19. How to Pray (Matthew 6:5-8)Related Media
“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:5-8 (NET)
How should believers practice prayer?
In Matthew 6:5-8, Christ continues to correct the wrong manner in which the Pharisees and scribes did their acts of righteousness. After addressing the abuse of giving (v. 2-4), he focuses on the abuse of prayer. Though at times done incorrectly, the Jews were known for prayer. William Barclay said:
No nation ever had a higher ideal of prayer than the Jews had; and no religion ever ranked prayer higher in the scale of priorities than the Jews did. ‘Great is prayer,’ said the Rabbis, ‘greater than all good works.’ One of the loveliest things that was ever said about family worship is the Rabbinic saying: ‘He who prays within his house surrounds it with a wall that is stronger than iron.’ The only regret of the Rabbis was that it was not possible to pray all day long.1
In addition, Jews had formal prayers for every aspect of life. Barclay adds:
There was prayer before and after each meal; there were prayers in connection with the light, the ﬁre and the lightning, on seeing the new moon, on comets, rain or tempest, at the sight of the sea, lakes or rivers, on receiving good news, on using new furniture, on entering or leaving a city. Everything had its prayer. Clearly, there is something inﬁnitely lovely here. It was the intention that every happening in life should be brought into the presence of God.2
They also had regular times of prayer. Devout Jews would pray three times a day—9 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm. When the Babylonian public officials wanted to find a way to accuse Daniel, they knew he was vulnerable in his prayer life (Daniel 6:10, cf. Ps 55:17). Even though Jews were known for prayer, there was much confusion and misconceptions about prayer. In Matthew 6:5, Christ describes people who “love to pray” however were praying incorrectly.
It is possible for us to love to pray as well and yet be wrong in how we do it. Christ rebukes the common practices of the religious leaders and instructs his disciples on proper praying. In Matthew 6:9-13, he continues to teach on prayer, as he gives a pattern of prayer, often called the Lord’s Prayer.
As was true with the Jews, many people today are confused about their prayer life and struggle with it. Even the disciples approached Christ, later in his ministry, about teaching them how to pray in Luke 11. After watching Christ pray, praying with him, and hearing him teach on it, they still struggled with it. And this is true for many of us.
In Matthew 6:5-8, Christ begins to teach his disciples how to correctly pray, and therefore, we’ll learn principles about properly practicing prayer.
Big Question: In Matthew 6:5-8, what principles can we learn about practicing prayer?
Believers Must Pray as a Spiritual Discipline
“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites… But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
As with giving, Christ doesn’t say, “if you pray” but “whenever you pray.” Christ expects believers to practice the regular discipline of prayer.
Application Question: What are some aspects of a regular, disciplined prayer life?
1. Prayer takes time.
Like with any discipline, we must take time to do it. If we are going to pray effectively, we must set aside periods of time to partake in it. As mentioned, devout Jews would pray morning, noon, and afternoon. Yes, we are called to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). However, without set times of intimate prayer with God, our spontaneous prayers throughout the day won’t be as rich and fluid. For example, my wife and I have a date night once a week to focus on undistracted communication and enjoyment of each other. Having a date night doesn’t mean we don’t talk at other times. We have a date night in order to enhance our routine, daily communication. This discipline makes us less prone to miscommunicate. This is true of prayer. Having focused times of prayer will enhance our spontaneous praying throughout the day.
We should select times to focus on prayer and guard them. A great time to do this—apart from distractions—is in the morning. In the Psalms, the writers often talk about seeking the Lord in the morning. Consider the following verses: Psalm 119:147 says, “I am up before dawn crying for help. I find hope in your word.” Psalm 5:3 says, “Lord, in the morning you will hear me; in the morning I will present my case to you and then wait expectantly for an answer.” Similarly, Christ often got up early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went to pray (Mk 1:35). The morning is a great time for us to focus on prayer as well. It is harder to be distracted when nobody else is up and the daily grind hasn’t begun.
Another interesting thought to consider is that we often don’t pray because we feel like we don’t have time. However, prayer maximizes our time. Martin Luther understood this. A famous quote of his is: “I am so busy tomorrow, I must get up three hours early to pray in order to get it all done.” He realized that time devoted to prayer typically makes the rest of the day more productive. It makes us more effective at work and in relationships with others. This is true because through devoted prayer we invite the Divine, not only into our great tasks and trials, but also our mundane. The Lord maximizes the time of those who maximize their time with him. Certainly, you will find this true, as many others have.
