Matthew 6:7-8 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (ESV)
Prayer is the one thing we have to do most often. The apostle Paul admonishes us to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess 5:16). And yet it is one of the most difficult things to do because we become conflicted. Do we cut prayer down to bare bones requests? But what about 1 John 5:15 “And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him”? Can we pray in public or in church – or will we appear to be proud if we pray in front of others (Matt 6:5)?
We certainly don’t want to look proud and we certainly don’t want to get attention when we pray. No one wants to sound foolish stumbling through prayer in front of other people. Who wouldn’t rather hear, “Wow, that was a great prayer!” instead of “You bumbled through that one, would you prefer we don’t call on you next time?”
What are the correct words to use? Should they be high-sounding, religious words or words as if you are in the presence of a king or queen? Is old English required? The words themselves matter much, much less than the attitude towards God, acknowledging who He is and our relationship with Him.
So, what is the point of prayer? If our Father already knows what we need (comfort, health, health of someone else, salvation, peace, etc.), how are we supposed to pray? Surely, praying without acknowledging what we desire of God is not what is meant. And, most assuredly, Ephesians 3:20: [He] is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
Seek first the kingdom of God.
Prayer is not focused on our needs, wants and desires. Prayer is focused on God.
Jesus’ example in Matthew 6 is focused on God, His awesome power, His kingdom and our relationship with Him. The focus of prayer is on Him.
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 is an encouragement to anyone who reads it. The focus of it is on our intimate relationship with God through Jesus the Messiah:
- The riches of His glory
- Strength and power from the Spirit of God
- Christ dwelling in us
- Grounded in Jesus’ love
- The scope of Jesus’ love
- Filled with the fullness of God
- His abundance
- His power
- And all glory is due Him by all people
In the Lord’s Prayer (or disciple’s prayer) of Matthew 6, the focus is all on God with the minor components of giving us our food and keeping us from hard testing from the Evil One. Otherwise, the prayer’s focus is on God’s glory, forgiving others as He has forgiven us, His name is Holy, the His will be done and kingdom comes.
Because some manuscripts add it, some versions end with the acknowledgement of God’s eternal kingship, power and glory.
When we go back to the Old Testament we see Hannah’s prayer. Her prayer was so deep that she was pouring out her heart to God in I Samuel 1 that Eli thought she was drunk with wine. In 1 Samuel 2, as Hannah offers her son Samuel to the Lord, her two to three minute prayer she never acknowledges her needs or Samuel’s. The focus is entirely on God.
Surely Samuel was in the back of Hannah’s mind. She was “lending” the child she had fervently prayed for – and now he would be ministering to the Lord instead of staying at home with his mother. Thoughts of Samuel and giving up the child she had prayed for and loved had to wander around the words of her prayer. Yet, the words recorded are all focused on God and His greatness.
We Are Human
I have filled unspoken words in between the lines of Hannah’s prayer because she was human and we are human. While we work on praying focused solely on God, we have wants, needs and desires. Our mind wanders across through our thoughts while we pray. More often than not, thoughts drift towards health concerns or they relate to finances. Sometimes are concerns are for the spiritual condition of a friend or family member, a job, or a conflict with someone.
It is natural to for our thoughts to wander.
As difficult as it is, God wants us to focus on Him and trust Him, aligning our needs, wants and desires with who He is and our relationship to Him.
We know He knows our needs before we voice them in prayer. So, how do we balance our focus on Him with vocalizing our requests at the same time?
That’s next week’s topic.