What the Bible Says About Prayer Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
February 6, 2003
Title: What the Bible Says About Prayer
Text: “And when you pray…” (Matt. 6:5).
Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:5-13
What is Prayer? To say that prayer is “conversation with God” is an oversimplification.” Prayer is the sincere desire of our souls spoken to God. Prayer is what allows us to establish closeness with the Creator. Prayer creates an awareness of God’s constant nearness to His people. Prayer is also how unbelievers, recognizing their sinful nature and the need for salvation, reach out by faith to receive God’s gift of eternal life. Prayer is the expression of praise to God as well as the means through which requests are made on behalf of human need. Prayer is described, explained, and illustrated in God's holy book; the Bible.
The greatest and most profound expression of prayer is illustrated in the earthly life of Jesus, who is often observed praying to His Heavenly Father. The most famous prayer is found in our text, Matthew 6:5-13; it’s the prayer that Jesus taught to His disciples, and we call it the Lord’s Prayer.
5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Let’s begin by looking at the six general requirements for prayer.
The first requirement is a forgiving spirit. Why is forgiveness so difficult for us? Our nature thrives on retaliation and on seeking vengeance. To truly forgive as Christ taught us means to give up all tendencies to “get even” with those who have wronged us. Jesus said, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). An unforgiving spirit can overwhelm us and create a barrier between us and God. Actually, our forgiveness toward others is only our giving out of God’s forgiveness expressed toward us.
The second requirement is simplicity. To the Pharisees, prayer was a performance for those around them. Jesus cautioned against praying like the Pharisees; He said, “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” (Matt 6:5-6).
These words of Jesus do not represent a criticism against one of God’s children leading in prayer as others silently join in the prayer, supporting and agreeing with the spoken prayer. But His condemnation is for those whose motive for praying is to impress others. Those who pray to impress others usually get what they want...the recognition of other men; but their prayers don’t get any higher than the rafters. And the praise “Enter into thy closet” may be more symbolism than an actual act, for the suggestion is that we should close out everything in the world that would interfere while we communicate one-on-one with God. People can pray like this anywhere, even in the busy malls.
The third requirement for effective prayer is humility and repentance. Jesus told a story which is a great illustration of how God rejects pride and rewards humility. This is what He said, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
Both the Pharisee and the tax collector in this story could represent lost men. However, the tax collector expressed the only prayer that God can hear from a sinner is a prayer of confession, an admission of sin, and a cry for mercy. Our Lord says that this man’s prayer was heard. Do you know why? Because Christ right there and then was on the way to the cross to make a mercy seat for him. My friends, you don’t have to beg God for mercy; He has already shown us mercy. You can come and trust Him, and He will save you. God is merciful.
The prayer of the Pharisee describes the person who considers himself “good” and therefore a credit to God and to His kingdom. This person considers his good works the price of admission into the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself;” he thinks he’s talking to God, but his prayer never got out of the building. All he did was have a pep talk; he patted himself on the back and went out proud as a peacock, but God never heard that prayer.
The fourth requirement is the unity of believers. It says in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” It may appear from the first reading of these verses that you have a “blank check” from God. But when taken in the context of all of Christ’s teachings the realization is that God’s presence with us is what will position our prayer requests within His will. Prayer is never like rubbing a magic lamp in order to bring forth some divine genie to do our bidding. Prayer, when it contains our petitions to God, is primarily seeking the will of our Heavenly Father.