Hotline To Heaven

Bible Book: Matthew  6 : 5-15
Subject: Prayer

There was a minister in a certain church who would call the children down to the front of the church every Sunday and tell them a story. One time he brought a telephone to illustrate the idea of prayer. He said, "Now kids, you know how you talk to people on the telephone and you don't see them on the end of the other line, but you know they are there?" The children nodded their head yes. He said, "Well talking to God is like talking on the telephone. He's on the other end of the line even though you can't see Him, but He's listening." About that time a little boy piped up and said, "What's His number?" Well, that is a good question. Because do you know how to get in touch with God? Or maybe you feel like the cartoon character, Ziggy, which showed him one time standing on a mountain, and he was staring right up into the sky. The sky is dark; there's only one lonely cloud up there, and frame after frame after frame shows Ziggy just staring straight up, and then in the last frame he yells "Have I been put on hold for the rest of my life?" I found it very interesting to discover that according to a Gallup poll, 78% of Americans pray once a week, and 57% of Americans pray at least once a day; 91% of women and 85% of men pray at least occasionally. Now obviously, the reason why people pray is because they think prayer is effective. But that raises a question. Just how effective is their praying? Nobody who has ever lived knew more about praying than the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells us in this passage how we can make sure we connect with God every time we pray. He tells us literally how to get on the hotline to heaven.

I. As You Pray, Pray Secretly

The Lord Jesus takes it for granted that His people will pray. In verse 5 He said, "when you pray," not "if you pray." Again He says in verse 6, "When you pray," not "if you pray." He says again in verse 7, "When you pray," not "if you pray." The issue with the Lord Jesus is not whether you will pray, but where you will pray, what you will pray, and why you will pray. So the first advice that Jesus gives us is this: When you pray, pray secretly. "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward." (v.5) Now you need to understand what Jesus was referring to here.

The Pharisees loved to pray in two places; they loved to pray in the synagogue and they loved to pray on the street corner. The reason they loved to pray in these places was because that's where most people were gathered. The Pharisees were really clever. Every afternoon sacrifices would be offered at the temple. At the same time everyday a trumpet would blow and would signal that it was time to pray. Wherever you were, and whatever you were doing, you were expected to stop and immediately begin to pray. You were to stand, turn toward the temple and begin to pray. Well, the Pharisees, who loved to make a show of their religion, realized this was a great time to strut your stuff. It was a great way to show off your spirituality. So they would time their prayers so that when the trumpet would blow, they would be standing at the busiest street corner in the city, and there they would pray.

Now I want you to understand that Jesus was not condemning public praying. The Bible is full of public prayer. Jesus prayed publicly even when He was dying on the cross. The Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost during a public prayer meeting. Prayer ought to be a part of every corporate worship service and every spiritual meeting. Jesus was not condemning public prayers, He was condemning the desire to be seen praying publicly.

There's a story of a young lawyer who had just opened up a brand new office. He was seated behind his shiny new desk, eagerly awaiting his first client. Soon he heard footsteps in the hall and then a hand on the doorknob. Well, wanting to look important he pretended to be busy. So as the man walked in he picked up the telephone and carried on a fake conversation. He said, "I'll have my secretary get to that as soon as I can. Understand I have a very heavy schedule." He then motioned toward the door beckoning the stranger to come in. He said, "I do appreciate your calling, call back in a few days and if I can take your case, I will." He put the receiver back on the hook and looked to what he hoped was his first client and said, "Now what may I do for you?" The man said, "I'm from the phone company, I came to connect your telephone."

Jesus said there is a lot of public praying that is just like that; it's praying to be seen by others, but nobody is on the other end of the line.

Real prayer, attention-getting prayer, God-honoring prayer, Spirit-answered prayer, is prayed in secret. "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (v.6) You know why the secret place is so important to God? Because when you are in your closet, when you're in that secret place, there is no applause, no clapping for your religious performance. There is no acclaim, no people telling you what a great prayer you are. There are no awards, no plaques or trophies telling you about your skill in praying. When you're in the secret place it's just God, and that's all God wants it to be-just you and Him.

On one of my mission trips I stayed out in the African bush, and we walked through a tiny African village, and even got to go into some of the huts. These huts are very close together. One of the things I noticed is that it is very difficult to have any privacy in these villages. I was reading about a certain West African village where the Christians had no privacy for prayer in their huts. So every Christian would go off into the bush behind his hut to have his prayer time. After a while there would be a worn track from the hut to the place of prayer. If it ever happened that the track would become overgrown with weeds and grass because it was not being used, another Christian would come and admonish his brother and say, "Brother, there's something wrong with your prayer track."

