Welcome. We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come, Follow Me podcast. This week the lesson is on Matthew 6-7, which is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount called He Taught Them as One Having Authority.
And we’re going to start by looking at something we all want to know more about, and that is how to make our prayers more effective. And so here we have the Lord Himself teaching us how to pray in this chapter 6 of the Sermon on the Mount with the Lord’s Prayer. And if the Lord says this is how we should pray, there’s something deep to learn about this.
One of the first things He says before He gives us what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He says in verse six,
“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).
This opens a wonderful array of thinking about choosing a location for us to pray. That’s one of the first things we do is figure out where we’re going to pray because it does make a difference. I love my morning prayers when I go in the closet and I can be very private and I can pray out loud. And sometimes those prayers go on a long time because I just feel like I’m just right there with Him.
And Alma 34 elaborates on this about time and place. It starts in verse 18 where it says,
“Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save” (Alma 34:18).
And then it goes on to talking about all the places we should pray:
“Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks;”
“Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household;”
“Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies”, etc… (Alma 34:19-23).
This is such a wonderful idea because the sense is that you can cry unto Him in prayer about those things that concern you and you can do it where it concerns you. I love that you can cry unto Him in your fields because you’re working when you’re in your fields but you can still have your whole heart drawn out to Him.
That makes me think that He’s very accessible and I’m so grateful for that.
The Lord begins by teaching us what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. He says we address our Father, Abba, which is a very intimate relationship with our Father when we call upon Him.
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9).
So I’m seeking to understand the reverence which I owe Thee. We are used to kind of casual ways of chatting with each other in this modern world of ours, texting each other, and we live in an age of disrespect. But our relationship with the Lord calls for much more than this.
The March 2017 Face to Face gathering that President Henry B. Eyring and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland did with the youth, they were asked questions by the youth and one of the big questions was what do we do about prayer? How can we learn more about prayer? And President Eyring said that,
“you have to have the feeling that you are going before the throne of God. There’s a beautiful way to think of that when I come in prayer,” he said, and he said it through tears, “I am approaching a throne. The way you do that is different than ‘I’d like a chat.’ It is different for me when I’m doing it right.”
And I love that way that it really emphasizes “hallowed be thy name.” He also said,
“I’m absolutely convinced if we will prepare and really see ourselves as coming to the throne of God, then remarkable things can come.”
In that same setting, Elder Holland spoke of President David O. McKay. Sometimes he would go into a darkened private room with the curtains drawn. He would kneel in the center of the room and say nothing. He would just kneel there at the beginning and wait for some minutes. He was preparing himself to hear the Lord’s words to him.
I remember Elder Richard G. Scott came to our ward once because he had family there and he spoke to us. And one of the things he said that I’ve never forgotten as he was on assignment as an apostle and had one of the other brethren (I assume with him as his companion), and they knelt down to pray in the morning and his companion was just going to start praying. And he said, whoa, whoa, wait a second, we haven’t even thought about what we’re going to pray about and what we’re going to say. We need to prepare for this. This is while they’re kneeling. And so he stopped the prayer, or the would-be prayer, and talked about things with his companion. And then they planned things out and then thought about it, and then they approached the Lord in prayer. And I’ve never forgotten that.
Yes, in this very casual world that puts us in a different place of thinking to think we want to think about coming before the throne of God. Now, President Eyring in this same discussion with the youth said, “sometimes there are silences, at least for me.” And I think sometimes we have false expectations to think that the Lord is going to talk back immediately to us in every prayer or that it will be while we’re kneeling. I love again what Elder Richard G. Scott said in a wonderful talk called Using the Spiritual Gift of Prayer. He said,
“I have discovered that what sometimes seems an impenetrable barrier to communication is a giant step to be taken in trust.” (Elder Richard G. Scott, “Using the Spiritual Gift of Prayer, April 2007).
And I do love that—kneeling down in trust that the Lord really is there and is really hearing us. He said,
“Seldom will you receive a complete response all at once. It will come a piece at a time, in packets, so that you will grow in capacity. As each piece is followed in faith, you will be led to other portions until you have the whole answer. That pattern requires you to exercise faith in our Father’s capacity to respond. While sometimes it’s very hard, it results in significant personal growth.”
In that same talk, Elder Scott continued,
“He will always hear your prayers and will invariably answer them. However, His answers will seldom come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. Rather, He will prompt you in quiet moments when the Spirit can most effectively touch your mind and heart. Hence, you should find periods of quiet time to recognize when you are being instructed and strengthened. His pattern causes you to grow.”
I love that.
And then there is this surprising message. He says,
“Be thankful that sometimes God lets you struggle for a long time before that answer comes.” And I know I’ve certainly experienced that even about things that are really important to me.
