31st January 2023
Read (Matthew 6v5-18)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Last week we heard that our good works are to be done frequently and quietly - no one needs to know that we care for the widow and the orphan. Likewise when we make a practice of prayer and fasting we are not to shout loudly "EVERYONE! I am both praying AND fasting! I'll be back soon because I am PRAYING AND FASTING!"
How then should we pray and fast? Jesus warns us against praying to be seen by others for such an individual has received their reward (v5). In other words if we pray merely to be seen and to receive the praise of the crowd then our reward will be temporary. Our audience might tell us how holy we are but the Lord sees through our sinful self-righteousness and He is not impressed.
What is prayer? Do you remember when John Brogan said "Prayer is simply talking to God, simply."? He was right. When you pray says Jesus, go into your room and pray in secret knowing that the Lord will bless such an attitude (v6). Then, when we are in the place of prayer, we are not to use endless empty phrases to try and impress God (v7). I was once told that these verses teach that the public prayer meeting is not essential - we should pray frequently and pray alone. This is simply not true. There is no meeting in the church week as neglected as the prayer meeting and it is the great shame of the modern church. We should meet regularly as a church to call upon the Lord but when we aren't praying with our brothers and sisters in the church we should pray frequently, privately and simply.
Have you ever found that words don't come easily when you pray? Thanks be to God for the Lord's prayer. It says “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 evil." (v9-13) Jesus doesn't tell us that this is the only way to pray but if you often don't know what to pray then the Lord's prayer should be committed to memory and followed.
The Lord's prayer is a God given masterpiece which directs our prayer life. It teaches us to draw near to God in holy reverence as His precious children (Our Father in heaven). It teaches us to glorify God and that He would work all things to His own glory (Hallowed be your name). It teaches us to seek the growth of God's kingdom and the destruction of Satan's kingdom (Your kingdom come). It teaches us to be willing to submit ourselves to the will of God in all things (Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven). It teaches us to ask the Lord for our daily sustenance and His blessing (Give us this day our daily bread). It teaches us to make a daily practice of repentance which overflows in our forgiveness of others (Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors) - this is of vital importance as we cannot expect to be freely forgiven by the Lord whilst still refusing to forgive someone else (v14-15). Finally, the Lord's prayer teaches us to seek God's protection from all temptation and His help when temptation comes (Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil).
Although it has fallen out of practice, prayer has often been accompanied by fasting. What is fasting? Simply when we keep ourselves from food spending the time in prayer instead. If you are fit and well and able to fast then it certainly should be a feature of your Christian walk. Just like your good works and your prayers, fasting should be done in secret. Some fast and look gloomy with twisted faces as they do it (v16) but the Christian is to fast quietly. Indeed every effort should be made to keep our fasting between us and the Lord (v17). As an example, imagine that you decide to fast from Tuesday dinner time to Wednesday lunchtime using breakfast time on Wednesday morning for prayer not porridge - wonderful but make sure you don't spend Wednesday morning at work declaring that you are starving!
My brothers and sisters the Psalmist was right when he declared "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!" (Psalm 115v1) We are to do good works, we are to pray both privately and publicly and we are to fast knowing that man does not live by bread alone.
In all of these areas we are to decrease as Christ increases and we are to shun the gaze and the praise of man. Friends, pray without ceasing and sometimes fast too, doing it all for the audience of One.
Q64 What is required in the fifth commandment? The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.