By Annie L. Alford
Because there is a right way to pray and fast, it follows that there is a wrong way. Jesus was very specific in his teachings along these lines. The subject was of enough importance to the apostles’ prayer life that Jesus saw fit to instruct them. The same instructions are of great importance to us today, as we seek to learn more about praying and fasting according to Bible teaching. We want results from our efforts. And we will have favorable results when we learn how to fast and pray, and when we put what we have learned into practice.
There are certain things that are practiced in prayer and in fasting that displease the Lord. We shall study these as “do nots”.
Luke 18:10-14 “Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not 10 up so much as his eyes unto heaven, hut smote upon his breast, saying, God he merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall he abased: and he that humbleth himself .shall be exalted.”
Matthew 23:14 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”
Matthew 6:16 “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”
1. “Do Nots” Of Prayer
2. Not as the hypocrites
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets that they may he seen of men. Verily I say unto you. They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:5).
Did you notice that these hypocrites love to pray? They have their reason for loving to pray, and they get their reward. We must be careful about our reason for praying. The motive behind the prayer determines the kind of reward the prayer brings. Hypocritical prayer is far more common than we might think, and Jesus warns against it.
The hypocrites of the apostles’ day prayed standing in the synagogues and in the street corners. In these positions and places they could easily he seen of men. Do we still have people who want to be seen praying today? Indeed we do!
Our flesh is as fickle as that of all other men. We must watch our motives. Do we go to prayer meetings just so others will know we are there? Do we like to pray with others so they can hear how eloquently we pray? Are we ever tempted to pray for others who are kneeling close by, just in case they are listening? These arc a few questions we can ask ourselves, in order to see if perhaps we “pray as the hypocrites”.
If anything can be worse than no prayer at all, it is insincere or hypocritical prayer, So we look critically at the motive behind the hypocrite of Matthew five’s prayer. Let us also examine the motive behind our own prayer, as well as our prayer itself. This hypocrite wanted to be seen and heard of men. He was. That was his reward.
Jesus offered preventive measures where this temptation may be present. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:6). The importance of praying alone is expressed in this portion of Scripture, also the importance of a communion directly with the Father. Now the reference is not to today’s common clothes closet. Jesus went alone into the mountain. All do not live in the mountains, but all can find a place apart *to pray. And there is such a thing as shutting out of our conscious mind the presence of others when we pray. Prayer is an important part of our individual life, and those who pray in secret to a Father who hearth in secret, will receive a reward that all may see. In other words, the blessings of God are seen upon those who have a secret prayer life.
- Not as the Heathens
“But when yea pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall he heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like for them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8).
There are those who pray with beads, counting them off, each with its own special repetitious prayer ritual. There are those who say the same things over and over when they pray. Jesus said these think they shall be heard for their much speaking. He is telling us it is not much speaking that gets the job done. It does no good to pray. lust to see how long one can pray, or how many words one can say. The length of prayer is not what God is looking at. The number of words is not what he is looking at. He plainly states that He already knows our needs, before we pray. He is waiting for us to express those needs in sincerity and in simplicity, just as we would present them to any earthly friend. We often approach the men of this world with more faith than we approach the Lord in prayer. Would we approach a friend, our banker or our dad in this manner: “Oh, John, Dear John, Please John, for mercy’s sake John, give me a drink of water”? Certainly not. Perhaps we would say -Please but even while we asked, our hands would reaching for the glass of water. God expects us to approach him with the same simple confidence. Have you ever knelt by someone who repeated, “Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord”. -Halleluiah, Hallelujah”, with seemingly no conclusive end to the cry? Now please do not misunderstand me there is definitely a time in prayer to call on the name of the Lord, and definitely a time to praise him. And it is true that one can never be sure whether a neighbor’s prayers are sincere or not. But this much we know, we do not have to repeat ourselves to get God’s attention. Maybe one repeats himself sometimes because of the urgency of the need. hut even that is not necessary to he heard. There are also times when prayers become length, for various reasons, these times of intercession or worship must not be confused with the lengthening of prayer by repetition, or for the purpose of making an impression on some person or group of persons.
