), and then also talk briefly about fasting today in verses 16-18. Ok? Let’s get started
(Matthew 6:5-8) – NIV
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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But 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. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
So, Jesus is calling us to pray to him in a humble and simple way
In Jesus’ day public prayer was much more common.
A lot of us, unless you’re a pastor or leader in the church, don’t tend to pray publically a lot, so it can seem a little odd
But in Jesus’ day, some pious and religious Jews would pray publically up to three times a day. You could pray at home, but you could also go to the public place and do this as well.
The best way to picture this is to think of modern day Islamic countries with mandated prayer.
And Jesus isn’t saying that public prayer is inherently a bad thing…it’s just some people’s motives for doing it were quite wrong. They were doing it to be noticed not to talk to God
But we know that Jesus isn’t against praying out loud in public. He prays publically himself. But he IS against praying to Him when you’re doing it just to be seen by others. Let me show you what I mean
I need a volunteer.
Imagine I’m talking to Person A, but I’m really only doing so to impress person B (that would be greatly annoying to Person A)
Or, you know how when people sometimes talk to you, they just babble “sayings” and colloquialisms. (Hey, How are you doing, what do you know, nice day out, good to see ya, have a good one)
That’s kind of what we do with God.
For instance, NOW pretend “Person A” is God. We sometimes talk to Him just to show others we do. And we ALSO sometimes just babble to Him (even though He’s right there)… instead of saying “how you doing…nice weather,” we say “thank you for this food, bless it to our bodies”
(you can sit down)
It looks ridiculous when we do it like this, but it’s just as ridiculous in real life. Our prayers are often riddled with wrong intentions and lack of focus
I’ll say more about the babbling mindless prayers in a bit, but right now I want to focus on Jesus’ advice from verse 6. Let’s look at it again
PRAYING IN PRIVATE
(Matthew 6:6) – NIV
6But 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.
Prayer is to be an intimate thing between you and God. Yes, there are times when it might be in public and others might be around, but we still talk to Him like He’s a person right there, and like’s it’s just you and Him
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” before
He wrote a very periphrastic version of the Bible.
The Bible we read here at church (NIV & NLT) is not the King James, it’s actually pretty easy to read. They are written at an 8th and 6th grade reading level respectively.
Eugene Peterson set out to write a modern day perspective on the Bible, and when he originally wrote it, he didn’t even have verses with it. His intent was to get us to think differently about Scripture and what God was saying. More like a commentary.
It’s actually quite thought provoking.
However, it’s not a great Bible. It’s not something (and I realize this may be challenging for some), you would want as your main Bible to read every day because it’s quite different from what the words of the Bible actually say
Yet, I’m not opposed to reading it either. I think He puts such an insightful spin on the Bible, that it’s an amazing book to read.
I love what Eugene Peterson writes for the verses we are studying today: (verses 5-8)
5"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? 6"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
And that’s so true. It’s not until we realize it’s not about US and other people, praying is about HIM, that our focus shifts from us to Him.
And one of the best ways to better narrow that focus in your life, is to have a consistent, private and personal prayer life.
Just like last week, the discipline of secrecy is an incredible aide to TRULY growing spiritually.
It seems like in American churches, so much of growing spiritually is being involves in LOTS and LOTS of church activities!
But really, it is the time we spend behind closed doors with Jesus Christ that is perhaps the biggest catalyst to our own spiritual growth
Read a story this week about a group of Christians in Africa that were very diligent about praying. In fact, each believer had their own special place outside the village where they would pray in solitude.
The villagers reached their “prayer rooms” by using their own private footpaths through the brush.
And when grass began to grow over one of these trails, it become obvious that a certain person wasn’t praying very much.
So they would gently help that person get back in the habit again
Similarly, a friend recently told his private prayer times are when he works out.
So he said, if you ever see me gaining weight, it means I’m not praying
Finding a time to pray on your own every day, whether it’s on a walk, while working out, or in a room of your house is vital to your spiritual growth
I would even recommend picking a consistent place. We are creatures of habit.
Sometimes I hear Christians from some traditions, say, “Go pray in your prayer closet.” Which I guess essentially means go pray in a secluded private place.
