By Wolfgang Schneider
Prayer is one of the most important elements for a believer in his walk as a Christian. Prayer is part and an expression of our fellowship with our heavenly Father. Prayer is our communication with God. Many records in the Bible mention prayer, and we can learn an abundance of knowledge regarding the various aspects of prayer from the Scriptures. There are different kinds of prayer, such as the making known of needs in the form of requests and supplication, or thanksgiving and praise or worship and devotion to God. Also, the Scriptures teach that we, the born again believers in the church of God, can pray with the understanding as well as pray with the spirit. Furthermore, the Word of God mentions many examples of people who prayed to God, and from these examples we can see the great blessing of right prayer.
This study is designed to show how absolutely necessary it is to have the right attitude when we pray. It becomes evident very quickly that in prayer the outward form or actions are not all that important, but that the right attitude of the heart is a decisive matter. Why do we even pray? To whom are we to pray? What is our attitude when we pray? What do we ask in our prayers? From the Scriptures we can learn which kind of prayer is well pleasing to God and which prayer is in harmony with God’s will. This study wants to encourage readers to grow in their own prayer life in humbleness and meekness with perseverance, so that we will utilize prayer to a greater degree, just as God has designed and meant it for us. Sometimes we pray and our prayers are answered, sometimes we may have prayed and nothing happened. It should be fairly clear to all of us that there is still much to learn about prayer.
Jesus Christ did speak of prayer and praying in his first great teaching of his disciples shortly after the opening of his public ministry. Later on, he repeated several points about prayer and he encouraged his disciples and commanded them to pray much. Important aspects and truths about a right attitude of heart in prayer can be learned from Jesus’ so-called “Sermon on the Mount”.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
“And when thou prayest …” — this is how Jesus picks up the topic of prayer. His disciples, just as other people during that time and in Israel and Galilee, were quite familiar with the idea of prayer, and prayer was regarded as something normal. The number of people in Israel who did not believe in God and who did not pray to Him or worship Him was certainly smaller than is the case nowadays in our societies.
Jesus first mentions how one should not pray. And he points to those who pray for other people’s recognition and who do so in the synagogues and other public places where as many others as possible would be able to see them. He speaks mainly of the scribes and Pharisees who did this. They “loved” to pray, but obviously with a completely wrong and false attitude, and for this reason Jesus calls them “hypocrites”. Their eyes were focused on other people in their prayer, they wanted “to be seen of men”. They obviously did this because they wanted to impress people and because they then later on expected something in “answer to their prayer” from those people, for this is exactly what Jesus points to when he speaks of “their reward”. Since they actually turned to people in their prayer, that which people then gave them in terms of recognition and applause was also the only “reward”. That was indeed what they “had earned” for themselves with such a prayer.
Their prayers surly were well designed, their words carefully chosen, the literary form nicely balanced and the whole thing was definitely presented with conviction and a schooled rhetoric ability. They put in much effort to learn their prayers and to then recite them without mistakes – and yet, all of that was really to no avail! Their prayer is not commended at all by Jesus. Their prayers deserved the top grades in their own eyes, some perhaps even thought of getting “extra points”, and yet Jesus still calls them “hypocrites” and their prayers were actually an example of how NOT to do it!
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Here, a very important aspect becomes evident: Prayer is something personal, it concerns the individual human being and God, the Father. The expression “enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door” is obviously not to be understood literally, but rather it is a figure of speech, because not always is there a closet where one could go to pray. It is an idiomatic expression which emphasizes that prayer indeed is a very personal matter in which no other person is involved but only the one who is praying and, of course, God. No other man enters into this “closet”, only the one who is praying and only he knows what is going on in his heart. What a difference to the aforementioned hypocrites who were going to public places in order to make an impression in as many onlookers as possible.
Jesus’ words also make clear that we are not to pray because of people but rather we are to pray solely to God — “thy Father”. God is our heavenly Father, and we pray to Him. Our prayer is directed to Him. We pray to Him, our attention is focused on Him, the eyes of our heart look to Him. We direct our prayer to God as our heavenly Father, and He will reward us openly! He is the one who answers our prayers and who cares for us and grants us what we need. God is able to do this, as opposed to men. He can do far above what any man ever could possibly do. Therefore we turn our eyes to Him! We are not anxiously concerned how our prayer may sound in another man’s ears, or how others might think of our prayer — no, we pray to Him and are solely interested in pleasing Him.
How we turn to Him in prayer is what Jesus explains in his further remarks. Again, he mentions at first, how it should not be done.