“Your character will grow; your faith will increase. There is a relationship between those two: the greater your faith, the stronger your character; and increased character enhances your ability to exercise even greater faith.”
“A key to improved prayer is to learn to ask the right questions. Consider changing from asking for the things you want to honestly seeking what He wants for you. Then as you learn His will, pray that you will be led to have the strength to fulfill it.”
I remember struggling with some health issues that I’ve had and one day I changed my prayers because I was always just asking to be healed. And I finally said in my prayer, what is it that I’m supposed to learn from this disease? And the spirit immediately responded by saying, now you’re asking the right question.
Wow. So we learn in the scripture,
“your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6: 8).
This is again Elder Richard G. Scott:
“Prayer is a supernal gift of our Father in Heaven to every soul. Think of it: the absolute Supreme Being, the most all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful personage, encourages you and me, as insignificant as we are, to converse with Him as our Father. Actually, because He knows how desperately we need His guidance[.]
“Should you ever feel distanced from our Father, it could be for many reasons. Whatever the cause, as you continue to plead for help, He will guide you to do that which will restore your confidence that He is near. Pray even when you have no desire to pray. Sometimes, like a child, you may misbehave and feel you cannot approach your Father with a problem. That is when you most need to pray. Never feel you are too unworthy to pray.”
Elder Scott gave us this wonderful insight into his own experience. He said,
“Once I had an experience that caused me immense anxiety. It had nothing to do with disobedience or transgression but with a vitally important human relationship. For some time I poured my heart out in urgent prayer. Yet try as I might, I could find no solution, no settling of the powerful stirring within me. I pled for help from that Eternal Father I have come to know and trust completely. I could see no path that would provide the calm that is my blessing generally to enjoy. Sleep overcame me. When I awoke, I was totally at peace. Again I knelt in solemn prayer and asked, “Lord, how is it done?” In my heart, I knew the answer was His love and His concern for me. Such is the power of sincere prayer to a compassionate Father.”
You know, it’s so interesting we live in a world of instant gratification. We can Google things very quickly and get answers. And yet, developing a relationship with God requires patience, and a long view, and a willingness to be tutored, and a willingness to be guided. But I love what President Russell M. Nelson said. He says,
“Does God really want to speak to you? Yes!”—exclamation point! (President Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives” April 2018).
So it is worth learning how to pray effectively so we can have the Lord speak to us and how to receive revelation.
I love the story of the nobleman who came to the Savior, and he had a son who was very ill. And he said, will you come to my house and heal him? And He said, No “Go thy way; thy son liveth” (John 4:50). And later he ran into messengers who came and he said “thy son liveth.” And he said, what time did this happen? He said about the seventh hour. So it was right when the Savior had spoken those words that this answer had come and his son was healed.
So often I think we receive answers to our prayers, but we don’t recognize that it was the Lord who was in the details and it was the Lord who gave us the blessing. We expect that He will be there and be obvious and be clear that it is Him. But he is answering our prayers all the time and the good things that come into our life and the many blessings that flow, they are from Him. They are not just accidents. I think of that man in the proverbial story who was falling off a cliff and he was praying, please save me, save me!
Lord, save me now! Help me!
That’s right. And then there’s a branch that’s sticking out that catches him on his shirt and he doesn’t fall. And he says, never mind, Lord, the branch saved me. So the Lord is saving us and answering our prayers all the time. What we need to have is eyes to see.
In Matthew 7, of course we hear one of the most common commandments, we don’t look at it as a commandment, but it is. He says,
“Ask and [ye shall receive], seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7).
Sometimes we don’t look at that as a commandment, but it really is an imperative. It is a commandment for us to ask Him.
And a promise, my goodness. Ask and it shall be given you? Seek and ye shall find? That is an incredible idea that we can do that! And He explains why. He says:
“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?” (Matthew 7:9)
So our Father in Heaven, who is so much kinder and full of love than any earthly father could be, will not turn His back away. He will not give a fish for a serpent. And then there is just this wonderful addition in the JST.
In Matthew 7:17 of the JST, it says:
“What man among you, having a son, and he shall be standing out, and shall say, Father, open thy house that I may come in and sup with thee, will not say, Come in, my son; for mine is thine, and thine is mine?” (JST, Matthew 7:17)
Isn’t that what we would do with our children? Of course it is.
So you can envision this. There is a father in a house, and his son, who knows what’s going on outside. Is it raining? Is he hungry? He’s outside and he knocks at his father’s door and of course the father will say, come in, my son. So that’s the image He’s placing in our minds, that of course He will say, come in, my son. This is what He does in answer to our prayers. He does not stand aloof and far away and uncaring. He is right there for us.
And He answers them just as we need those answers that will best bless and benefit us.