Are you setting aside fixed times to be with the Lord?
2. Prayer is often enhanced by having a quiet place where we regularly meet with God.
In Matthew 6:6, Christ calls us to go into our room and close the door—to seek the Lord in secret. He practiced this himself, as he commonly went on a mountain to pray (cf. Lk 6:12, 9:28, Matt 14:23). In Acts 10:9, Peter went on his rooftop to pray. Where do you go to be alone, away from distractions, to focus on God? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a room; it could be a routine. It could be a walk in the morning. It could be putting on your head phones to listen to worship while bringing your requests before God. Where is your secret place? What is your routine like when you meet with God? Christ had one and so did his apostles (cf. Acts 6:4, 10:9). We should have one as well.
3. Prayer takes sacrifice.
As with any discipline, we often have to give up something to do it. We must give up time on the Internet, our cell-phone, and with family or friends. We may even need to sacrifice ministry to have good prayer time. In Acts 6, the apostles gave up an opportunity to serve widows to focus on prayer (v. 4). We must do the same if we are going to be disciplined with our prayer lives. What is God calling you to sacrifice in order to focus on prayer?
4. Prayer flows out of time in God’s Word.
If prayer is talking to God, meditating on God’s Word is God talking to us. We can’t have a healthy prayer life if we are not hearing God speak back. A one-sided conversation is never very productive. Prayer flows out of regular meditation on God’s Word. In fact, our faithfulness to God’s Word leads to answered prayer. In John 15:7-8, Christ said: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.”
How can Christ’s words “remain” in us? They remain in us by consistently studying and thinking about them. They also remain in us as we daily obey them. By doing this, Christ says our prayers will be effective. God will answer our prayers. In fact, this is taught in other verses as well:
and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.
1 John 3:22
...The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.
A righteous person is one who knows and obeys God’s commands. When we do that, God answers our prayers. This makes perfect sense. If a father blesses his children when they are disobedient to him, it only reinforces their sins. If you reward disobedience, it only increases disobedience. If you reward righteousness, it increases righteousness. For that reason, God blesses his children who love and obey his Word. The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective. David agreed with this principle by stating it negatively. He said, “If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Harboring sin—meaning not enjoying and practicing God’s Word—hinders our prayer life.
Prayer comes out of healthy communication with God. Healthy communication with God comes from hearing God’s Word and responding in obedience.
In fact, it should be added that one of the best ways to pray is simply to pray exactly what Scripture says. Christ even prayed the Psalms while on the cross (Matt 27:46, Lk 23:46, Ps 22:1, 31:5). We should continually be prompted to pray from our time in Scripture, and we should continually pray what Scripture says.
5. Prayer is enhanced when practiced corporately.
Since Christ tells believers to go into their room, some have thought that this forbids corporate prayer. This is not true. Christ commonly prayed with others and even asked others to pray with him. When Christ went to pray, right before going to the cross, he brought three disciples to pray with him (Matt 26). He did the same at his transfiguration (Matt 17). In fact, the Lord’s Prayer, which he teaches right after this text, is in the plural: “our Father,” “our trespasses,” “our daily bread,” and “deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:9-13). Though Christ emphasizes individual prayer in this passage, he soon focuses on our need to pray corporately afterward. We must do both. Corporate prayer enhances our prayer life, and Scripture says it is especially powerful. Matthew 18:19-20 says: “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.”
For this reason, we should commonly share our problems, concerns, and ambitions with others, so they can pray in agreement with us. When we don’t do this, we spiritually impoverish ourselves. It’s like the eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you.” We need the prayers of the body of Christ. When others agree with us in prayer, our prayers are more powerful.
In this passage, Christ doesn’t say “if you pray” but “whenever you pray.” He expects us to pray, and therefore, it must be a regular discipline. Are you disciplined with your prayer life?
Application Question: What are some other helpful principles or tips for practicing a disciplined prayer life? What is your prayer closet or routine that helps you with prayer? In what ways do you struggle with regularly praying?
Believers Must Be Careful of Wrong Attitudes and Practices in Prayer
“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward… When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:5, 7-8
Observation Question: What unhealthy practices does Christ warn believers about in their prayer lives?
