Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 2-22-05

Title: Take Time to Listen When You Pray

 

Text: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:6)

 

Bible Reading: Matthew 6:5-13

 

 

 

Introduction

 

The Bible reading is Matthew 6:5-13.

 

I’ll read those verses after a few words about our subject, which is prayer.

 

For an athlete to excel in the sport of his or her choice they must submit to the physical disciplines that will prepare them for excellent performance.

 

Likewise, to truly be followers of Jesus Christ, we must follow certain exercises and disciplines.

 

Jesus’ prayer life was not a mere routine or habit that He followed. 

 

His prayer life was a dynamic experience with God the Father that so enriched Him that one of our Lord’s disciples said to Him, “Lord teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). 

 

The art of effective praying needs to be learned and Jesus is the reliable Teacher that we should listen to and imitate.

 

We need to recognize that prayer was meant to be a conversation in which communication takes place in both directions rather than being a monolog. 

 

After hearing several sermons that emphasized this concept of prayer, a creative young person composed a song that he titled “Listen When You Pray.”  The chorus goes like this:

 

Listen, O listen when you pray

To hear what God might have to say.

Listen, O listen when you pray

To hear what God might have to say.

 

It is interesting to note how many times in the Old Testament the people of God are accused of the sin of refusing to listen to God’s voice. 

 

It’s also interesting to note how many times in the New Testament our Lord says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:9).

 

This phrase is repeated seven times in Revelation 2 and 3 and it’s used to indicate the importance of what comes next.

 

If you have ears to hear, listen, as I read our text; Matthew 6:5-13.

 

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye (say it with me): Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

 

The first thing that can be seen in this passage is that Jesus assumed that His disciples would pray (Matt. 6:6).

 

People pray because they must. 

 

The Greek word for man is anthropas, which means “an upward looking creature.” 

 

Humans are made with a hunger for God.

 

Praying, like giving, is to be done unto the Lord, not unto man.

 

Many professing Christians, if they were honest, would have to admit that they pray to be heard of men.

 

Jesus said that the people of His day love to pray standing in the synagogues.

 

Having both a time and place for prayer was customary in the ancient Jewish synagogue (Mk 11:25).

 

Therefore, Jesus is not condemning the practice of public prayer, but rather the misuse of it!

 

Because of the statement “enter into thy closet” some have suggested that all public prayer is wrong.

 

This would be contrary to what the rest of New Testament says about prayer, and to commandments and restrictions we are given regarding prayer, and to examples of prayer meetings such as the one mentioned in Acts 12:12 where we are told, “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, …where many were gathered together praying.”

 

The notion here is that the believer should not make a show of his prayer or of the answers he receives to prayer in such a way as to call unnecessary attention to himself.

 

Remember, it is God who sees in secret, that rewards us openly.

 

The intimate father-child relationship between God and man is clearly seen when the two come together during prayer.

 

It is the practice of private prayer that ultimately prepares one to pray effectively in public.

 

Most people, who say they cannot pray in public, do not pray effectively in private either!

 

Jesus assumed that we would hunger for fellowship with our heavenly Father.

 

This hunger is what leads us to engage in both public and private prayer.

 

Our public praying is only as good as our private praying, and our private praying should be secret, and it should be sincere and logical.

 

Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern for us to follow so that we will put God’s concerns first and not forget to forgive others.

 

He assumed that we would hunger for fellowship with the family of God when we are talking with our heavenly Father.

 

The concept we are dealing with here is world-shattering. 

 

Did you notice the Lord uses the term Father? 

 

These are citizens of the kingdom and members of the family of God that the Lord is talking about. 

 

Someone may want to know how you become a child of God today. 

 

John 1:12 gives us the answer:  “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power [the authority] to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”

 

Our Lord even said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again;” until then you can’t call God your Father. 

 

Did you know that in the Old Testament you will not find the word Father used in relation to a man with God? 

 

God said of the nation of Israel as a whole, “…Israel is my son” (Ex. 4:22), but He did not say it about an individual. 

 

The Lord Jesus is speaking of a new relationship.

 

Probably Jesus assumed that we would pray because of an overwhelming sense of helplessness and need.

 

Have you ever thought you were at the end of your rope?

