Just the other day, I was looking over the first Bible studies I made and I was lucky enough to find one I have done about prayer. At some point in my walk with Jesus, I thought I had the basics of prayer down to the “T”. That was a rookie mistake of course. Never assume that you have anything down. Always go back to the source, to the Word, to Jesus, and ask the Holy Spirit to you reveal you new things.
So what is prayer anyway? You can find out a lot about prayer throughout the Bible, but I’m going straight to Jesus:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”Matthew 6:5-8
Ok, we started with all the don’ts, but with good reason. Let’s see what we can extract from this passage:
1-Prayer is for God’s ears, not for people to judge us by:
Praying to impress others makes no sense. Others can’t do a single thing for your prayer so don’t even bother. On a similar note, there’s no “pretty” or “eloquent” or correct length of prayer so don’t care about getting judged by others. “Heavenly Father, I come to you with an open heart, pleading for your mighty power to take control of the situation I’m facing” is just as valid as “God, I need you”. This is important because oftentimes we won’t pray out loud or in public because we feel that if we don’t say something poetic, people won’t feel that we are spiritual enough.
That’s nonsense. Both prayers are equally valid. As you mature in faith and prayer, you might say bolder, more “poetic”, “cooler”, and use Biblical quotes. But this isn’t at all the aim. Why?
Imagine that you’re talking to your partner or spouse. Do you think she’d like it if from now on you only sent her quotes from Romeo and Juliet or “The Notebook”? That will probably get old quick. Do you think she would appreciate it if you would always tell Chandler jokes (from Friends)? She would tell in an instant that it’s simply not you.
“I’d like to spend my life with a fake”, said no one ever.
2- The length of your prayer doesn’t matter.
Say what you need to say. Get it out. Get it all out, but don’t babble. Other translations of the Bible talk about repetitions. Why? For starters, wouldn’t you be annoyingly annoyed if this annoying annoyance would annoy you by being annoying? You get the picture.
Besides, pagans do that. Ever seen movies about magicians or witches? They usually end up reciting the same phrase over and over again until the spell takes action. That’s not just a movie thing, it’s really how pagans did it (or do it? I haven’t been around people doing magic spells or praying to other gods to know if this is still a thing).
3- God heard you before you said it.
This one’s cool and kind of frightening at first, I know. God know you. He knows everything about you. He know what you want and he knows what you need. He even knows what you did that one time when nobody else was looking and knows your every thought. Take a minute to wrap your head around that. Scary, right?
That’s also the cool part. you can’t scare God. You don’t need to hide from him. He already knows. It’s liberating to be able to talk about your deepest thoughts. He wants you to do it because that’s how you heal. That’s how you overcome it. He’ll use that to make you new, and change you from the inside.
Sin aside, if you’re asking for something, don’t feel bad if you forgot some of the details. He already knows. Just do yourself a favor, don’t try to trick him, hide or manipulate facts because, like I said, he already knows.
4- He still wants to hear it.
So if God already knows everything about me, why would I even need to pray? Jesus said that God is “your Father” and as a loving father, he wants his children to communicate with him, even if he already knows.
This is something you may or may not relate to personally, but I’m sure you’ve at least seen what a father looks like on TV. Multiply that love by infinity, and that’s the type of Father we have. Don’t worry, nobody can really grasp that amount of love, but it’s fun to try.
5- Pray genuinely.
If you were to take this Bible verse literally it would imply that you shouldn’t pray for others because you should do it in your room where only God can see and hear. However, you should in fact pray with others (see James 5:16). What it really means is to pray in an intimate way and be genuine with God.
Have you noticed how people sometimes adopt a prayer voice and speak to God differently than they would to anybody else? We kind of all start doing this at some point (see point 1) and it isn’t even that we try to impress people, but we do start to adopt the styles of hours that for some reason or another impress us. Though I certainly believe that God is trying to get us to be as sincere and intimate with him as possible. The Scripture says that we will be rewarded by Him in public for what we pray in secret, but by doing so also strengthen our relationship with God which is a reward in its own dimension.
Plenty more could be said about this passage and certainly about prayer in general, but the idea here was to begin to understand prayer as it’s huge to a Christian’s life. That’s why it’s important to understand more about it. The final tip I can leave you with is that prayer is not so much about how you do it, but why you do it.
Keep it genuine, keep it sincere, keep it intimate, keep it God’s.