5 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.
6 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.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
Prayer is a fascinating subject. I have spent a lot of time studying prayer over the past 9 months working on a book that is close to the publishing point. It is called “The A.S.K. Principle: Developing An Effective Prayer Life” This study was first done by me over 30 years ago and I was going to write the book then, but did not. As I was going through cancer maintenance I came across the notes and decided it was time. Some of you might remember me blogging a good portion of the book on this blog earlier this year.
I learned a lot about prayer doing this study, but will spare you the whole book here to concentrate on the point Jesus is making in this portion of the Sermon. Once again He mainly addresses pride, as He does many times throughout these passages. It always amazes me how much the Bible talks about the evils of pride and yet the church still goes on in its prideful way. I know I did for years, something I have shared over and over again on these pages. When will we begin to understand the heart of God is humility?
In this portion, Jesus is specifically discussing how we should pray. The Pharisees were well known for standing on the street corners in their ornate robes and praying very fancy prayers so that all could see them and hear them. The prayed loud and long for God to intervene in the nation and in people’s lives. Their prayers also included praise to God. They often sang these prayers, or recited them in lyrical form. They could be very beautiful. You can still here these types of prayers sung and chanted in both Israel and in many Arab nations. The sound of praying fills the air in many places.
The problem here is not the prayers. God loves prayer, and He loves it when we come to Him with our requests (Proverbs 15:8). He loves it when we express our praise and our need for Him in our lives. He wants nothing more than to bless us and give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). The problem here is not that they are praying, but the reason they are praying. Jesus says they are praying so that men might see them. In other words, their prayers were meant to draw not only the attention of God but the attention of men as well. They desired to be noticed because of their fancy, elaborate prayers. This is one of the reasons they stood on the street corners – not to cry out to God, but to be noticed by men. This act of drawing attention to themselves is pride. The attention of men is their reward.
Jesus tells us to go into our closet to pray. Our prayer should not be an open show. It should be a quiet conversation with God about the needs of others around us and our own needs. The closet is a place of solitude. God wants us to get alone with Him when we pray. He wants us to give Him our full attention and not try to draw the attention of men. Prayer is a solemn time when we come before the creator of all things and present our requests. It should not be taken lightly. At the same time, it should be like a casual conversation between us and God. We do not need fancy words to pray. We just need to talk to God.
The other thing I draw out of this scripture is that we should not go around telling others that our prayers were answered. If we are doing that to draw attention to the fact that we prayed and it was answered, that is pride and only builds us up, not God. If we are glorifying God about His answer to prayer, that is OK. People need to know prayers have been answered. We just make sure they know for the right reason. Jesus tells us to let our light shine so people can see our good works and glorify the Father (Matthew 5:16). He does not say so people could hear about our good works. Keep your prayer life to yourself unless you speak of it to bring glory to God.
Then the wonderful statement comes in that God knows what we have need of before we ask. I have had so many people ask me “Then why doesn’t He just supply it?”. I believe the answer is simple. Do you recall the story of Blind Bartimaeus? He was a blind beggar who sat on the street every day looking for alms. When Jesus came to town, He cried out over and over “Jesus, thou son of David, Have Mercy on me.” The crowd tried to hush him, but he just keep crying out. Finally Jesus heard him from the back of the crowd and asked that he be brought forward. Jesus then asked Bartimaeus what he wanted. It was quite obvious that he was blind! Why did Jesus ask the question? I am convinced that Bartimaeus could have asked for anything he wanted and Jesus would have granted it for him that day. He asked for his sight and his eyes were opened.
The question is never if God knows what we need. He always knows what we need for any situation we find ourselves in. If we are sick, we want healing. But God may know we need faith more. If we are in financial difficulty, we want finances, but God may know that we need patience more. He knows what we need the most. That is why it is so important that we come to him asking for wisdom so we know what each trial is meant to teach us in this life. The same is true for those we pray for. They may be having big difficulties in their marriage, and we may pray that God will bring them closer together again. But God might know that the husband needs to learn more empathy for his wife’s physical needs. God knows exactly what they must go through in order to come out the other side. Our prayer should be that God will strengthen them until He decides to bring the solution. We often pray against God’s will because we pray for the solution we think is right. God may want a totally different lesson to be learned before that battle is over. God is looking at the long term benefit while we look at what our heart desires for the moment.
You may say that God’s will is healing for all, and it is. After all, Jesus healed everyone that came to Him and He is our example. Shouldn’t we always prayer for healing? Of course we should, and we should expect God to heal. But we also must expect God to heal in His time and in His way. He may perform a miracle and heal instantly. Or He may heal over a period of time because there are other lessons we can learn in the midst of that trial. Some are healed only in dying, where they will have no more pain or sorrow. God has the final answer and we must do our best to pray that His will be done, not our own. It took two and ½ years of chemo to get me to the point of remission I am in today,. God could have healed me instantly, but He had much greater things in store. Over 1,000 poems and songs, studies in Psalms, James and other books that built my faith. A book is being published top build the body of Christ. All because God healed me slowly, not right away. I am in awe of His wisdom, and hope everyone will be patient and await God’s healing in His time.
Watch your prayer life carefully. See if you are praying to get noticed. Observe how you are praying for others and if you are boasting about answered prayer. Be sure you are glorifying God and not yourself when prayers get answered. When we pray in the closet and keep those prayers to ourselves, God gets the glory.