Let me ask you a question today. Is there something wrong with your prayer track? Has it become overgrown with the weeds of neglect because you are not making that trek every day to the secret place to spend time with God? The next time you pray, ask yourself a question: Do I pray frequently or more fervently when I'm alone with God, than when I am in public? Is my public praying an overflow of my private praying? Am I thinking of what others are thinking about when I am praying? Am I looking for "just the right" phrase? Am I thinking more about the people who are worshipping with me than the One who is supposed to be worshipped? In other words, ask this simple question: Am I praying to God, or am I performing for others? 1

II. As You Pray, Pray Sincerely

Now Jesus goes a step further in telling us not only where to pray, but what to pray, or really what not to pray. "But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words." (v.7) Here He is talking about rote praying; just going by the numbers, using the same old worn-out cliches and phrases, saying the things you have heard other people say, without really putting any heart into your prayer.

Today Buddhists have little prayer wheels. They continually turn that prayer wheel hoping that first this prayer, and then that prayer, will go up to God. There are others who use rosaries or prayer beads, and they just say the same prayer over and over and over. The Lord Jesus says that is not the kind of prayer that gets God's attention.

I am reminded of a little girl who went over to her grandmother's house to spend the night. The next morning they were talking at the breakfast table, and the grandmother asked her little grandchild if she had said her prayers the night before she went to sleep. The little girl said, "No, Granny, I didn't." She said, "Why not?" She said, "I got down on my knees to pray, but I got to thinking that God's probably tired of hearing the same old prayer every night, so I just crawled into bed and told Him about Little Red Riding Hood."

Now quite frankly, the way some people pray, they may as well be talking to God about Little Red Riding Hood, because all they do is say the same thing over and over and over. You could pretty much sum up most praying in a Baptist church like this: "Father, thank you for your blessings. Please continue to bless us, and if you'll continue to bless us, we'll continue to thank you for your blessings. Amen." Well, Jesus said it is not how much you say to God that causes Him to hear your prayer, but it is how you say, what you say, to God that gets His attention.

John Bunyan, the great Christian once said, "When you pray it would be better to let your heart be without words, than to let your words be without heart."

Charles Spurgeon said, "The prayer of the heart is the heart of prayer." I've said this to you so many times, but I'll say it again. The praying that God hears, the preaching that God hears, the singing that God hears, is not what comes out of the lips, it is what comes out of the heart.

Someone has said that God does not respect the arithmetic of our prayers; it's not how much we say. God does not respect the rhetoric of our prayers; it's not how eloquent we say it. God does not respect the logic of our prayers; it's not how methodical our prayer might be. God respects the sincerity of our prayers; how heartfelt they are. That's why Jesus goes on to say in v.8, "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him." You see, God already knows what you need. As a matter of fact, God not only already knows what you need, He knows what you need before you knew you even needed it. When you pray to God, you're praying to an omnipotent God who can answer any prayer that you have, but also to an omniscient God that already knows what you need before you ask for it. Sometimes we don't realize that.

I was reading a true story of a man who said he was in a conference in northern Pennsylvania, and the conference director called on a man to pray. He wanted to pray for families who had survived in a certain plane crash. But he was unable to recall the location of the crash, and this is what this man actually said. He said, "Lord, bless that plane crash out there in-out there in-out there in--." He couldn't remember where the crash took place. Then he said, "Well, Lord, you know where it is, you must have read about it in the morning newspaper." Well God doesn't have to read about anything in the morning newspaper. He knows everything. He knows what you need. That's why when you go to God you just talk to God secretly; you just talk to God simply; you just talk to God sincerely. But that does raise one question I must answer, and that is people say "Well, if God already knows what I need before I pray, then why pray?" Let me tell you two reasons why. First, God tells us to pray. That's all you need to know, and that's enough. Second, do not be unclear about this. We can secure by prayer that which we will not have if we do not pray. James 4:2 tells us, "You do not have because you do not ask."

III. As You Pray, Pray Systematically

The Lord Jesus then gives us the perfect model of prayer. He's not telling us in this prayer what to pray; He is telling us how to pray. It is amazing how beautifully simple, and yet how simply beautiful, prayer really is. He said in real prayer you ought to do four simple things:

A. Start With Praise

"Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (vv. 9-10) Now immediately we learn that the secret to real prayer is prayer not to the Father, but to your Father. He says in verse 6, "pray to Your Father." You cannot pray to a God you do not know, and you may believe in God, but you cannot pray to God if you do not know that God as a son knows a father. At the same time, if God is your Father, and you are His child, then you should talk to God just as a child would talk to his father. One of the things that Jesus is trying to teach us here, is that prayer is to be the simple act of a child talking to his father. In fact, that is the first real secret of prayer-focus on the Father. As we pray we are to make sure that we hallow God's name. That is the first purpose of prayer; to lift up God's name; to magnify God's name; to exalt God's name; to bless God's name.

