Becoming Set Apart through the Simplicity of Prayer

Core of the Bible Episode 12 – Becoming Set Apart through the Simplicity of Prayer

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of holiness, or being set apart, and the necessity of regular intimate conversation with God that directs our lives.  

Yeshua stated it this way:

“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the [nations] do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way…” Matthew 6:6-9

In the Core of the Bible paraphrase, I have expressed this as, “Make every effort to pray in a private place, simply and sincerely.”

Let me say at the outset of our time together today that this is not meant to be a comprehensive teaching on prayer. There are many different aspects to prayer that could take a much longer time to cover in greater detail; however, I would like to focus on this specific teaching of Yeshua, as I believe it boils a lot of the extraneous information about prayer down to its essentials.

Every culture has an understanding about prayer, and there are many different expressions of this practice. Some traditions are very ritualistic and have designated prayers for specific days. Some produce prayer books for different types of prayers for different things. Prayer can be individual or collective. Even with the various Christian traditions, we have prayers during a collective time of worship and teaching.

While these traditions are not necessarily harmful in and of themselves, they tend to obscure the simplicity with which Yeshua taught his disciples in how to pray.

We learn about many aspects of prayer by looking more closely at the parameters of Yeshua’s instruction. There are specific things to avoid, actions to do, and expected outcomes.

For example, in Matt. 6:5, he states:

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward.

So here is an admonition of what NOT to do: don’t pray publicly for the sake of being seen as more righteous than others. Notice, he doesn’t say that we shouldn’t pray in public, but that we should check our motives.

Instead, he instructs that we should “go into your inner room, close your door” when we pray. This ensures we are not putting together fanciful orations for the sake of impressing others; there is no on there except you and God.

The outcome of this private practice is that “your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.” What’s interesting to consider is what type of reward is being mentioned here.  

In typical Hebraic fashion, Yeshua is contrasting this reward with the type of reward previously mentioned when he was speaking about hypocritical prayer. The reward of the hypocrite is to be publicly recognized as righteous, or lifted up in the eyes of others as they selfishly put on a show for the benefit of being recognized by others. That is their reward: the brief recognition by others. This idea also fits neatly within the context Yeshua mentioned just prior to this teaching on prayer, which is a teaching on private giving, as well.

For the truly righteous who pray in private, however, the blessing comes from God, not people, and it also implies the blessing will be personal and private, just like the prayer was. And in contrast to the temporary nature of the recognition of others, this reward will be lasting. Through this, it appears that Yeshua is conveying the personal and intimate nature of prayer, that it should be passion we pursue rather than a show that we put on for others.

While Yeshua he did pray openly among others, typically giving thanks for food and drink or most notably with his “high priestly prayer” with his disciples in John 17, by and large Yeshua demonstrated a separation from others in his own prayer life.  

Mark 14:32 – Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

Luke 6:12 – During those days he went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God.

Luke 11:1 – He was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”

So we can see that Yeshua did demonstrate a practice of personal prayer apart from others, even during his time of public ministry with his disciples.

Another practice Yeshua admonishes us to avoid is to ramble excessively in prayer, calling up every random thought and desire to place it all before God. This was something that the contemporary pagan religions practiced, and he was urging his followers not to follow the practices of the surrounding nations, a common Old Testament them, as well.

Matthew 6:7  “When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

It’s simple: the reason we don’t need to review every little detail of our petty lives is because, ultimately, God already knows what we need.

So if prayer is not about asking God for what we need, then what is it for? In the following verses in Matthew 6, Yeshua lays out an appropriate method or outline of prayer to ensure those who seek him would be approaching him in a manner that honors him while not demeaning the petitioner.

In the frontier culture of colonial America, a maxim of the basics of education became reduced to the concept of the three R’s: Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic. Now, while the three R’s of the prairie schoolhouse education summed up its basic tenets, in like fashion, I submit for your consideration that prayer, as taught by Yeshua, can also be summarized with three R’s:

– Recognition: we need to recognize God for all he is, for all he has done, and all he is doing. Acknowledging his authority and purpose helps us keep our perspective.

