Prayer is Not Informing God About Your Needs

Third, prayer is not reporting to God about your needs. Jesus said, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). Before you ask God, God already knows your need. If God already knows what you need, then prayer is not informing God about your needs. Prayer is not about telling God your needs. Rather, prayer is relating with God who knows your needs.

Adam Clarke: “Prayer is not designed to inform God, but to give man a sight of his misery; to humble his heart, to excite his desire, to inflame his faith, to animate his hope, to raise his soul from earth to heaven, and to put him in mind that THERE is his Father, his country, and inheritance.”

“Pastor, if God knows my need, then why pray?” We need to pray, because in praying, we express trust in God. We need to pray, for God wants to hear us praying to Him. God is a relational God; He wants you to relate with Him. We need to pray because we are related to God. If you have trusted Christ as Savior, then God is your Father. God is your Father in heaven who wants to hear you talk to Him.

That is why we pray.

Kingdom Living 10: The Right Way to Pray

'Wouldn't it be easier to just SMS God, rather than pray'We are now in Part 10 of our series on Kingdom Living. In Matthew 6-7, Jesus lays down principles on how to practice kingdom righteousness—how to live according to the rule of God. In Matt. 6:7-15, Jesus teaches about praying and forgiving. Kingdom living is praying and forgiving.

This passage deals with three themes—(1) What Prayer is Not; (2) What Prayer Is; and (3) the Importance of Forgiveness.

We shall now study deeper into the text.

What Prayer is Not

There are three things that prayer is not. First, prayer is not repeating meaningless words. Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do” (Matt. 6:7). Literally in the Greek, it reads, “But praying, do not use meaningless words again and again as the Gentiles.” The words, “heap up empty phrases,” is just one word, battalogeo, which means, “to speak much or extensively, with a possible added implication of meaningless words – ‘to use many words, to speak for a long time’” (Louw-Nida); “use many (meaningless) words, babble, use vain repetitions (MT 6.7) (Friberg). The NKJV translates it, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.” The NASB reads: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do.” The idea here is meaningless repetition and lengthiness.

Why do the Gentiles or pagans pray like this? Jesus said in v. 7, “for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

That is the second thing about what prayer is not.

Second, prayer is not repeating many words to be heard by God. They pray with many words believing that God will hear them. They believe that if they pray with many words over a long time, maybe God will listen to them. They believe that if they repeat the same words, God will hear them.

Have you prayed like that? I’ve prayed like that since I was a child. I was taught to pray the same words in the same prayer. I was taught to pray the same words over and over again. But our Lord Jesus commanded, “Do not pray like that. Do not pray like the Gentiles do. Do not be like them.”

Sometimes, we pray to earn God’s blessing. But we pray not to be heard by God, or to earn God’s blessing. We pray to show our dependence in God who knows our needs.

Some of you grew up in a religion that taught you this kind of prayer. But I encourage you to follow Jesus from now on. Are you willing to follow Jesus together with me? Let’s obey our Lord Jesus in all things, even though it goes against our religion.

“Pastor, does this mean that I can pray a short prayer and God will still hear me?” Yes!

Thousands of letters are addressed to God each year and sent to Jerusalem. One asked the “God of Israel” for help in getting a job as a bulldozer driver.
Another: “Please help me to be happy, to find a nice job and a good wife–soon.”
Another asked for forgiveness for stealing money from a store when he was a boy. (“Sermon Illustrations: Prayer.” Cited October 18, 2014. Online: http://hotsermons.com/sermon-illustrations/sermon-illustrations-prayer.html)

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Christians’ prayers are measured by weight, and not by length.”

The Fasting of the Followers of Christ

'He's conscientious about most of his religious duties, but he's slow to fast.'Jesus said, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face” (Matt. 6:17). In the Greek, it is emphatic—“but you.” The hypocrites fast like that. “But you,” you members of the Kingdom of God, you followers of Christ—be different. When the hypocrites fast, they look gloomy and dirty, to show everyone that they are fasting. But you, when you fast, don’t look gloomy and dirty.

How do you not look gloomy and dirty when you fast? Jesus said, “Anoint your head and wash your face.” The verb, “anoint” (Gk. aleipho), refers to “external physical application of oil or perfumed ointment.” (Friberg)

One day, Jesus told Simon, a Pharisee, a story (Lk. 7:36-46).

