Read Matthew 6:5-15
When Should We Pray?
Prayer is not an optional activity in the life of a believer nor is it a special skill used solely by some group of elite, spiritual Delta Force believers. The Lord Jesus just assumed the normal desire and activity of every child of God would be to speak regularly to their Father in prayer. He said, “WHEN you pray”, not “IF you pray.” When you received salvation through Christ, the Bible promised, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Therefore, God your Father expects you to speak to him in prayer. Martin Luther put it this way: "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing."
"To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing."Martin Luther
As a child in the family, you do not need to stand in line or take a number nor do you need to fear rejection as Esther did when she went into the presence of King Ahasuerus. Your line of communication is available 24/7. You will never hear a message from God, “Sorry, this office is closed. Please call back during regular business hours.” No, you will never be put on hold and have to listen to that irritating “elevator music” or some computer voice saying, “Your call will be answered in the order it was received. Your wait time will be approximately 23 minutes.” God is always ready and wanting to receive your communication in prayer.
Yes, you can speak at any time with your Father and you should pray frequently throughout the day. Paul wrote “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and Jesus said we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). At the same time, Jesus taught that you should also have specific times dedicated to prayer. Judas knew exactly where to find the Lord Jesus because he had noted Jesus’ custom of going to Gethsemane to pray at nights. This is searching! Could somebody find you based on the regularity of your time in prayer?
Where Should We Pray?
If we can pray at any time, that means we also can pray in any place. But again, the Lord Jesus assumes that every believer will not only pray often through the day, he will also have a specific place of prayer. The Pharisees loved to pray on the street corners and in the synagogues. While it is never wrong to pray in public or when the Scripture is opened in the presence of a congregation, he told his disciples, “Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). He exhorted them to have a private room or closet where they would meet alone with God out of the sight and reach of others. Judas knew not only when he could find the Lord praying, but where his “place” for prayer was located in the Garden of Gethsemane. So, where is your “prayer place?” What does that place mean to you? Andrew Murray, a South African preacher once proclaimed about his closet, “O, let the place of secret prayer become to me the most beloved spot on earth.” Gethsemane was that place to Christ; may ________________ (fill in the blank) be that place to you.
"“O, let the place of secret prayer become to me the most beloved spot on earth.”"Andrew Murray, South African preacher
Be advised, though, having a time and place for prayer will not be easy. Jesus said we are to “shut the door” (Matthew 6:6). Yes, we must keep the privacy of our times with the Lord rather than using them so others will notice and think we are spiritual. We must consciously choose to break off contact with others by shutting off all other visual and audio communication and focus solely on Him. In church meetings or at a meal, we usually shut our eyes when we pray to avoid distractions. Applying this principle to our daily life, we must actively establish a time and place to have communion with God and jealously guard it even from legitimate things that will want to put their heads in the door and draw us away. Email, cell phones, internet, social media, music, YouTube, etc. must all be turned off and no person or activity should call us away physically or mentally during those special times each day. The Lord Jesus made the effort to go out of houses, cross lakes, go up mountains, and enter gardens just to have time with his God. This was such a priority, that sometimes he had to make the difficult choice to leave crowds and even his friends behind to enjoy private communion with God. So, if you think it will be hard to develop a good prayer life and that it will require tough choices, you are be correct!
Why Should We Pray?
The issue of motive in our communication with heaven is vital. The Lord Jesus warned of the possibility of using prayer as a means to be noticed and applauded by others. The Pharisees had perfected the art of “spiritual attention-getting,” so they loved to pray where they were visible in synagogues and on street corners so they could “be seen by others.” Our goal should not to be “graded” by the loudness of the “Amen's!” of others or to convey an image of spirituality. Our focus should be to open our hearts to the Father who can answer and reward spiritual reality in his time and in his ways.
Prayer is not intended to be an information session in which you get a chance to download to God so he will know what is going on in your life. Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (6:8). However, what earthly father would not enjoy discussing things with his child even if the father already knew what the child was going to ask? Don’t treat prayer like a heavenly vending machine where you walk up, drop in 50 words, and out will come the answer you wish. Through communication and communion with the Lord (reading and praying), you will draw closer to your heavenly Father and get to know him better. So, the first and greatest purpose of prayer is for the development of your spiritual relationship with God.
"The first and greatest purpose of prayer is for the development of your spiritual relationship with God."