In the Bible a name represented character. We are to praise and glorify God because of the great, mighty, masterful, merciful, God that He is. When you focus on the Father you will want the Father's will to be done in your life. You see, prayer is not to get what you want; it is to get what God wants. Prayer is not to tell God what's on your mind; prayer is to find out what's on His mind. The purpose of prayer is not to get God in line with your will; it's to get your will in line with His. So, first of all, you start with praise.

B. Share Your Petition

"Give us this day our daily bread." (v.11) Now bread in Jesus' day represented survival. It represented needs. You had to have bread in order to survive. So we are to go to God with all of our needs. Now I emphasize the word needs. Where many people get off track with prayer is this: They think prayer is to get what they want, when actually it is to get what they need. Again, James 4:3 says, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss that you may spend it on your pleasures." Jesus said we are to ask for bread, not apple pie. The Bible says, "God shall supply all of your needs." It does not say, "He will supply all of your wants." A wise father is not a father that gives his children all that they want, but gives the children all that they need. But whatever your needs are, bring those needs to the Lord.

C. Seek God's Pardon

"And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." (v.12) In all praying we must do two things: We need to get forgiveness. You need to remember that if there is sin in your heart, there is going to be a leak in your prayers. You not only pray to a Heavenly Father, you pray to a Holy Father, and if you have a rebellious spirit, or a stubborn heart that refuses to let go of sin in your life, your prayers will be no more effective than a rubber ball bouncing off a steel ceiling. Sin short-circuits the power of prayer.

Every prayer should contain confession and cleansing. Just as clogged arteries must be cleared in order for the blood to flow easily, the prayer channel to heaven must be freed from the debris of sin in order for prayer to flow to God. But not only are we to get forgiveness we are to give forgiveness. There can be no worship heavenward unless there is fellowship earthward. You cannot be right with God if you are not right with your brother or your sister. A grudge is a sludge that dams the river of prayer. If you are going to expect to get forgiveness from God, you've got to be willing to give that forgiveness to others. That's why we must seek God's pardon.

D. Secure God's Power

"And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." (v.13a) We are to pray every day to be delivered from the evil one. You are in a war right now whether you can hear the shots being fired or not, and your war is with the devil. Even as I'm preaching this message the devil is doing everything he can to discourage you, defile you, defeat you, and devour you. You hear me clearly. Your only protection in this spiritual war is prayer. I want you to think about something. We do need to pray for God to forgive us of our sins, but I'm afraid that we spend too much time asking for forgiveness and not enough time asking for deliverance. Too often the average Christian spends all of his life confessing to God the same old sins over and over and over. What he needs to be doing is spending less time confessing the same old sins, and more time praying for deliverance from those sins. That's why all prayer should end up in victory; victory over sin, victory over self, and victory over Satan.


Now Jesus had been concerned in this entire chapter with hypocrisy. In the first four verses of this chapter he said, "Don't be hypocritical in your giving." In verses 10-18 He says, "Don't be hypocritical in your fasting," and here he tells us, "Don't be hypocritical in your praying." I cannot help but think of the words of Jesus in Mt. 15 when He said, "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." (vv. 7-9) Put simply: Don't be hypocritical in where you pray, in what you pray, or in why you pray. I cannot say, "Our" if I'm not in fellowship with other Christians. I cannot say, "Father" if I do not demonstrate this relationship in my daily life. I cannot say, "in heaven" if I'm so occupied with earth I never think about heaven. I cannot say, "Hallowed be Your name" if I do not, by holy living, exalt His name. I cannot say, "Your kingdom come" if I'm not doing all in my power to hasten its coming. I cannot say, "Your will be done" if I'm not obedient to the will of God for my life. I cannot say, "on earth as it is in heaven" if I'm prepared to give my life to Him on earth as well as in heaven. I cannot say, "give us this day our daily bread" if I'm not trusting Him for my every need. I cannot say, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" if I harbor a grudge against anyone. I cannot say, "do not lead us into temptation" if I deliberately place myself in a position to be tempted. I cannot say, "deliver us from the evil one" if I'm not prepared to fight evil in the spiritual realm with the weapon of prayer. But if you are willing to pray that type of prayer and mean it, not just with your words, but with your walk, you will have a hotline to heaven.


1 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 150.