On Prayer – Matthew 6:5-13

January 21, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment


Prayer.  Most people do it.  Few feel completely comfortable with it.  After all, there are certain nagging questions which perennially plague those who pray.  “Will God hear my prayer?”  “What if I’m not comfortable praying with or in front of others?”  “How do I pray, anyway?”

Recently, I received a question concerning Jesus’ teaching on prayer.  Because there are many questions pertaining to prayer, I thought it might be helpful to answer the above questions in light of what Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:

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 men. I tell you the truth, 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. This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:5-13)

With Jesus’ words fresh in our minds, then, here are the most common questions I receive pertaining to prayer.

Question 1: Will God hear my prayer?

Yes!  Jesus says that when you pray, “your Father…will reward you” (verse 6).  For your heavenly Father to reward you, he must first hear you.  And he does!

Notably, there are two different types of rewards talked about in Matthew 6.  The first is the reward received by hypocrites who pray to impress men rather than to be heard by God.  In verse 5, the Greek word for their “reward” is misthis, a word denoting a compensation or payment. Thus, these hypocrites earn their reward from men because their impressive, long, flowery, public prayers.

The reward which comes from our heavenly Father, however, is of a different sort.  The word for “reward” in verse 6 is apodidomi, a word which simply means, “gift.”  A reward from God is not earned by the merit of our prayer, but freely given by God’s grace.  God wants to give his “good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11).  God hears your prayers…and he responds!  He may not respond with a temporal gift, but he always gives his eternal gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to those who ask him.

Question 2:  What if I’m not comfortable praying with or in front of others?

Jesus commends those who pray “in secret” (verse 6).  Thus, it is certainly okay to pray silently and by yourself.  If you’re not comfortable praying with or in front of others, that’s okay.  Just continue to offer personal and silent prayers to your heavenly Father.

However, as wonderful as personal praying is, we are also called to learn how to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).  It is important to learn how to pray with and for others.  When you do pray for others, your prayers do not need to be eloquent or long.  A simple, and yes, even bumbling, prayer is heard by God like any other.  And blessedly, it also boosts the spirit of the person for whom you are praying.  If you’ve never prayed with someone, try it with a trusted friend!

Question 3:  How do I pray, anyway?

Jesus offers guidance both in how we are and how we are not to pray.  First, he explains how we are not to pray: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7).  They key to understanding Jesus’ guidance here is the phrase, “like pagans.”  The pagans of Jesus’ day offered repetitive prayers to false gods, thinking they could coerce these gods with incantations, getting them to do what they wanted.  An example of this comes in Acts 19:34: “They all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”  The true God cannot be coerced by such a sterile formulaic cry.  It’s not that prayers can’t be long, it’s that God won’t hear a prayer simply because it’s verbose.  Rather, he’ll hear a prayer – whether it be a prayer of many or few words – because it’s prayed in Jesus’ name.

This leads us to how we are to pray.  Jesus gives us gracious guidance in this regard when he says, “This, then, is how you should pray” (Matthew 6:9) and then launches into what is popularly known as the Lord’s Prayer.  The Greek word for “this” is houtos, a word meaning everything from “exactly” to “in such a manner.” In other words, Jesus, when he tells his disciples, “This…is how you should pray,” seems to be giving his followers precise instructions on prayer as well as more general parameters.  Thus, we ought to both pray the Lord’s Prayer and pray like the Lord’s Prayer.   When all else fails, when the words just won’t come, pray the Lord’s Prayer!  After all, it was given to us by none other than our Lord himself.

But do not only pray Lord’s Prayer word for word, also use it to guide your praying.  When you pray, do you approach God as your loving heavenly Father?  Do you pray for his will to be done?  Do pray for your needs?  Do you seek God’s forgiveness of sin and protection from the evil one?  These requests ought to mark our prayers because we are encouraged to make these requests by Jesus.

Finally, prayer is a precious gift from God which out to be used regularly.  It is no wonder that the apostle Paul writes, “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  The Greek word for “continually” is adialeiptos, a word used outside the New Testament to describe chronic coughs.  Thus, prayer for the Christian should be as natural as coughing is for a cold patient.  So pray today…many times.  Your Father will gladly hear and help.

Do you have a theological question you would like Zach to answer on his blog? Email him at
zachm@concordia-satx.com.

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Entry filed under: Theological Questions.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ebuka  |  March 25, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Why is some pray not answered and it causin most christian backsliding

    Reply

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