Relevant: The Rewards of Praying (part 1)
Sermon Summary

This message looks at Jesus' comments on prayer in His Sermon on the Mount. In just eleven verses Jesus talks about the motive of prayer, the place of prayer, the length of prayer, the content of prayer and the rewards of prayer. In part one we will discuss one of the most important motives for praying. While there are many reasons to pray, the primary motive should be the relationship aspect of prayer in regards to our walk with God! And it is our walk with God that allows us to pray wherever we are and at any time, however, Jesus is clear that their should be a special place of prayer where we shut out the distractions of this world and focus on Him! The length of prayer is not as important as the content of the prayer, a topic that will be discussed in part 2 of this message.

Community Group Discussion Guide

1. What is your biggest hindrance when it comes to a consistent prayer life?

2. Jesus was not saying that public praying was wrong, but the motive should never be a prideful "look at me." While there are many motives and reasons to pray, one of the most important has to do with God's desire to have a meaningful relationship with us. Discuss why prayer is such an important part of that relationship.

Romans 8:14-16 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

3. We are to be aware of God's presence throughout our daily lives and as such know that we can communicate with God no matter where we are or what we are in the middle of. However, there's also something very special about setting aside special times in special places to spend time with God without distraction. Discuss why both are very important to a follower of Christ. Also, do you have a special place you consider to be your personal sanctuary?

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 84:1-10 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.Selah Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

4. The pagans felt they could control their gods by long, wordy, repetitious prayers. Some Christians think prayer is a tool to force God to do their bidding and that if they follow certain formulas then He will be bound to do what they ask. However, Jesus was clear that God already knows what we need most and so the focus of our prayer should be more about nurturing our relationship with God rather than simply asking for things. How might the content of our prayers reveal the depth of our walk with God?

Mat 6:7  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Mat 6:8  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

James 4:3  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Mat 6:31  So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
Mat 6:32  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
Mat 6:33  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


Relevant: The Rewards of Praying (part 1)

Jesus came to this earth with the purpose of living a perfect life and then laying down that perfect life on an old rugged cross so you and I could be forgiven, cleansed, renewed, and reconnected to our Creator God! Just why we are so special to God is a mystery to me, but it has to do with the concept of God's infinite love! When Jesus gave His sermon on the mount He was speaking the very Word of God to us! Today we're going to hear His teaching on how we have been given the privilege of talking to God and the rewards that come to us when we choose to have a conversation with God. Let's talk to God right now and ask Him to speak to us and to teach us why it is so rewarding to pray!

"Father God, I am amazed that You would even want to talk to me, a sinner. I am amazed that You would allow Your Only Begotten Son to be sacrificed in order to make it possible for me to have a conversation with You! Truly, one of the most rewarding activities of my life is praying to You! I want to thank You for being willing to listen when I pray! And I pray this morning that You would let us come to a deeper understanding of the rewards that are available to us when we avail ourselves of our privilege to pray! Let Your Holy Spirit speak through me and teach through me. I am Your servant, use me for Your glory and honor today! I love You and thank You for hearing this prayer! In Jesus Name I pray and believe. Amen!

Take your Bibles and turn with me to Matthew 6:5-15. I need you to know that this is part one of this message and we will not cover all of these verses today. Just wanted to let you know so you wouldn't get worried about the time.

The Motive of Prayer

Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they 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.

There are so many reasons to pray! There are probably too many to count. But the least reason to pray should be so you could somehow make people think you're super spiritual when that very act would make you "not" super spiritual! It's like Jesus talked about with giving, if you do it to be seen, then that's all the reward you're going to get. Jesus is not saying here that it's wrong to say a prayer in public, it's just that you shouldn't pray in public for the purpose of being seen! As I said, there's so many reasons to pray and we're going to talk about some of the more important reasons to pray when we talk about the content of prayer. But let's just be gut level honest about prayer and the motives behind prayer.

