Last night, our pastor preached out of Matthew 6. If you recall, this is the chapter containing the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve included it in the New King James version, the closest to my Episcopalian roots:
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 forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. – Matthew 6:10-13
This scripture has been put to song and everything. I remember reciting The Lord’s Prayer, kneeling on a fold-out blue velvet bench, at Grace Memorial on 15th Street. We intoned it together, and instead of “evil one”, we simply said “evil”. Covers all the bases. Debts and debtors became the less-wieldy “trespasses” and “trespassed”. Not as musical, that. However, I detest the song, so I’m not posting it. You can look it up on YouTube.
Pastor pointed out that Matthew’s gospel covers spiritual disciplines. Jesus starts out the chapter talking about doing charitable deeds. He warns of avoiding hypocritical behavior, in other words, doing things for attention or pats on the back. Jesus states, “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” The “atta boys” and public praise constitute all the thanks they will get. The infamous “do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing” written here speaks of doing good as secretly as possible. Generally, my hands have no knowledge of anything, but I think you get the idea. The Father sees all, and will reward openly (Matthew 6:1-4).
Jesus needed to recalibrate the Jews’ former training. Prayer, long the purview of bloviating elite, had to incorporate into the disciples’ daily life. This second, longer section starts out with instructions on how to pray. Again, he admonishes them to avoid hypocrisy by praying loudly with many words in order to be seen. Lots of words don’t help God hear better, either. Again, the “assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” He tells them to go and pray in secret, at home behind a closed door. Again, the encouragement: “your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly.”
Then Jesus gives an example of how to pray (see above). I liked that our pastor explained it’s a model only, with places to add our particular needs and expressions of thanks. Memorization, while nice, isn’t necessary.
Lastly, Jesus spoke on fasting. He pointed out how the hypocrites made themselves visibly disheveled and despairing in order to gain sympathy and yet more accolades. Don’t do it, devout dozen! The same warning that hypocrites “have their reward” and “do it in secret as normal folk and let God bless you” apply here as well (Matthew 6:16-18).
Now that you have the basic outline, I’ll tell you what caught my attention. Pastor said in this portion of the word, prayer is like the meat or “guts” (his word) of the sandwich. The bread or two outer sandwich layers are good deeds and fasting. Jesus’ teaching on how to pray covers 10 verses. Prayer holds it all together. Prayer feeds us. Prayer sustains the ability to give and the passion to fast. That intimate time with Jesus, the two-way conversation that is prayer, drives the believer.
Our other pastor closed the service with this scripture: But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. – Hebrews 11:6. Prayer time with God, speaking and listening, is never wasted. In fact, it’ll feed your spirit.