Unhindered Prayers (Prayer-Matthew 6 and 7)
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders . . .”
The verse we read goes on to talk about getting rid of sin, staying in the Christian race, being detoured by nothing, making sure that you cross the finish line. I want us to consider the first part of the verse as it might relate to prayer. What might we need to get rid of that will hinder our prayers? We know sin will hinder our prayers, but what other hindrances might we need to consider?
Matthew 6 and 7 need to be taken as a whole commentary on prayer. Matthew 6 begins by talking about giving and the segment on giving moves into a segment on prayer, suggesting there is a connection between giving and prayer. I want to suggest to you that
1. A lack of giving will hinder your prayers.
You know, we shouldn’t expect to receive anything from God or anyone else if we are not practicing the principles of giving in our own life. Look at Matthew 6:2 “”So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” Most of us read this verse and see the obvious emphasis about not being hypocritical or self promoting. We may miss a more subtle premise. The verse begins by saying, “When you give.” Not “if you give,” but when you give. An assumption is made here. It is simply this. Christians give. It is a regular, habitual part of the Christian life. It is non-negotiable. It is a must and our giving will impact not only our prayer lives, but every area of our lives.
I want you to know God has gotten up into my personal space on this very issue. I have always been a tither. That means I give ten percent of my gross income to the Lord. I’ve done that for 17 years. And I have tried to be very generous with people where my time was concerned, but there have been little pockets of my life where I’ve just been a hoarder or stingy with the good things God has blessed me with. I became so convicted a few years ago when a several bags of clothes were given to me for our oldest child, Hannah. They were “Hand me downs” in excellent condition from a friend. I remember thinking, “Whatever she can’t wear, I can take to the consignment shop and try to make some money.” Seriously? Didn’t someone just GIVE me bags of clothes? And now I wanted to take this blessing and try to profit even more?
Do you know it is sometimes easier to get the perceived “big things” like tithing right and miss the perhaps more important things like generosity. Tithing is a commandment. I’m a rules keeper, so it makes sense that I do what is required of me, but you know what? That’s not enough. Rules keeping alone is simply Pharisaical. Anyone can keep a rule, but only those who have been touched by God can allow Him to flow through them in an instant to give others whatever the situation calls for. That’s where the Pharisees missed the whole Kingdom Lifestyle. They weren’t interested in extending themselves beyond what the law required. They clogged up the spiritual flow of God through their lives with themselves. Giving results from purity in your heart, and creates freedom and spiritual flow in your life and where there is an unclogged spiritual opening God can pour back into it. He’ll not only give you more than you give to Him and others, but He’ll be able to have a clear channel through which to flow into your life through answered prayers.
We try to teach our children that in responding to situations or choices in life there is a good way to respond, there is a better way to respond and there is the best way to respond. We want them to be at their best. Tithing is a mandate which we may respond to because we “have to” in order to obey God, but generosity is a by-product of realizing how blessed we are.
Since that convicting moment in my life, I have tried to give more and more away. I recognize that God runs His business through people who won’t try to hold on to the things He can use to bless others. I believe that’s why God answers the prayers of a giver. When we pray, God is not about giving us what we want so that we can become fat, sassy and spiritually satisfied. Rather, He is about blessing people who have a Kingdom mentality because whatever they receive will be used to further the Kingdom.
I cleaned out two closets this past fall and you won’t believe everything that came out of them. It was like the clowns getting out of the car at the circus. Once it all came out, I don’t think it would have even been possible to get it all put back in. I gave five trash bags full of clothes to a friend for her kids. It felt so good! Even though it had all been hidden in a closet and the door was shut, I knew it was all there and it sort of weighed on me. We can become hoarders of blessing for other people and not even know it.
Look at what you can give away and you’ll create channels of blessing for others and yourself. Kingdom people are Jesus people. They live and love and give like Jesus. In that respect, I believe our prayer life is tied to our giving life. The more generous we are with what we have, the more generous God will be with us in answers to prayers. It’s just my take on the Matthew 6.
Doesn’t Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap?” You know when you buy those “Baked Lays” potato chips because they are healthier, but they cost fourteen times more than regular chips and when you open them the bag is filled more with air than chips? Well, when something is pressed down, it’s squashed so that more can fit into the container. When it is shaken together it is so that whatever is inside of that container can settle in the bottom leaving more room at the top for more to be poured in and just like a fountain drink that fizzes over, the container will be filled to overflowing as a result of our generosity.
Perhaps you had never considered it, but I believe a lack of giving will hinder your prayer life. Don’t let anything clog up the flow of God’s Spirit moving in your life.
“The Lord’s Prayer” then follows the commentary on giving. Matthew 6:5 says, “So when you pray.” Like giving, prayer is a staple in every Christian’s life. It’s just something we do.
Here at TVCOG, we pray the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday during the Lenten season leading up to Easter. I love sharing that out loud together in Christian community. Again, the focus of that prayer is God’s Kingdom. May it come on earth even as it is in Heaven. While prayer is designed to enable us to experience God in relationship and while it is the act through which our burdens move from our shoulders to His and while it is the conduit to see our faith exercised and miracles happen, the main point of prayer is to advance the Kingdom of God. His Kingdom is about salvation, healing, deliverance, provision, blessing, and right relationships. That’s the focus of the Lord’s Prayer and needs to be the focus of our prayer life and our lives. When you pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” you are praying on target. So when you pray, you have to possess a Kingdom perspective.
