On a scale of one-to-ten, how would you rate your personal prayer life with the Lord? Are you regularly meeting with God to pray beyond the dinner plate? For the most part, Christians are excellent and fervent in prayer over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As a child my favorite was, “God is great. God is good. Lord we thank you for our food. Amen.”
Though there is nothing wrong with that prayer in particular, there is a problem when such prayers are the extent of one’s conversations with God. Often, when prayer becomes a mechanical duty it becomes nothing more than a mindless exercise in verbiage. When prayer becomes an opportunity to mentally “check out” we are not pleasing God; far from it! In fact, when we pray we cannot do so with empty minds or empty hearts. We cannot pray with our mouths wide open and souls shut to God. Jesus knows this. He knows our proclivity towards religious appearances and so He guides us in how God desires us to pray so that we might cultivate a heart focused on expressing our perpetual dependence.
In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus is expanding in particulars what He taught as a general principle in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (ESV) Concerning prayer, Jesus is saying that your prayers need to come from a heart which has recognized and embraced its dependence on God.
In the context of prayer, Christ’s first command is to not be “like the hypocrites.” The hypocrites were those people then (and even today!) who are more concerned with pleasing themselves or others, than pleasing the true God. In short, hypocrites are charlatans, miserable pretenders who are far more concerned with their estate on earth than their eternal future. God didn’t send His Son, Jesus, so that religious people could continue to appear religious and go about their religious activities and be recognized for their religiousness. Jesus abhors those kinds of people who are caught up in themselves in such a manner because at their very hearts they defrock the entire ministry of Christ. Hence, Christ’s demand that His disciples look nothing like the religious hypocrites, “for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners that they might be seen by others (Matt. 6:5 ESV). Christ is opposing those whose motivation to be noticed in prayer is for self-glorification, for self-worship. Instead, Jesus shows us how true disciples must pray.
Jesus said, “You must pray in secret”. Christ wants to guard us from the temptation of the hypocrites, and the first step is to get away, to be alone so that you can talk with God by yourself. He says, “go into your room” (Matt. 5:6 ESV). This does not mean you can only pray in your bedroom or closets, for Christ Himself is regularly prays in the hills of Galilee. We need to find a space where we do not feel that we will succumb to the temptation to be noticed but equally, we must get away from distractions. In our age of instant-gratification, via TV, cell phones, and the internet it’s easy to get distracted. And if we remove ourselves, we can better focus on the One to whom our focus is due.
We must also be honest in our prayers, simple even. God is not moved by lengthy religious sounding language, but is moved by our hearts when we are honest. And that is precisely what we must raise up unto our God; our very hearts. God will not be satisfied with anything else we give Him if our very hearts are removed from the equation. A simple honest prayer of dependence is all He desires. As simple as that of Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, “Lord, I offer my heart to You, promptly, and sincerely.” Will you do this today? Offer your heart to the Lord and be honest with your frailties and even your sin? God already knows what you need physically (food, water, shelter) but He even knows your spiritual needs (cleansing, pardon) more than you. Trust in this God and talk to Him, for His ear is ever ready to listen to those who will call upon Him through the ministry of Christ.
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