Matthew 6:7 and 8:
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
In our prayer we are not to “use vain repetitions, as the heathen do”. Among the heathen, those nations to whom God had not revealed Himself in the same manner and to the same extent as to His people Israel, various religions had been formed, and in many of them prayer was characterized by an empty (vain) repetition of certain prayer formulas. These would be constantly repeated and it was taught that God would hear and answer those who were especially diligent in praying because of their many words. Similar practices of prayer can still be seen in many religions today, even in some who regard themselves as being “Christian”.
Such an understanding of prayer and such practices stem from a false knowledge of God. Those who pray in such manner do not know God; they do not know or do not want to acknowledge who God really is and that He does not need such efforts on man’s part in order to know or find out what a person who prays may need!
Loud repetitions are not necessary, they do not serve any particular purpose with God. Jesus sets forth that God already knows anyway what we may need — even before we ask for it. This great truth, that God is an all-knowing God who is aware of things and understands things which are still hidden to man, already shines through in the words before. Jesus declares that God is the “Father which is in secret” and “Father which sees in secret”. God sees and searches the heart, He knows the thoughts of our heart. Our concerns, our cares, our desires – we do not even need to say them out loud, and yet God knows what we speak in our hearts. This however does not mean that we could not or should not pray out loud, the Bible has examples of prayers in assemblies of the church and even prayer out loud of individual people. But, the volume is never a deciding factor whether God hears our prayer or not. Lifting our voice to Him and speaking out loud is either necessary so that others in the church can hear and join in their hearts in prayer for the same matter, or it is simply the expression of the individual’s heart who prays .
Now, the fact that God already knows what we need is however not reason at all to not pray! God is a loving God, and He grants man freedom in his actions. This includes also that He leaves it up to man to decide in what measure man would like to have God’s help in his life. God does not “force” Himself and His blessing on us, He does pour out His blessing once we have opened the doors for such by means of our prayers. Therefore, it is necessary that we pray to Him and that we ask Him when we need something.
What our prayer should be like, Jesus then shows his disciples. We should recognize that this prayer of Jesus is not “THE prayer of the Lord”, which is absolutely binding in its wording and which can’t be changed in any way. No! Jesus himself mentioned some time later at a different time and occasion when he was teaching some other disciples about prayer a very similar prayer which nevertheless is not identical to this one. Furthermore, several other prayers of our lord Jesus are recorded in the gospels which have a completely different wording.
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Jesus’ first words in this example of a prayer tell us to whom we are to address our prayers. We only pray to our Father who is in heaven, we pray to God. Jesus directed his prayers to God, and nowhere else in the Bible is this instruction ever modified in any way to now perhaps include praying to Jesus or anyone else. All prayers are to be directed to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We today, the believers in the church of God, who live after the day of Pentecost and who are born again of God, we also pray in the same manner only to God, our heavenly Father and we do it in the name of Jesus Christ whom we have confessed as Lord.1
Furthermore we can see from this example that we who pray are not to be concerned foremost about our things but rather about the things of God. Before the prayer ever mentions anything which concerns “us”, the prayer is directed to things which concern God – “thy name … thy kingdom … thy will”! This shows us real prayer! Whereas with the hypocrites only they themselves and other people were of concern and had an important part, in real genuine prayer God has the main part. The person who prays must realize who he is dealing with.
Philippians 4:6 and 7:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
We actually care for all things by making our requests known to God in prayer and supplication (and supplication is the pointed claiming of that which God has already promised) with thanksgiving. We put it in words of thanksgiving and we have an attitude of thanksgiving in our hearts. We already can thank God for those things he has promised even though we may not have them in hand as of yet. With God there is no uncertainty about future things, therefore we can pray with believing and claim God’s promises and have peace in our hearts.
Such an attitude of heart can also be seen with king David as many of his Psalms show. I will point out one example which also tells us how important David thought the possibility of being in God’s presence was.
A Psalm of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.
We today, in the age of grace, have access to God by means of holy spirit which He has given us and can come to the throne room of his grace, and we can come before God in the spirit and make our hearts known before him.
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
What a privilege we have today to know God as our Father and to have access to Him! Let us more and more make our requests be made known unto Him with a proper attitude of heart and with our eyes being firmly turned to Him as we come to Him with our prayers and supplications with thanksgiving. He will keep our hearts and minds through Christ at peace, a peace which passeth all understanding.
(1) Cp. for example Romans 10:9-10 and Colossians 3:17
(2) Cp. Romans 8:31-32
(3) Cp. 1 Peter 5:6-7