Friday, May 28, 2021

The Vision (5.28.21): The Spiritual Discipline of Prayer


Image: Rose, North Garden, Virginia, May 2021

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 6:5-15 (audio not yet available).

And when thou prayest… (Matthew 6:5).

In the opening verses of Matthew chapter 6 (vv. 1-18), Christ gives guidance for three spiritual disciplines or acts of piety to be practiced by his disciples. Those include: almsgiving (vv. 1-4); prayer (vv. 5-15); and fasting (vv. 16-18).

The second of these two disciplines is prayer. Christ begins, “And when thou prayest….” (v. 5). This reminds us of the teaching on almsgiving, “But when thou doest alms…. (v. 3).” Just as it is expected that a disciple will give alms, it is also expected that a disciple will give himself to prayer. Prayer is not optional in the Christian life. There can be no such thing as a prayerless Christian.

Prayer is both speaking to God (giving to him praise and thanksgiving; offering to him petitions, intercessions, and supplications), and it is listening to God. It is being still and knowing that he is God. It is listening as he speaks in “a still, small voice” as he did to the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 19:12).

As part of Christ’s teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, he provides his students what we call the Lord’s Prayer as a model prayer (Matt 6:9-13), a pattern which we can follow.

One commentator has referred to the Lord’s Prayer as “the compositional center” of the Sermon on the Mount (Alfeyev, Sermon on the Mount, 217). Indeed, it is nearly dead center in this sermon. There are 54 verses from the mouth of Christ coming before the Lord’s Prayer (from Matt 5:3—6:8) and 47 verses that come after it (from 6:14—7:27). We might round it to about 50 verses before the Lord’s Prayer and about 50 verses after.

Not only is the Lord’s Prayer the “compositional center” of the Sermon of the Mount (Matt 5—7), but the teaching on prayer is at the center of the teaching on piety in Matt 6:1-18 (with almsgiving coming before it and fasting after it). Something is being told us about the centrality of prayer in the Christian life.

Let us then have the attitude of the disciples who came to Christ asking, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), and let us take up the spiritual discipline of prayer.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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