Today we are looking at Prayer, what is it? How do I do it? Why is it so important?
Matthew 6: 5 -15
5 “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. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Do you recognise today’s reading? Yes, it’s the Lord’s Prayer. Something you might have been taught at Primary School, or at church, maybe by your parents or grandparents or another family member; this prayer is something that has stood the test of time, and is still used today in the way that Jesus first said it all those years ago. We will look at this later, but first let’s start with what Jesus says in verses 5&6.
Jesus tells us to pray on our own, behind a closed door. Why is this? Especially seeing as people pray in church every week, out loud and infant of people! Jesus never says that praying in public is a bad thing at all; but what he is saying here is that we need to pray to God because we want to talk to God, because we want to honour and please God, and not because we want other people to see us doing it. In a way I suppose this is a warning to those in ministry and leading worship; but equally to us all, not to let any sense of performance, guide our actions. IF we are standing up and praying in church, in front of people just because we want to be seen, then this is the wrong reasons.
Praying alone, in a closed room is special; because when you are alone with God, you are the most relaxed and the most “you” that you can be. There is no pressure, there is no anxiety to say the right thing. It’s just you and God. Throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount (that’s what this section of Matthew is called) Jesus is teaching people that however they act with God in private is how they should act with God in public, you don’t need a difference.
The last part of verse 6 is interesting as well “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” In other words; prayer is not a one way thing. As you spend time with God, and you communicate with him, he will reward you for it. So prayer is not just about pleasing God, it’s a relationship, it’s a two way thing.
Verse 7 refers to the methods in which people used to pray at that time, people who weren’t Jewish, nor Christian. The “Pagans” also had gods whom they wanted to please and keep happy. In order to do this they had certain prayers that they needed to say, with certain words and phrases… so the “babbling like pagans” is a reference to that.
Now the Lord’s prayer. I love the Lord’s prayer, not because it’s exact words specifically, because I feel it’s a framework given to us by Jesus, to help us know what we should say when we pray to God:
- First we acknowledge that we are speaking to God.
- Second we pray that God’s will be done. (Not just his will, but that Earth would become like Heaven, a place where God is a place of worship)
- Then we can ask for what we need.
- We should then always ask God for forgiveness. Jesus knew that as humans we would mess up (and regularly!), therefore forgiveness was never going to be something that we only needed to ask for once or twice, but every time we prayed. Also, that we need to ask help to forgive others, as this is equally important.
- Lastly, for God to keep us safe from all evil. From temptation, and from the Devil.
The use of the Lord’s Prayer as a public prayer, or even as a personal prayer is definitely important and has its place in Christian life, but I don’t think that is the be all and end all of what Jesus was teaching us. I think he was giving us a pattern to follow, and a structure. There is the risk that prayer just becomes us listing our wants and needs to God. Prayer is a communication between us and God, it shouldn’t just be all about what you want.
So how does someone pray? At the most basic level prayer is calling out in anger or pain to something out there about what’s bothering you. You see it on films right? When the character is angry and they cry out “why me?” Is that not some sort of prayer? Who are they calling out to? A deity perhaps. On it’s highest level it’s a conversation with God, when you can hear his responses to you and it’s like talking to someone next to you. For most people though it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s a brief list of things we are thankful for, things we are sorry for and things we would like help with usually starting with someone form of “dear God” or “Lord” or another name for God. And it usually ends with an “Amen” (which actually just means “it is true”) To pray, just start talking to God. Try using the Lord’s prayer framework and just see what happens.
How often should I pray? Well there is no correct answer to this question, but I think for most post people it’s probably “more often than you are at the moment”. God loves it when we communicate with him, so we should do it often right? Can you do it too much? No, I don’t think you can.
What should I pray about? Anything! Anything at all, things you are happy about, things you’re thankful for, things you need help with, worries you have, things that are coming up in the future, literally anything, God will listen.
How long will it take my prayers to get answered? There is no knowing the answer to this question. Some prayers get answered right away, some take years, some might never get the answer you want. Someone once said to me, that not all prayers will get you what you want, for example if one person is praying for rain, and another person praying for sun, but they live next-door to each other, it can’t work out for them both can it? It’s the same with lots of things. God knows what is best, and he knows what timing is best, all we can do it ask him, and let him take control from there.
Do other religions pray? Yes. And this is possibly why Jesus gives us the Lord’s prayer. There were religions when Jesus was alive who would repeat the same prayer 3 times a day, and there is a thought that the Lord’s prayer could have been used for this purpose by Christians, so they had something that fitted into a structure they already knew.
How long should my prayers be? Long enough to talk to God about everything you want to, but don’t “babble” on for ages and ages. Remember, he already knows what’s on your heart before you start praying.
Lord, I pray that you would help me to get better at praying to you. Help me to find more time to pray, and spend time with you. Amen.
Sum it up
Prayer is a communication with God. It doesn’t need to be long or fancy. It’s just all about talking to God about everything that’s going on for you; thankfulness, Helplessness, and forgiveness.
Why not try and pray every day this week, just once a day and see how it goes for you? They don’t have to be long prayer, but why not give it a go?