A fifth grade boy who had heard a sermon on persistence in prayer was praying by himself in his room one night. As his dad passed his door, he heard the boy praying over and over again, “Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo.” The next day, the dad asked his son what he was doing. The boy replied that he had given the wrong answer on a test for the capital of Mexico, and he was praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of Mexico. (Robert Garrett http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-robert-garrett-humor-20417.asp)
Our persistence means nothing if we are praying outside of God’s will.
“Nothing lies outside the reach of prayer except that which is out of the will of God.” – R. G. Lee (http://www.mustardseed.org/msi-prayer.php)
2. A lack of Kingdom perspective will hinder your prayer life.
There would be nothing more frustrating than praying fervently for days, weeks and months and never see any results. That would be stressful. However, when we pray according to God’s will, we will see our prayers answered.
As we move to Matthew 6:16 we see another habit Christians are supposed to engage in. It says, “When you fast. . .” Perhaps the least talked about Christian discipline, fasting is an opportunity to show God not only how sincere we are, but how serious we are about our prayers getting answered. It shows Him how desperate we are to see Him move on our behalf and how much we need His wisdom and perspective. It gives us an opportunity to focus solely on God as our Source.
You’re going to be hearing more about fasting as we move through 2011. My goal for 2011 is anything but status quo. I’m not interested in normal. I’m not interested in business as usual or church as usual. I want to experience a new thing in the Kingdom of God. I want to see a new day in the Church of God in the state of WV. I want to see the miracles of God flowing in abundance in the lives of His people and I want to see our valley in revival with souls coming DAILY into the Kingdom of God. I don’t think our fasting proves anything to God as much as it provides us with an opportunity to focus on God and His will for our families, churches, and communities in an uncluttered and unclouded way.
Fasting isn’t giving up Facebook or TV time. It’s going without some kind of food. How many of you know that giving up chocolate is serious business! Going without meat and bread and sweets for 21 days is major! Giving up caffeine? “Uh oh, now she’s gone to meddling!” Some of your hearts are beating faster just at the thought. Some of you have told me that you don’t even get into the shower without a coffee cup in your hand! How in the world would you give up caffeine?
Like giving, fasting will open up channels of blessing in your life. There is unprecedented biblical and medical evidence that a person’s ability to think clearly and discern at a much higher level when fasting. So, the way I see it, fasting=focus. We need to unhinder our prayers by unhindering our minds. We need to be able to be in control of our thoughts and actions. We need to be able to focus when we pray so that our prayers aren’t hindered.
Matthew 6:19 transitions to the passage about storing up treasure in heaven. How do we do that? I believe prayer and fasting help us make deposits in Heaven because they keep our minds and hearts on the Lord and on the Father’s will. They keep me from being hindered and distracted by earthly things here below.
3. An earthly preoccupation will hinder our prayers, but a heavenly preoccupation will keep our prayers going in the right direction.
The last section of Matthew 6 is littered with the phrase, “Do not worry.” It only stands to reason that if we are giving and praying and fasting, our energy will be given to heavenly tasks and we won’t have the time to worry about the earthly stuff that can bog us down.
4. Worry will hinder our prayers. It will keep us from praying in faith. We can avoid worry altogether by focusing on the spiritual disciplines of giving, praying and fasting.
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
Ask, Seek, Knock
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Even though the section headings in your Bible separate Matthew 7:1-6 from verses 7-8, based on everything we’ve just talked about in chapter six and the fact that each of those pieces leads up to the “ask, seek, and knock” passage about prayer, it only makes sense that we also connect Matthew 7:1-6 to the “ask, seek, and knock” passage. Just go ahead and look at each other and say “Ouch.” I just wanted to prepare you for what is coming.
Listen, it doesn’t matter how much you give, how kingdom-minded you are, how focused you think your prayers are or how much you believe God can answer them if you aren’t right with those around you, if you have set yourself up as judge and jury of others when you have your own issues, you can ask, seek and knock until you are blue in the face, but you aren’t going to see God move in your life in response to your prayers.
5. A critical spirit will hinder your prayers, and it will keep you emotionally agitated and unhappy. The other piece this section of Scriptures address is self-delusion. Hypocrites shouldn’t think for one minute that their asking, seeking and knocking will do any good.
Part of the encouragement in these opening verses of Matthew 7 is to judge ourselves. That’s a great way to begin our prayers. The Psalmist prayed that way in Psalm 139: “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
6. A lack of self-examination and confession will hinder your prayers.
We must be careful to avoid the deception of a shallow examination. Sometimes we are so sure of ourselves that we fail to examine our hearts honestly and thoroughly. A quick glance into the mirror of the Word will never reveal the true situation James 1:22-25 says “22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
How many times a day do you look in a mirror? It’s probably more than once a week. I’ll bet it’s several times a day. Why do we look in the mirror? Don’t you want to know if your lipstick is smeared, if there is bacon stuck in your teeth or if your hair has gone flat? We’re pretty concerned about the outside, the part that people see. If you had to live without a mirror for a week, it would really raise your stress level, wouldn’t it? We should be just as concerned and more about the inside because God sees it and people will see the actions that flow from our insides, and that is critical.
