Matthew 6:5-13 (NIV, ©2011)
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
I've taken the liberty of splitting this passage from Matthew 6 into two paragraphs. The first paragraph instructs us how NOT to pray and the second paragraph encourages us in how we should pray. I find it interesting that the question isn't should I pray, or can I pray, but how should I pray. This reminds me that prayer, in one form or another, is a universally accepted concept and yet it seems we all struggle with how to do it effectively.
Before we dig into the how not/how to of the passage let's take a moment to define prayer. Billy Graham said “Prayer is simply a two-way conversation between you and God.” It doesn't get much simpler than that. However, for me personally I tend to turn it into a monologue of my wants or frustrations, rather than a conversation. Prayer is a privilege that we can only partake in because of the sacrifice that Jesus paid for us on the cross. We are, after all, communicating with the creator of the universe from a position of failure, forgiven by grace. God invites us to relate to him through prayer as a friend. This is pretty amazing and should serve to shape our prayer life.
According to this passage prayer is best when done in private. Not that public prayer is wrong, but I think we need to be careful when praying with others. Sometimes there is a temptation to promote ourselves, preach or persuade others through prayer and this contradicts the concept of prayer. When we pray in public it is best to error on the side of humility. Our conversation needs to be with God not others.
The final verses in this passage form a great outline to use when we pray. The outline isn't a formula for forcing God to answer our prayers, but rather it is a tool we can use to help keep our heart and head in the right place as we enter into this divine conversation.
The outline goes something like this:
- Acknowledge God for who He is and let Him know you believe in His plan
- Petition God to provide for our needs--the greatest of which is our need for forgiveness and a reminder to forgive those that have wronged us.
- Recognize that life is a spiritual battle--one that we will lose without help from the God who has already secured the victory.
How would your prayer be different if Jesus was sitting in the chair next to you?
Does the Apostle Paul's admonition to "Pray without Ceasing" (I Thes. 5:17) encourage or challenge you?
Take a moment to open your heart to God today and join him in an eternal conversation that goes beyond this time and place.