The Lord’s Prayer: When You Pray

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Matthew 6:5-8 | January 10 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
January 10
The Lord’s Prayer: When You Pray | Matthew 6:5-8
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

O Lord, what a privilege it is that we can come to you in prayer, and we trust that we do not do so thoughtlessly, heartlessly, but genuinely. So we come before You now and ask that You would be so gracious as to speak to us. Give us ears to hear. If we walk away from this message, having learned nothing, it will not be the fault of Your Word, but it will be ours. So we pray that You would work around and through and above and beyond all of our distractions and how easily we are prone to wander, and You would teach us to pray. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Is there any activity more essential to the Christian life, and yet more discouraging in the Christian’s life, than prayer? We know we should pray. We want to pray, or at least we want to want to pray. We admire those who do pray. We think of the prayer warriors in our lives and some of you are those people. We look up to you.

And yet when it comes to actually praying, if we’re honest, most of us feel like failures. If someone asked you right now, “How’s your prayer life?” very few of us would be happy for the question or confident in our answer. We’d say, “Let’s talk about something easier, like politics” or “Let’s talk about the weather, that massive blizzard we had this week.”

We wish we prayed more. We wish we prayed longer. We wish we prayed better. I bet none of us anticipate getting to the end of our lives and looking back and saying, “You know what I regret? I just spent too much time in prayer.”

We are much more apt to resonate with the question I read from a pastor several years ago in a book as he reflected on his own life in prayer, he asked, “How can something I’m so bad at be God’s will for my life?”

I’ve read a lot of books on prayer over the years. Maybe you have, too. The best ones make me feel grateful and hopeful. I close the book and I think, “I can pray.” Too many of the books, however, make even the most earnest Christian feel like a failure for doing anything else besides praying.

I remember early in my ministry reading a classic book on prayer, I won’t mention it, some of you have probably read it, maybe you were helped by it. I’m very willing to admit that the problem may not be with the book, it may be with my hardness of heart. But I remember reading the book and finding it inspirational at first, these great exhortations to prayer, but by the end it was deflating. I felt like, well, I don’t know if I can ever do this. It felt like a relentless, pounding upon the will. Pray more, pray more.

In my experience, nonstop focus on the “ought” of prayer can stir us up at first, but then it quickly wears off and it leaves in its wake more guilt than prayer. While there may be a short season and you say, “Yes, I’m going to do this, yes,” then over the long haul you just feel this low to medium grade guilt.

But the Lord’s Prayer is different. It’s different, and I hope that this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer is different. Not mainly because I think it’s a bad idea to just relentlessly focus on the will, and we need a little of that, but more importantly because the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t do that, at least not explicitly. That’s not how it talks about prayer.

We start this morning a series on the Lord’s Prayer. We’ll actually get to the first petition tonight and we’ll be covering it morning and evening for the rest of the month.

You probably are aware of the significant place that the Lord’s Prayer has played in all of Church history. Throughout Church history, when it came to discipling children and discipling new converts, the Church instructed people in three basic elements: The Apostles’ Creed, the 10 Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

I hope that we do not feel that we have graduated beyond that. We may also in a Presbyterian church add the Westminster Confession, and that would be good.

But it has been as simple and straightforward as that. You’re new to the Christian faith, you’re growing up in the Christian faith, here’s what you need to learn: The Apostles’ Creed, what we believe; the 10 Commandments, what it looks like to obey God; and the Lord’s Prayer, how we pray.

Now we call it the Lord’s Prayer, but in one sense it’d actually be better to call John 17, the high priestly prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. It’s the longest prayer from Jesus recorded in the Bible. And when you think about it, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus probably didn’t pray, or at least He didn’t pray it just like He taught it. How could Jesus say, “Forgive us our debts?” He didn’t have any debts to be forgiven.

But it is the Lord’s Prayer in as much as it is the prayer our Lord gave to us as a model for all of our praying. There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer; one in Luke, and the more familiar one in Matthew. I don’t think that one is dependent upon the other. You can read the commentaries and they all debate that. A simpler explanation is that Jesus, like any itinerant preacher, would have used the same material many times in many different ways, actually makes me feel better about myself if I go speak somewhere and I use the same sermon. Well, Jesus did the same thing, and so it seems that He was giving teaching on prayer in Luke and teaching on prayer in Matthew and they’re very similar, but they’re not exact.

