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Prayer in The Sermon on the Mount – Study 1


This study is number one in a short series, to be published twice a month. The notes are fairly ‘raw’ – prepared for spoken delivery rather than for written publication, so please ignore any obvious typos!

Text: Matthew 6:5
Why did Jesus teach his disciples to pray? In Luke’s account of the passage we have a clue. It may have been a response to a request by the disciples, who had asked, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’. John had taught his disciples to pray, and Jesus’ disciples wanted similar instruction. We too need to seek the Lord, and to ask Him to help us, to teach us, as we learn to pray. That is why this model prayer is of such importance.

So Jesus, conscious of His disciples’ need of teaching and our need of instruction too, begins to lay out a model prayer for us, but firstly He identifies some difficulties with prayer, prevalent in His day, and which pose dangers for us too.

1. The Hypocrite’s Prayer.v5
Jesus begins by identifying some poor habits in prayer. He notices some people who are not sincere in their prayers.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

We see that…

* They loved to pray! That is really commendable! We love to do everything else but pray! Look at our churches… We love the children’s talk, and we love the wee week-night fellowships, and we love the outings and the chorus times and the rallies… How rarely do we love the prayer meeting.
Someone once commented that attendance at the Sunday morning service was an indication of how much we like the church, attendance at the Sunday evening service an indication of how much we like the pastor, and attendance at the Prayer Meeting an indication of how much we love the Lord.
We often love to be entertained and amused, but can we truthfully, honestly, say that we love to pray? Prayer is the hardest discipline in the Christian life. So isn’t it commendable that these people loved to pray?
* Their love of prayer was misguided. They loved to pray so that they could be seen praying! So that they could be heard by others. Their motive for prayer was impure and misguided and hypocritical. They prayed to be heard by other people.

Jesus warns us that we are not to be like them. We need to constantly be examining our prayer lives, to see if there is any tendency to insincerity, or hypocrisy.

2. The Hypocrite’s Posture.
Now Jesus tells us that they loved to pray standing in the synagogues and streets. To pray STANDING was what a Jew normally did, and the SYNAGOGUE was the normal place for a Jew to pray. There were set hours for prayer. A Jew would pray around twice a day, maybe even three times a day, like Daniel. So the Jews would go up to the temple at the hours set for prayer, and they would stand there and pray. (Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. Acts 3:1). But what if a Jew didn’t quite make it to the temple before the set hour? Well, he could still pray. He could stop just where he was, and begin to pray ink the street.

Now therein lies the problem! What if a Jew wanted to be seen praying? What if he really wanted people to see just how religious he was, and to win their admiration? Easy! Keep yourself late! That way you would still be in the street when the hour came, and you would have to stop and do your acts of devotion right there, out in the open, in front of everyone… It would be obvious to everyone that they were praying.

And if you were to pray loudly and demonstrably – that would be even better. And if you could make those prayers last for ages… And if you could use great words of praise, and high sounding phrases… Everyone would be impressed, everyone would clap you on the back, everyone would esteem you…

But Jesus knew their hearts…

How like that are we? I knew a man who loved to be seen praying. Loved to get up and stand in the pulpit before the service so that everyone coming in would see him there, loved to be asked to lead the singing… He had his reward…

3. The Hypocrite’s Profit.
Because the purpose of the prayers of these hypocrites was to be seen of men, Jesus says, ‘They have their reward’. Men have heard them. They have been recorded and rewarded. There is no further reward.

There’s a awful warning for all of us here. If we gain our reward here on earth, there is nothing for us in heaven. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul. The reward of these prayers was the applause of men, the approbation of heir fellow Jews. John Stott writes, ‘How can we pretend that we are praising God when we are concerned that men will praise us?’

It is still perfectly possible to go to church for the wrong reason, not to worship God but to enhance our own reputation.


So Jesus sees right into the hearts of these people, and he lays them bare, as God’s word always does. Even now, Gods Word, applied by the Holy Spirit searches our hearts too.

Why do we pray? Let us always be conscious that God not only hears our prayers, but knows why those prayers are being offered. Are we sincere in prayer?

One Comment
  1. Stuart smith permalink

    Dear Bob. As I read this I see the proper reasons for proper prayer, you have made it so clear — it made/makes me think , and thats good. God bless you for this, and all your writings — God is graciously using them for my good, and they are making a difference.

    God Bless and Thank You


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