Prayer is an important spiritual discipline for every Christian. It is through prayer that we communicate with God and it is therefore mandatory for spiritual growth. In Mathew 6, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. It is from this teaching that we get one of the most recited prayers in the church – the Lord’s Prayer. But before he got to the sample prayer which we refer to as the Lord’s prayer Jesus spent some time giving them some important instructions on what they should and shouldn’t do when they pray.
What Did Jesus Say About When You Pray?
There are three main things that Jesus said about when you pray. First, you shouldn’t be hypocritical. Secondly, you should practice closeted prayer, and third, you should avoid unnecessarily babbling.
Here is the scripture context for these three things:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Mathew 6:5-7.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these instructions.
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites
Hypocrites refer to people who have a “holier than thou ” attitude. They are people who pretend to follow God but in reality, they are only putting up a show for the benefit of the onlookers. As Jesus explained, that was what a majority of the Pharisees of his time were doing. They loved to pray standing at strategic points in the synagogues so that they might be seen by the people. Jesus explained that the problem with taking such an approach in prayer is that it invalidates God’s reward. since it is a performance seeking man’s approval, it will only attract the reward of man. However, God will not respond to such prayers.
This was an important lesson for the disciples to be genuine and authentic. Instead of using prayer as a tool for showing off, he was reminding them to use prayer as a way of building their personal relationship with God. By so doing, it ceases to be about people and it becomes a personal affair with God.
When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray
The next instruction Jesus gave is to practice closeted prayer. This instruction was not an attack on praying in public. We know that because there are many instances where Jesus prayed publicly. On the contrary, it was an attack on the hypocritical prayers that were made as a showoff. Instead of trying to impress others, Jesus taught that his disciples should learn to pray in private when no one else was looking. That way, if they got the honor of praying in a public event, they could just pray like they usually do in private.
Interestingly, Jesus promises that those who talk to God privately will receive God’s reward publicly. It is almost like Jesus was juxtaposing those who pray in private to teh hypocrites who pray in public. The hypocrites wouldn’t get rewarded by God but those who pray in private would get their public reward.
When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans
The next instruction Jesus gave is perhaps one of the most important for the modern-day Christian. There is a tradition among most Christians to repeat some common phrases and words when praying. Some of these phrases have been handed down to us and we have never given it a second thought. Any phrase that is a meaningless repetition demonstrates how thoughtless and idle our prayer time actually is.
This instruction should not be wrongfully interpreted to mean that you shouldn’t pray for the same thing more than once. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed thrice for the cup to be taken away (Matthew 26:39-44). Similarly, Paul prayed three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed (2 Corinthians 12:7,8). Not babbling like pagans was a caution from repeating the same words and phrases over and over again. Your goal in prayer shouldn’t be to sound spiritual or to offer a lengthy prayer but rather to have an authentic communion with God.
It was after he gave them these three instructions that he gave them the sample prayer – the Lord’s prayer. Similarly, before you start to pray, be sure to check these three things first. If you do this, you will have a richer and more fruitful prayer life.
- What do you think it means to be a “hypocrite” in the context of prayer, and how can we avoid being hypocritical in our prayers today?
- Jesus encourages private, closeted prayer. How does the practice of private prayer differ from public prayer, and why is it important to develop a personal relationship with God?
- How can we balance the idea of private prayer with the importance of communal prayer in a church or religious setting?
- The instruction not to “babble like pagans” suggests that meaningful and thoughtful communication with God is more important than the length of a prayer. How can we ensure our prayers are sincere and meaningful?
- What are some common phrases or practices in your religious tradition that might resemble the “babbling” Jesus cautioned against? How can you maintain authenticity in your prayers?
- The Lord’s Prayer is a widely known and recited prayer. How can we incorporate the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6:5-7 into our use and understanding of the Lord’s Prayer?
- Can you share a personal experience of how following Jesus’ instructions on prayer has enriched your own prayer life or deepened your relationship with God?