|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part one of a nine-part series.
In this time of multiplied evils, no two things are more important than these: Christians must be systematically studying their Bibles to understand the whole counsel of God, and regularly coming before His throne in prayer in the manner Christ prescribed. The two are inseparable in the Christian life.
What do we mean by "proper prayer"? It is important to understand that the Scriptures themselves teach us how to pray. Proper prayer is not the rote repetition of set prayers, nor does it mean approaching God in any way we wish. Scripture rejects both extremes. The Lord Jesus himself has given believers a model for their praying, in Matthew chapter six:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13)
Not "The Lord's Prayer"
Before we begin studying this model prayer, we need to state that it is unfortunate that this prayer has become generally known as "The Lord's Prayer". If there is any prayer in Scripture that merits such a title, it is the high priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus in John chapter 17. It would be far more accurate to call the prayer in Matthew six "the believer's model prayer." This is the pattern given by Christ to believers for their own prayer to the Father.
Jesus' Preamble to the Prayer
It is important to read and understand the preamble by which Jesus introduces this model prayer:
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.
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.
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.
Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
In this manner, therefore, pray...
Four Characteristics of Proper Prayer
The main theme of Jesus' preamble is that our praying is to be different from the futile praying of unbelievers. And for that reason, in the preamble He makes four points about what prayer is - and just as importantly, what it is not.
First, Jesus tells us that prayer is primarily a private matter (verses 5-6) - the believer with God the Father, one to one. This is not to say there is no place for public prayer or corporate prayer; Scripture gives us many examples of both. But the primary focus of prayer is the individual Christian meeting with his God.
Second, Jesus tells us that the kind of prayer that God desires from us is extemporaneous (verse 7). Nowhere in the Bible are we told to repeat "set prayers". This was one of the things that many of the Protestant Reformers opposed, and we should do likewise. We are commanded here not to use "vain repetitions." We have those kinds of "vain repetitions" in the present day - for example, the Roman Catholics use the rosary, and the Buddhists use prayer wheels.
One of the religious fads of recent years is the repetition of the prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10). A series of books and an entire website are devoted to this cultish practice. The author of these books teaches that the prayer of Jabez is a formula for "breaking through to the blessed life," and he un-Biblically guarantees "significant changes in your life" within thirty days.
All of these frauds perpetuate the falsehood that endless repetition of set prayers is necessary to earn merit with God, or to gain His favor.
In fact, Roman Catholicism makes the repetition of set prayers, and the prayer of Matthew six in particular, a matter of penance. They make it a saving work. In the confessional booth the priest tells the Catholic, "Because you have committed this kind of sin, you need to say this many 'Hail Marys' and this many 'Our Fathers' in order to pay for your sin." The number of repetitions varies according to the supposed severity of the sin. True Christians, trusting in the full sufficiency of Christ's atonement for sin, must thoroughly reject such ineffectual substitutes for the all-sufficient blood of Christ.
Third, Jesus tells us that quality in prayer is more important than quantity (verse 7). This is not to say that we should not spend adequate time in prayer, but how we pray is the important thing. And as we pray properly, we will want to make more and more of a priority of prayer, and devote more time to it.
And fourth, Jesus tells us that we need to keep one thing at the forefront of our thoughts: Remember to whom you are praying (verse 8). You are not praying, as the pagans believed and as the Pharisees and Sadducees had come to believe, to an arbitrary or even despotic deity, or to someone without perfect knowledge. You are praying to the omniscient Father who has perfect knowledge of your needs. He has your best interests at heart.
Not a Prayer to be Prayed, But a Model for Prayer
With these things in mind as a preamble, the Lord Jesus then instructs us as to how we are to pray, beginning in verse 9: "In this manner, therefore, pray..." The force of the Greek is, "pray after this pattern." In other words, "in your own extemporaneous praying, be sure to approach God in this way." The force of the Greek is not, "repeat these words" - and verse 7 reinforces that thought. Praying is not a matter of repeating certain words, not even the words we find here in Matthew.
Instead, Jesus says, "in this manner, therefore, pray." Jesus is saying that in light of the points He has just taught about the nature of proper prayer, and about the God to whom we pray, this is how we are to pray.
How Do You Pray?
Christian, how do you pray? Do you make a priority of prayer? Do you have a way, and do you make a time and a place, to get alone with your heavenly Father to spend regular, uninterrupted time in prayer? Scripture mentions prayer over 400 times. God's Word places a priority on prayer. We need to place a priority on prayer.
Do you pray from the heart? Do you pray extemporaneously? It is easy for us to unthinkingly fall into ruts in prayer. We may not pray a set prayer day after day, and clearly we should avoid it. But we can so easily fall into the same patterns in our own words day after day. Prayer can become almost a robotic, thoughtless kind of activity. We can easily get to the point where we're not thinking very much about how or what we are praying - or to Whom. We need to take the time to express our own heart's reverence and worship for God through prayer. We need to take the time, and use our own words, guided by the Holy Spirit, to express our innermost thoughts and desires to our loving Father.
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