  • A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
  • When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
  • Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
  • Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
  • You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.
  • You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”

Palestinian Jews used oil to clean their head and skin. (Keener) They used oil as cosmetic. Today, we use Efficascent oil.

Jesus said, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face. What does that mean? Cleanliness. Good grooming. When the hypocrites fast, they look dirty. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, comb your hair, wash your face, put Ponds cream on it, spray Calvin Klein cologne on your body. Look good, look great, and look clean. When the hypocrites fast, they look gloomy. But you, look happy! In other words, take care never to look like you’re fasting. NEVER give a hint to others that you are fasting.

Why should they clean themselves when fasting? “That your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:18). The reason is that only the Father should see them fasting, and not other people. Your fasting should be so secret that only your Father in heaven should know that you are fasting. True righteousness is to be secret—to be seen only by God.

How many of you watch, “Showtime.” In many churches today, it is a “Showtime” ministry. Many churches like to show off their ministry. They like to show off their good music, their nice building, and their acts of goodness to all the world. They receive their reward. Show-off ministries receive their reward from men, but not from God.

How do you judge a successful church or a successful ministry? Many people judge a successful church by attendance. “It’s the fastest growing church in Cebu—5,000 every Sunday.” Many people judge a successful ministry by baptism. “They baptized 100 people last year.” Many judge a successful church by the financial gifts. “They give a million pesos yearly; they built a big building.” Many judge a successful church by the worship music. “They have the most spiritual worship there.”

But if we think like that, we should think again. Jesus does not think like that. God does not reward us like that. God judges the success of a church by searching its peoples’ hearts. God judges you by evaluating its motives. God judges you by seeing their good works in secret. (Blomberg)

Jesus said, this kind of fasting, this kind of righteousness, receives the reward of the Father. Your Father, who sees all the secret things, shall reward you!

The Facebook Fasting of Hypocrites

'Hey! - Are you eating again ALREADY?'Jesus does not attack fasting. He attacks the hypocritical way of fasting—the Facebook way. What is the “Facebook” fasting of the hypocrites? Jesus said, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:16). The hypocrites love to look “gloomy” when fasting. The word, “gloomy” (Gk. skuthropos), means, “sad.” (Gingrich) Jesus said, Don’t be like the hypocrites when they fast. They want to look gloomy and grim, sad, and sorrowful.

Not only that, they “disfigure their faces” (v. 16). The word, “disfigure” (Gk. aphanizo), means, to “render invisible or unrecognizable.” (Gingrich) The NASB is more accurate: “for they neglect their appearance.” How do they neglect their appearance? Most likely, they follow the OT way of fasting. In the OT, people who fast would put ashes on their faces. In doing so, they become unrecognizable. These hypocrites want to appear dirty, untidy, and unkempt.

For what purpose do they do that? Jesus said, “That their fasting may be seen by others.” That is the Facebook Fasting, fasting to be seen by others. There’s a little bit of irony in Matthew’s words. They hide their faces, in order to be seen. (Hagner)

What do they receive in return? “They have received their reward” (Matt. 6:16). The verb, “receive” (Gk. aphecho), is interesting. It is a business term. It means, “to receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.” (Gingrich) Just like when you pay food at Jollibee. You give P100.00 to the Jollibee girl. She says, “I receive P100.00.” Then she issues you a receipt for it. That’s aphecho, to receive in full.

It’s in the present tense—“they receive their reward.” The hypocrites receive their reward. They receive it in full and no more. They receive their reward here on earth, but no more in heaven. They receive their reward from people, but not from God.

Do you want to receive the praises of people today? I don’t want to receive the praises of people on earth. I want to receive the praises of God in heaven!

Sometimes, we do holy things on the outside, but out of unholy motives on the inside. We do good things externally, but we have a bad motive internally. But in the Kingdom of God, we must be careful that we do good things in secret, without showing off to get the glory.

That’s the second point of Jesus.

An Encouragement to Fast

FastingGod commanded the Jews to fast on the Day of Atonement. That is just once a year. But Jesus is talking about voluntary, private fasting here. Fasting is the act of abstaining from food as a form of self-denial. In the Bible, fasting and prayer go together. In prayer, you draw near to the things of heaven. In fasting, you draw away from the things of the earth. In prayer, you set up your spirit to God. In fasting, you set aside your body. It’s a spiritual combination. It is not a sign of spirituality. Rather, it is a sign of self-denial and spiritual commitment to God.