I love Isaiah 58:9 that says,
“Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”
What a tender response.
And that is covenant language. In the Lord’s Prayer in verse 10:
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
That teaches us a great truth. His will is done in heaven. And so, perhaps, here on earth is where we struggle to come to know His will and then follow it. So that is our commandment: to follow His will and do His will.
And then it goes on to say,
“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).
And this indicates not only, of course, how we support ourselves, but all the problems that we face where we need His guidance and strength.
President Nelson taught:
“His request for ‘daily bread’ includes a need for spiritual nourishment as well. Jesus, who called Himself ‘the bread of life,’ gave a promise: “‘He that cometh to me shall never hunger.’” (President Russell M. Nelson, “Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers,” April 2009)
And we are to live by every word which preceded forth from the mouth of God. And that is what we are praying for, not just physical bread, but we are to both receive it and be able to live by what we receive: His word, even the Savior Himself.
And then we get the phrase:
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
But the JST changes this to, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
And it’s even stronger in the Doctrine and Covenants, in the 64th Section that says in verse nine:
“Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:9-10)
That’s such a tough standard. You have to say, why would the greater sin be in you if you refuse to forgive? Sometimes you really have grievous offenses done against us and yet we are supposed to forgive even those?
I think that in mortality we don’t have the capacity to carry these burdens because the Lord did this for us in His atoning sacrifice. He will carry these things for us. And if we take it upon ourselves to hold these burdens and hold these weights and these non-forgiving feelings that we can carry it is as if we’re rejecting the Atonement and saying, I’ll try to do this myself. And we just really can’t. We can’t do it.
I think it’s interesting, too, that sometimes we think that if we let go of our resentment and anger that we have let the other person off the hook. But in reality, it is us we have let off the hook. We are healed. We no longer see ourselves as a victim. We can move forward without the heaviness of resentment, which is just too much of a load to carry.
Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
I love the wonderful story that President James E. Faust told in conference about the Amish.
“In the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, a devout group of Christian people live a simple life without automobiles, electricity, or modern machinery.”
We’ve been there and seen that, Scot.
“They work hard and live quiet, peaceful lives separate from the world. Most of their food comes from their own farms. The women sew and knit and weave their clothing, which is modest and plain. They are known as the Amish people.”
And there is not a more peaceful place to be than in their beautiful pastoral areas. Now, there was something that wrecked that peace one day.
“A 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. Last October he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child and some unsubstantiated memories. He stormed into the Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and tied up the 10 girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life.”
“This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish but no anger. There was hurt but no hate. Their forgiveness was immediate. Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, ‘We will forgive you.’ Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.
“One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, ‘We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, [and] a language of service. And, yes, a language of forgiveness.’ It was an amazing outpouring of their complete faith in the Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.’
“The family of the milkman who killed the five girls released the following statement to the public:”
“‘To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:
“Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.
“Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in the God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.’”
“How could the whole Amish group manifest such an expression of forgiveness? It was because of their faith in God and trust in His word, which is part of their inner beings. They see themselves as disciples of Christ and want to follow His example.”
President Faust continued:
“Hearing of this tragedy, many people sent money to the Amish to pay for the health care of the five surviving girls and for the burial expenses of the five who were killed. As a further demonstration of their discipleship, the Amish decided to share some of the money with the widow of the milkman and her three children because they too were victims of this terrible tragedy.” (President James E. Faust, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” April 2007)
What a stunning story.
It is. The Lord told us in Doctrine and Covenant 82:1,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, my servants, that inasmuch as you have forgiven one another your trespasses, even so I, the Lord, forgive you.”
That is a wonderful gift to be given, if we can forgive others. Not forgiving is carrying the burden yourself when someone else, the Lord, is willing to carry it for you. The next thing we hear in the Lord’s Prayer is,
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).
Which is interesting. The Joseph Smith Translation again gives us a better translation:
“And suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (JST, Matthew 6:13).
Because, of course, the Lord never leads us into temptation. We’re grateful for that correction in the JST.
In verse 19 of chapter 6, it says,
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20).
This teaching came clear to me soon after my mission. I spent the summer in Missouri with my parents right after my mission, and we were cleaning out one of our sheds and had all these old things of our families. And we were burning our trash (because we lived in a rural area so we had to burn our trash), and my mother picked up our old ice cream maker. It was one of those wooden ones with the wooden slats and it had the little metal bands that went around it and you hand-turned this thing to make this wonderful ice cream that we’d made every 4th of July. And I loved this ice cream maker, and she was about to throw it into the fire! And as she literally went to throw it, I grabbed it and said, “Mother, not the ice cream maker!” And it fell to the ground, and it just burst into 100 or 200 pieces. It was all rusted out and rotten. And my mother said at that moment “that, my son, is where moth and rust doth corrupt.” And I’ve never forgotten that because my heart really had that as a treasure. This was a treasure for me. But the Lord had better teachings in the Sermon on the Mount here.
