from WL Worcester (H Blackmer, ed.), 
The Sower.  Helps to the Study of the Bible in Home and Sunday School
(Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, n.d.)

Table of Contents


Lesson 6

Matthew 6:  The Prayer

The Story


The Sermon on the Mount occupies three chapters of Matthew's Gospel, the fifth, sixth, and seventh. In the sixth chapter the Lord taught that there must be a heavenly spirit in what we do, to make it really good. In giving to those who need help, does it make any difference whether we really feel kindly and want to help, or whether we do it for show, so that we shall be thought very generous and good? The Lord calls such givers hypocrites, for the goodness is all on the outside. But He cares more for the spirit that is in the giving. Avery small gift with love in it, like the widow's mites, is more precious than a great gift given for show. It is the same in any useful thing we do. It is the kind, loving spirit that makes it precious, and we must not let any thought of "How good we are!" "People will praise us for this!" come in to spoil what we do.

And so when we pray, does the Lord care most for the words we say, or the thoughts and feelings in our minds? If we say the best prayer and are thinking about other things, and perhaps are even feeling unkindly toward someone, it is really no prayer at all. We must go into our closet; that means we must shut out the outside things and turn our thoughts to the Lord and mean what we say; then it is a real prayer. There is one prayer that is the best of all, for the Lord taught it to us. I hope we all can say it, and do say it every morning and night; but when we say it we must be very careful to shut out other thoughts and to think what the words mean.

In old times when people were in trouble they fasted, and sometimes veiled their faces or let them go unwashed, so that others would see that they were in trouble and pity them. And when things go hard with us we sometimes complain, so that people will pity us; but that is selfish. If we are in trouble we should be patient and cheerful, and we can be cheerful when we remember that every trial will do us good if we take it patiently.

We have been learning about the heavenly spirit in doing good, in praying, and in bearing trouble. All other things that men work for, money, honor, praise, fail when we go to the other world, if not before. But the kind, patient spirit no one can steal away, and it will go with us into heaven and make life happy forever. Shall we serve God or mammon? (Mammon means wealth and it stands for all selfish rewards.) Which is best? Which shall we choose? The Lord tells us how wonderfully He can take care of us if we choose Him as our Master. He takes care of every little bird and flower, and He will take still better care of us. The little birds are not idle. Watch them and see how busy they are when they are building their nests or feeding their little ones; the flowers are not idle; but they are not anxious, and we should not be, for the Lord will take care of us. We should not be anxious about tomorrow and what may come in the future. The Lord will give us strength to meet each thing as it comes, but He cannot give it before. We remember this when we pray for "daily bread."

1. What is meant by giving alms? In what spirit ought they to be given?

2. What is the best of all prayers? What is meant by entering into the closet to pray?

3. How can we keep the command to anoint the head and wash the face when we fast?

4. What treasure may we lay up which no one can ever take away from us?

5. We ought to be like the birds and flowers: does it mean that we ought to be idle? What does it mean?

6. It says, "Take no thought for the morrow"; does it mean that I must not think about tomorrow? What does it mean?

Spiritual Study


In giving alms, which means also doing any good work, the Lord says, "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." The two elements, affection and thought, which enter into deeds are represented by the two hands; affection by the stronger and more spontaneous right hand, and thought by the left. In the present case the right hand means the doing of good works from love for being useful, and the left hand means the selfish thought and reflection that so easily creep in to spoil the works. Remember the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:33), where the character of those on the shepherd's right and left hand is clearly shown. (E. 600)

In prayer we are to enter into our closet. A man's mind is often in the Scriptures called a house. The evil spirit goes out of the house and returns with others worse than himself. The Lord stands knocking at the door; He bids us to prepare to eat with Him in the large upper room. We enter into our closet for prayer when we pray with our inmost thought and feeling. (A. 5694)

Why is prayer useful, if the Lord knows what things we need before we ask Him? It helps to prepare us to receive the help and blessing which the Lord is so ready to give. It helps us to see clearly what we need. Remember how the Lord, before healing the blind man at Jericho, asked, "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" It makes sure also that we are looking to the Lord as the source of help, and not trusting in ourselves. This is very necessary. (A. 1618, 2535)

The Lord's prayer is the perfect prayer. It covers everything, as the Commandments and the Blessings do. You can see how the first words, "Our Father, Hallowed be thy name," are like the first two Commandments; and how the words toward the end, "Deliver us from evil," are like the later Commandments which forbid all kinds of wrong. "There are more things contained in that prayer," Swedenborg says, "than the universal heaven is capable of comprehending." (A. 6619, 8864)

Our eye must be single. The eye of the spirit is the understanding. The understanding is double when it is turned upward by knowing intellectually what is true, and is turned downward by loving what is evil; it cannot then be bright in regard to things of heaven. The eye of the spirit is single and full of light when the intellectual conviction of truth makes one with the perception of a good heart. (E. 313)

The Lord cares for the birds and flowers, and He has a special care for the things in our minds which birds and flowers represent. The birds are the affections that look up to heaven and love to think of good heavenly things. The flowers represent sweet thoughts of friendliness and usefulness of a thousand lovely kinds. These may be little things and many may come and go in a day, but they are all precious to the Lord.

The Gentiles are said to seek the things of the world. They mean the natural faculties that need attention in their place. These outward good things are not wrong and the Lord loves to give them, and He will give them in all abundance in the other world to those who have the heavenly spirit.

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