In Matthew 6:1-4 Jesus told his followers how they were to go about giving to the needy. The central point was that they were not to call attention to themselves. In the following verses he tells them how they are to pray (6:5-15). The structure of verses 5-8 is as follows:
Don’t call attention to your prayer life (v.5)
Do pray as follows (vv. 6-8)
a. In private
b. Don’t babble on
So the recommendation is they pray in such a way that no one even knows anything about their prayer life because they have “gone into their room and closed the door” (v. 6). There is certainly a lot of difference between the way prayer was practiced then and now. Frankly there is no one I know of who would take pleasure in “standing on the street corners” and praying. Most believers are modestly able to say in a public setting that they “have faith,” but little more. However within the believing community they want others to know how much they pray. The other piece of instruction on prayer is that they don’t “babble” on and on thinking that God will hear them if they stop long enough to take a deep breath. That’s not necessary because the Father already knows what his “children” need.
Prayer will always be, for me, a rather mysterious responsibility. If God “knows what we need” why is it that we have to tell him? Yet, at the same time it brings me closer to the one I believe to be God himself. It is clear that we know what God wants but hardly ever why he wants it. His ways are above ours. It is clear that prayer is to be a major responsibility for the Christian life. The wonderful thing is that it works. Not always as we might think, but as we look back we can see that his decisions were correct.
In the next column we will look at what is called “The Lords Prayer.” It has been cited, primarily in churches, in many languages for some 2000 years. It will be helpful for us to reflect once again on the only New Testament example by Jesus of how we should pray.