One of the greatest reasons people pray is need! Most people are motivated to pray when they have a concern, a difficulty, a tragedy, or a question that goes beyond their ability to provide, fix, understand, handle or answer! But the greatest reason of all to pray is a motive that goes beyond all of these things. It addresses a need every human being has, but few acknowledge. And what would that be? It would be a personal and growing relationship with our Creator God who not only made us, but desires to have a friendship with us. In fact, Jesus says this in verse 6...

Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  

Do you understand the power of this statement? Pray to your Father! Now, I know some of you may not have had a good earthly example of a father, others of you did, but we all need to understand that our Heavenly Father is a perfect Father in every way, and He desires so much for us to feel comfortable to talk with Him as a child would talk to his father. Did you know Jesus' teaching on having such an intimate relationship with Yahweh God got Him into trouble with the religious leaders. They did not believe that such a relationship was possible between a sinful man and The Holy God! It's understandable they would have this issue. They had been taught to fear God, but what they had missed was that God wanted their love and respect.

God desired to be close to them, but their sin, pride, and hypocrisy had separated them. Jesus came to close the gap and make a way for them to cross the chasm that kept them apart from God, but many of them refused. By the same token, it may be hard for us to fathom that the God who created the vast Universe and made it possible for life to even exist would acknowledge one seemingly insignificant human being. Now I'm not a scientist, but I'm extremely fascinated by science. I did a little research as I was thinking about how small I am in this universe. Check this out. There are 100-400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy and between 100 and 500 billion galaxies in the Universe and at the low end 10 billion billion stars! The question has been asked if there are more stars in the universe or more grains of sand on the earth! Mathematicians love doing the math on this. The truth is no one knows for sure! And here's another thing that will blow your mind. There may be more atoms in a single gain of sand than there are stars in the universe. 50 quintillion or 50 million million million atoms.

So when I think of my place in the universe I begin to feel like just one of those 50 million million million atoms. The Psalmist, way back in the day, had done a little star gazing and felt pretty small as well. Here's what he had to say...

Psalm 8:3-9 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

So when I think that the Creator of all that there is would desire a personal relationship with me and wants to have a conversation with me, I get pretty fired up about that! And the fact that The Almighty, Eternal, all powerful, all knowing, infinite God wants me to think of Him as Father, well that overwhelms me in a good way. So one of the greatest rewards of prayer is that I get to have a one on one conversation with The God of the Universe and my wonderful Heavenly Father, all at the same time! Listen to how Paul put it in Romans 8:14-16...

Romans 8:14-16 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

So the greatest motive and the greatest reward for praying is that in prayer we have a beautiful relationship with God. In other words we pray because of our friendship and relationship with our loving Heavenly Father and the greatest reward is that we get to have a relationship with the most awesome, loving,  giving, caring, and amazing Creator God! That in itself makes me want to pray!

The Place of Prayer

Matthew 6:6 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.

Folks, this absolutely does not mean that the only place you can pray is behind closed doors. Again, it's not that we can't pray or shouldn't pray at work, at school, or over a meal at a restaurant, but we don't do so to make a show. We should be so aware of God's presence in our lives that we talk with Him continuously. I don't mean out loud, but just knowing that He is right there beside us when we are working, schooling, socializing, exercising at the gym, you name it, God is there with us. Being aware of that is a form of prayer. Listen...

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And listen to the words of the Psalmist...

Psalm 89:15-17 Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn.

The word horn means strength. When we walk in His presence, rejoice in His name, celebrate His righteousness, and allow Him to be our glory and strength then He makes us strong. So we don't just pray at home or at church. We should live in a state of prayerfulness, but in order for this to become a reality in our daily lives we must first have those times of prayer alone with God. In other words, the ability to pray without ceasing is developed in our personal and private walk with God!

Let me share with you this personal example. I talk to my wife in public, I talk to her in front of our kids, but some of our most meaningful times of conversation have been when it's just been her and me, alone. Those walks on the beach, or sitting at a table in a quite little restaurant on an anniversary, or those daily conversations around the breakfast table.

