Bible Passage: Matthew 6:5-15
Jesus’ theme in this section is contrasting the religious practice of the leaders of his day with what he is calling his disciples to. The headline is found in 6:1 where he explains that they were practicing their faith before others in order to be seen as impressive but did not receive a reward from the Father. By contrast, Jesus’ disciples are to look first and foremost to God. In these verses we have the second of three case studies where Jesus applies this to a particular practice – in this case, prayer.
Private Prayer: In verse 5-6, Jesus critiques the manner in which the religious leaders (he calls them ‘hypocrites’) prayed. The problem was that it was all for show. They would find prominent places on the streets or synagogues and make sure everybody could see what they were doing. They wanted a reputation for being holy people more than they wanted intimacy with God, and so they got what they were after. Jesus says that prayer isn’t for show but is a private thing and he tells his disciples that by going to their room alone and praying they will get the reward of the father. Developing a habit of private prayer is key for a follower of God.
Simple Prayer: The second part of Jesus’ critique is found in verses 7-8. This focusses on the content of the prayer. Some people heap up empty phrases, as though it is by saying a lot that they get a hearing. It can be tempting to pray long ornate prayers for the sake of it, but Jesus wants his followers to realise that prayer is simply conversation with God. The point is not to inform him of needs (he already knows) but to chat with him. There can be simplicity in how we pray, bringing what is on our heart to him using straightforward and everyday language.
Kingdom Prayer: Verses 9-15 give Jesus’ example of what prayer can look like – commonly known as the Lord’s prayer. This is a corporate prayer (‘our’ Father, not ‘my’ Father) and it starts with focus on God before turning to our own needs. The kinds of things this prayer encourages us to pray about include praise for who God is, prayer for advance of the kingdom, prayer for provision of material need, confession of sin and and prayer for protection. For those struggling to know what to pray about, these themes are a brilliant starting point.
- In this passage Jesus encourages his disciples to build a habit of private prayer. You could challenge people to spend some time every day, on their own, praying to God.
- Jesus’ big idea here is to challenge prayer that is for show or for something other than spending time talking to God. You could challenge people whether anything like this has crept into their own prayer life and encourage them to return to the simplicity of prayer that Jesus is teaching here.
- You could have a response time where you pray together, either as a congregation or in groups, and pray into some of the themes of the Lord’s prayer.