“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” -Matthew 6:5-8
Jews, in Jesus’ time, had numerous prayers that they would recite and often stopped where they were during the day to pray them. Some Jews would strategically stop at the street corner and pray lengthy prayers just to be noticed. In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus is making a distinction between getting a reward here on earth and being rewarded by the Father. Jesus is pointing to the fact that people can be so deceived in their heart that they use prayer for their own selfish gain. They are trading the joy of coming to an attentive Father for the recognition of others. He is saying that, if they’re not careful, people can use prayer as a way to gain: popularity, notoriety, recognition as a “good prayer.” Their hearts are seeking after the praise of men more than the heart of God. Fame and notoriety rule their hearts more than God.
Are we any different today?
When we come before the Lord in prayer, we often come to him with things that are troubling us. But when was the last time we came to God and were so in awe of who he is that we forgot what it was we were going to ask him for? I’m not saying that we don’t need to come to the Lord with what is going on in our lives, but I am saying that we need to be just as aware of who it is that we are praying to compared to knowing “what to pray” and ask.
When we pray, who is it we are praying to?
Are we praying so that others can hear us? Do we see God as someone who is only there to answer our prayers and make our problems go away? I love how Jesus responds in Matthew 6:8: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Jesus is telling us not to imitate the ones who pray in public for recognition and not to imitate the ones who pray hoping their numerous words will sway the Lord to answer them the way they want. When I read Matthew 6:8, I don’t hear Jesus saying, “God already knows what you need, so you don’t need to pray” nor does he say “you don’t have to spend that much time praying.” Jesus came before the Father, and we need to come to the Father in prayer. I see Matthew 6:8 as Jesus illuminating us to the closeness and nearness of our Father. He loves us and is so attentive to our needs that he already knows it is something that we desire or need! He longs for us to come to Him with the understanding that he is a good and loving Father who has the power and authority to answer our prayers. So let’s come to him in faith and trust in who he is.
Now, I’ve prayed multiple times and haven’t received the answer I was looking for, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t good or that he is unaware of our needs. And, just because I did “all the right things” in prayer doesn’t mean that God operates in a formulaic way and will do what I have asked. Prayer, more often, shapes and forms me more into the image of God because I am encountering a real and present God who desires for me to come to him. Just like a husband and a wife come to each other with their troubles, God longs to be that divine counselor and comforter for us because he knows that he is who we need in times of trouble.
This week, take some time to think about how you would answer these questions:
- Why do we pray?
- How will knowing that God loves you more than anyone else loves you and is closer than anyone else shape the way you pray?