- Not Selfishly
“Ye ask, and receive not, because is ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3). We have already made mention that God knows what we need before we ask. l le also knows what we plan to do with what we ask for. Do we want a new automobile to use in the service of the Lord, or as a status symbol? Do we want a better job with more income so we can have more time and money to use in God’s service, or do we want the time and money for our own use “to bestow upon our lusts”? Is it possible we are praying for increase in the church so we can see the number on the Sunday School register exceed that of the neighboring church? Do we pray for friends or relatives to he saved so they will give us less trouble, or so they will be happy and make heaven? If these questions sound absurd to you, remember there was some reason for James’ exhortation on selfish prayer. He followed a few verses later with his own question. “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (James 4:5). Unless we keep our spirit under subjection to the Holy Spirit, we can become as selfish in our prayers as the generation that lived at the time of James’ writing, or any other generation.
- Not as the Pharisee
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:1 1-12).
It was said of Jesus once that he had no need that one testify of man, for he knew what was in man. (John 2:25). There is no need to try to compare oneself favorable with another who is praying. It is a common fault of man to try to build himself up, by tearing someone else down. It does not work very well with men, and not at all with God.
If one is going to mention the faults of another in prayer, it had best he with sincere intercession for mercy and help. We are in no position to use destructive criticism. Nor are we in any position to brag about all the good we have done. “…when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 1 7: 1 0).
The fault with this Pharisee was that he trusted in himself that he was righteous. (Luke 18:9). We have no one in whom we can place complete trust, except Jesus. And prayer is, of all places, a place we must not forget that fact.
- “Do Nots” of Fasting
- Not as the hypocrites
“Moreover when ye fast, he not, as the hypocrites, of sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men, to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:16). To fast to impress men is to be like the hypocrite. A long, sad face, an unkempt appearance, or any other thing that might call men’s attention to the fact that one is fasting, insures one thin that the reward of the fast is to be seen of men.
“But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine wash thy face: That thou appear not unto men to unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” Matthew 6:17-18). We are to do all the everyday rituals Concerning our appearance, so that we “look” the same as we do when we are not fasting.
It is for our Father who is in secret that we fast. He sees our countenance, our heart, our bones, our soul. And when He has looked upon one of His who is fasting with the correct motive, and the correct attitude, that one will be rewarded in such a way that others will know he is blessed of God.
- Not With Wrong Attitude
The fifty eighth chapter of Isaiah opens with an urgent command that God’s people be shown their transgressions and sins. He declared them to be a people who sought Him daily, delighted to know His ways, asked of Him ordinances of justice, and took delight in approaching God. But when they approached. they wanted to know why God did not see when they fasted. There is quite a list of reasons. and they can he applied to us today as easily as they were applied to the children of Israel in Isaiah’s day.
“…Behold, in the day of your last ye find pleasure, and exact all your labors. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to he heard on high.” (Isaiah 58:3-4).
A fast is a set aside time for the affliction of one’s soul. I he pleasures of the flesh must be laid aside for the duration of the fast. How can one’s soul he afflicted in the midst of pleasure?
When Moses gave the children of Israel the ordinance concerning fasting they were instructed not to work on that set aside day. “…ye shall afflict your soul, and do no work at all, whether it he one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you.” (Leviticus 16:29). In spite of this ordinance they were found “exacting” all their labours. If they were not doing the labour. If they were requiring it done. If our daily routine is so important to us that we cannot set aside some time for fasting and prayer, our daily routine is too important to us.
These were said to fast for strife and debate. To fast for the wrong things is certainly a waste of time. And to fast in the wrong way is just as much a waste of time.
“Is it such a fast, that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to how down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fiat, and an acceptable day to the Lord?” (Isaiah 58:5).
Really, Isaiah is teaching the same lesson Jesus taught later in the sixth chapter of Matthew. A fast is not to be just a mournful ceremony.
The hypocrites of Isaiah’s day spread sackcloth and ashes, and sat upon them. They hung down their heads like a top-heavy weed. In Jesus’ day. He said the disfigured their faces. God does not need a show. We do not need a show. We need sincerity of purposes. There are many things to fast for, revivals, deliverance, miracles. God wants our fasts to be brought about by heart-felt concern, and practiced with humility. The results of such a fast will be manifest for many to see.
Fasting and prayer are companions in the expression of human desire for the fellowship and blessings of an all merciful God. When prayer alone fails to bring the desired results in one’s life a little fasting may well turn the tide. By looking at the scriptural teaching concerning the wrong way to fast and pray, we can avoid these ourselves.
We cannot afford to let either our motives, or our attitudes rob us of the answers to our prayers. It matters very little what men think or say about our prayers. The all important thing is that our Father who is in sec-et can see us in secret and find us worthy of an open reward.
The above article, “Prayer Attitudes and Motives” was written by Annie L. Alford. The article was excerpted from chapter 9 in Alford’s book, Teach Us to Pray.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.