What, why, and how do you pray? Do you pray solely for your personal comfort and abundance? Do you ever pray in a public restaurant, hoping that people seated near you will see you? Do your nighttime prayers sound like broken records saying the same selfish things in the same selfish ways for the same selfish reasons? What would happen if you prayed for what God prayed?
Prayer is being online with God when our hearts are connected with His. In this connection, we upload our requests, and He downloads His presence, shaping our hearts and transforming our desires to be like His (Psalm 37:4). Consequently, God’s design is that we would be online with Him 24/7 where we can experience His links with others. Too often, we work offline from God, limiting our encounters with Him to a church building with a particular group of people, functioning in a certain style for one hour on one given day of the week.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described the be-do-go of full surrender. In essence, He said, “Who you are to be determines what you do which determines where you go.” In Matthew, Chapter 6, Jesus moved from who we are to be to what we are to do. He began with three acts of piety in Judaism: (1) giving to the needy, (2) praying, and (3) fasting. In each, Jesus cut to the heart of the matter exposing why we do what we do. We either have a selfish motive or a selfless one. With each good deed, He described what not to do, then what to do. Jesus said, “Do pray.”
First, do not pray with the motive to be recognized and honored. “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 men” (Matthew 6:5).
Hypocrites were actors. They wore masks on stage, pretending to be one way on the outside, though they were another on the inside. Jesus said that if being seen (outside) was one’s motive (inside), then the attention he had received was His reward in full (a reference to payment in ancient business receipts). There would be no reward of an intimate relationship with God because of selfish motives.
Are there any areas in your life where you love to be recognized or honored when you pray? Ask the Holy Spirit to take an inventory of your heart and surrender any impure motives to Him.
Second, do pray in secret. “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” (Matthew 6:6). Jewish homes had only one room with a door — a storage chamber. Jesus used this imagery to describe a secret place where no one but the heavenly Father would see. This does not mean that we cannot pray publicly. Rather, it means that we should not seek selfish recognition and honor when we pray. When our prayer motive is unselfish, our reward is intimacy with God.
Jesus cautioned against babbling like pagans who, when they prayed, reminded their deity about their good deeds in order to receive a return favor (Matthew 6:7). Sometimes we do the same with God, reminding Him of all the righteous acts that we accomplished in order to receive a one-for-one benefit. Greeks used many names for their deity in order to gain its attention. Often times, we pray publicly using many names for God in order to be seen and heard by others. Two thousand years ago, Rabbis debated the use of fixed prayers, a pattern used by many of us today. They determined that they were acceptable only if offered genuinely. Thankfully, Jesus taught us how to pray to the One who knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8).
When you pray, are you seeking a one-for-one benefit from God for your good deeds? Do you frequently offer the same prayer without heartfelt authenticity or thanksgiving? Next time you pray, offer your heart to God. Ask Him for His desires to become evident in your prayers.