Turn to Luke chapter 11 to see the setting here, before we land back in Matthew. We read in chapter 11, verse 1, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray as John taught His disciples.'”

So here we see that Jesus’ teaching on prayer is prompted by the disciples’ request. They noticed that John the Baptist taught his followers how to pray and they just heard Jesus to pray, and there must have been something in that that led them to think, “Wow, we have a lot to learn,” and so they ask Him.

And notice what follows is the Lord’s Prayer, notice that Jesus did not say certain things in His response. He did not, in His answer, teach them how long their prayers should be, or at what time of the day they should pray, or how many times a day they should pray, or what they should feel while they’re praying, or whether they should be standing or sitting or kneeling, or if they should close their eyes and fold their hands, or if God might send a lightning bolt if they’re caught at the dinner table looking between their fingers as they pray.

Kids, you realize that the reason your teachers and parents want you to fold your hands and close your eyes to pray, there’s nothing magical about that. That’s not the only way to pray. They just think if your eyes are closed then maybe you’ll be concentrating more and if you fold your hands, it’s harder to pull someone’s hair, or to hit someone. That’s really what it’s about. There are many different postures to pray.

Jesus doesn’t talk about any of that. Not it wouldn’t have been wrong to do so, but surely it’s instructive that Jesus was concerned with what they prayed more than He was with when or where or how long they prayed. So don’t miss this obvious lesson. You can pray in the morning, you can pray in the evening, you can pray for a long time, a short time, eyes opened, eyes closed. There’s great freedom in many elements of prayer.

But here are the basics. One, Jesus says we must not neglect praying, and we’ll come back to that, and two, He tells us these are the sort of things I want you to pray about. That’s the simplicity of His lesson. Yes, pray, and here’s what I want you to pray.

Now if you go over to Matthew, it’s the same basic prayer that He teaches, but He gives more instruction about prayer at the front end. Look at Matthew chapter 6. This is part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 through 7. You probably realized that before. What you may not have noticed is that this section on the Sermon on the Mount covers the three foundational acts of Jewish piety: Almsgiving, that’s chapter 6 verses 1 through 4; prayer, verses 5 through 15; and fasting, verses 16 through 18. These were what we might call the spiritual disciplines of the first century Jew. Maybe they made New Year’s resolutions, how are you doing with your disciplines this year? They would have thought giving to the poor, praying, and fasting.

Now you say what about reading their Bibles? Well, many of them couldn’t read, and of course they didn’t have Bibles sitting on every shelf in the room. To have a Torah scroll was a very rare thing. Your synagogue would have it, but you didn’t have them in your home. You didn’t have them even on your phones. So they couldn’t do Bible reading but they would have had much of the Scriptures memorized.

They had these three foundational elements in their piety.

Not notice, unlike Jesus’ teaching in Luke, here in Matthew Jesus is concerned not just with what they pray, we’ll come to that when we get to the actual petitions tonight, but also how they pray. Jesus wants to make sure they are praying for the right reasons, from the right heart. In fact, this is His central concern in discussing all three acts of piety. He says when you give to the poor, don’t make a big deal out of it; when you pray, don’t do it to look good; when you fast, don’t draw attention to yourself.

Jesus understands the pride and the vanity that dwells in all of our hearts and He also realizes that just because you’re a religious person doesn’t mean you’re free from these things. In fact, if you know the Gospels, you know that actually religious people are especially prone to these things. What better way to pursue vain glory than to look spiritually impressive to other people.

So don’t think for a moment, “Well, I’m a Christian, I go to church, and I’m spiritual and religious. I’m not in danger of these things.” No, actually that makes us maybe particularly in danger of these things.

Now before we get to the specifics in these verses, look at the first four words of verse 5: “And when you pray.” Notice Jesus doesn’t have to teach His disciples that they should pray; that was a given. He assumes they would pray. They would understand prayer is not something for super-spiritual people, but it’s obviously something every Jew did. Just like today. Don’t think, well, “Prayer is what pastors and missionaries do,” or even, young people, “Prayer is, you know, something I do when I’m older, or that’s what my parents do.” Prayer is for everyone who is a true follower of God.

Jesus assumed that they were in prayer. There were many traditions in Judaism around prayer. It could be hard to know exactly when certain traditions were in place, but it seems clear that by the time of Jesus, prayer was offered in the synagogue three times a day. Remember, there was one temple in Jerusalem and then there are synagogues, which would be more like what we would think of as church where you gather for teaching and for prayer and for singing, and there were synagogues all throughout the Roman Empire.