But when I was a youth pastor, I actually had a few students who would literally pray in their closet every day.
Which I hope was a walk in closet.
It’s sounds crazy, but it’s a place certainly w/o distractions, and it’s a consistent place.
Do your best to make a habit out of it. It’s like they say, it takes roughly 21 days to make a habit
What do you think about a 21 day prayer challenge? Where you pray for at least 5 minutes a day in the same place at the same time (if you can) for 21 days in a row?
I hope some of you take me up on that. I think that would be a good way to actually make progress in this
I believe in discipline so strongly. And I think the Bible does too, because we don’t make plans, we never make plans. Right?
Maybe some of you need to even take me up on my challenge to do a 2-3 day prayer retreat (maybe you do it over a weekend) at Pacem in Terris
www.paceminterris.org (show on screen)
Pacem in Terris is a private retreat center in St. Francis where they give you your own prayer cabin and drop of meals for you in secret so you can just meet with God in private for a focused couple of days. It’s incredible.
I think some of you probably need to take me up on that challenge as well.
I’m going to keep challenging you to do ridiculous things because if we never take a challenge, we never really grow. We just keep stagnate in our spiritual lives. And we’re not interested in that here at Renovation Church.
Jesus encourages us to not only find a secluded and private place to pray, but to pray sincerely from our hearts. To not just babble on.
(Matthew 6:7-8) – NIV
7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Jesus says, don’t babble like the pagans. We see instances in the bible of people of pagan religions (meaning people who worshipped the gods…whether greek or roman or whatever) just babbling prayers
In Acts 19, the Ephesians while rioting against Paul just shouted to their goddess “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two hours.
Incantations (which involve the chanting or uttering of words repeatedly) are actually pretty common in pagan religions and in witchcraft and other new ageish movements
Yet, surprisingly even Christians have been babblers in their prayers for centuries
We’ve developed chants, and even lots of mindless prayers.
Sometimes people feel like, if I just say “4 ‘Our Fathers’”, then things will get better.
And that’s where Jesus says, no, that’s being like the pagans. God is a person. He’s a person.
Just like a child, couldn’t go up to his/her father and say, “Please get me a new TV. I love you. Please get me a new TV. I love you. Please get me…,” that’s not going to change anything. It’s not like after the 4th time, he would say, “Sure I’ll get you a TV!
NO! A Father/child relationship is a relationship, it’s not a superstitious force that can be manipulated by ritual, and either is your relationship with your Father in heaven.
Which is why Jesus adds that last line about, he knows what you want anyway… (which is a massive topic for another day).
But it’s to say that PRAYER is about first and foremost a RELATIONSHIP
So let me ask you, where are you mindlessly praying to God? Do you ever just talk to God, but you’re kind of just doing it to do it…and you certainly wouldn’t talk the same way if you could actually see Him sitting across from you?
And by the way, Jesus isn’t necessarily against praying for a long time (in fact the Bible records one time that he prays ALL NIGHT LONG w/o sleeping one night).
God isn’t against lengthy prayer, he’s just not interested in mindless prayer
He wants a relationship with you.
Is prayer about the relationship for you or is about getting something?
I can think of a few common places where we go into “mindless prayer” mode
Small Group Prayer (Thank you again for bringing us all here safely tonight…)
Prayer at Church
Becoming aware of your mindlessness of babbling is an important step. It’s actually pretty easy to get caught up in the routine of it
But if God is making you aware of it this morning, do your best to do something about it. I think one of the best things you can do is close your eyes and picture Him.
Just like that example I gave earlier with____ on stage. You wouldn’t talk that way if they were right there.
So try and picture God more when you talk to Him. Maybe even do that when we continue in worship this morning.
FASTING LIKE HYPOCRITES
I do want to also look at Jesus’ thoughts on humble fasting this morning. We aren’t going to go into great depth on fasting here because we are going to do a massive spiritual disciplines series (most likely this Fall), and we will spend a whole message on fasting then
But there are a few things worth mentioning here.
