Do Jesus’ Sayings Influence Your Prayers?
“When Jesus finished these sayings, the effect was that the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching.”—MATT. 7:28.
WE OUGHT to accept the sayings of God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and apply them in our life. He certainly spoke like no other man. Why, people were amazed at the way he taught in the Sermon on the Mount!—Read Matthew 7:28, 29.
2 Jehovah’s Son did not teach as did the scribes, who based their wordy speeches on the teachings of imperfect humans. Christ taught “as a person having authority” because what he spoke came from God. (John 12:50) So let us see how Jesus’ further sayings in the Sermon on the Mount can and should influence our prayers.
Never Pray as the Hypocrites Do
3 Prayer is an important part of true worship, and we ought to pray to Jehovah regularly. But our prayers should be influenced by Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount. He said: “When you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full.”—Matt. 6:5.
4 When praying, Jesus’ disciples were not to imitate such “hypocrites” as the self-righteous Pharisees, whose public display of piety was nothing more than a pretense. (Matt. 23:13-32) Those hypocrites liked to pray “standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways.” Why? So as to be “visible to men.” First-century Jews customarily prayed as a congregation during the time of the burnt offerings at the temple (about nine o’clock in the morning and three o’clock in the afternoon). Many residents of Jerusalem would pray along with a crowd of worshippers in the temple precincts. Outside that city, devout Jews often prayed twice a day while “standing in the synagogues.”—Compare Luke 18:11, 13.
5 Since most people were not near the temple or a synagogue for the prayers just mentioned, they might pray wherever they happened to be at those times. Some liked to have the times for prayer catch them while they were “on the corners of the broad ways.” They wanted to be “visible to men” who were passing through those intersections. The pious hypocrites would “for a pretext make long prayers” in order to be admired by onlookers. (Luke 20:47) That is not the attitude that we should have.
6 Jesus declared that such hypocrites were “having their reward in full.” They greatly desired recognition and praise from fellow humans—and that was all they would get. It would be their full reward, for Jehovah would not answer their hypocritical prayers. On the other hand, God would respond to the prayers of Christ’s true followers, as shown by Jesus’ further statement on this subject.
7 “You, however, when you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.” (Matt. 6:6) Jesus’ admonition to pray in a private room after shutting the door did not mean that someone could not represent a congregation in prayer. This counsel was meant to discourage public prayer that was offered to call attention to the one praying and to elicit praise from others. We should remember this if we are privileged to represent God’s people in public prayer. Let us also comply with Jesus’ further admonition respecting prayer.
8 “When praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words.” (Matt. 6:7) Jesus thus cited another abuse of prayer—repetition. He did not mean that we should never repeat heartfelt pleas and expressions of thanksgiving in prayer. In the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died, Jesus repeatedly used “the same word” in prayer.—Mark 14:32-39.
9 It would be wrong for us to mimic the repetitious prayers of “people of the nations.” “Over and over again,” they repeat memorized phrases that include many unnecessary words. It did worshippers of Baal no good to call upon the name of that false god “from morning till noon, saying: ‘O Baal, answer us!’” (1 Ki. 18:26) Millions today offer wordy, repetitious prayers, thinking in vain that they “will get a hearing.” But Jesus helps us to realize that the “use of many words” in long and repetitious prayers is of no value from Jehovah’s standpoint. Jesus further said:
10 “So, do not make yourselves like them, for God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) Many Jewish religious leaders made themselves like the Gentiles through excessive wordiness when praying. Heartfelt prayer that includes praise, thanksgiving, and petition is an important part of true worship. (Phil. 4:6) Yet, it would be wrong for us to say the same things over and over again with the thought that repetition is necessary to tell God about our needs. When we pray, we should remember that we are addressing the One who ‘knows what we need before ever we ask him.’
11 Jesus’ sayings about unacceptable prayers should remind us that God is not impressed by high-sounding speech and superfluous words. We should also realize that public prayer is not an occasion to try to impress listeners or cause them to wonder how long it will be before we say “Amen.” Using prayer to make announcements or to counsel the audience would also be out of harmony with the spirit of Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus Teaches Us How to Pray
12 Although Jesus warned against abusing the grand privilege of prayer, he did teach his disciples how to pray. (Read Matthew 6:9-13.) The model prayer is not to be memorized in order to be recited over and over again. Instead, it furnishes a pattern for our own prayers. For instance, Jesus put God first with the opening words: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” (Matt. 6:9) We properly address Jehovah as “our Father” because he is our Creator, who dwells “in the heavens,” far beyond the earth. (Deut. 32:6; 2 Chron. 6:21; Acts 17:24, 28) Use of the plural term “our” should remind us that our fellow believers also have a close relationship with God. “Let your name be sanctified” is a petition that Jehovah take action to sanctify himself by clearing his name of all the reproach that has been heaped upon it since the rebellion in Eden. In answer to that prayer, Jehovah will remove wickedness from the earth, thus sanctifying himself.—Ezek. 36:23.
13 “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10) In connection with this request in the model prayer, we should remember that the “kingdom” is the heavenly Messianic government in the hands of Christ and the resurrected “holy ones” associated with him. (Dan. 7:13, 14, 18; Isa. 9:6, 7) Praying for it to “come” is a request that God’s Kingdom come against all earthly opposers of divine rulership. That will soon occur, paving the way for a global paradise of righteousness, peace, and prosperity. (Ps. 72:1-15; Dan. 2:44; 2 Pet. 3:13) Jehovah’s will is being done in heaven, and asking that it take place on earth is a plea that God carry out his purposes toward our planet, including the removal of his opposers today as he did in ancient times.—Read Psalm 83:1, 2, 13-18.
