Praying without a mask

Ds J Bruintjes
Mattheus 6: 5 - 8
Sermon on the Mount
Preek Inhoud: 

When you pray….

How goes it with your prayer life? This is a question I often ask. Jesus again assumes something that I do not assume. I fear Christians today resort to prayer when things go particularly bad or are going well. Or we resort to prayer when we have some extra time for God. Dear child of God? Are you prayer. Can Jesus assume that you are praying, and say when you pray…?

Is prayer a habit in your life? Like Daniel who prayed three times a day, or the Psalmist who prayed seven times a day (Ps 119:164) Or Anna who worshipped with fasting and prayer night and day (Luke 2:37) or Jesus who spent the whole night in prayer?

And when you pray – how are your praying? You see sin goes so deep; the pride of man is so great that it follows us into the very presence of God! Sin is not something you do; it is an attitude of the heart! Again, and again the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in this sermon penetrates the very core of man - the heart. Sin is self-worship. And it is so seductive that even when we try to convince ourselves that we are worshipping God we may be simply worshipping ourselves.

At the heart of the sermon on the mount Jesus comes to the center of the Christian life. Prayer. Our relationship with Him. In this chapter he starts with dealing with our relationship with others in verse 1-4, then our relationship with God in verse 5-15, and then our relationship with our self in verse 16-18. We could say he touches on all of life, the outward, upward, and inward life.

Prayer life shows your understanding of God and your relationship with Him. Prayer is the most important part of your thankfulness to God. So, at the beginning of this sermon I plead with you to pray. Not just because the Bible says so, but because God exists, and cares, and is powerful to help. If you believe that then you will want to grow in prayer.

Praying without a mask

  1. Pray for an audience of One.

  2. Pray with Focus


Pray for an audience of one.

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at that the street corners that they may be seen by others. Truly I see to you, they have received their reward.

Such prayer in a public place would not be strange in Matthew’s day, like it would be in downtown Bellville today. The fixed hours of prayer that the Jews had would easily have led, much as in Muslim practice, to public prayer by those who were out and about at the designated time of prayer. You would find them praying both indoors and outdoors, in religious and secular places (synagogues and street corners).

So just to be clear Jesus does not care about the length of your prayer or exactly where you pray. That is not the problem with the hypocrites. The problem is they are hypocrites. They are wearing a mask. These peoples prayer is just a mask of piety and holiness.

The problem is not the posture or place but the people. It is the pride of life, to want to be seen and noticed. That is the problem. Prayer is not there to be noticed; it is means of grace to speak to our heavenly Father. The question is, Are you praying to God or for the audience. Is your audience God or people? In a classic book on prayer Torrey writes, “We should never utter one syllable of prayer either in public or in private until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to him.”

Praying without a mask. This means that you realize first of all who your audience is: GOD!

Imagine I was talking to my wife while in a crowd and caring more about what the crowd thought about what I said to her then about what she thought about what I said to her. If I spoke all kinds of beautiful things about her in public, while in private said nothing, she would catch on really quick that I am just trying to show off and not really trying to please her. It would not please her at all. It does not matter how many people are there, she would like me to speak to her as if she is the only there. But it would please the crowd. Look how he treats his wife. Look how he loves!

In the same way it goes to God when we are praying. Whether in public or private. In public I must shut you out and pray as if only God was listening. I must not think what you will think. In private it is the same way. We will only pray for real, if we really know who God is! And Jesus makes the point abundantly clear here! He repeats himself again and again! FATHER! Seven times that word is used here! Your Father! Your Father! Your Father! You Father! Your Father! That is who it is you are praying. If you understand that this Father is the all-powerful lord and master of the universe. The infinite one. Then it will transform your prayers as you realize he not only loves you infinitely as Father, but as the ability to infinitely love you well as God.

How utterly silly it is then to pay more attention to the people listening and what they think, then we pay attention to the one who is being addressed, our father. I think we as pastors and elders can be in particular danger of that. String all kinds of long theological words together in prayer to try to impress everyone, while not saying anything to the one we are speaking with. In prayer your whole being should be centered on God. There should be something essentially spontaneous and true in communion and prayer. If we want to pray without a mask we must pray for an audience of one.

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. You see your public prayer must flow from the inner prayer life. How is your prayer life? You may be the type that only prays in public, with their family, wife, on visits, but has never had a regular, habitually personally deeply relational life with your Father. It has all been so that everyone thinks you are a Christian. Even you have deceived yourself into thinking you have a relationship when you can’t remember the last time that you actually prayed to him alone. I am not trying to be harsh, I am just trying to bring out the depth of Jesus word here. It is for us all.

Hypocrites don’t always consider themselves hypocrites. If you are only ever praying in public it is time to do a heart check, because there is a particularly good chance you are only praying because people are there. You may think you are sincere. But your actions prove otherwise. And as Jesus says, a tree is known by its fruit.

Some people never pray in private. But others never pray in public, also because they are too afraid of what others thing. Even as husband and wife because you are afraid of how it will sound. Dear church who cares what the human thinks, when God is the one listening to you. His hear is inclined to you. You are praying for an audience of one.

Prayer is not there to make you feel better about yourself, it is there because you have a father who you need. A Father who provides. A Father with whom you want to speak.  

