First Things about Prayer

We live in a culture full of labor-saving devices. We expect our coffee to be instant, we want fast food. But prayer can be hard work, and it certainly does not provide instant gratification of our desires! In Matthew 6:5–8 Jesus teaches you first things about the hard work of prayer.

Pray secretly. Do not pray to be seen by men. Don’t be a hypocrite in your prayer. Some pray to be seen of men, as did the Pharisee were in the habit of doing. I have seen a Muslim’s formal, public prayer is an example of that. The hypocrite prays to be seen by men, and as soon as he prays, he has his reward. His prayer has accomplished all it was intended to do! Don’t pray with an eye to an audience. This sin can be subtle. Beware of the pride involved. Don’t ask, while you are praying, “What are others thinking of me?” Beware of the way that sin can affect your heart—even while you are speaking to your Father in heaven! Sin can intrude even into your prayer, even as you come to God’s throne of grace. Christ’s warning is needed because you and I are self-centered by nature. We tend to take our eyes off of God and focus on ourselves.

Pray to your Father secretly. Enter your room. Pray secretly. Exclude distractions and publicity as you pray. Don’t make a show of going to your room. (The reference is not to a literal closet, but an inner room, a place where you are unobserved and free from distraction.) This is not a prohibition of public prayer. There are examples of this throughout Scripture. Nehemiah prayed when he heard of the troubling condition of Jerusalem and God’s people there, Nehemiah 1. But notice what he did, apparently silently and briefly, when the king asked what he wanted, Nehemiah 2. Later, Nehemiah 9, there is a public prayer of repentance. Pray to your Father in secret. He is present everywhere. He will reward you. He does want you to pray. He encourages, even commands you to pray. He will reward you. He does hear and answer. “Prayer might be called the very breath of spiritual life. Where saving grace is in exercise there will be prayer. Where there is no prayer, saving grace is absent.” “When we have tasted something of the breadth and length and depth and height of the love that passeth knowledge there is a corresponding enlargement of heart and of mind, there is and establishing of confidence and and communion, there is an exploring of the riches of the covenant of grace and of the treasures of wisdom and and knowledge that constrains to enlarging, ever-widening, ever-rising prayer and praise. Make every experience of his mercy the reason and ground for increased more abundant prayer.” (Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 3, pages 168 & 171)

Pray sincerely. Don’t babble. Do not imitate the pagans. I have seen Muslims pray in Arabic, even if they don’t understand the language. Tibetan prayer wheels and prayer flags supposedly work automatically. A prayer does not have to be long in order to be heard, as some of the pagans thought. Nevertheless, there are times for extensive praying, see Luke 6:12, where Jesus prayed all night before calling the 12 to be his disciples. Do not be overly concerned with the circumstances and form of your prayer. Don’t pray with an eye to the audience. You do not need ornate words, but some preparation is helpful. Pray without ceasing—but not mechanically, see Luke 18:1.

Remember that your Father knows what you need. Be aware of your Father. He is omniscient. Come as a child does, see Matthew 7:7,8. Don’t see God as standing between you and the good things you need. Rather remember that he is the one who has purchased your salvation in Jesus Christ. He is able to do more than you ask or imagine, Ephesians 3:20. Remember that prayer is communication. You have the right to come to God in Jesus Christ’s name, John 16:23. Jesus, right now, is interceding for you. And the Holy Spirit prays for you with groans that words cannot express. “It is a wonderful blessing to know that our prayers are ‘acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (I Peter 2:5). But that is not all. God also assures us that we can have the Holy Spirit’s help in our prayers, especially when we least know what to say (Rom. 8:26). This gives us tremendous confidence. It helps us to see ‘that if we ask anything according to his will he will hear us’ (I John 5:14). (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 280) You don’t need formal, ornate language. Look at the simplicity of the Lord’s prayer. Perhaps make a list of things for which to pray–and don’t forget to give thanks for answered prayer. You might start a prayer journal. Do pray.

Pray often, pray alone, pray with others, but in all your praying, don’t forget that you are speaking to God himself. That is why Christ gave you the Lord’s Prayer. Because you are speaking with God, put in the effort necessary for your prayer life.