 

When that happens, remember God lives at the end of your rope.  

 

Sometimes you need to arrive at a place where you realize you can’t do it by your self, before God will help.

 

The great need of humans in their struggle with evil causes us to want to pray.

 

  • There is evil within us.

 

There is a constant battle going on within all believers. 

 

The new nature Christ gives us when we are saved cannot sin; but we still have our old sinful nature, and at times our old nature controls us. 

 

The battle between our two natures will go on as long as we live; but at death the old nature must stay in the grave as our spirit flies to the Lord.

 

Unbelievers only have the sinful nature they were born with, and that’s why:

 

  • There is evil about us.

 

All you have to do to see the evil that exists all about us is to read the paper or watch the nightly news.

 

Some of the things reported are terrible. 

           

I read a true story that tells of one of the horrible things evil people are capable of doing.

 

Calvin Miller is a popular author, preacher, and professor. 

 

He recently told about a little girl who didn’t think anybody cared whether she lived or died.

 

Her body was fished out of a river in Kansas City and the rescue team found a note pinned to her dress.

 

The washed-out ink revealed the thoughts she had written down before ending her life.

 

The note read, “I don’t have a friend in the world.

Nobody cares for me.”

 

What a mess when little lives are self-destructed because they don’t feel concern coming from those around them.

 

Folks, we should let every child know we care about them.

 

It’s evil, in us and around us that causes a little girl to feel like no one loves her.

 

And who is it that’s behind the evil; causing it and promoting it?

 

The Bible has the answer; we are told:

 

  • The evil one walks about seeking whom he may devour. 

 

Satan knows how to use pride to defeat you as he defeated Eve (Gen. 3:1–6).

 

Are you laughing when you should be weeping over your sins?

 

Are you resisting the devil or resisting the Lord?

 

Adrian Rodgers told his congregation, “If you’re sinking in quicksand, Satan will gladly pat you on the head.”

 

But, it has been said that Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his or her knees.

 

James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (4:8). 

 

When we pray we need to remember the chorus: “Listen, O listen when you pray to hear what God might want to say.”

 

We have seen that Jesus assumed His disciples would pray, and:

 

The second thing I want to say is, “Some misconceptions regarding prayer may lead to disappointment and skepticism.”

 

We should not think of prayer as some kind of supernatural “grab bag” into which we can reach in order to obtain some prize. 

 

Prayer is not a substitute for hard thinking and hard work by which we solve many of our problems. 

 

God does help, but He wants us to add feet to our prayers. 

 

He wants to bless us as we work through the problem, with faith in Him. 

 

It’s not that prayer alone is not enough; rather it is that God wants to show our faith to others by what we do.  

 

Prayer was never meant to be a magic shortcut to success. 

 

Paul prayed three times for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” but God never removed it, and he had it until the day he died. 

 

Paul was a successful Christian and he talked frequently to the Lord in prayer, but if you were to judge him like the world does today, you would not see him as very successful. 

 

God wants us to pray, and then work hard; that’s what brings success.

 

But look at what Paul did for the kingdom of God. 

 

He started more churches and lead more people to the Lord than anyone else, and he took the Word of God to the world of his day.

 

In God’s eyes he was a success.

 

Prayer is not an arrangement of beautiful religious words used to gain God’s attention. 

 

I have been in churches and heard high sounding prayers that made the person giving the prayer seem very intelligent and religious, but I don’t believe the prayer got any higher than the ceiling. 

 

It was like the rich man who prayed in the temple, “I am glad I am not like other men…I tithe and I do good deeds.” 

 

This man prayed to himself, not to God, because God will not listen to a prayer that praises the one who prays.

 

Prayer is a personal experience of dialogue with God. 

 

Even when the congregation prays it’s personal, because God looks into every heart and mind for the intention of the individual worshipper.

 

It is God who invites us and moves us to come into His presence, and we come into His presence with mingled emotions of fear and joy and expectancy. 

 

It’s the Holy Spirit that tells the person what to pray, and He will present the prayer to God in a form that pleases Him.

 

As we communicate with God in prayer we see things more clearly, and understand more fully, and God gives us strength and courage for life.

