5 “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Babies are born every day. Precious bundles of joy that burst into our quiet worlds with an agenda of their own which mostly involves crying, eating and sleeping. As a baby matures and begins to crawl and then walk, it is apparent that he needs some boundaries. These provide security and enable growth. Loving parents will communicate both what to do and what not to do.
In the passage today, Jesus is teaching about prayer and telling us, as God's children, what not to do. Jesus wants believers to learn to trust God and grow in faith. He knows that the discipline of prayer is one of the keys to this journey.
This passage is part of the what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has just warned His followers not to practice their righteousness in front of others to be seen by them, but instead when they help others to do it in secret. He goes on to teach that they should not pray in public as a way to draw attention to themselves. Prayer has God as its focal point and not people. At that time, there was a rabbinic rule that restricted the Jewish people from praying loudly in public. However, quiet praying was allowed.
It is obvious that people had begun to use this practice to draw attention to themselves. As a response to these "me-centered" prayers used to impress others, Jesus instructs His followers to go into a room and close the door to pray. Here, there would be no distractions and intimate conversation could take place. The gospel writers Matthew, Mark and Luke pay special attention to the fact that Jesus went out alone to pray. Jesus didn't just talk about prayer, He lived what He taught.
We are also encouraged not to babble on like the pagans when they pray. Prayers to pagan gods were often long and full of many words; you would only be heard by the gods if your prayers went on and on. According to verse 8, our God knows what we need before we even utter the first syllable. In a recent sermon, Mike Glenn said this about prayer, "God is wise enough to answer the prayers that we aren't smart enough to pray!" Keeping our prayers simple and to the point makes God the central figure in the relationship, not us. Fathers only need to hear the sound of their children's voices to come running.
Years ago, God showed me that I had become a babbler. Because I cared a lot about what people thought, I wanted to look like I knew how to pray amazing prayers. (Notice the focus on me.) I began to learn the value of silence and allowing the Holy Spirit to prompt my prayers. I tried to listen more. Scripture had more meaning and the focus became more about who God is and less about me. I will always struggle with my pride, but a focus on simplicity and time alone with the Lord allowed Him to say things I couldn't hear before.
- Many of us can say that we pray, but most of us would also say we don't pray enough. Name three things that keep you from praying. Maybe you would say that you don't know how. Follow the suggestions that Jesus gives: find a dedicated space in your home for prayer and start by simply sharing your heart with God. Read one verse in the Bible. Ask Him to draw you back to that space on a regular basis.
- Write down a few of your prayers. Read over what you have written. Are they more "me-centered" or "God-centered"? The focus of prayer is God and the attitude of our heart should be to serve Him. Consider ways to focus more on God as you pray.
- Jesus says that God sees us as we pray and that He knows what we need before we even ask it. How does this encourage you? What does this say about the character of God? Why do you think we need to speak our prayers if God already knows what we need?