Christ warns of several wrong tendencies in our prayer life (and righteous acts in general) that we must be careful of. We should:
1. Be careful of being self-conscious and others-conscious in prayer.
Christ said that the hypocrites prayed standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others (6:5). This word “hypocrite” was used of actors in a play. They performed in order to receive applause from others. There is a tendency towards this in the midst of our prayers. Yes, we should consider others when praying, especially when praying in public. We should consider their needs and God’s desires for them, so we can pray accordingly. However, we should not be praying with the intention of gaining their approval or for them to notice us. If we do, our prayers cease to be worship to God.
Sadly, it is hard to do any type of ministry without this sinful tendency. It is hard to sing during worship and not wonder what others think of our voice: “Is it too loud?” “Do I sound good?” It’s hard to freely express ourselves in worship—raised hands, bowed head, etc.—and not think of what others might think. Hypocrites embrace these wrong thoughts, instead of fighting against them. They pray eloquently and loudly to be seen.
As mentioned, devout Jews would pray three times a day at the appointed times. They would go to the synagogue to pray, which was fine, but they might stop right in front of the synagogue when praying so they could have the largest audience. Others would be walking along the way and if it turned 3pm, they would stop to pray on the street, which again was no sin. However, the word Christ used for “street” is different than the one used in verse 2, when he talked about the hypocrites blowing their trumpet on the “streets.” The word used in verse 2 refers to a narrow street. The word used in verse 5 refers to a wide street; therefore, it probably refers to a major street corner.3 The hypocrites strategically timed their prayer for when they reached a major intersection—where a large crowd would be. They prayed there so all could see them. We must be careful of this type of hypocrisy in our prayer life. We must guard our hearts from all wrong motives to be seen and exalted—not only in our prayer life but also in other acts of righteousness. We must confess self-centered thoughts and attitudes even as we are worshipping God and serving others. Second Corinthians 10:5 describes how we must take our thoughts captive and submit them to the lordship of Christ.
Sometimes we think of the devil being only in the worst places like a brothel; however, Satan likes to show up at the church and other places of worship. When Christ was in the wilderness fasting, Satan showed up there (Matt 4). In the book of Job, when the angels were gathering to worship God in heaven, Satan showed up there as well (Job 1). One of Satan’s greatest pleasures is probably corrupting people’s worship by making it about themselves or others instead of God. It seems that Satan himself, who was originally an angel of the Lord, practiced the same type of corrupt worship. While leading others in worship of God, he began to want the praise only God was due. Isaiah 14:14 documents him saying, “I will climb up to the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High!’” Yes, our worship services, times of prayer, teaching, evangelism, and missions are times when Satan will attack. We must be aware of this. He wants to twist our intentions and pervert our worship. Therefore, we must arm our minds and hearts with God’s Word and confession. In the wilderness, Christ did not sin—he rebuked Satan with God’s Word (Matt 4). Since we’re so prone to accept and cultivate wrong thoughts and attitudes, we must confess them quickly. In prayer and other acts of righteousness, we must guard against being self-conscious and others-conscious.
Application Question: How can we discern if we have wrong attitudes in our prayer life?
Here are some pointed questions we must ask:
- Do we pray more frequently and fervently when in public than when we’re alone?
- Are we spectators of our own performance in prayer—considering our words, volume, and what others think?
- Is it important for us to tell others how long and fervently we prayed?
If we answered yes to any of these questions, then we may have pharisaical motives that need to be repented of.
2. Be careful of being thoughtless and heartless in prayer.
In verse 7, Christ says, “do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles.” “Babble repetitiously” can be translated “empty phrases” (ESV) or “vain repetitions” (KJV). What was Christ referring to? Sometimes pagans would simply repeat a phrase over and over again—trying to coax a response from their gods. For example, we see this today with Hinduism and Buddhism when the word “om” is repeated over and over again, as they pursue blessings from a deity. Christ warned against similar vain repetitions. No doubt, many Gentiles, who converted from paganism, tended to worship God in this manner, but using Christian phrases instead. In addition, Jews sometimes would add many different adjectives to God’s name like wonderful, awesome, majestic, sovereign, and so on. Again, this often became a form of vain repetitions.
Interpretation Question: Is Christ warning against repetition in prayer in general?
Obviously not. Before Christ went to the cross, he prayed three separate times for an hour (Matt 26:36-46). Scripture indicates that his main petition during that time was “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will” (39, 42, 44). He sought the Lord three times for three hours with this petition being the primary focus. Paul prayed three times for his thorn in the flesh to be removed (2 Cor 12). In Luke 18:1-8, Christ encouraged the disciples to persevere in prayer through the Parable of the Persistent Widow. This widow continually went to the judge asking for justice, until he finally responded because of her persistence.
