The most comprehensive collection of Jesus teaching is contained in The Sermon on the Mount. In what is regarded as some of the most beautiful and challenging teaching in scripture, Jesus addresses the issues of the human condition.
He teaches about envy, lust, anger, murder, adultery, divorce, prayer, fasting, finances, anxiety, hypocrisy, promises, enemies, the poor, war, peace and a myriad other topics.
In Matthew 6 Jesus addresses three specific activities that should be present in the life of every committed disciple. He tackles When You Pray, When You Fast and When You Give.
Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:
“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. 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. 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. 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.” (Matthew 6:5-13, KJV)
Prayer is one of the most basic, fundamental activities of the faithful Christians life. Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray. Prayer is how we build a relationship with God. A relationship where there is no communication or worse, only communication when someone has a need or want is dysfunctional at best and essentially no relationship at all. When we only talk to God when we need something we rob ourselves of the depth available in relationship with God.
In Genesis 3 we learn that God had a relationship with Adam and Eve. He walked and talked with them in the Garden of Eden. However, after they sin, God comes looking for them and they try to hide themselves from God (Gen. 3:8-9). Sin has a way of keeping us from the presence of God in prayer.
Thats what prayer is; walking and talking with God. It’s the primary manner by which we build a relationship with Jesus Christ. The amazing truth is that prayer is a shadow of the relationship that God’s redemptive plan aims to restore. What Adam and Eve lost in Eden God wants to restore with you!
So Jesus teaching says, When You Pray. Not IF you pray, WHEN. The implied message is that His disciples will engage themselves in prayer. Believers are praying people. It should be expected and normative that the healthy Christian is a praying Christian. It’s the health of your soul.
Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray!
Jesus goes on to say, in verse 5 of Matthew 6, that, when you pray, be sure to talk to God, not men. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for praying in public places “to be seen of men”. He called that hypocrisy, it’s not genuine prayer. Prayer should be directed towards the ears of God, not the ears of your fellow man.
There is a very real temptation for Christians to only pray when we gather together. We have a strong sense of identity within the Christian community and it’s often important to look like a believer, to look pious and religious. Jesus steps into our hypocrisy and highlights our motive. We don’t really want God to hear us, we just want other people to know we pray.
Jesus said, when you pray, talk to God. Go somewhere private and pray to cultivate a relationship with God, not to procure a reputation with other men. I don’t know any serious Christians who believe the only Biblical location for prayer is in a closet. What Jesus meant was, go somewhere free from the distractions of the day and the ears of other men. Get alone with God and talk to Him.
Jesus then goes on to instruct His listeners to not only talk to God when they pray but to talk to God. Talk to God. Open your heart and mind and try to hear from His heart and mind.
Prayer does not have to be complicated, ritualized and performed in the King James English. The act of prayer itself is not redemptive. God is not interested in getting us to repeat cliches ad nauseam while on our knees. It’s less about the talking and more about what you’re saying. It’s about relationship with God.
The people who think prayer is about what you say and how you say it are missing the point. Jesus said they think they will be heard for their “much speaking” and “vain repetition”. They don’t understand that God’s interested in quality not quantity. Jesus said, “Don’t be like that.”
After all, prayer is not so much about what God needs to hear as it is what we need to say. The truth is, God knows what we have need of before we even ask (verse 8). So praying is not about keeping God up to speed or in the loop. We’re telling God all the things we’ve decided to turn over to His trust.
In the end, prayer is an act of faith. Faith that I can take everything in my life and trust it into His hands. Faith that even when I’m insufficient, He is more than enough. Faith that refuses to let natural evidences out weigh a supernatural promise. Prayer says, there are things that I believe about God that mean more to me than the things I see in my world. You build your relationship with your Heavenly Father and put your faith in Jesus Christ when you pray.