The secret to understanding this verse is the word secret. The secret to prayer is making sure that the only eyes open to us during times of prayer are those of this secret seeing, or universally present all knowing God. Who is unseen, but sees all. Are we praying for an audience of one?

The thing is there are certain things we need to shut out whether we are praying public or private. Here are some of them: You shut out and forget other people. Then you shut out and forget yourself. That is what is meant by entering the closest. We are speaking to God. We must lock others out and lock ourselves out. What good is it if I go into the prayer closest and pray alone when all I do is think how great it is that I am praying and taking pride in my prayer. I might as well stand on a street corner so that others can join me in my pride. No, I am praying to God and him alone. And the prayer would never even get there if it were not for the Spirit praying with me, and the Son interceding for me.

Jesus wants you. Completely. Total and absolute dependence on him. This is particularly true in prayer when you are saying that you need him, is your attitude echoing your words? Do you love talking to God? Do you love those personally intimate conversations? Do you care more about whether people believe you’re a Christian then what God sees and hears?

Pray with focus

If you are praying for an audieance of one then what you say and how you say it will also be clear. Another problem comes up when we are so focused on the form of our prayer, the length of our prayer, or the words we are using rather then on the one we are speaking too. Or we are just saying words, without thinking about them. Or saying lots because we think God will hear us. No real conversation between son and father takes place that way. Or as Jesus says, “And when you pray, you must not heap up empty phrases as the gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for there many words.” You often hear it said that man prayed for two hours a day. Or so and so prays for so long. But just so we are all clear: The longer the prayer does not mean the better chance it has of getting heard. Nor, for that matter, does the shortness of the prayer matter. It is the heart of the one praying that matters. There are short and long prayers in the Bible. Jesus prayed all night, and he prayed one liners. His live was prayer.

Great saints have always spent much time in prayer in the presence of God. Because of this we think if we pray a lot we will be a great saint. No, dont think that you can use prayer as a good work to bend Gods arm to make you holy. Like the prophets of Baal on mount Carmel that were praying and praying and praying and cutting themselves because they thought god would hear them if they yelled louder, or showed him how much they cared by cutting themselves. Remember this is a Father.  A son is someone who wants to talk to his Father. And a Father just wants to simply hear his Son heart. If you are praying for the audience of one, you are simply going to be open, honest, dependent. The great saints were not keeping their eye on the clock, and waiting so they could say they prayed two hours. No for them those hours felt to short as they basked in fellowship with the Father.

In prayer they knew they were in the presence of God, they had entered eternity, and didn’t want to leave. In prayer we reach into the heavenlies we go beyond time. Prayer is a way of life. A Christian simply cannot live without it. He was not concerned about remembering the length of time. The moment we do set the clock it becomes mechanical. No you pray with Focus

Or, speaking of empty phrases, some of you may remember hearing the same prayer growing up. you could have memorized it. now again repetition in and of itself is not wrong. In fact, we must pray for the same things. But when they become thoughtless words that you rattle off, you are just babbling, and you may as well stop. We can do that with our prayers even in the way we start them or end them. “God and Father (or however you start your prayer)”, we rattle those words without thinking about what we are saying, and then we come to the end, “In Jesus name,” or for Jesus sake amen. Are you thinking about the words. Are they real requests. Every time you ask God to bless the meal, or say grace do you think about it. Do you mean it. If not stop. You are mocking God. Prayer is not a good work that will give you brownie points with God – it is an intimate relationship and conversation with the one that Gave his son for you so you could speak to him. So pray with focus. With intent. Consciously.

Those who work toward beautiful prayers for the sake of beautiful prayer, or who pray out of custom, or to be seen and heard have their reward here, but the poor heartbroken soul who cannot even frame one sentence, but who weeps in agony to God, has reached God in a way, and will have a reward that this world know nothing of. Say what you need to say.

If you love someone you will want to talk to them. And the more you love them, the more you want to be with them.

Do you really care about what God thinks? What he wants? Do you love him for what he has done? Do you know him? As utterly holy, supremely just, infinitely loving. Do you know him as Father? Do you know him. If you do, your prayers will reflect that.

He is looking for worshippers whose spirits (i.e., minds, hearts, and thoughts) are engaged in expressing the meaning of those words. Just a quick note then too on singing. This goes for prayer in song as well. It is easy to melodically recite lyrics of Christian songs, but it takes concentration, sincerity and thoughtfulness to truly worship in song. We should never hide behind fine sounding words while our minds wander through a set of thoughts about something else.

All of us have, at one time or another, completely checked out in prayer or song. We’ve fallen into a rut, praying the same things in the same way. And by all of us, I mean me. But I assume I’m not alone.

I remember one night coming out of the office and joining my family to give thanks for our dinner. As I opened my mouth, I start praying for a good day. I have had moments like this in prayer where I start and only after I start realizing what I am doing. This is why I have made a habit of being silent for a moment before prayer. So that I might truly engage in prayer, and not just pray for the sake of prayer. Children quickly pick up on insincere auto-repeat prayers. God picks up even quicker.  Never must a prayer be A general blessing repeated on autopilot rather than a heartfelt desire to connect with our Father.

Dear church, prayer is the Christians life. This is what we do. We are a people in Communion with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray for an audience of one and we pray with focus.. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is Afterall the Pure in heart which see God. Those who have no ulterior motive except that God would know them, and that they would be known by Him.