Should there be repetition in our prayer? Yes. What Christ warns against is vain repetition. This means thoughtless prayer—when we’re saying something with no heart or focus. Sadly, this often happens when we pray before a meal or other common endeavors. Sometimes we rattle off these prayers with no thought or real intention to engage God. Vain repetitions are also a warning against allowing our minds to wander during prayer. Again, then we’re just offering words with no heart or thought.
3. Be careful of needlessly long prayer.
Along with warning about vain repetitions, Christ warns against long prayers, which come from these vain repetitions. He said, “they think that by their many words they will be heard.” Many Jews believed that long prayers were preferred over short ones. “Rabbi Levi said: ‘Whoever is long in prayer is heard.’ Another saying has it: ‘Whenever the righteous make their prayer long, their prayer is heard.’”4
Interpretation Question: Is Christ forbidding long prayers?
We must be careful about saying long prayers are bad and short prayers are good. That is not the point Christ is making. He is warning against long prayers that are repetitious, thoughtless, and void of a right heart. Sometimes long prayers are needed in the same way long conversations are needed. Most of our conversations are short, but sometimes we need to have long conversations with others. This happens for many reasons: (1) Sometimes conversations are long because we really enjoy a person or enjoy the topic we are talking about. (2) Sometimes they are long because we need to talk through some difficulty, confusion, or hardship. (3) Sometimes they are long so we can gain discernment about a major decision or difficult situation. Prayers are often long for the same reasons, as well as many others. As we grow in our love and passion for God, we will find a desire to spend long times in conversation with him. Other times, our prayers might be long because of turmoil in our heart, the life of another, or the world in general. Long prayers are good and are often a sign of a healthy relationship or a growing relationship. Often, a lack of talking is a sign of a shallow relationship or one that is in discord. Sadly, that is exactly what many Christians have with God. When Christ chose his twelve disciples, which was a major decision, he spent a night in prayer (Lk 6:12-13). Sometimes, our major decisions need that type of prayer. Before Christ went to the cross, he warned his disciples that if they didn’t pray for an hour, they would fall to temptation (Matt 26:40-41). How often do we fall into temptation, lack wisdom for a major decision, or lack strength to persevere through a trial simply because we haven’t spent quality time in prayer? Long prayers are often good.
With that said, often a short prayer is all that is needed. After the prophets of Baal prayed most of the day for fire from heaven to no avail, Elijah prayed briefly, and God answered with fire. God knows our needs before we ask, therefore long prayers are often unnecessary. When a long prayer is needed, it’s mostly for our benefit rather than God’s—to give us peace, strength, or to change our heart.
Here, Christ warns his disciples to not model the needlessly, long prayers commonly offered by the religious leaders. These prayers were in vain because they repetitiously said nothing, lacked the right heart, or were offered in order to be seen by others.
Application Question: How can we avoid ineffective praying like vain repetitions and needlessly long prayers?
One way we can avoid vain repetitions and needlessly long prayers is by preparing for prayer. Sometimes when I’m going to call somebody or lead a meeting, I write out the topics I want to talk about to keep me focused and concise. We should consider doing that before going into prayer as well. Many do this by keeping a prayer list and praying through it. Some do this by praying through the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer or some major points in one’s Scripture meditation. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says: “Do not be rash with your mouth or hasty in your heart to bring up a matter before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth! Therefore, let your words be few.” Thoughtful preparation helps us to not be quick with our mouth and hasty in our heart—it helps us avoid vain repetitions and needlessly long prayers. When praying, we must avoid wrong attitudes and practices.
Application Question: In what ways have you struggled with some of these negative tendencies—praying self-consciously or conscious of others, vain repetitions/thoughtless prayers, or needlessly long prayers? In what ways can church culture sometimes propagate negative types of praying?
Believers Must Pray with a Proper Knowledge of God and His Character
When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Observation Question: In Matthew 6:7-8, what aspects of our relationship to God does Christ mention, which should positively affect our prayer life?