 

Now, the last thing I want to say is:

 

Prayer is communication between the Father God and His children.

 

Verse 6 said, But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

 

We are to enter the closet, the private place, and shut the door. 

 

There are three important reasons for why we are instructed to shut the door. 

 

First, we are to shut the door so God can get our attention. 

 

We have a problem with being distracted and preoccupied and not listening when we pray, and especially when others pray. 

 

I am ashamed to admit that I have this problem. 

 

Often, I find that my mind is on something else when I should be listening to the sermon or participating in the prayer. 

 

It’s not a new problem, since the Old Testament had something to say about it.

 

The psalmist says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

 

Be still means “to sink” or “to relax.”

 

God knows what He is doing, and His timing is perfect.

 

When it is all over, He will be exalted, and you will be blessed.

 

We are encouraged to stop all struggling and to find the peace that faith brings.

 

Such peace comes only when we acknowledge God’s Lordship in our lives and then surrender to His will.

 

What a wonderful thing it is, when we are confronted with a problem which has no solution, and yet God works it out for our good and His glory.

 

It is good for us, on occasion, just to stand still and watch the mighty hand of God at work in our lives and the lives of others.

 

Then we too will know, beyond all doubt, “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

 

Habakkuk declares, “The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him” (2:20).

 

God is in his holy temple (heaven); and He is all-powerful because He lives!

 

We don’t need to spend time trying to make God talk, since He has, in fact, already spoken.

 

The only sensible thing you and I can do is to keep silence, listen to Him, and heed what He says.

 

Folks, God is on His throne and has everything under control.

 

Another reason we’re to shut the door is so we can hear God’s voice.

 

  • The heavenly Father does not shout or scream when He speaks to us. 

 

Instead, He speaks with a still small voice. 

 

That’s why prayer involves listening as well as speaking. 

 

Listen to what God says to you when you pray, because it will be important.

 

  • The writer of Hebrews encourages us to listen when he wrote: “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion”’ (3:7-8).

 

The verses refer to the time Israel had been out of Egypt for only one month.

 

Within that one month they had repeatedly witnessed God’s miraculous deliverance and provision.

 

They had witnessed the last of the plagues, God’s leading by cloud and fire, the Red Sea divided, the bitter water of Marah purified, and the provision of manna and quail.

 

Yet, almost immediately they murmur and harden their hearts against both Moses and God.

 

How does a believer’s heart become hard?

 

By refusing to listen to God’s words, or by despising His works and being ignorant of His ways.

 

Sin is deceitful.

 

You think you are getting away with it, but all the while it is hardening your heart and robbing you of blessings.

 

Finally, we are to shut the door so that we can speak freely to our Father God.

 

  • We need to take time to adore Him, and to praise Him, and to thank Him when we pray.

 

Jesus said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).

 

With the door closed we can take time to confess our sin and to confess to God that we will forgive those who have sinned against us.

 

  • With the door closed we can voice our petitions for others in prayer. 

 

All of the pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer are plural, and the God to whom we pray is “our Father.” 

 

When we pray for bread, we are to pray that the Father will “give us our daily bread,” all of us.

 

Instead of praying only in church in front of others, enter into your closet, into some place of privacy.

 

Isaac went into the field to pray, and Christ went to a mountain, and Peter went to a housetop.

 

Secret prayer is to be made in private, so that we may be unobserved, and there by avoid making a show of it.

 

And it should be undisturbed, to prevent all distractions, and unheard, so we may have greater freedom to speak our hearts to our heavenly Father.

 

Conclusion

 

Take time to listen when you pray. 

 

Especially listen to the Scriptures, because reading them can be the listening side of prayer. 

 

Remember, God speaks to us through His Word.

 

Listen to the prayers of others when they pray in public. 

 

Listen to the needs of those around you when you pray. 

 

Listen to the voice of God’s indwelling Spirit within you when you pray.

 

I’ll end the message with this poem by B.B. McKinney:

 

Speak to my heart, Lord Jesus,

Speak that my soul may hear;

Speak to my heart, Lord Jesus,

Calm every doubt and fear.

Speak to my heart, Lord Jesus,

Purge me from every sin;

Speak to my heart, Lord Jesus,

Help me, the lost to win.

 

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