Last week we looked at Jesus’ response to the disciple’s request, “Teach us to pray.” In this study, we will further investigate Jesus’ instructions about prayer. We will examine what he said at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), just before presenting the prayer model–the Lord’s Prayer.
“And when you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they will be seen by people. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But as for you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
“And when you are praying, do not use thoughtless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:5-8, NASB).
When looking at the entire sermon Jesus taught on this occasion, there is a very evident theme coursing throughout. Jesus was speaking of attitudes of the heart versus mere outward actions. Keep this in mind while delving into what Jesus says.
“When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret…” Is Jesus telling us we are not to pray publicly? No. There are recorded incidents of Jesus himself praying publicly: Jesus prays before those gathered when he was baptized by John, Luke 3:21-22. He prays before the crowd of mourners at the resurrection of Lazarus, John 11:41-42. Jesus prays publicly when he predicted his death, John 12:27-28. His own life then testifies that he was not prohibiting public prayer. Remember his message was targeting a heart motive.
Next, Jesus teaches don’t repeat prayers again and again, “do not use thoughtless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” This may appear to contradict what he taught through the parable of the persistent widow, in Luke 18:1-8. In that story, Jesus encourages persistently coming to the Father in prayer until the answer comes. Why the difference? We must look at both the context and historical audience to fully understand.
To whom was Jesus speaking?
Matthew 4:24-5:1 lets us know there was a mass of people gathered. It also indicates he began teaching the disciples when they came to him. The crowd that day consisted of the twelve disciples we know by name, a larger unspecified group of disciples, and many people from all around the area who followed him.
Who was Matthew written for?
The Gospel of Matthew was written for a Jewish audience. Knowing this fact helps us better frame the passage above. The Jewish people of that time were accustomed to strictly following the laws of the Torah. Pharisees and Sadducees were often in the crowds following Jesus. Both were religious sects within Judaism.
Jesus directs us to pray in private without prohibiting public prayer. Private prayer time fosters an intimate, personal relationship. A personal relationship is in stark contrast to those of his rebuke–the pious attention-seeking religious persons.
Jesus discourages thoughtless repetition where the focus is on themselves being heard. Yet he urges us to be relentless in coming to the Father, who knows our needs.
Does your prayer time cultivate an intimate relationship with your Maker? Dear reader, create a habit of being still and listening for the Father’s instructions and answers.
Father God, thank You for teaching us how to pray and establishing the unacceptable, through the teaching of Jesus. Make my prayers sincere and relational. Remove pretentious acts from me. Thank You for nurturing trust by allowing me to repeatedly seek a response from You, just like a little child coming to their parent again and again.
By the power of the Holy Spirit continue to refine me. Make my prayers effective, fervent, and powerful bringing glory and honor to Your name. In the strong name of Jesus. Amen.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, grandmother, great-grandmother, foster care parent, and trauma survivor. I enjoy sipping tea, writing devotionals, prayers, short stories, and unburdening my heart to the Lord. Check the About page if you want to read more of my story.
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Sermon on the Mount image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.
Scripture added by Manette Kay.