This article is a Bible study on Matthew 6:5–8.

Source: The Outlook. 2 pages.

Matthew 6:5–8 - Proper Prayer

Prayer is one of the most important spiritual exercises of the believer. In true prayer the believer has fellowship with his God. He draws his strength from the life which has been wrought within him by the Spirit of God. The Spirit prays within him. He seeks the things above. His true life “is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

Because prayer is so important to the believer’s life, he should study the proper method and content of prayer very closely. The Bible gives us many examples of the prayers of the righteous. The prayers of Abraham, of Solomon, of Hezekiah, and of Daniel have instructed tile people of God of all ages in true prayer. The Psalms reveal the prayer life of David. How this man poured out his soul before his God! What comfort and strength he received from this communion with his Maker! Yet, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gives us more direct instruction in regard to prayer than any other. In this particular section he warns us against dangers in prayer and also shows us the proper way. Because prayer is one of the most important spiritual exercises of the Christian it is also one of the most difficult. The danger of sin is always present. We sin enough in our prayer-life to condemn us forever. If the evil one is always present to cause us to stumble, he will certainly do his utmost to make the prayers of God’s people unacceptable and of no effect. That is the reason why our Savior warns us against certain dangers in prayer before he gives us the most beautiful example of prayer which has ever been heard.

Our Lord teaches us that hypocrites pray too. So do the gentiles. In fact, almost all men pray! The mere fact that men engage in prayer does not mean that these prayers are acceptable. It does not mean that these are all true prayers. The individual’s posture and words do not make a prayer real. There is much more to it than that. True prayer is uttered only by a believer, as our Lord will show us in the Lord’s Prayer. However, we must not give place to the mistaken notion that Jesus intends to divide people into three classes, from a spiritual point of view: true believers, hypocrites and gentiles. He warns the believers not to become hypocrites in prayer, nor to follow the example of gentiles. That is a real danger.

The Jews had their set times for prayer. The third, sixth, and ninth hour were the times for them to pray (Psalm 55:17). Jesus refers to this practice. The hypocrites will see to it that they are in a very conspicuous place at these times. They will then be either in the synagogue or on a comer of the street. They will be in those places where many people are found. Seeing that the time of prayer has arrived, they will adopt the posture of prayer so that many will see that they are praying. That is their sole purpose, says Jesus, i.e., to be seen of men. That is not prayer. They have received their reward. They have received their reward from men, but they need not think that their prayer will be rewarded above. Men will still judge their prayer to be a mark of piety, but God beholds it as mock-piety.

Jesus now instructs his people to do the very opposite. They are not to go into such places where they will be seen of men, but into the inner chamber. Shut the door so that no one will see you. Your Father will see you and hear you. Does our Lord mean to teach that there is no place for public prayer? Some have thought so. Then congregational prayers, and even family prayers, would be prohibited. Jesus himself led his disciples in prayer. The Apostles likewise led the congregations of the early church in prayers. No, Jesus does not teach us that there is no place for public prayers, but rather that personal and private prayers arc not to be uttered in public places to be seen of men I There are many needs which a person cannot utter before his fellowmen, but only to his God. There are many things to confess which we cannot do before our fellow-men, but only to our God. The prayer of the individual heart is too intimate to be made public. Besides this, one may not parade his piety. He may not make a show of his inner religious life.

While men reward the prayers of the hypocrites, your Father will recompense you. He hears the prayers of his people and will also answer them. The hypocrite ceases from his prayers and is empty; the believer rises from his knees strengthened and comforted.

The second danger to which our Lord refers is just as real for the believer as the first. The prayers of the gentiles were characterized by their length and their vain repetitions. In their prayers the gentiles ascribed to their deity all his known virtues. They gave a review of all happenings and all their needs. Jesus warns his people against this practice. Is every lengthy prayer condemned by our Lord? Remember, he prayed an entire night more than once. What, then, does he mean with this warning? He warns us against the attitude so often displayed as though we have to inform God concerning the things which have happened or the things we need. God does not need our information. Prayer should be the expression of felt need! Your Father knows what you need even before you ask him. The length of a prayer is, in itself, not a guarantee of its acceptance. Repetitions are vain; again an indication of “show” rather than the heart’s communion with God.

If God knows all our needs even before we ask him, the question rises almost invariably: Why then must we pray? At first blush this seems to be a natural question and a good one. The matter seems to become even more complicated when we consider that God has determined all the things which are to happen. Why then should we pray? Although the question seems proper, the Bible teaches the propriety of prayer. God knows all our needs, yet he commands us to ask of him what we need for this life and for the life to come. He is our Father. He desires to be recognized by his child. The attitude of a son who refuses to present to his father his needs because he believes these will be supplied anyway, is not a good one. There is no fellowship — no communion. Nor is prayer only petition for needs. In prayer the believer gives thanks. In prayer he makes confession. Why must a Christian pray? He cannot live without it. How must a Christian pray? In sincerity — when alone with his God.

Questions For Discussion

  1. Is it desirable to have staled times for prayer? Why?
  2. Are our prayers at meal-time free from “vain repetitions”?
  3. What is really a family altar?
  4. Should Bible reading always accompany prayer? If so, why?
  5. Should we pray audibly when we eat in a restaurant?
  6. Should we pray for the members of the family by name when we have our family devotions?
  7. How inclusive should the congregational prayer be in our services of public worship?
  8. Does a Jew actually pray? Does an unbeliever?
  9. Does prayer “change things”?

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