The most rewarding times of prayer are times when we block out the noise of the world, the distractions of the world, and we just get to a place where we can listen for that still, small voice of God. And when He speaks to your heart in those times, it's powerful, meaningful and life changing. For the Psalmist, that place was the sanctuary or temple of the Lord.

Psalm 84:1-10 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.Selah Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

For some people, the thought of being alone with God is a scary thought and for others they think that spending time with God in prayer would be such a boring endeavor. But let me assure you, when you connect with God almighty in His sanctuary, you'll never be the same and you'll find yourself wanting to return as often as possible. And the amazing thing is that the more often you spend time alone with God the more often you will find yourself taking the content and experience of that encounter out into the world with you. And you will find that to be a very rewarding experience as you discover the strength of God flowing into your daily life from your devotional life. So if you don't have a place of prayer, find one.

The time you spend in secret with God will be rewarded by increasing your awareness of God when you are in the middle of a crowd. You may have heard of a Christian movement known as Quakers. While I don't agree with them on some things, I very much agree with their belief that Jesus is an "Inner Light" that helps guide their daily lives. Their commitment to devotion is powerful. On of their leaders, who lived from 1893-1941 wrote the following...

"What is here urged are internal practices and habits of the mind. What is here urged are secret habits of unceasing orientation of the deeps of our being about the Inward Light, ways of conducting our inward life so that we are perpetually bowed in worship, while we are also very busy in the world of daily affairs…Yield yourself to him who is a far better teacher than theses outward words, and you will have found the Instructor himself, of whom these words are a faint and broken echo. There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.

The Length of Prayer

Matthew 6:7-8 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.

These verses fascinate me. The pagans prayed to their gods as if they controlled their gods. They would go into long and wordy incantations. They would repeat things over and over as if they were gaining power over their gods so they would do their bidding. Jesus was clear that there is no need for a Christian to ever do that because God knows what we need even before we ask. Jesus was not saying we should never ask God for things. In fact, as we will see next week in the content of prayer, asking God to act on our behalf is a part of prayer. The difference is that we don't have to spend the majority of our time asking. If we know God already knows what we need and we trust that He will do what's best, then a simple, sincere request is all that is required.

It's not that we don't repeat a prayer request. We do, but each time we make the request, we need to thank God that we know He has heard our prayer and that we trust He understands things we don't and we believe He will do what's best in the overall purpose and plan that He has for our life and our loved ones. We are to remain faithful in prayer and asking, but not as if He has not heard or does not know! We pray, not to inform God of our situation, but to let Him know of our willingness to trust Him and to hold His hand and to never let go regardless of the circumstances. Once we do this we can spend more time in prayer for other important and life changing aspects of prayer. We'll talk about those next week.

Jesus gave at least two examples of people making request to other people and because of their persistence they got what they wanted. I believe He was showing the contrast between Himself and the world. Listen to this one...

Luke 18:1-8 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

I've learned in my prayer life to present my request to God and then thank Him for hearing and answering my prayer even before I see the answer. I don't know how He will answer my prayer, but I can't have peace if I don't trust Him. I've told you all before that one of my biggest struggles in life is having simple child-like faith and trust. I worry about things and at times fall prey to discouragement. Oh, and by the way, about the actual length of prayer. Sometimes I beat myself up because I don't feel as if I've spent enough time in prayer, and I get discouraged about that. But the Lord reminds me it's not the length, but the quality and sincerity of the time. Sure He loves to spend time with us and we don't need to neglect that time, but if you get up late one day and you're running late and don't have time for your regular prayer and devotion, then say a short prayer and ask God to help you have that beautiful awareness that He is with you every moment and every second of every day! Then look forward to the time when you can head to your secret sanctuary place and fellowship with your Heavenly Father!

Paul put it this way in Philippians 4:4-7…

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Let's pray!