A vital prayer life is essential to our discipleship journey with Christ. He knows this, so Jesus teaches us to pray in ways that please the Father.
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! (Matthew 6:5-8)
Prayer fulfills many purposes. It helps to make us aware of His intimate presence, teaches us about worship, makes us sensitive to sin, and gives us a direct avenue to bring our needs to the God of the universe, who loves us.
Jesus Christ made it a central focus of His ministry. There are several passages that reference His going off alone to spend time praying to His Heavenly Father.
One time, I was amazed to hear a pastor say as an aside to his sermon, he could spend an entire series reflecting on the significance of this verse: Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. (Mark 1:35)
We Can Pray Confidently
Praying can make some of us uncomfortable at first. That makes sense. It is a new experience. We are speaking with God almighty.
Perhaps we put too much pressure on ourselves to do it right. Unfortunately, pressure can also come from the outside.
I have heard believers express discomfort, even a fear of praying out loud in front of other people. It may be because they have heard others pray in public with great oratory skill. This is intimidating for newer disciples of Jesus Christ.
Or maybe they have heard other believers brag on the great praying skills of another person. This is favoritism, something the Bible warns us not to do with each other (James 2:1-9).
In any event, we can take comfort in the fact that our heavenly Father already knows what we need. He is in tune with us and knows us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus says the Father knows how many hairs are on our head (Luke 12:7).
Jesus Teaches Us to Pray Sincerely
When Jesus teaches us to pray, He leads us to keep it intimate. Save the long, deep outpourings for private moments with Him.
If we do find ourselves in a gathering of believers, when asked to pray publicly, it is a good practice to keep it simple and direct. In this way, we are modeling the kind of prayer Jesus teaches and we avoid putting pressure on other disciples.
As we grow in our faith in Christ, we may find opportunity to have dedicated times of prayer with a small group of believers. If approached with sincerity and humility in a private setting, these can be incredible encounters with the Spirit of God. As with many things in our faith, having the right heart attitude is reflective of a mindset that is pleasing to God.
Jesus Teaches Us to Pray Purposefully
Even in those longer periods of prayer, Jesus says we should avoid praying repetitively like the Gentiles (some translations render Pagans instead of Gentiles). The inference would likely be to Roman religious ceremonies which incorporated formulaic prayers.
Jesus is more interested in our heart than in hearing us repeat ourselves simply for the sake of repeating ourselves. Jesus is calling us to a purposeful, fresh, intimate prayer life.
So what about those times when a situation may be ongoing? Is it right to keep bringing the same petition to God repeatedly? Is that the same as praying repetitively?
There is a difference between being repetitive and being persistent.
There are times in the Bible that Jesus commends persistent prayer (Luke 18:1-8). If we long for something deeply and in God’s will, we should feel free to make it a matter of prioritized prayer for as long as it takes. There are some prayer answers that may take years. Praying earnestly is an example of praying purposefully.
Being able to pray directly to God the Father came as a result of Jesus’ work on the cross. Since the privilege to petition Him directly came at such great cost, we can trust He is listening, no matter how long it takes.
More Bible verses that teach us to pray: