What do you think about prayer? Some think God works His will regardless of the way, or even if, people pray. They think prayer is simply lining up with what God is going to do anyway. Some believe God’s actions are determined on the basis of our prayers… that prayer is asking God to do what He otherwise would not do. Scripture supports a balance of both views.
So how does prayer really work? How can we know if God really hears our prayers? We are not required nor is it possible to completely understand what makes prayer work. But we are to pray.
Jesus spent quite a bit of time talking about prayer in His Sermon on the Mount. He helps us understand how to pray so God will hear us.
The Wrong Audience – People (Matthew 6:5).
Some people were praying so others could notice their praying. Jews ritually prayed ‘The Shema’ (from Deut. 6 & Num. 5) three times a day. At the appointed times (9am, Noon & 3am) they knelt to pray toward the Temple. Evidently, they made sure they were in a prominent place at the appointed time. They were wanting to be seen and heard by other people. They got what they wanted, but God did not listen.
The Right Audience – God (Matthew 6:6)
Jesus knew what it was like to talk with God. His most intense times of spiritual opposition were when He spent time in prayer: temptation in the desert and the Garden of Gethsemane. Satan will do anything to keep people from talking with God.
A good definition of prayer is ‘communion of God’. If God is not involved, it is not prayer. The most important secret He sees is not the words we say, but the thoughts of our hearts.
Rather than prayer in public, Jesus encouraged prayer in private. I have found that it helps to have a quiet, private place of prayer and devotion. The desire to pray will create such a place. Jesus did this. He prayed in a garden, forest, mountain, and early in the morning.
Those who pray secretly, will be rewarded openly. What kind of reward? It produces Christian character that wins the admiration and confidence of others. God gives the reward men are seeking, to men who are not seeking for it.
Here’s a great statement to consider: If you pray more in public than private, you are less interested in God’s approval than human praise.
False Content – Meaningless Repetition (Matthew 6:7)
Jesus condemns ‘vain repetitions.’ The Greek word, battalogeo, means idle, thoughtless chatter; to say the same thing in different words (Bible examples include: 1 Kings 18:26; Acts 19:24-34). Prayer that is thoughtless and indifferent is offensive to God. God did not forbid the repetition of genuine requests (Luke 18:2-7; 2 Cor. 12:7-8; Matt. 26:39-44). Jesus is against prayer that is all words and no meaning. Lips and no head or heart. Not only must our hearts be right before God will hear our prayer, but also our minds.
True Content – Sincere Requests (Matthew 6:8)
Marin Luther says, ‘By our praying… we are instructing ourselves more than we are him.’ God is not ignorant that we need to inform Him, nor is He stubborn that we need to persuade Him. We need to sincerely ask Him.
Why pray? (1) Helps us feel our need. God requires a sense of need. Prayer awakens that sense of need. (2) Encourage our faith in God.
Some Suggestions for Prayer:
1. Have a place. Jesus did not say when and where to pray because He wanted it to be voluntary. To mandate when and where would lead to formality and limit true prayer.
2. Be alone.
3. Speak freely to God and cherish confidence in His presence.
You can read my other Sermon on the Mount articles: Life Redefined: Sermons from The Sermon on the Mount.