Let us begin with a prayer. “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 the evil one.”
The opening prayer for this message was easy. There was no need to add to the source material. I try to write as honestly as humanly possible. It is the only way to allow God to use my words to reach my readers. This topic, for me, has been extremely difficult in the last few months. Jesus opens the passage in Matthew 6:5 – 8 (NIV) very simply. He states “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for the 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. But 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
God wants us to pray the same way He created us, uniquely. He longs for communication with us, and the only way we truly communicate is by using our own words, thoughts, and feelings. My prayers when I am speaking in front of people and when I am alone are very different. I’m sure it’s that way for many of you. Before rereading this passage, I always felt that it was appropriate for them to be different. I was very, very wrong. God wants all of our hearts and minds at all times. No matter the location or the circumstance. With Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the divide between God and ourselves was torn. We now have a direct line to God, and He wants us to communicate intimately with Him.
As I have written before, the Sermon on The Mount was really about the fundamentals of faith. Over and over again, Christ states that what is in your heart matters way more than what it looks like. He knows that when our hearts have changed, so will our minds and actions change as well.
In Matthew 6:16 – 18 (NIV), Christ elaborates on these fundamentals of faith while speaking of fasting. Once again, he calls out the “leaders” of the synagogues, who were completely off base when it came to the practice of fasting. Now fasting is a very interesting topic. While at the time, the primary object they gave up was food, but I believe it should be anything that gets in the way of your relationship with God. When the false prophets and leaders would fast, they would wail, moan, and allow their appearance to degrade as to show what they were doing. The issue God has with this is that fasting, like prayer, is an intimate act between God and us. He tells the people “When you fast, do be look somber as the hypocrites do, for the disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so 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.” He wants them to understand that the act of fasting is not for the benefit of others, but for ours. By giving up something valued to us, we are simply ensuring that God and His will are paramount in our minds.
It has taken me some time to write this message, because I personally have been struggling with prayer. Some things have occurred recently that have caused great strife and pain in my life, and they have caused me to doubt my own prayers, even to the extent that I had to relearn how to pray. I also have had to go through a period of fasting because there were things blocking my relationship with God. I had to go back to my fundamentals. The fundamentals mentioned in this passage. I encourage anyone who reads this to do the same. Let us all make sure that our hearts and minds are where they need to be when we pray. I hope God continues to bless all of you in your walk and growth in Him.