Prayer is a commandment. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount did not say, “I command you to pray,” but He was very clear that prayer is a vital part of worship for true believers.
Prayer is a private, personal communication with Deity. Our words are not the key to true communication; the desires of our hearts make the difference. Christ told us not to be hypocrites in our prayers.
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matt. 6:5)
There are plenty of people who pray to be “heard of men.” Of course, we want people to notice our wonderful vocabulary, our spiritual natures and our ability to make beautiful prayers, but when that is our goal and we receive pats on the back, we have our reward and the true reward of the Spirit, communicating God’s love to our hearts, is lost.
With prayer, we must speak the words from our heart. Sometimes, when the Holy Ghost gives us the words, our prayers are beautiful and poetic. People may pat us on the back and tell us how well we prayed, but the pat on the back was not the goal and, therefore, not the reward.
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:6)
Jesus counsels us to find a secret place for our prayer. Does it always have to be in a closet? No, there are secret places in the middle of the forest. There are secret places in the bathroom or in the car.
I often kneel in my garden to pray over my plants and my family. The secret place simply needs to be a place where no one will distract us from our purpose of sincerely communicating with our Heavenly Father.
“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathens do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matt. 6:7)
I am often guilty of “vain repetitions.” That is where you talk about the same thing using the same words, without really thinking about the solution or the problem. It is like a “to-do list” of wishes that I am not willing to tackle on my own.
I heard a saying years ago that comes floating back to me every once in a while. “You can’t get a $100 dollar answer with a 10¢ prayer.”
“Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matt. 6:8)
The Lord knows what we need before we ask Him, but as any good parent, He wants us to be able to figure it out. He wants us to grow by studying the problem in our minds and coming up with possible solutions. He wants us to put effort into our prayers so that we will be able to grow and see why sometimes He chooses to answer our prayers with a resounding “Yes” and sometimes He chooses to say “No.”
The Lord knows all things, but we do not. If the Lord gave us everything we asked for, what a mess we would make of the world. All sickness would be cured, all crime would go unpunished, and all days would be sunny. Where would the world find a place to house all the people?
How would the victims be reconciled? How would the earth be watered? The Lord knows what is best for us. It is our place to learn His will and discover what is best for us.
The Lord taught us how to pray. We memorize His prayer as an example of how we should pray, but even His prayer would become “vain repetition,” if that was all we said every day. Jesus intended us to go into our closets and have a conversation, not repeat His prayer day after day. If we look to His prayer as a pattern, certain principles emerge. (See Matthew 6:9-13.)
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”
We address our prayers to our Father in Heaven and praise Him for all that He has done. In other words, we spend time thinking about the things He has done and say “thank you.” The more time we spend saying “thank you,” the sweeter our prayer becomes. We start to feel the love of God fill our heart and we know that He is listening.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” is the next prayer principle. The scripture, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” applies here. (See Matt. 6:33.) The Lord wants us to be concerned with the work of the Kingdom.
He wants us to witness for Him not just in word, but action, so it might be appropriate at this time to ask Him, “Father in Heaven, how can I help build the Kingdom? How can I do Thy will so that life in my home, in my job and in my neighborhood might mirror the order of Heaven?”
The next principle taught in the Lord’s Prayer is the part we do the most – “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask for things. Usually we have long lists of “please do this” or “make this happen.” We can go on and on because we do not feel responsible for making anything happen on our own. We expect miracles, but we do not expect to put in the effort.
Of course, we cannot make it rain. We cannot turn a cloudy day into one of sunshine, but we can make a plan to treat our enemies with more respect, and thus change the atmosphere. If we need more money, we can commit ourselves to work, if He will give us the opportunity to find a job. The Lord is willing to meet us more than halfway, but He expects us to do our part.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This principle is not easy. The Lord instructs us to ask for forgiveness in equal proportion to our willingness to forgive others. Sometimes we want the Lord to overlook our sins, but we are not willing to overlook the sins of our children or neighbors.
We want a double standard. The Lord wants all of His children to be treated the same. He wants us to be like Him, willing to send rain on the “evil and the good.”
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Jesus knows that we live in a world of many temptations and awful wickedness. The world is full of evil and conspiring men who would sell their souls to take advantage of us for their own gain.
At this point in prayer, it might be well to ask for the spirit of discernment, or the gift to be able to see through the conniving plans and snares of the devil.
Finally, we close our prayer, again giving glory to our Father in Heaven: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” With this closing, our Heavenly Father is giving us one more opportunity to feel His love for us. Gratitude brings Him closer.
We end our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ because He is our pathway to the Father. Because He died on the cross for each of us, He alone is worthy to speak in our behalf.
Prayer is expressed in one of the most beautiful hymns I have ever sung or heard, written by James Montgomery: “Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire”
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
Uttered or unexpressed
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast
Prayer is the burden of a sigh
The falling of a tear
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath
The Christian’s native air
His watchword at the gates of death
He enters heav’n with prayer
Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice
Returning from his ways
While angels in their songs rejoice
And cry, “Behold! He prays!”
Nor prayer is made on earth alone
The Holy Spirit pleads
And Jesus at the Father’s throne
For sinners intercedes
O thou by whom we come to God
The Life, the Truth, the Way
The path of prayer thyself hast trod
Lord, teach us how to pray PD