When You Pray
28 January 2018
GraceNotes – A Journey of Discovery
Scripture: Matthew 6:5-8 (Click link for scripture in Bible Gateway)
5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. 7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! (Matthew 6:5–8 NLT)
Pretty much everybody prays! Christians pray, people of other faiths and religions pray, even atheists pray sometimes. All kinds of people pray all kinds of prayers in all kinds of situations and get all kinds of results from their prayers. It’s sort of a given that when we realize that there’s a lot going on that we can’t control and need some help with, if we even have a hope that there’s someone “out there” who knows what’s happening and can maybe do something about it, we’re going to pray! So Jesus didn’t say, “If you pray, but when you pray!”
What Jesus says about praying is a lot like what he says about giving to the poor and needy. He says your motives outweigh your methods, and why you’re praying is as important as what you’re praying. The hypocrites, who pray long, flowery prayers so that people will know how spiritual they are get exactly what they really want. They get noticed by other people. However, according to Jesus, God doesn’t pay much attention to their powerful pious public prayer performance. By implication, their prayers don’t actually get answered! And then there’s Preaching Prayers, the kind that preachers tack on to the end of their sermons so that they can get five more minutes in after they say, “Finally!” I’m trying to learn not to do that anymore! Don’t pray to be heard by other people, pray to your Father. In private, mostly.
And this: Don’t babble on and on like the pagans, who think of repetitive prayer like an incantation to manipulate God into doing what you want. To think that the effectiveness of prayer is dependent on the right formula or on repetition of religious phrases is superstition, not spirituality! Your Father, who loves you, already knows what you need. Keep it simple, be direct, and enjoy the relationship.
Father, In the words of Jesus’ first followers, “Teach us to pray!” May it be so! Amen!