“The Right Way to Pray”  Matthew 6:5-9

It all begins with two simple words.  Our Father. 

The Lord’s Prayer  June 3-4, 2023

“The Right Way to Pray”  Matthew 6:5-9

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

             Did you know that there is a right way to pray and there is a wrong way to pray?  I bet someone told you that if you are going to pray you should take off your hat, fold your hands and bow your head. Now you are ready to pray.  But there is something a little deeper than that if you are going to pray the right way.

            Before Jesus addresses the proper way to pray, and the proper words to say, He tells us how not to pray.  Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  (Matthew 6:5)  “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”  (Matthew 6:7)  Prayer simply for show, to receive the recognition for how beautiful we sound, to keep on talking and talking and talking (like in a sermon!) is the wrong way to pray.  That type of prayer is done for self and not for the good of the one needing prayer.

            Jesus compared a godly prayer with a self-serving prayer in His Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).  Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

            Jesus talks about the right way to pray when in His words before giving them the Lord’s Prayer He says, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  (Matthew 6:6)  After chastising those who keep on talking, thinking that a lengthy prayer is most certainly better than a short one, Jesus says, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  (Matthew 6:8)

            The right prayer lives in humility.  It trusts that God listens to us, not due to our own self, our position, our holiness, our right, our words, but solely because He has chosen to be our Father and allows us to be His own dear children. 

            Martin Luther in his explanation to the “Our Father” says this, “With these words (Our Father) God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear Father.”

            The right way to pray is to live in a trust that God always acts in our good.  In preparation for this sermon series which will be preached until early August, I found a book given to me by Pastor Arnie Wessler.  The book I’ve been reading is “Our Heavenly Father” by Helmut Thielicke.  Thielicke was a German Lutheran pastor during World War II.  He was in Stuttgart while the city was being destroyed by constant bombing.  Speaking of himself he wrote, “[The preacher] saw on those faces the torment of doubt and despair, the hunger and thirst for a valid comfort and encouragement that would stand the test in hours of work, in hours spent in underground shelters, suffering agonies of body and mind.”  (Pages 13-14)

            The right way to pray is not to worry that we have said the right thing in the right way but to trust the one who is hearing our prayers.  Thielicke, speaking to these wide-eyed Christians, fearing what would happen that day, and the next and the one after that, would say in his sermon, “First, God is always there before we pray.  The purpose of our praying and asking is not that we must scrupulously look after our own interests and be careful lawyers in presenting our own cause, in order that God may not forget this or that concern which means so much to us.  No, the Father has a deeper interest in us than we ourselves: we are his children, after all; we are Jesus’ brothers.  Therefore he knows all about it, and he can still make something out of our stupid, idiotic prayers.”  (Page 36)

            Do you know the right way to pray?  It all begins with two simple words.  Our Father.  You are a Christian and your God is not nameless and faceless.  You don’t begin a prayer talking to your “higher power”.  You don’t begin speaking to someone or something “up there” – wherever that might be.  You are speaking to a Father who has a deep love for His children – for you.

            This past Tuesday, Marilyn and I came back from Phoenix after witnessing our grandson’s Confirmation, seeing my mom, and allowing my sister to pay off her debt of a free meal when she bet on her Phoenix Suns to beat my Denver Nuggets in the basketball playoffs.  Always looking to save a buck, I told Marilyn to book us on the cheapest flight coming home.  It left Phoenix a little after 6 in the morning.  We got to the airport by 4 am!!  As we went to the Sky Train from the Rental Car Center I found out that we weren’t the only fools who started their day that way.  I saw a number of families with young children on that train – barely awake – including one dad with a smile on his face loving and caring for two little ones, who didn’t know how lucky they were to have a dad who by taking the “red-eye” was saving for their college education.  He had a smile at 4:00 in the morning!!  What a father!!

            What a heavenly Father we have.  In John’s epistle we read, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!  And that is what we are!”  (I John 3:1) God is our Father, (“Abba, Father” as addressed by St. Paul in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6), because of the work of Jesus Christ.  Our path to address God as our Father comes through the cross of Jesus and His resurrection.  Do you remember the words of Jesus?  “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6) 

            Because we have a good, good, Father whose love for us is immense, we can talk to Him about anything and everything.  One of the saddest things in human relationships, especially in families, is when conversations have ended permanently.   Husbands and wives somehow no longer talk to each other about anything of importance.  Two people who once could not wait to share the news of the day with each other now have few civil words to speak to each other.  Parents stop talking to kids and kids to their parents.  Friends “unfriend” each other.  A living relationship with another requires words – speech.

            And that is what prayer is.  It is the healthy relationship of speaking to our God.  God says to His children, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”  (Psalm 50:15)  Psalm 103 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”  (Verse 13)  In the New Testament we read, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all he created.”  (James 1:17-18)

            There is a right way and a wrong way to pray.  Pray in the right way.  Humbly.  Pray with confidence that God is your heavenly Father and that Jesus has opened that door to God’s throne through His life, death and resurrection.  Pray often.  Pray with stumbling words and incomplete sentences and let God take your words and make them the perfect.

            Today I taught about how to pray.  Next week I begin to teach about what we should pray for.  Come back next weekend to grow in the perfect prayer – our Lord’s Prayer.  Amen!!        




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