“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. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV)
Most of us recognize the above verses as the preamble to the Lord’s prayer. And while we usually concentrate on the Lord’s prayer in our studies we would miss a great deal of encouragement regarding prayer if we skipped verses five through eight.
Four principles jump out at us without too much digging into the texts:
1. We should pray regularly. Jesus starts out by stating, “When you pray” not if you pray. I believe this is an area of prayer where guilt easily comes into play. Most of us have good intentions regarding having a regular prayer time and as a result we feel guilty when we miss our morning or evening prayers or other set time for prayer.
Waking up at five-thirty in the morning and having a time of prayer may work well for some people but it may not for others. Praying before you fall to sleep at night may work for still others and you may find you are asleep before you get past the first few words of prayer. Other people find that talking to God throughout the day as they go about their lives works better. The point is that it is not so much about the exact time you pray but that you pray.
Ruth and I pray together in the mornings before we begin our day because if we don’t we never seem to find the time to pray. But, we miss quite a few mornings because Ruth will get up before me and exercise or one of us sleeps late or we have to get up and rush out the door to a doctor’s appointment. The fact that we miss praying every morning doesn’t discourage us, because we know we can pray separately throughout the day.
Now, some of you are already thinking I’m playing pretty fast and loose with my prayer life because of my not being devastated at missing my regular time of prayer. But, it isn’t about the time of prayer it is about the prayer. Having a regular time of prayer helps to remind you that God is wanting to hear from you, but the key is He wants to hear from you.
If you miss praying this morning make sure you pray later. I know, talking to God should be the most important thing and we shouldn’t let other things come in the way of it, but the reality is we do, and instead of feeling guilt just make sure you do pray and don’t skip prayer because you didn’t pray at your regular time.
2. Pray privately. Of course collective prayer is powerful and effective. But, when there are things on your heart or confession that needs to be made, “go into your room, close the door, pray to your Father who is unseen.” Find a place that is comfortable to you where you can be alone and talk to God as you would a friend. Tell Him what is on your mind and take time to listen for His answers.
Like I said, Ruth and I pray together every morning but those prayers are our intercessory prayers for the people that God has laid upon our hearts. When I talk to God about my relationship with Him, my weaknesses or just want to give praise, that is done when I am alone with Him.
Before I move on I just want to mention about praying for people. You may have a number of people that you pray for because they are loved ones, you have been asked to pray for them by friends or they are people you know who really need someone praying for them. But we should be open to the names that God places in our minds throughout the day.
Often times people’s names pop up and we receive an impression to pray for that person. I believe, for whatever reason, God has given you that person to pray for so please don’t just shake it aside as if it were an accident that a person’s name came into your mind; pray for him or her.
3. Pray sincerely. God doesn’t need formulas. Go into your room and talk to God from the bottom of your heart. Pour out your feelings. Tell Him how you feel, if you are angry say it. If you are broken and beaten down by life and feel you are hanging on by your fingertips cry out to Him. There is no wrong prayer when talking to God because He loves you.
Too many of us think saying the Lord’s Prayer at the end of a church service or at a meeting is prayer. The Lord’s prayer is an outline of what we should pray for and not a formula to be recited mechanically without thought. Be honest with God because you know He will be honest with you in His response.
4. Be specific. Be sincere in your prayer and be specific. Don’t babble like the pagans because many words don’t impress God. Talk from the heart and tell Him what is on your heart. I love verse 8, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (RSV). When you pray you are not telling God anything that He doesn’t already know.
Pastor Charles Price, Pastor at the People’s Church in Toronto, points out that when you talk to God regarding someone or something God doesn’t start running around saying, “Oh thank you I didn’t know about that person in the hospital or I didn’t know what was happening with that person so thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
No, God knows what is happening to every life and He is concerned and cares. When you pray you are not telling God new news, you are simply pouring your soul out to Him who you know loves you and the person you are praying for or the situation you face.
In prayer you are interceding and thanking God for His care of your loved one and putting your trust in His hands because you know the situation or circumstance is bigger than anything you can handle. In prayer you enter into relationship with God and seek the warmth of His touch upon the emptiness of your spiritual resources to handle the crises or pain you face.
In prayer you know you are not alone and struggling by yourself. In prayer you have comfort and security that God is on your side and willing to intervene. And most of all when God answers, even if the answer is not what you longed for, you know all is for the best because God never does the wrong thing.
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” Matthew 7:7, 8.
What a promise! We will look at this text in depth next post.
* Yes, it’s all about prayer for the thousands of Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in Christ, for many even unto death. They need our support. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for some of their stories.