This practice of prayer in the synagogue three times a day may have grown out of Daniel’s practice. Remember? Praying three times. Or it may go back to Psalm 55:17: “Evening and morning and at noon, I utter my complaint and moan and He hears my voice.” You notice? Three times; evening, morning, and at noon.

Typically, the synagogue prayer time would begin with a recitation of the Shema from Deuteronomy 6, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one God.” It’s called the Shema because Hebrew “shema” is the word “here.” The Shema would be followed by the 18 benedictions. Now these are not in your Bible, but you can look them up afterward and find them and read them. They’re very fitting prayers. In fact, you can hear echoes, even, in the Lord’s Prayer of some of the language in these 18 benedictions. They were a series of prayers that God would bless Israel. They were led by someone, a synagogue leader, or perhaps they had them memorized, or they chanted them or recited them, these 18 benedictions.

We don’t know exactly when they were codified, but the main development of the prayer certainly took place before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, so it seems likely that Jesus and His disciples would have been familiar with these 18 benedictions.

Jesus assumed, then, that His disciples would be frequently in prayer. Not just private prayer, we see that here in our text in a moment, “Go in secret, close the door,” and we know Jesus’ exampled was often in private prayer. But more obviously, they would have thought in terms of regularly-attended times of corporate prayer. When we think about, “How is your prayer life?” you probably instantly think, “How am I doing with my daily devotionals first thing in the morning, or last thing before I go to bed?” That’s good.

But when they thought, “How are you doing with prayer?” they probably thought of corporate gatherings where they came together and prayed. Again, we’ll come back to this tonight. But think about the Lord’s Prayer itself. There is not a single example of a singular pronoun in the Lord’s Prayer. There is no “I,” there’s no “my.” It’s “our, us.”

No one, not Jesus, not His followers, questioned that God’s people would pray. That was assumed, and it should be assumed no less today. If you are a part of the family of God, you talk to your Father. Isn’t that true? Now earthly fathers can die and can pass on, but if your earthly father is alive and you never talk to your earthly father, especially if you’re in the same house, something is very wrong, something’s very dysfunctional. If you are a part of this family, what’s the matter if you don’t talk to your father?

So Jesus says of course you would pray. There is no such thing as a non-praying Christian. You can’t be a Christian and not pray.
And I wonder, with all of things going on in our world, it’s like 2021 looked at 2020 and said, “Hold my coffee. All right. Here we go.” You look around and you see much that’s sad, scary, painful, confusing. What’s your first instinct? Outrage? Is your first instinct to go to social media? Is your first instinct to defend ourselves? To accuse other people? Or is our first instinct, “We ought to pray.”

There is no such thing as a non-praying Christian.

We will get to the Lord’s Prayer itself in the next sermon, that’s the “what” of prayer. For this message, we’re looking at the “how” of prayer. According to Jesus, there are two big no-nos when it comes to prayer. Number one: Don’t be like the hypocrites. And number two: Don’t be like the pagans.

First, Jesus does not want us to be like hypocrites when we pray. Verse 5: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at that street corners that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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 secrete will reward you.”

Let’s make very clear we understand this word “hypocrite.” The Greek word, “hupokrites,” means a play actor. As a negative label, it means someone who would put on a mask; that’s what play actors did in Greek dramas, they would wear masks for their various parts. A hupokrites is someone who plays a part, someone who pretends to be something that he is not. And you can see very plainly and helpfully that our English word means basically the same thing.

Hypocrites profess to believe one thing but actually live a completely different way. If you are a well-known vegetarian who eats bacon every night, that would be a hypocrite. If you are an opponent of big tobacco and you smoke a pack of cigarettes every day. If you’re a champion of family values who sleeps around with mistresses, those are hypocrites. They pretend to be what they are not. And specifically their pretense is for applause and esteem. That’s usually what we think of, part of hypocrisy, is “I want other people to think better of me than I really am.”

Too often Christians confuse hypocrisy. What do I mean? Well, sometimes Christians think hypocrisy is doing one thing but feeling another; that’s not hypocrisy. Hypocrites publicize one set of beliefs but live by a different set of beliefs. When you come to church but you don’t feel like it, that’s not hypocrisy. That’s faithfulness. When you do the right thing in your marriage even when you don’t feel in love, that’s fidelity.