– Repentance: confession and repentance are not only good for the soul, they are a requirement. This is the opportunity to make sure we are being open and honest with God about all conflict in our lives.

– Request: with the correct perspective of God, and a humble heart of repentance, we are now in a state in which we can request what’s appropriate and necessary in our lives, not just flippant and shallow desires of the moment. God has promised to meet our needs, not our wants.

Let’s compare these three simple principles with Yeshua’s model prayer, what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer, to see how these characteristics are exemplified.

——-

Matthew 6:9 – “Pray, then, in this way”:  

It amazes me that even though Yeshua specifically showed his disciples how to pray when he was asked, that we still choose instead to follow all sorts of man made prayer ideals. We have prayer campaigns, 40-days of prayer, prayer vigils, prayer with fasting, prayer beads, prayer chains, prayer groups. Clearly we have a need and a desire to pray; why don’t we just simplify everything and listen to our Master provide us the instruction we need?

In his model prayer, Yeshua begins with the first R: recognition.

“Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.”  

That’s it! Not a long list of how amazing, how beautiful, how wonderful he is. We can leave that to the Psalmists, and for our own meditation on those qualities of his. These may be offered in sincerity of praise to him, but in some ways, they can come across as simply a way of buttering him up before we ask for what we want.

Instead, for prayer purposes, Yeshua keeps this recognition of God simple: he is in heaven, which means he is above and beyond the comparatively trite and finite existence we experience. He therefore has the ability to see beyond what we can see and to apprehend what would be best for us in any given situation.  

Additionally, his Name (his character) is holy, that is, set apart from everything and everyone else. Recognition of these factors demonstrates our understanding that we are in communication with the one true God of the universe.

Both God’s kingdom and his will are equated in this verse. I’ve talked about this before in previous teachings. The kingdom coming is God’s will being done on earth. If his kingdom is heaven, and his will is accomplished there, then his kingdom on earth is anywhere his will is being accomplished on earth.

If our prayer is based on these facts: that God is all knowing, that he is set apart from this corruptible world, and that accomplishing his will is the expansion of his kingdom on this earth, our prayers would have a much different tone and form of expression, would you agree?

Now on to the second R: request.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  

While this is a request, it only comes on the heels of recognizing who the provider of bread is: the one true God. By requesting our daily provision be met, we are assenting to his ability to provide it. This is a request that is contingent on our understanding of God’s power and authority.

It is also an understanding that this bread is only a provision within the context of accomplishing his will and purpose on this earth. We have no right to expect God’s provision if we are simply living for ourselves and our own selfish desires.

Next, Yeshua provides another key aspect of prayer with the other R: repentance.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  

Forgiveness can only come after repentance; repentance of our actions that have offended God or repentance of our actions that have hurt others, or repentance of others who have hurt us. While forgiveness is a topic we can explore in and of itself, in the context of this prayer, Yeshua clearly is making the point that God is not obligated to forgive us if we are not willing to forgive others. He makes that clear just a few verses later:

Matt. 6:14-15 – For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours.

God does not want us to be hypocritical, and certainly not within our prayers. In fact, all of this teaching on prayer is within the overall context of avoiding hypocrisy: we should not make a big show of our giving (vss.1-3), we should not make a big show of our praying (vss. 5-7), and we should not make a big show of our fasting (vss. 16-18). (Fasting will be another topic for another day). These are all things the religious leaders loved to do, and Yeshua is condemning these practices because their hearts were not right. They wanted to look good in front of others when they had corrupt hearts that could not ascertain the true needs of others. They sought the hollow approval of men rather than the true approval that only comes from God.

By contrast, a heart that is right with God will be satisfied within its own domain; it won’t need the approval and affirmation of others in order to be justified. It knows it’s right with God and it won’t be swayed by external judgment.

Back to Yeshua’s model prayer, he continues with another request:  

‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  

Very few people actually enjoy tests. In grade school I certainly never enjoyed tests, especially ones I was not prepared for. I would scramble for answers and hope some of the multiple choice options made sense so I could muddle my way through. If it was math or another subject where I had to show my work, I would need that much more preparation to ensure I could pass the test. And that was the idea: knowledge of the upcoming test would (or should) have forced me to learn the material more thoroughly.