We’re far too complex to take a quick little glance and say a blanket prayer like “Lord, forgive me for anything I’ve said and done against Your will.” That quick little prayer may be a temporary fix, but if we don’t examine ourselves thoroughly we’ll never get to the root of the problem and we’ll just continue to perpetuate sinful behavior because we have concluded that “forgiveness is easier to get than permission.”
Last Spring, Hannah sang in the school talent show. I was there, beaming with pride and was so happy for her as she sang her heart out. One of the teachers went out of their way to tell me what a great job Hannah had done and do you know what I said? “It doesn’t hurt that she has a mother with two music degrees who is also a voice teacher.” I walked right out of that gym and didn’t make it out the door of the school before the Holy Spirit said, “What kind of a pathetic answer was that? Who steals the joy of a compliment from a ten-year-old girl by putting the focus on herself?” Gulp. I didn’t even know that was in me. What was that? I had to wrestle with it, pray over it and get it out of my life.
The point of self examination and confessing prayer is that we will change as a result. After we have judged ourselves honestly before God, and have removed those things that blind us, we can then help others and properly judge their works. But if we know there is sin in our lives, and we try to help others without addressing our own stuff, we are hypocrites. In fact, it is possible for ministry to be a device to cover up sin! The Pharisees were guilty of this, and Jesus denounced them for it.
So if we think when we pray for people that God will deliver them from addictions or get them out of inappropriate and sinful relationships when we aren’t right with Him ourselves, we’re only fooling ourselves. Even worse, we shouldn’t think that God will use us to assist them if there is a plank sticking out of our eye. A plank sticking out of our eye will only keep people at a distance.
Let’s look at our Lord’s illustration of this point. Jesus chose the symbol of the eye because this is one of the most sensitive areas of the human body. Don’t you just hate it when you get something in your eye? It is completely irritating. You can’t do anything else until you get whatever is irritating it out.
The picture of a man with a two-by-four stuck in his eye, trying to remove a speck of dust from another man’s eye, is completely hilarious and ridiculous! It’s also impossible. If we do not honestly face up to our own sins, and confess them, we blind ourselves to ourselves; and then we cannot see clearly enough to help others. The Pharisees saw the sins of other people, but they would not look at their own sins.
We must not pass judgment on others’ motives. We should examine their actions and attitudes, but we cannot judge their motives—for only God can see their hearts. “Well, she just wanted to show off!” “Well, he just thinks she’s better than everybody else!” “Well, she wanted to be late because she wants to be the center of attention.” How do you know?
I was on Facebook a few months back when my eye caught the post of a young friend. She was in her 20’s and single. Her post seemed to indicate that she had gotten away from her pursuit of the Lord as it was filled with all kinds of expletives. Well, righteous indignation rose up within me and when I saw she was online, I thought, “I’m going to set her straight.”
Just as sure as I am standing here, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say, “No you’re not.” Love her. Check in on her. So, I started the chat this way, “Are you alright?” Rather than slam her behavior, God allowed me to see that her behavior was a cry for love. She had a need, a need that loving-grace should respond to. She typed back, “I guess you have heard?” “No.” “Heard what?” “I’m pregnant.”
My heart was filled with loving compassion and in that moment and in the following weeks, God gave me opportunities to let her know God loved her, that I loved her, and that I was praying for her. I became a listening ear rather than a condemning voice, and I am so glad. The last thing this precious girl needed was some Christian pointing out what she had done wrong. She already knew what she had done. Because of loving grace, she has been able to choose Christ again and to lean on His love and grace to get her through this time as she becomes a young, single mom.
She has had her baby and is back in church and has had her baby in church! How easily it could have gone the other way. I could have criticized her and completely blown the opportunity to minister to her or I could have said nothing and stayed completely away and she could have missed the encouragement she needed right in that moment.
Think about your life right now. Where are you struggling? Confess it to the Lord and keep confessing it. Keep looking into the mirror. Keep asking the Holy Spirit to shine His light in your life. How are you with others? Are you generous or quick to form a negative opinion? Just this weekend, have you had critical thoughts about even someone here?
If you feel led to challenge someone or point something out to them, make sure it’s because you genuinely love them and are concerned for them. Check yourself before you confront people. What will you gain in the confrontation? Will it be self serving or will it bring greater harmony or spiritual growth to the people involved? Will it glorify God or simply highlight that you have superior earthly wisdom or authority?
When you give, don’t do it like the Pharisees. When you fast, don’t do it like the Pharisees. When you pray, don’t do it like the Pharisees. Give, pray, and fast that God might use you for His ultimate glory. Unhinder your prayers by giving, fasting, and by praying with a Kingdom perspective from a clean heart. Then, as you keep asking, seeking and knocking, the door will be opened unto you.