And I underscore this because I’ve heard this before, as a pastor, “Well, Pastor, I would be a hypocrite to stay in this marriage because I’m not in love anymore.” Or “I would be a hypocrite, Pastor, to come to worship when I don’t feel like worshiping. I would be a hypocrite to pray when I don’t feel like God is very close to me. I would be a hypocrite to give to the offering when I don’t feel like doing so.” God loves a cheerful giver, as you’ve heard me say before. Yes, He does, so keep on giving until you’re happy.

Listen very carefully, doing what is right when you don’t feel like doing what is right is not hypocrisy, it’s maturity.

Professing one thing in public and living a different way in private, that’s hypocrisy, and we must not confuse the two.

We see clearly what Jesus has in mind from verse 1: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”

That’s what hypocrites do. They don’t really love God, they don’t really love the kingdom, they don’t really love the hallowing of God’s name. They love to pray in synagogues and on street corners, they love to be seen by others.

Obviously Jesus is not saying we can’t ever pray in public. We’ve had many public prayers this morning. Jesus is not overthrowing corporate worship, there’s other times He prays in public. We see the early church, Acts chapter 4, they’re gathering together, corporately praying. Jesus assumes when we come to the Lord’s Prayer itself a corporate context.

What He’s arguing against is what is all too common our hearts and maybe a particular danger in the pastor’s heart, be very nervous if you love being religious in public more than you love being religious in private.

Our prayer life should bel like the iceberg in the ocean. What you see before others is just a very little bit of the great mass of prayer and spirituality underneath the ocean surface. Be like an iceberg, not like iceberg lettuce that floats in water with the vegetable all on top, nothing really to see under the surface.

If you remember nothing else from this sermon, you’ll remember that: Let your prayer life be like an iceberg, not like iceberg lettuce.

There’s much more than meets the eye. Instead of, well, every time you pray it’s the prayer that other people can hear and see. Jesus gives a warning for all of us, and it is a special warning for me, for pastors, for elders, for deacons, for women’s Bible study leaders, small group leaders, anyone engaged in public ministry: Beware of religious professionalism. Beware of saying all the right things when you’re out of your house, doing all the wrong things when you’re in your house.

You may be able to fool people for an hour or two once a week on Sunday; you’re not fooling God, you’re not fooling the people who live closest to you.

Beware of this kind of religious professionalism. Don’t pray to be seen by people. Instead, Jesus says, close the door, pray to be seen by God.

Do you see how prayer is a matter of faith? Do we really believe God hears us when we pray? Do we believe God sees us? For me to pray in front of you all doesn’t take faith to believe that you hear me. Some of you, I think, are even paying attention. I can see you, you’re there, you’re listening. Of course prayer is doing something. But when I pray in secret, do I believe, do you believe, that there is a God who sees in secret and He is listening? That takes faith.

You see what Jesus’ point is? We must not miss this. Jesus says if you live for the praise of men, that’s all you’ll get. Don’t be a fool, He says. Don’t live for earthly applause. Now He doesn’t stop there, He goes on to say, when you can get heavenly applause. Your Father will reward you. Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, shame on you for wanting somebody to be pleased with you.” No, that’s very deep in our human spirit. He says just don’t be dumb about it. Why would you want to live your life for all of these people to like you when you could live in such a way that the God of heaven would smile upon you? Do you believe that the God in secret sees you and will reward you?

A few months ago we got one of those baby monitors with a camera. Whew, where have these been all our lives? We were slow to the game in getting one of these, and now we know why our 2-year-old sleeps in so late in the morning, because he is having a grand old time in his crib after we put him to bed. He’s putting blankets over his head, he’s doing stuff with pacifiers. He’s having just a great time when he thinks that no one is watching.

Now imagine, if you’re a 7-year-old boy and you love your father, you look up to your father, you know your father takes care of you, and your father has a camera on every wall and your father sees everything you’re doing. What difference would that make in how you live your life? Now you might think, well, it’d make me really afraid, I wouldn’t do the wrong things. But it should also make a difference in why you would do the right things, that if your father, who takes care of you and loves you and you look up to him, if he’s watching all the time, then when your friends are pressuring you to do what is wrong, you think, well, I don’t need to impress them, my father is watching and I want to impress him. I don’t have to put on a show, I don’t have to pretend to be what I’m not. I ought to be the same person wherever I go because wherever I am, my father is watching me. And in this instance not to punish me, but to reward me.