And better treasures, which are really what happens in the inner soul.
Now, there is this interesting verse in [Matthew] 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” which seems like a very important commandment for all of us. In fact, respecting people, even if their point of view is different than yours, is so important—seeking truly to see another person’s context so you can understand them. Don’t we hate it when we feel judged? Criticism, whether it is open or kept inside, can be so harmful. We are born with radar and we know when someone doesn’t appreciate or regard us. That really hurts. What a gift we can give someone else if we seek to look at them with love and the way God sees us.
But that is easier said than done because some people do things that offend us, that disagree with us, that make our lives more difficult, frankly, that are unfair. How we negotiate those circumstances will always call for revelation. But think how trying it is if we believe we have to always be wondering what people think of us. It is a game we cannot win because we can’t please everyone. That’s a hard lesson because we would really like to. We would all like to be better, thinner, and smarter than we are. We’d all like to be special.
If we know how hard it is for us to be judged, let’s not do it to each other. Let’s keep forgiveness and compassion as the attributes we turn first to. We want to love, not judge. In fact, the Lord gives us a beautiful image that is easy to remember. He says:
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)
Now, a mote, of course, is a very small speck, and a beam we know is a rather large piece of board. In other translations it does say “the speck” and “the plank.” So there is a huge difference between it. And so we think it’s easy somehow to judge others when we ourselves excuse ourselves for many things. The Lord never says, fix one another as I have fixed you. He says, love one another as I have loved you.
But the Joseph Smith Translation makes a major change here in Matthew 7:2. It says,
“Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.”
This adds a new dimension to the consideration that makes the living of this more complex. And here’s a second witness in Doctrine and Covenants 11.
Yes, verse 12:
“And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly,” and here is the big one, “to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.” (D&C 11:12)
So righteous judgement is important. We are to judge righteously. This means we are to discern between good and evil. We live in a time when tolerance is the most important virtue. And it’s ironic because this is also a most intolerant and angry time as well. Nonetheless, people believe that value systems are created equal and that to make a claim that the gospel is true—with a capital T—makes some people angry and they will claim that you are intolerant.
Yet as a covenant people, we have to be able to discern truth from error and make righteous judgments. For instance, the Lord tells us here to “beware of false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). How can you decide who is a false prophet unless you discern using righteous judgment? We have to be able to say about some choices, these are good, and these are not good. These will lead to happiness, and these will lead to misery.
And it’s so interesting as parents we need to teach our children to see clearly the difference between values that are good and those that are destructive and will lead them to pain. Righteous judgment is important. They will need to know that everything that poses itself as good may not be good.
The Lord teaches us, “by their fruits, ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). And this is about false prophets, but it can be applied to a lot of things. By the fruits of any particular thing that we’re observing, we can know whether it’s good or not.
And we think that we can identify a false prophet easily, but that’s not always true. I remember in graduate school, walking across the square and seeing someone who was dressed up as Jesus passing out pamphlets. Now, that was easy to recognize him as a false prophet. But what we have as false prophets are those who preach evil things as if they are good. They are everywhere. They are people who are good looking, well-spoken, very intelligent. All around us there can be people who are false prophets, and we must judge righteously. The Lord says, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”
What a great teaching.
I love this part of the Sermon on the Mount where the Lord says,
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
“And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)
At least that’s what it says in the King James Version, but in the Joseph Smith Translation, it says, “if ye are not of little faith.” I love that change.
I also love it where it says, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink?” (Matthew 6:31) etc… And that “take no thought” is a weak translation of the Greek, which means “to be very anxious about something.” In other words, the Lord is saying you want to abandon being very anxious about all these details of your life that make you feel so insecure. Because when we are driven by fear, nervously trying to control all the elements of our lives, we find our focus instead of on the will of God on ourselves and our fear and our stress. But He says that if we will focus on Him one day at a time, as surely as the flowers unfold all things will work together for us.
And then, of course, He gives this wonderful teaching and verse 33 of chapter 6,
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
Now there is another wonderful teaching. It starts in verse 21:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
“And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Now again, there’s just a wonderful change in the JST. Instead of saying “I never knew you,” it has changed to “Ye never knew me” because, of course, the Lord knows us perfectly but it is us who did not know Him when we sometimes use His name and act as if we’re acting in His behalf but really don’t know Him.
Thanks for joining us this week. Next week’s lesson is Matthew 8-9 and Mark 2-5, and the lesson will be called Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole
Goodbye. It’s been fun being with you today.
See you next time.