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Christ's Commands Regarding Prayer


From Christ's Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:5-13

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.


Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the

power and the glory forever. Amen.'"

 

Too often, men seek to install methods or enhance what God has already clearly instructed. At times, we can complicate our relationship with the Lord via works-based procedures and actions. We also seek to win the admiration of men when we should be admiring our Lord and pleasing Him. When identified, we must resist these temptations.


A case in point is prayer.  Unfortunately, our flesh can take this gift from God and turn it upside down. So, questions come to mind. Does prayer demand wordy supplications that are reserved for sophisticated scholars?  Does God only accept long prayers? Do rehearsed prayers win His favor?


On the contrary, as modeled by our Savior and conveyed in Scripture, approaching God in prayer requires the right motives laced with humility and reverence. These qualities are too deep to cover in this blog, but let’s take a cursory review of Christ’s commands regarding prayer.


Christ's Commands

As we have seen in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ uses His words to convey that God is concerned about the heart’s motives.  In Matthew 6:5, Jesus states, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.”  As with the giving of alms in the preceding verses, Christ explains that parading righteous acts before men is opposed to God.  In His instruction on prayer, He draws a contrast to the Pharisees, who liked to gain the admiration of men.  Praying is akin to breathing for Christians, and God wants devout hearts during supplications; He does not want hearts devoted to winning the approval of men.  Unless we are involved in corporate prayer, our supplications should be private (Matthew 6:6).


Christ continues by prohibiting repetition in prayer and further indicates that some think they will be heard with many words (Matthew 6:7). This false belief continues to be prevalent today. Unfortunately, I have met Christians during my life who often questioned their own praying ability because they were not eloquent in constructing monologues or they were not “wordsmiths.”  


Though we should address some items as we pray, our words should be straightforward and concise.  Furthermore, our God knows what we need before we ask!  Jesus states, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:8)  What a great truth!  This fact should assure us as we approach the throne of grace.


Beyond His instructions, we have Scripture that documents Christ’s prayers.  There were times when He would pray privately all night, but his recorded public prayers are brief.  Christ’s supplications are humble and straightforward.  John 17 is Messiah’s longest recorded prayer, but it is still just twenty-six verses long. 


In a 2014 Ligonier post titled Against Long-Winded Public Prayers, John MacArthur states, “Study the exemplary prayers in Scripture, and you cannot help noticing that all of them are brief and simple. Prayer that is heartfelt, urgent, and unfeigned must be of that style. Verbiage and windbaggery are badges of insincerity, especially in prayer.”  In short, Christ wants a true heart, not one hung up on attempting to impress.


MacArthur goes on to state, “The various elements of Jesus’ prayer are all reminders of what our praying ought to include: praise, petition, penitence, and a plea for grace in our sanctification. But what is most remarkable about that prayer is its straightforward, succinct, earnest brevity. It is the very antithesis of what Jesus had in mind when He condemned the long, rambling prayers of the Pharisees.”


Reviewing Scripture shows that great prayers efficiently convey heartfelt words. Over the years, I have observed that Christians who pray often will not fall into rote prayer. A “mechanical” approach to communicating with God will seem foreign to the man or woman who prays daily. Habitual prayer helps us to attain confidence and certainty.


After Jesus instructed His disciples to avoid rote and wordy prayer, He supplied them with a template: the Lord’s Prayer. Note that the model is simple; it is brief yet comprehensive. Christ has given us an example of how to honor Him. We should be encouraged and never dismayed by the act of prayer!

 

Psalm 145:18

The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,

To all who call upon Him in truth.


Proverbs 15:29

The Lord is far from the wicked,

But He hears the prayer of the righteous.


Romans 8:26

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words...


Philippians 4:6

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.


1 Thessalonians 5:17

...pray without ceasing...


James 5:16

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.


1 Peter 3:12

For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous,

And His ears attend to their prayer,

But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.


1 John 5:14

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.



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