Let’s first look at what Jesus says about it:
(Matthew 6:16-18) - NIV
16"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Fasting, is a very strong form of prayer. It is to withhold yourself from food (or something else…although it’s typically food in the Bible) for a period of time in order to better focus on God and make Him your NUMBER ONE priority.
It is talked about often in the Bible, but rarely talked about in our American churches…and one of the things we desire HERE to talk about more often
It is an incredible way to pray and to set your heart on things above
Let me say though as a precursor that there are some spiritual disciplines that some people shouldn’t do based upon their disposition
If you feel you have even the slightest inclination towards even possibly having an eating disorder or anything close to it, this isn’t for you. Don’t mess with it. That’s fine. You don’t need to feel bad about that.
Fasting in the Old Testament was required once a year (day of atonement), and then other days were added as time went on to remember certain occasions (more religious holidays)
In Jesus’ day the overly-religious-Pharisee’s fasted twice a week (Monday and Thursday because those were the days Moses is said to have gone up on Mount Sinai to meet with God)
But imagine this scenario: First of all, you have a bunch of hyper-religious people who love letting others know how religious they are, and second of all think about this:
If everyone knew the religious people fast on Mondays and Thursdays, I imagine they always got noticed on Mondays and Thursdays, and others felt bad, and they felt good
And Jesus is saying, that’s not the intention. He doesn’t want us to fast just so others can feel bad about themselves.
I don’t know if you’ve ever fasted before, but I can scarcely think of another spiritual discipline that is more difficult to do in secret
Doing even a 24 hour fast with just water is very difficult, and as humans, when we suffer, we want to tell others about it so they can feel our pain.
We’re like little kids…Mommy my stomach hurts, my leg feels funny, I’m tired, I’m bored, my left-eyelid hurts…. Wow thanks for letting me know your every emotion and pain. J
And when we fast as Christians, whether it’s for a specific issue, or you just want to get closer to God, it’s incredibly difficult not to tell anyone
Yet, Jesus encourages us to fast in secret. To go about your day as if everything is normal.
Because fasting is a heart issue between God and the individual
FASTING WITH HUMILITY
Fasting is really just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him, sorting out whatever is necessary, and you have canceled your meals for the next 24 hours or whatever. He is the priority #1!
But, it’s not like we then have a right to make a big deal of the cancellation of the meal.
For instance, if a good friend called me and said, “David, we need to talk about our friendship. There are some serious issues we need to figure out, and we need to talk about it tomorrow. “
But let’s say I already had plans to go to a Timberwolves game that night
But if I decide to cancel, I shouldn’t then hang out with my friend and yet the whole time say, “Wow, I was so nice for cancelling my plans for the game. I am so brave. So honorable.” That’s ridiculous right.
Yet, that’s what a lot of people tend to do with fasting. Just like the Pharisees would disfigure their faces, we walk around talking about how long it’s been and how hungry we are and so on and so forth.
It sounds stupid, but Jesus knows what’s he talking about. For two weeks now, we’ve been talking how it’s SO EASY, and thus SO dangerous to become prideful over your own spiritual deeds.
So watch out for it.
One last note on fasting. Jesus isn’t condemning corporate fasting either. Like with prayer, He’s just saying, “Don’t’ do it to get noticed.”
In the Bible, almost half the references to fasting refer to group fasts.
Which, if you’re thinking about trying fasting for the first time is what I would recommend to you actually.
It’s a whole lot easier to not eat those m&m’s on your desk if you know that you are breaking fast with a group of people who are fasting with you later on that night.
In fact, I challenge some of you to maybe even try fasting with your small group sometime in the next month. Maybe the 5 or 6 of you can do a 24 hour fast from dinner to dinner, and then get together and break fast together.
Again, just another challenge to break you out of what can easily become the monotony of our spiritual lives.
So ask yourselves some tough questions this week.
When you pray, are you praying for others or for God?
When you try and do spiritual things, who are they really for?
And then I challenge you to keep putting the discipline of secrecy in place. Find a place to meet with God everyday in secret. In seclusion.
And then start taking me up on some of my challenges. Or a different challenge. But especially if you feel stuck, sometimes it takes a PUSH to actually get moving again.
What do you need to do, what risk do you need to take, to actually get moving again?
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.