After Christ calls his followers to not be like pagans in their prayers, he tells them why—by implication, God is not like the pagan deities. Pagans lived in fear of their deities. They believed they had to coax them into answering their prayers. They not only continually repeated their petitions for hours, but also would cut themselves and offer human sacrifices to appease them. Again, we saw this in the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18: they cried out, “Baal, answer us!” from morning to noon (v. 26). When there was no answer, they began to shout louder and cut themselves with knives and swords until evening—still to no avail (v. 28). They tried to coax their make-believe god into answering their prayers. Christ essentially says our understanding of God will either negatively or positively affect our prayers. Therefore, to pray effectively we must develop our knowledge of God and his character.
Christ points out two understandings about God which should help us pray properly:
1. God is our father (v. 8).
By pointing out this reality, Christ essentially says God wants to bless us, give us what we need, and lead us into what is best. He is not a pagan deity whom we should live in fear of. Certainly, he deserves our reverence as our Father, but he also loves us and wants to be intimate with us. Christ used this same reasoning when encouraging his disciples to pray in Luke 11:9-13. He said:
“So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
He says if a human father, who has sinful tendencies, provides good gifts for his children, how much more will God the Father provide for his children? Basically, Christ says we must come to God in faith because he is our heavenly Father.
James said it this way:
But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.
James said if we lack faith—trust in God, his goodness, and his desire to bless his children—we will receive nothing from God. Christ said that if we had the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains (Matt 17:20).
Likewise, we must come to God in faith. He is our Father who wants to bless us and guide us into what is best. In fact, if we lack faith in God’s goodness or power, by necessity, we will be hesitant to pray. Why pray if we believe God doesn’t really care or can’t help us?
Interpretation Question: What is faith and how do we develop it?
Faith is not a blank check, as some would say in the “Word of Faith Movement.” One cannot just name something and simply speak it and believe it until it comes to fruition. Faith is based on revelation. It is based on God’s revealed Word and character. John says it this way:
And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him.
1 John 5:14-15
This means we can have total faith that God will answer our prayers when we are praying according to his will. How do we know God’s will? We know God’s will by his Word. James promises that God will give us wisdom if we ask in faith (James 1:5). Therefore, we can approach God in faith for that promise. Paul promises that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom 10:13). If we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus as our Savior, we can have faith that God will save us. If we are in need and we begin to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, then we can trust God will provide our needs (Matt 6:33). The more we know and believe God’s Word, the more our faith will increase. Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.” If we are little in the Word, then we will be little in faith and little in receiving God’s blessing on our prayers.
With that said, some requests God doesn’t promise to always answer affirmatively. For instance, it is not always God’s will to heal people. Scripture says it is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment (Heb 9:27). All of us will die at some point unless Christ returns before our death. It is not always God’s will to heal. In those times, we should pray for healing and trust that God’s will, will be done. Christ, at times, even qualified his requests by saying, “Yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). No doubt, he prayed like this for our sake, since he always knew God’s will. We can pray for a certain job or ask God to open a specific door, but trust that God will do what is best, even if it means not answering our request in the manner we desire. Often praying is more about intimacy with God and conforming our heart to his will than receiving our requests.
Sometimes, God may give a special impression or word that it is his will to heal, open a door, or act in a certain way, and when that happens, we should have faith. With that said, those experiences must be tested (1 John 4:1), but when they are valid, we should have faith. For example, in the midst of praying, God told Paul it was not his will to remove a “thorn in the flesh” which was probably a physical sickness of some kind (2 Cor 12:7). Apparently, at other times, Paul knew it was God’s will to heal, and therefore he approached God with full confidence. Sometimes, God may give special revelation about his will, but in most circumstances, it will not be clear. And in those times, we must pray and simply trust God. Our faith must be in God’s character—God is our Father and he will always choose the best and most perfect path to bring glory to himself and edify us (cf. Eph 1:11, Rom 8:28).
When we come to God, we must come to him in faith. He is not like the pagan gods—needing to be coaxed by vain repetitions, long prayers, and sacrifices. He is our Father who wants the best for us.
What else does Christ reveal about God, which should influence our manner of prayer?
2. God knows everything (v. 8).
The fact that our Father already knows everything is meant to encourage us to pray more. Sometimes we won’t share with people because we are afraid of their reaction—will they reject us, hate us, or use the information to hurt us? God already knows; therefore, we should run into his presence to share. Why share if he already knows? Because it allows God to work in our hearts, it draws us into more intimacy with God, and it accomplishes God’s will in our lives and that of others. There are some things God won’t do unless we pray (Ez 22:30). James said we have not because we ask not (Jam 4:2).