Most Christians today do not fast. We’d rather feast than fast. But Jesus and the first Christians fasted. Jesus fasted for forty days. Luke tells of Anna, a prophetess, an old widow aged 84 years old. She served God with prayer and fasting night and day (Lk. 2:37). In the church at Antioch, the prophets and teachers prayed and fasted, seeking God’s will about missionary work (Acts 13:1-3). Then they laid hands on the missionary team of Paul and Barnabas. In Lystra and Antioch, Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted, consecrating the elders of every church to the Lord (Acts 14:23).

Last year, I announced a time of prayer and fasting during Holy Week. I don’t know who prayed and fasted with me. There’s no need to know because we don’t need to know. While fasting on the first day, I didn’t eat any food. I just drank water. On the second day, things were getting difficult. On the third day, I became very hungry. At lunch time, the food on the table was very delicious. Fasting can be total or partial. Total fasting means no food, but only water. Partial fasting means a little food and water. So I told the Lord, “Lord, maybe You won’t mind if I shif to a partial fast.” I did. Then I ate a little of the delicious food.

I encourage you to go on prayer and fasting. I don’t force you to fast. You must be willing to fast. Yesterday, we had our monthly Prayer Breakfast. We studied God’s Word at early morning, prayed, and ate hotdog, eggs, and corned beef afterward. Maybe next November, we will no longer have a Prayer Breakfast. Instead, let’s have Prayer and Fasting every second Saturday.

Kingdom Living 9: Fasting in Secret

We are now in Part 9 of our Kingdom Living sermon series. In Matt. 6, Jesus warns against doing righteous acts “before other people” (v. 1). He censures against doing righteous acts in order “to be seen by them” (v. 1). Matthew 6:1 is the controlling verse for Jesus’ discourse in vv. 1-18. It is the key verse for the whole discussion. Kingdom living is righteous living in secret, seeking God’s praise, and not of men.

Jesus then used three religious duties of the Jews as illustrations—giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. It’s a good combination—GPF—Give to the Poor, Pray, Fast. We tend to forget the poor; hence, we should give to the poor every day. We tend to forget to pray; hence, we should pray every day. We love to feast on food; hence, we should fast regularly.

Don’t show off, Jesus said, when you give to the poor in secret (vv. 2-4). Don’t show off when you pray (vv. 5-6). Don’t show off, when you fast (vv. 16-18). The whole point is that in the Kingdom of God, righteous acts are a matter between you and God; nobody should know. Seek the praise of God, and not the praise of men. Seek God’s glory, and not your own glory.

We are now in the third illustration—fasting in secret.

God Sees the Secret Motives of Our Hearts

thought-27“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” (Matt. 6:6).

God sees everything done in secret. Therefore, our prayers should come from a pure heart, for God sees the motives of our heart. Sometimes, our prayer is out of impure motives. We pray seeking to impress others. Have you prayed like that?

Our prayers should be directed to God, and not to people. Sometimes, we pray calling the attention of people. “Lord, thank you that I am not like some people who are gossipers and who do not serve You.” Actually, you are hitting people who gossip and do not serve God. But are you really praying to God? Remember that prayer is talking to God, not talking to people.

We should not pray to summarize a sermon. “Lord, I pray that we will pray not in the hypocritical way, but in the God-honoring way.” Actually, I am summarizing my sermon in my prayer. But in doing so, am I focusing on God or on my sermon?

We should not pray to inform the listeners about something. “Lord, we pray for Pastor Pon. He has a heart problem, needing angioplasty. Lord, use people to give for his operation.” Actually, I am informing people and asking money at the same time. Are we praying to inform people or raise funds? Or are we really talking with God?

We should pray to God directly, not to people indirectly. We should pray out of pure motives that glorify God, not out of selfish motives to suit our agenda.

Don’t follow what the hypocrites do. They pray before people to get their praises. But you, pray in secret before God who sees you in secret.

True prayer then, is prayer that is out of a pure heart before God. True prayer is prayer that does not seek the admiration of people. True prayer is not to get the attention of people, but the attention of God.

Pray in secret before the Father who sees you in secret and the Father who sees you in secret shall reward you. Pray from a pure heart, an undivided heart, a devoted heart. God acknowledges this kind of prayer. God shall reward you for it.