Live for the One you cannot see, not for the ones you can see. That is absolutely essential to being a Christian. Live for the One you cannot see, not for the ones you can see. Do not be a hypocrite.

Here’s the second no-no on Jesus’ list: Jesus does not want us to be like pagans when we pray. Look at verse 7: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

The word “Gentiles” in verse 7 is translated in some other translations “pagans.” Now “Gentiles” is a good translation, as long as we understand that Jesus is not thinking of an ethnicity here, He’s thinking about people who don’t really know the true God. How do they pray?

Years ago I was in New York City with a group of Christians on a kind of cultural immersion tour and we were meeting with different religious leaders in the city, not Christian leaders but people from different religions and talking to them about their faith and we were trying to share about our faith, and we went around to different temples or places of worship, and with permission we watched from the sidelines and we saw some Hindu rituals, Sikh rituals. I’m sure that many people there were worshiping sincerely in their beliefs and we want to respect their right to worship as they see fit, we believe in religious liberty for all people, and yet from a Christian perspective I couldn’t help but think this is exactly what Jesus was talking about. There were young men performing these religious rituals for the onlookers, for the worshippers, and these young men doing these rituals seemed barely interested in what they were doing. They were lighting a candle or spreading some fragrance or praying some prayers and uttering some mantras on behalf of the people.

The point was simply to get the ritual done. I don’t think I’m being unfair. The point was that the words were spoken, that the phrases were repeated.

You can see this all over the world. The important thing in most Muslim countries is simply fulfill the rituals, say the right words, face the right direction, do it at the right time; that’s what matters.

In some Buddhist countries they have prayer wheels and you can put your prayer in this wheel and they may have dozens of them lined up and people can go along and they spin these prayer wheels and every time that it rotates, the prayers are multiplied and the gods or goddesses or the deity in the sky then hears more of your prayers. It’s a ritual. It’s mechanistic.

According to Jesus, that’s not at all what prayer should be like. Prayer is not like voting online for your favorite player to make the all-star game or the pro-bowl. Now that you can do those online, sometimes you just hit refresh and you just vote, vote, vote, vote, vote…. Just keep pressing it and look, I’m going to get this guy in.

That’s not how prayer works.

To be sure, elsewhere Jesus does say we should pray and never give up. But persistent prayer is very different from babbling prayer. You see verse 7: “Do not heap up empty phrases.” That Greek word is “battalgesete,” you can translate it “empty phrases” or “do not keep on babbling” or the King James has “vain repetitions.” The word is a kind of onomatopoeia, remember that from your language arts class? A word that sounds like what it is. Oink, quack, splash, buzz. Battalagesete, it sounds like babbling words.

Jesus says don’t be like the pagans. They think that the mere act of uttering words is by itself pleasing to God. When we know the goal in prayer is not the completion of some mechanical ritual, and we should not think this is just the danger of non-Christian people. No, praying with empty phrases and meaningless words happens more often than we think. It can happen in liturgical churches. Pastors can read their liturgical formulas. This very precise language, which has been shaped over centuries and is so rich, and they can read them with all the passion of an exhaustive customer service representative, who’s reading the same script for the millionth time: “This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes. How are you doing today, Mr. DeYoung?” Oh, we’re close friends, are we? I can tell.

And we can say the Apostles’ Creed, or you can pray the Lord’s Prayer or we can do a responsive reading at the beginning of the service, and it’s like an out of body experience. You’re just saying words, they become rote, lifeless, dull.

But don’t think that, well, then the answer is if we just didn’t have liturgies in our churches, because if you’ve ever been to a more casual, informal church, you know that they can heap up empty phrases and meaningless words just as well. Worship leaders offer up prayers without any forethought. They pile up phrases that don’t make sense and become heretical. “O, dear Lord, Father God, we praise You for dying on the cross for our sins. We just ask you, Holy Spirit, wrap up us in the blanket of Your love” and what?? Do you listen to what you’re saying? You have several trinitarian heresies going on. You obviously didn’t think about any of that ahead of time. Just because you’re emoting, piling on divine titles, doesn’t mean God hears you more.

John Stott calls this kind of prayer “all lips, no mind, no heart.”

Listen, we don’t have to impress God with our formulas or with our spontaneity. You see verse 8: He knows what we need before we ask Him. We don’t pray because God needs help running the universe, “oh, thank you, I got messages coming in, I didn’t know what was going on down there.” It’s not like that.