But I can also say that when I was actually prepared for a test because I did know the material, I was not concerned with the process of taking the test; in fact, I kind of enjoyed it because providing the right answers gave me a sense of satisfaction. It also confirmed for me that I truly was familiar with the material. When I was prepared, I didn’t mind the test and I knew after the test that I was going to get a good grade.

In like fashion, God tests his people; not to see them fail but to show them how much they know about themselves and their own abilities.

Deuteronomy 8:2 – Remember that for forty years the LORD your God led you on your journey in the desert. He did this in order to humble you and test you. He wanted to know whether or not you would wholeheartedly obey his commands.

Testing is also a refining process, where the impurities are drawn off of precious metals by heating them up to a liquid state. Once the “dross” is drawn off, what remains of the original metal is now a more purified condition.

Proverbs 17:3 Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the LORD tests the heart.

Psalm 66:10-12 – For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us like silver. You led us into the net; You laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but You brought us into abundance.

Job 23:10-12 Yet He knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have followed in His tracks; I have kept His way without turning aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread.

2 Pet 1:6-7 – now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more precious than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

In Yeshua’s prayer, he is encouraging us to petition God that, by his mercy, we would be spared, not from ALL testing, but from hard testing and to be delivered from evil that exists along the way. But there’s no guarantee that would be the case. This clause in this model prayer is just a reminder, an ongoing understanding that we always need to be prepared; God can test us at any time. How familiar are we with his ways? Through testing, large or small, we will be shown what we know and if how we have patterned our life matches his purposes.

That is his goal for us, that our lives match his purposes. Many times I have heard Christian leaders say we should be seeking to become more “Christ-like.” To that I say: be careful what you wish for. If that’s the case, then we can look at the life of the Messiah and see that it was filled with testing: in the wilderness with hunger and visions, battling doctrine with the religious leaders, having his sanity questioned with his friends and family, and ultimately going willingly to one of the most publicly humiliating and gruesome deaths imaginable. He did all this because it was within God’s purpose for him.

Are you ready for that level of testing? Because if you are desiring to be more Christ-like, you can likely expect more of that.

Finishing  up our brief review of Yeshua’s model prayer, in most of our English versions of this passage, a final aspect of this teaching ends once again with a recognition of God’s authority and power:

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’

Some scholars think this was a sentence that was added to the text by over zealous scribes. While that may or may not be the case, it brings the model prayer full circle by ending with the same level of recognition with which it begins: God is all powerful and holy, and all of our prayers should also be enclosed within that understanding. Notice, in this  outline that Yeshua provides us, there can be no request without that recognition, and there can also be no request without repentance. Therefore, our repentance and requests are contingent on the recognition of God’s person and purposes.

Prayer should be a core practice that comes from the very center of a believing heart. It is the one place and time where our focus should be solely on communicating with the all-powerful Creator of the universe, conveying requests aligned to his purposes with truly repentant and humble hearts. Because it is so significant, it should be a time set apart from everything, and everyone, else. In this intentionally isolated place and time, we have no masks to hide behind, no one to impress, and nothing to offer except our barest hopes for strength during testing and aspirations to be purified through all.  

“…[A]nd your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.”

We hold on to that promise of Yeshua, that the Father sees and rewards those secret and genuine longings of our spirits to be submitted to him in fulfillment of his will and purpose. Those rewards may be different what we expect; however, whenever they come to pass, we can be confident they will exceed our wildest ideas of what they could possibly be, and they will last for eternity.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Holiness is a requirement for every believer. Prayer is the simplest method of maintaining our set apart condition in this world, as we seek God’s heart in authentic communication with him. Our holiness, or set-apartness, in this world stems from the very testing and refinement that God conducts within us on a regular basis, as we rely on him and submit to his will.

We need to keep in mind that holiness is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, vigilance, trust, forgiveness and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.  

Have questions about todays topic, or comments or insights you would like to share? Perhaps you have found this podcast helpful or encouraging. If so, I would love to hear from you and include listener comments in future episodes, so feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.  

If you found today’s information helpful, you can view all other episodes of the podcast by clicking here.

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