14 “Give us today our bread for this day.” (Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3) By making this prayerful request, we are asking God to provide necessary food “for this day.” This indicates that we have faith in Jehovah’s ability to care for our needs on a daily basis. It is not a prayer for surplus provisions. This request for our daily needs may remind us that God commanded the Israelites to gather manna “each his amount day for day.”—Ex. 16:4.
15 The next request in the model prayer turns our attention to something we need to do. Jesus said: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12) Luke’s Gospel shows that these “debts” are “sins.” (Luke 11:4) Only if we already “have forgiven” those sinning against us may we expect forgiveness from Jehovah. (Read Matthew 6:14, 15.) We should forgive others freely.—Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13.
16 “Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.” (Matt. 6:13) How are we to understand these two related requests in Jesus’ model prayer? One thing is certain: Jehovah does not tempt us to commit sin. (Read James 1:13.) Satan—“the wicked one”—is the real “Tempter.” (Matt. 4:3) However, the Bible speaks of God as doing things that he is merely permitting. (Ruth 1:20, 21; Eccl. 11:5) Therefore, “do not bring us into temptation” is a petition that Jehovah not permit us to succumb when we are tempted to disobey him. Finally, the plea “deliver us from the wicked one” is a request that Jehovah not allow Satan to overcome us. And we can be confident that ‘God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.’—Read 1 Corinthians 10:13.
‘Keep On Asking, Seeking, Knocking’
17 The apostle Paul urged fellow believers: “Persevere in prayer.” (Rom. 12:12) Jesus made a powerful point along those lines when he declared: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7, 8) It is proper to “keep on asking” for anything that is in harmony with God’s will. In keeping with Jesus’ words, the apostle John wrote: “This is the confidence that we have toward [God], that, no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.”—1 John 5:14.
18 Jesus’ counsel to ‘keep on asking and seeking’ means that we should pray earnestly and not give up. It is also necessary for us to “keep on knocking” to gain access to the Kingdom and enjoy its blessings, benefits, and rewards. But can we be confident that God will answer our prayers? Yes, we can if we are faithful to Jehovah, for Christ said: “Everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.” Many experiences enjoyed by Jehovah’s servants prove that God truly is the “Hearer of prayer.”—Ps. 65:2.
19 Jesus likened God to a loving father who provides good things for his offspring. Imagine that you were present for the Sermon on the Mount and heard Jesus say: “Who is the man among you whom his son asks for bread—he will not hand him a stone, will he? Or, perhaps, he will ask for a fish—he will not hand him a serpent, will he? Therefore, if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will your Father who is in the heavens give good things to those asking him?”—Matt. 7:9-11.
20 A human father, although comparatively “wicked” because of inherited sin, has natural affection for his offspring. He would not deceive his child but would strive to provide him with “good gifts.” With a fatherly attitude toward us, our loving heavenly Father provides “good things,” such as his holy spirit. (Luke 11:13) It can strengthen us to render acceptable service to Jehovah, the Provider of “every good gift and every perfect present.”—Jas. 1:17.
Continue to Benefit From Jesus’ Sayings
21 The Sermon on the Mount was indeed the greatest discourse ever given on earth. It is remarkable for its spiritual content and clarity. As shown by the points drawn from it in this series of articles, we can benefit greatly if we apply the counsel that this sermon contains. These sayings of Jesus can improve our life now and give us the hope of a happy future.
22 In these articles, we have examined only a few of the spiritual gems in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. No wonder those who heard his discourse “were astounded at his way of teaching.” (Matt. 7:28) That will undoubtedly be our reaction too when we fill our minds and hearts with these and other priceless sayings of the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ.
What Are Your Answers?
• What did Jesus say about hypocritical prayers?
• Why should we avoid repetitious wording when we pray?
• Jesus’ model prayer contains what requests?
• How can we ‘keep on asking, seeking, and knocking’?
1, 2. Why were the crowds astounded at Jesus’ way of teaching?
3. Give the essence of Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 6:5.
4-6. (a) Why did the Pharisees like to pray “standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways”? (b) How were such hypocrites “having their reward in full”?
7. What is meant by the counsel to pray in our “private room”?
8. According to Matthew 6:7, what abuse of prayer should we avoid?
9, 10. In what sense should we not say repetitious prayers?
11. What should we remember if we are privileged to offer public prayer?
12. How would you explain the significance of the request “let your name be sanctified”?
13. (a) How will the request “let your kingdom come” be fulfilled? (b) What will the doing of God’s will on earth involve?
14. Why is it fitting to ask for “our bread for this day”?
15. Explain what is meant by the request “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
16. How are we to understand the requests regarding temptation and deliverance from the wicked one?
17, 18. What does it mean to ‘keep on asking, seeking, and knocking’?
19, 20. In view of Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 7:9-11, how is Jehovah like a loving father?
21, 22. What is noteworthy about the Sermon on the Mount, and how do you feel about these sayings of Jesus?
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Jesus condemned the hypocrites who prayed just to be seen and heard
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Do you know why it is appropriate to pray for our daily bread?