And we don’t pray to change God’s mind. We pray because God has ordained means to accomplish His ends. He has arranged things so that He gives grace to those who petition Him for grace. God doesn’t need prayer, just like He doesn’t need to use other means, but He often does, and usually uses means. He can save your life in a car crash with a legion of angels, but He usually does it with a seatbelt or traffic laws or airbags. He doesn’t need the rain to grow the crops or the sun to warm them or the farmer to plow the field, but that’s usually what He uses.

In the same way God uses prayer to do His sovereign work. In prayer, we are not instructing God. We’re really instructing ourselves.

Notice again the motivation. The motivation is based on the One who sees in secret, verse 8. Now Jesus has not yet taught His disciples to say “Our Father,” but already we see how important it is that we know to whom we are praying. We aren’t praying to some hot-headed coach or to a distant king or an austere supervisor, we are praying to our heavenly Father.

If you believe that He’s a good Father, then you don’t have to try to impress other people. You know God will take care of you. And if you believe that He is a great Father, then you don’t have to heap up empty words. You know that God already knows what you need and you don’t get extra credit for adding extra words.

When I give seminary assignments, I have to give some sort of word approximation or the students won’t know does he want a paragraph, does he want a 20-page paper, so you have to say 3000-4000 words, whatever it is. But I always tell them, “Do not go over.” Part of it is selfishly I don’t want to have to read any more of the papers than I have to. Don’t go over. It’s also a good exercise to stay within limits and constraints and someday some church may thank me, say the pastors you trained did not add extra words. You’re saying, “Pastor, physician, heal thyself.” I understand.

The point is I do not want students to pad out their papers with fluff. Say what you need to say and then don’t say anything else. I am grading on what you are saying, not on the fact that you have a very long-winded way of saying it.

And so it is with our prayers. Now, thankfully, God does not have a word limit to our prayers. We can be sure that He’s more gracious than this professor or other professors.

But the same principle holds. There’s no extra credit for just adding extra words. He doesn’t hear you more when you heap up empty phrases. Don’t be like hypocrites. Don’t be like the pagans.

Those are the two no-nos when it comes to prayer.

Which leads to one final summarizing thought. And you’ve heard this before, but you need to hear it again, because it’s true: Prayer is not a formula, prayer is not an incantation, prayer is not a recipe.

Just a few “our Fathers” and sprinkle in some “we beseech thee’s” and voila! You have a masterpiece.

No, prayer is a relationship.

Think of the difference between the prayer from Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. You remember the story? 450 prophets of Baal call upon their God from morning until noon, and then after Elijah gives them some well-deserved mockery, they redouble their efforts, they cry out, they cut themselves until they’re covered in blood. The Bible tells us as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered, no one paid attention.

When it was Elijah’s turn, however, do you remember what he said? He spoke the covenant name of God, Lord, Yahweh, and he claimed a covenant relationship: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel, that I am Your servant and that I have done all these things at Your Word.”

In other words, he prayed to the God who was actually there. He prayed to the God that he knew personally. He prayed to the God that he trusted. And then he prayed, comparatively, a rather short, straightforward prayer that God would hear his servant and God would glorify Himself. Quote: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God and that You have turned their hearts back.”

Big difference.

I started this message by saying some books on prayer reinforce that we ought to pray. The most helpful books make us want to pray, and that’s what I hope from this sermon and from this sermon series. Yes, we must pray and we need to hear that message. It’s a command in the Bible. It’s an assumption in the Bible.

But if we are going to move from “I should pray more” to “I can pray,” we have to think of prayer in the right way. And at the heart of thinking about prayer in the right way, is understanding that our God is not hard of hearing, you don’t have to make a show of it, you don’t have to ply Him with all sorts of phrases, He’s not hard of hearing, and more importantly, He’s not hard of heart.

Speak to Him. Shoot straight with Him. Be plain with Him. You do not need to impress Him. If you are in Christ, then He is your heavenly Father, and as your heavenly Father, you know what? He already loves you. You just need to show up and talk to Him. That’s the good news.

And actually, there’s even better news than that. When you do show up for prayer, your heavenly Father will be gladly waiting there, ready to hear you, and to listen.

Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, help us, teach us to pray, whether we are new Christians, whether we are exploring Christianity, or whether we have been at this for years and decades. Surely You have much to each us about prayer. May we not be hypocrites, may we not be pagans, may we pray like Your children. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.