I Knew The “Our Father”, But I Didn’t Know Jesus’s Other Teachings On Prayer!
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:7
Jesus gives us more to think about concerning prayer in this passage from Matthew’s Gospel. These are very important thoughts for all of us to contemplate as we continue to develop our prayer lives. These teachings come to us directly from the mouth and voice of Jesus, the incarnate God. As such, we are to listen with the ears of our hearts.
His first teaching is that we are not to pray like the hypocrites, the Pharisees, who “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.” (verse 5) The key here is in the word “hypocrites.” We must always be aware of the potential error of hypocrisy within ourselves. It is the error of “making false professions of desirable or publicly approved qualities, beliefs, or feelings, esp.. a pretense of having virtues, moral principles, or religious beliefs that one does not possess.” (Webster’s Dictionary) We make a mistake if we think we are not capable of, or guilty of hypocrisy at one time or another. Hypocrisy is really just another form of the lie. Jesus condemns this vice regularly in the Gospels. How do we remedy this then?
Jesus tells us, “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” (verse 6) The pronoun “you” is used purposefully by Jesus. He is speaking to each of us directly here. He is teaching us to first pay attention to our need for that most intimate conversation and relationship with God. He is teaching us to go to the quiet, to take ourselves apart from the public square, from the busyness of our days, and to enter the inner room of our own heart where Jesus waits for us at all times. Jesus wants us to take time out to sit quietly with him, to listen to his words spoken directly to our hearts. It is this state of humble listening to God that Jesus wants us to develop first. Prayer should first be an act of humility.
Our Lord also points out one of the signs of hypocrisy, or of pride in prayer when he teaches, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (verses 7-8) Those who have developed the habits of this “babbling” kind of prayer, do so, for public consumption, to be “recognized” for their supposed wisdom and holiness. They bring attention to themselves, rather than to God’s word. One who has developed the kind of prayer that Jesus teaches us about here, has learned to first be quiet and to listen, not just with his or her physical ears, but with the ears of his or her heart. They have come to realize that God already knows their need and that they must simply listen. They have come to know what C.S. Lewis came to know, that our prayers do not change God, rather, they change us. This is why Jesus teaches us to first “go to our inner room.” We need to take ourselves apart from the noise that so often surrounds us, particularly in our modern lives. After these verses, Jesus then teaches us to pray, giving us the words of the Lord’s Prayer. And for me, the simplest and the greatest prayer comes from this: “Thy will be done.” It is when we can humbly pray this with all of our heart that we can say we have learned to pray as Jesus has taught us to pray.
Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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