“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13).
This is the “Lord’s Prayer”, or better, the “Model Prayer.” The fact that Jesus uses these words to demonstrate how we ought to pray makes them preeminently important to us. Luke gives this prayer as a response to the disciples asking, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Jesus offers foundational instructions to his disciples regarding prayer. These instructions serve as a standard for us today. It speaks to our attitude as we speak to God.
Jesus teaches that when we pray, we shouldn’t pray simply to be seen praying.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).
After hearing what Jesus says here, some debate whether they should ask a blessing for food in public. But it seems that Jesus is not teaching that we are never to pray in public. Obviously, the early church prayed regularly together. Jesus seems more interested in the attitude with which we approach prayer. For the person praying simply to be seen praying, their reward is realized in the recognition they receive from those witnessing their prayer. For them, the recognition is the reward. Jesus says we are to pray in private, in secret. This stands in contrast to the one who would pray on the street corner, visible to all who pass. While recognition from others is the reward of the one praying simply to be seen, it is God who rewards, or recognizes the one praying with a humble attitude.
Jesus teaches that adding words to a prayer does not make a better prayer.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
Words are just words, unless they come from a pure heart and pure motives. It would seem apparent that Jesus had experienced the babblings of some pagans. No doubt he knew this was a reality for many in his day. From my childhood, I have heard many preachers and teachers discuss this particular verse. Inevitably, the teaching is that these Gentiles, or pagans that Jesus references are using “big” words or “big” phrases that will make them sound intelligent. While this may be true, I would suggest that Jesus is continuing his instruction regarding our attitude in prayer. If our heart is focused on speaking high and lofty words or phrases, if that is our objective when we pray, then it stands to reason our approaching God is not from a humble posture.
Jesus teaches that prayer does not provide information to God.
“Do not be like them (those who add words), for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
Edward West said, “There is nothing in the world more dreary than a prayer that attempts to inform God of anything at all.” God knows what we need before we ask. We cannot fool ourselves into believing that somehow we are going to share something in prayer of which God is unaware. Prayer is not about me telling God something. Prayer is much more about what I need to say, than what God needs to hear.
You know, prayer reminds us of who God is. Prayer reminds us of who we are. It reminds us how much we need him! The 19th Century Danish Philosopher and Theologian, Soren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” As Jesus teaches about prayer, he reminds us that humility and reverence are paramount. As we speak to God, we are reminded of our desperate need for his provision in our lives. God has given to us the wonderful blessing of prayer. My hope is we will always approach him with humble hearts as we honor, praise, and thank him.