The Sermon on the Mount

Day 16: How to Pray

Matthew 6:5-8, 2 Kings 4:32-37, Isaiah 26:20, Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 1:35-38, Luke 18:9-14


One day it will dawn on me that I pay a lot for cable TV in order just to toggle back and forth between two channels. But until it does, I will continue to give most of my TV time to HGTV and the History Channel.

There’s a show on the History Channel called American Pickers. Have you seen it? The concept revolves around two guys, Mike and Frank, who drive around the country looking for people’s properties which have antiques, old gas pumps, motorcycles, and the like. They knock on the door, ask if they can walk around, and offer to buy things they think they can sell in their antique shop.

These guys know almost everything about old junk. But every so often they’ll find an old part to something from a bygone era. They won’t know what it is, but they’ll buy it anyway because they think it would look cool hanging on someone’s wall. They don’t know what they’ve actually got, but they know it looks good.

Pastor James Boice wrote, “Prayer is an important subject, for prayer is at least partially confusing to us all.” I think prayer is a mysterious thing. Don’t you? I’ve been a praying person most of my life, but I confess I don’t fully understand it. I know I’m tempted to use it for show. Are you? We’re not always sure what it does or confident if it even works, but prayer sure looks good on display.

As mysterious as prayer may be, today’s passage gives us remarkable clarity on one thing: God hears our prayers—and because He does, we should pray and we should never fake it.

Let’s talk about what’s at stake in these verses. God gives us commands so that we might know how to love Him and interact with His love for us. So today’s verses are not about how to keep ourselves from upsetting a cranky God. They are about how to draw near to a loving God.

Prayer is a glorious concept. We, the meek and lowly, can address the High King of Heaven, and He hears us. So Jesus says, when you pray, don’t pretend. Don’t waste the moment by making it all about how others will see you. You’ll exhaust yourself. There is no end to trying to impress others.

We can’t rest in the promised nearness of God if our prayers are offered either for show or for self-comfort. So Jesus says, when you pray, really pray. Can you hear the love of Jesus in the command to not pretend when we pray? He is not just fighting against hypocrisy. He is fighting for our joy, our delight, our learning to speak the language of glory.

We are learning our native and eternal tongue when we pray. And in these verses, Jesus is fighting for us, to draw us into an ongoing dialogue with Him.

Don’t pray just for show. Pray as though your prayers reach the ear of God, because they do.

Written by Russ Ramsey