Preached September 10, 2017
In 1984, Gyles Brandreth, a British writer, broadcaster, self-professed Word Person and Scrabble fanatic, estimated we speak 860,341,500 words in a lifetime ("How Many Words Do We Speak In A Lifetime?"). Listen to these sayings, "Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless". Jessamyn West, Nixon’s second cousin wrote, "A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever." (Economy). Then there is this one,
Everyone praises good people,
but evil hides behind
the words of the wicked.
Last week, Jesus called his disciples attention to the way self-righteous Pharisees prayed. They tried to take centerstage, probably hoping to inspire others to as religious as they were. Their motive, however, doesn’t preserve them from
Jesus struck a nerve when he took aim at the self-serving prayers of Pharisees who put their desire to be seen by others as faithful and spiritual. In verses 7-8 he now comes against the practice of the Gentiles who saw prayer as an invocation and magical act of swaying the gods to give them their way.
"Overall, Jesus warns us against two mistakes when praying: making them about us and making them meaningless. Doing either…will ruin their effectiveness and actually work at cross-purposes to spiritual growth (Ritenbaugh)."
To whom do we pray?
It isn’t meant as a joke when I wonder what gods (small ‘g’) we’ve prayed too? If you ask most people who know Christ they’ll deny they have any idols or gods. But they can point out others who treat their money, jobs, or possessions as if they were holy. Despite bumper stickers and shows emblazoned with Romans 8:28 and a sincere belief that we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, One writer pointed out “you’ll find that much of America has imagined a powerless God who’s mostly just keeping Heaven tidy until all the Christians get there. In the meantime, we live in perpetually frightened freak-out mode…Fear has become a false God, one too many of us worship with complete and undying devotion (Pavolvitz).”
Howard Snyder, author, pastor and theologian, says that fame and celebrity status, along with money and national security are some of the gods to which we pay homage. To test for idolatry in our lives Snyder asks us to evaluate “how much time and passion and loyalty goes into what we find important”. He also asks if we’re willing to step back from what we’re dedicated too and evaluate why we hold it so dear. Part of this is asking,
“If I evaluate my interests, time and money use, amount and intensity of attention, what comes out on top? What is second, third, fourth? Whatever is on top is your or my functional god, and the others are proof of polytheism. (Snyder).”
There is nothing wrong with praying for our nation, in fact, God commands we pray for our leaders. What is wrong is when we adopt the pagan attitude that our answer is God’s answer. That is pagan.
“We have to remember that the main idea of prayer and sacrifice among the pagans was to appease the gods so that you could go on with your own life. You had to be careful to “take care of” all of the gods by mentioning them, and saying all the right words, lest you bring a curse upon yourself (Staples).”
What the Gentiles sought was control and appeasement. What passed for prayer was “an attempt to gain merit… by superstitious practices, just as the former abuse, (by the Pharisees) was intended to gain merit with men (Lange).” The length of one’s prayer to the Gentiles was demanded to get god’s attention and favor (Morris). You only need look at 1 Kings 18 and the battle between Elijah and the priests of Baal or Acts 19 and the Ephesians two-hour praise service to Artemis of Ephesus.
Let me say, that Jesus does not have in mind Roman Catholic rosaries or such. If he had then we’d be just as guilty each week as we pray the Lord’s prayer. No, the qualifier for the concept of repeating is vain, useless, and pointless. John Calvin, in commenting on verse 8 writes,
“Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things (Calvin).”
Verse 8 tells us that God already knows what we need. Not only that but he knows before we ask him. So, why pray? We pray so that we might grow in our trust of God’s goodness and in our desire to seek God’s providence and promises. And so that we might let go of that which burdens and weighs us down and place them in God’s care.
Proverbs demonstrates the difference between the righteous and the wicked. The wicked is the one who is called a ‘babbling fool who will come to ruin’. Their words are wicked and conceals violence whereas the righteous mouth is a ‘fountain of life’. The key for you and I is to recognize our tendency for idolatry and to be steadfast in prayer that acknowledges that God already knows our needs and has already taken steps to answer our prayers before we knew what they are.
The song “Show Me” is not the most memorable in My Fair Lady but Eliza’s lyrics should speak to our faith each day.
Don't talk of stars, burning above
If you're in love, show me…
Sing me no song, read me no rhyme
Don't waste my time, show me
Please don't implore, beg on the seats
Don't make all the speech, show me
May we show the world the love of God as we wait for His answers to our greatest needs. Let us pray.
Calvin, John. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. Print. Calvin's Commentaries.
Economy, Peter. "26 Brilliant Quotes on The Super Power Of Words." Inc.com. n.p., 2015. Web. 8 Sept. 2017.
Lerner, Alan Jay, and Frederick Lowe. Show Me. 1964. Musical.
Pavolvitz, John. "The Greatest False Idol of Modern Christianity." RELEVANT Magazine. n.p., 2016. Web. 9 Sept. 2017.
Ritenbaugh, Richard T. "Meaningless Prayers (Forerunner Commentary)." Bibletools.org. Web. 6 Sept. 2017.
Snyder, Howard. "The Top 7 Gods Americans Worship | Churchplants." ChurchPlants. n.p., c. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2017.
Staples, Tim. "Do Catholics Pray "Vain Repetitions?" | Catholic Answers." Catholic.com. n.p., 2014. Web. 6 Sept. 2017.
"How Many Words Do We Speak In A Lifetime?." Proedit.com. Web. 8 Sept. 2017.