Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to preach from Matthew 6:5-15 on the subject of the church’s prayer. We are currently studying the subject of prayer in our Sunday school classes, so the point of the sermon was to reinforce what we’re learning in those classes. While it’s often referred to as the Lord’s prayer, a closer look points to the reality that the Lord was teaching the church how to pray.
D.A. Carson opens his book, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reform by saying:
I doubt if there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising nor depressing: it is not surprising because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn.
What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church. It is surprising because it is out of step with the Bible, which portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, frivolous, and superficial.
Jesus begins with the model to avoid in prayer. He provides a couple of examples regrading prayers of hypocrisy. In one example, Jesus points to the hypocrites who stand in synagogues and on street corners in order to be seen by others as they pray. Then, at this point, Jesus instructed His followers to go into a private location and spend your time in prayer.
Jesus went on to point out the incorrect method of using great swelling words in order to impress those who are listening. Have you ever been in a church service where you felt like the person charged with leading the congregation in prayer was going overboard to impress others? This is something we must avoid as we engage in public prayers. James Montgomery Boice once spoke the following words to his congregation:
I believe that not one prayer in a hundred of those that fill our churches on a Sunday morning is actually made to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are made to men or to the praying one himself, and that includes the prayers of preachers as well as those of the members of the congregation. 
Jesus moved on to talk about the correct method of prayer. He began with the vertical aspect of prayer by pointing to the Father in heaven and reverencing His name. The name of God is to be reverenced—there is no other name higher or greater. While our prayers are often more horizontally focused, we need to learn to be more connected to who God is and what God has accomplished in our prayer time.
In the model prayer, Jesus teaches the importance of requesting God’s will to be accomplished. Two aspects are pointed out—God’s kingdom and God’s will. We learn to pray with an eschatological focus and a present focus. We learn to look ahead and to look at our lives as they are presently. The point is that we should ask for God’s will to be accomplished on earth—right now—as it is in heaven. It is our duty to become more aligned with God’s will and trust Him no matter what.
In that same vein, we are instructed to be needy. We are to pray for our daily bread and this is important because no matter how much money we have or how many luxuries we enjoy in this life, we must remain needy. God wants us to continue to see ourselves as needing Him for the basic provisions of life.
Moving on to the spiritual realm, Jesus points His followers to their need for the forgiveness of sins. This is a conditional prayer that is revisited in verses 14-15, but the point is clear—we need the forgiveness of sins on an ongoing basis—not just at the moment of our justification. At this point, Jesus points His followers to their need to pray for God to deliver them from the temptation to sin. Before sin actually occurs in the life of a Christian, there is a need to rely upon God for strength to overcome temptation.
Last of all, Jesus points out what life looks like after prayer. Prayer in action is a life of forgiveness. We are brought to a point of humility as a result of spending time with God in prayer. Therefore, we’re willing to let go of bitterness, holding grudges will pass away, and we will extend genuine forgiveness to others. However, Jesus makes the clear point that if a person is unwilling to forgive others, no amount of prayer will be good enough for them to receive the forgiveness of sins from God.
How do you pray? Why do you pray? When do you pray? Do you pray? These are important questions to ask yourself as you examine your own prayer life.
- R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 150.