As you get to know him better in prayer, you will improve your ability to think as he does and be able to understand and take his viewpoint on things. In the model prayer given by the Lord Jesus, “in heaven” is repeated three times. Prayer is a means by which you can align yourself with heaven and the thoughts and perspectives of your God. In so doing, you will know what the will of God is in heaven and be able to put his will into practice on earth.
How Should We Pray?
God wants genuine, communication with his people. Idolatrous people in the Bible mechanically repeated prayers to try and get the attention of their gods. In front of Elijah on Mount Carmel, the wayward Israelites pleaded all day long and cut themselves to get the attention of the god Baal (1 Kings 18:26-29). Similarly, the Ephesians in the New Testament chanted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” for two hours trying to get her to hear them (Acts 19:34). On the other hand, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12). So, just pour out your heart and tell him what you wish.
The Jewish Pharisees prided themselves on their proper prayers. They rambled through the morning and evening supplications checking off “Say prayers” from their daily “To Do” lists. Soon they could parrot all the beautiful words like a recording, while their hearts were cold, dry and far from God (Mark 7:6). We as believers can also fall into dull, mechanical communication with the Lord. There is nothing wrong with repeated prayer. Even the Lord Jesus “prayed for the third time, saying the same words” (Matthew 26:44) in Gethsemane. The difference is that his heart was in it. In fact, he “prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). Seeking to express ourselves to God in fresh ways is important, but the real test is the freshness of our hearts. Are we just saying prayers or honestly communicating from our hearts with the Father?
We all need to learn to speak naturally as there is no extra spirituality in using a sober “singsong tone.” We would never speak like that to anyone else, so why would we speak like that with our Father? Therefore, we must work hard to avoid and root out clichés and expressions that lend to boring prayers. We certainly get no extra credit for sounding solemn, dull, and monotonous. Perhaps listening to yourself (Ever record yourself?) and working to communicate well with God in private is the key to being able to communicate better with him in public.
While we certainly have freedom to be open with our Father, we should never lose our awe and respect for him. ¨Hallowed be your name,” reminds us that our Father is unique, sovereign and stands worthy of reverence and awe. Therefore, while we should be comfortable in the presence of our Father, but we should be careful not to swing too far in a casual mode. Jesus is not your “big bro” and God is not “the big guy.” Language choice is very important as you learn to have the closest and yet the most respectful relationship you possibly can with your Lord.
Therefore, one error is to become formalistic and assign a false spirituality to the use of certain tones of voice, clichés or antiquated vocabulary. Another error is to be too casual and relaxed in our tone, word selection, and approach. May God help us to strike the Christlike balance of speaking with freshness, yet with complete reverence (Hebrews 5:7).
What Should We Pray?
God does not have a spam box. He does not see any incoming prayers as boring or irrelevant. We are free to speak to him about absolutely everything in prayer. In the model prayer, Jesus taught that we can speak about physical things such as our “daily bread.” We can speak about social matters (debts between citizens), spiritual matters (the evil one), and emotional matters (temptation). We can address issues of the past (an offense), issues of the present (daily bread) and issues of the future (the coming kingdom). We can speak of needs related to the body (bread), soul (forgiveness), and spirit (temptation). We are free to discuss God, others, and ourselves. Clearly there is no subject off limits with God. He is interested in every detail of your life.
But, perhaps the greatest key to a vital prayer life is to learn to speak to God about the things of God. Prayer is not intended to be a spiritual drive-thru where you place your order and expect that what you requested to be delivered to you quickly. Before any requests are mentioned in the model, the Lord Jesus says we should be able to spend time speaking of the Father’s name, the Father’s will, and the Father’s kingdom.
"Perhaps the greatest key to a vital prayer life is to learn to speak to God about the things of God."
Isn’t it irritating when a person only talks about himself? Are you guilty? Our Father is most gracious to put up with so many one-sided conversations where we run to him only to talk about our fears, our families, our friends, our bills, our problems etc. Perhaps one of the reasons our prayer lives become so monotonous is due to our selfishness. We can only avoid this by taking time to talk to God about his interests, his plans, his gospel, his assembly, and above all, his Son. Do you ever read the Scriptures and just speak to the Lord about what you have read? Try praying as you read through a Psalm or a section of Scripture. Ask God questions as you read the text and thank him for what the Lord is teaching you.
Therefore, while you are young and have less distractions in your life, discipline yourself to spend time with God daily. God will enjoy it and you will too! Go to your “place” today because your heavenly Father is already there waiting to communicate with you. May you come to love your time alone with God and may you get to know him better through The Prayers You Pray.