How to pray
Matthew 6:5-8 In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us Jesus simple guidelines for prayer
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““When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
Matthew 6:5-8 NASB1995
Do you ever wonder if you’re “praying properly”? During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers exactly how to pray before teaching them The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).
At this point in His ministry, Jesus was calling out the hypocritical religious elite of the time for their prayer and giving practices, which were primarily done in public to show the people in their communities just how pious they were. A Jew of the day was required to pray three times a day — 9 AM, Noon, and 3 PM — and they would go to the synagogue at these times or pray publicly if they happened to be on the streets at the appointed time.
Both of these locations for prayer placed the person where the rest of the community could see them. In synagogue, one of the congregants might be asked to pray publicly, giving him an extra boost in the eyes of others. While the street corners weren’t a usual prayer spot, some of the hypocrites Jesus is referring to would time their movements to bring them to the most public places at prayer time.
Jesus points out that these people didn’t really want God to hear their prayers, but to be seen by others! Even today there are those Christians who love to engage in public prayer, not for the purpose of praising God, but to impress others. This is insulting to God! Jesus points out that these people “have their reward” — they’re puffed up by their own egos — but there’s no reward in heaven for prayers like this.
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Instead, Jesus encourages His followers to pray by themselves in a private place. The Greek word used in the original Gospel is ταμεῖον (tameion), translated as storeroom, inner chamber, or closet. While Jesus didn’t expressly forbid public prayer, He wanted to ensure that the prayers were directed to God — not to other people. When you’re in your secret place for prayer, God can most certainly hear you and He’s happy that you’re focusing on Him.
Next Jesus points out that meaningless repetition is not the way to God’s heart. God wants quality prayer, not prayer in quantity! The Greek word translated here as meaningless repetition is βατταλογέω (battalogeō), meaning “to repeat the same things over and over”, “to use many idle words”, and “to babble”. Repeating the same prayer over and over isn’t what God wants! He wants your prayers to come from the heart, to be earnest praise, petition, confession, and thanks. Jesus may have been thinking of those in the synagogue who felt that making their prayers as long as possible was the way to appeal to God.
What does the last sentence of these verses tell us? This commentary from Enduring Word provides insight:
We don’t pray to tell God things that He didn’t know before we told Him. We pray to commune with and appeal to a loving God who wants us to bring every need and worry before His throne.
i. “Prayer is not designed to inform God, but to give man a sight of his misery; to humble his heart, to excite his desire, to inflame his faith, to animate his hope, to raise his soul from earth to heaven, and to put him in mind that THERE is his Father, his country, and inheritance.” (Clarke)1
Although Jesus follows these verses with The Lord’s Prayer, He was providing a model for prayer, not a prayer to be mindlessly repeated over and over again. Jesus gave us simple guidelines for prayer:
Pray in private, not in public
Pray to praise God, not to impress others
Pray from the heart, don’t just repeat the same words
Pray with quality, not with quantity
Pray to God in humility, faith, hope, and love
What we need to practice and perfect is applying these guidelines to all prayer.
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Today’s prayer is taken from Knowing Jesus:
Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift and privilege of prayer. Thank You that I have access to Your throne of grace, for help in time of need. You alone are worthy of my grateful thanks and praise for this unparalleled birth-right. Renew in me an increasing desire to know You more, and to love You better with each passing day. Purge from me any petty attitudes that may hinder my fellowship with You. Instil in me a deepening desire to linger in Your presence and to praise You unceasingly, in spirit and truth. And develop in my heart an attitude of worshipful prayer, so that my communion with You becomes the essential essence of my very life on earth. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org.
Clarke, Adam "Clarke's Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes" Volume 5 (Matthew-Acts) (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1832)