With all this said, we must recognize that a right view of God encourages our prayers, and a wrong view of God—or wrong theology—hinders our prayers. Like the Pharisees and pagans, if we think God must be coaxed to answer our prayers, we will pray amiss. At times, we may pray needlessly long prayers because we think that it is necessary for an answer. If we have wrong doctrine—such as, it is always God’s will for people to be rich and healthy—we will pray amiss. We must have right doctrine to pray in accordance with God’s will. As mentioned earlier, prayer and God’s Word go together. If we aren’t living in God’s Word—rightly understanding and obeying it—our prayers will be ineffective.
Because of this reality, Satan is always attacking our theology of God. Just as when he attacked Eve, he wants us to think God doesn’t love us, is not trustworthy, and doesn’t have in mind the best for us. Satan lies about God in order to turn us away from prayer and obedience to him. Wrong theology will hinder our prayer life and ultimately our relationship with God.
What are your thoughts about God? Do you trust him? Are you approaching him in faith? Do you realize that he is your heavenly Father who wants to bless you and lead you into what’s best for your life? Do you realize that he already knows your needs and just wants you to ask? Do you realize that even when he says ‘no’ or allows trials, it is for your best? If we are going to faithfully pray, we must be growing in our understanding of God. Wrong understanding will hinder our prayers.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced wrong views about God that negatively affected your prayer life—whether that was being angry at God or accepting false doctrine? In what ways is the doctrine of our need for faith in prayer being abused in the church? What is the proper balance?
Believers Must Be Motivated by God’s Reward in Prayer
But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
Instead of pursuing the reward of others approving our spirituality, like the Pharisees did, we must go into our room, close the door, and pursue the reward of our Father. The word Christ uses for “room” was used of a storage room where valuables were hidden, like treasure. It was often a secret room that nobody knew about.5 The implication is unmistakable. The place of prayer is a valuable place of treasure. We must go there often to pursue God’s reward.
Interpretation Question: What types of treasure/reward await us in the secret place?
This reward may take many forms:
1. In prayer, God rewards us with his presence.
Jeremiah 29:13-14a says, “When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord.” Those who seek the Lord with all their heart—not for the applause of themselves or others—shall receive the greatest reward, which is knowing God. He will make himself known to those who wake up early to meet with him and who go to bed late just to linger in his presence. He will meet them and reveal himself to them in special ways. With Moses, God spoke to him face to face, as a man speaks to a friend (Ex 33:11). God desires the same intimacy with us (Jam 4:8).
2. In prayer, God rewards us with spiritual rewards.
As mentioned earlier, James 1:5 says that God gives wisdom to those who approach him in faith. Isaiah 26:3 (ESV) says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” God gives peace to those who constantly seek his face in prayer (cf. Phil 4:6-7). In Acts 4:31, after being ordered to no longer preach the gospel, the disciples corporately sought the Lord in prayer, and they were filled with the Spirit and spoke God’s Word with great boldness. Power comes from faithfulness in prayer. Many lack the power of the Holy Spirit and boldness in their lives because they lack prayer.
The rewards of prayer are legion. James 4:2 says, “…You do not have because you do not ask.” Many don’t receive from God simply because they don’t ask. Therefore, they lack wisdom, strength, boldness, and many other graces God would like to give.
3. In prayer, God rewards us with heavenly rewards.
No doubt, when Christ refers to rewards, he also had heavenly rewards in mind. Scripture seems to indicate this may include crowns, which represent our earthly righteousness (Rev 4:10). It also includes greater opportunities to serve him in the coming kingdom. In Luke 19, the Parable of the Minas, the reward for faithfully serving the master was ruling over cities in the coming kingdom.
Our times in prayer are a place of reward. God, our Father, waits for us there, and his desire is to bless. Are you faithfully entering your prayer closet to be rewarded by God?
Application Question: How have you experienced these rewards in your prayer closet? In what special ways does God meet with you there? What keeps you from entering? How will you become more faithful in meeting God there?
How should believers practice prayer?
- Believers Must Pray as a Spiritual Discipline
- Believers Must Be Careful of Wrong Attitudes and Practices in Prayer
- Believers Must Pray with a Proper Knowledge of God and His Character
- Believers Must Be Motivated by God’s Reward in Prayer
Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown
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1 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 220). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
2 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 223). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 365). Chicago: Moody Press.
4 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 225). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 366). Chicago: Moody Press.