The most concentrated passage featuring Jesus' teaching on prayer is found in Matthew 6. It’s worth reading the whole chapter because it contains a number of Jesus’ instructions on how we should live our lives.
Jesus’ specific teaching on prayer is found in verses 5-13 but it may be important to include verse 14 as well.
Jesus starts by warning his followers not to pray “to be seen by others”. He says “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.”
Does this mean that we should not pray with our fellow Christians? Does it mean that we should not organise large prayer events? Does it mean that we should not pray as a witness to non-believers?
I think that the answers to these questions, as with so many other questions, lies with our motive for our actions. Jesus clearly says that we should not pray “to be seen by others”. I think that this means that if our motive when we pray is to try to impress others then we are in trouble. Jesus says in verse 5, those who pray to impress others have their reward, by which I think he means that they may achieve their desire of impressing others but they won’t impress God.
If we get together with fellow Christians to pray to God, quietly and without drawing attention to ourselves, then I am sure that God will hear us. However the question of motive becomes more interesting when we look at large, organised prayer gatherings. What are we gathering for? Are our motives purely to talk to God? If we are advertising the event then what does that say about our motives? If we are sending press releases about the event to secular media then what does that say about our motives? The purpose of prayer is to meet with God – worship him – seek his guidance. Can this be achieved more effectively in large groups than small groups? I would say not.
I would suggest that we should not mix up prayer and witness. I think that praying as a witness to non-Christians can only be praying to be seen by others – and that is exactly what Jesus tells us not to do
Jesus goes on to warn against babbling like pagans who think that God will hear them because of their many words. God wants his worshippers to worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). This seems to mean that we should worship God from our very hearts and with honesty and sincerity. There can be few things less sincere than repeated prayers where we know the words so well that we can say them while thinking about something else. Why would God listen to such prayers?
Jesus follows this warning by introducing the Lord’s Prayer and this must be the most repeated prayer in the Christian world. I know how easy it is to repeat the words of this prayer without thinking about them.
I think that the first half of the Lord’s Prayer is one of the most important, and neglected, of Jesus’ teachings. Here is what he says he wants us to pray to our just and loving God:
· May your name be revered
· May your kingdom come
· May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Do we pray these prayers? I mean do we really pray them? Do we plead with God to bring these things about?
It may be that these prayers will only be answered by the second coming of Jesus. If so we need to be pleading with God, right now, to answer them.
It may be that these prayers can be answered today and tomorrow. If so we need to be pleading with God, right now, to answer them.
The rest of the Lord’s Prayer is concerned with our personal needs. Note that God’s agenda is placed before our agenda.