Jesus told us to pray, and He told us how to pray. He taught his disciples to pray privately, using simple words, like the prayer He gave in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. It doesn’t sound like Jesus is asking for more than some one-on-one quality time, filled with honest and direct dialog with the Father. So simple, like much of what Jesus said.
When we pray together in church or in our homes as a family, it is possible this is displeasing to God. Jesus said that praying in public is hypocritical if we are doing it for show: “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. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5). Praying in public is displeasing to God if we find ourselves praying to impress others, to show them how ‘good’ we can pray, and/or if we use a bunch of pretentious words in our prayers because we want to sound ‘holy’.
However, public prayer is not forbidden per se. Jesus prayed publicly when He gave thanks before a meal (Mark 8:6, Luke 9:16, John 6:11) and when He prayed out loud in front of the people gathered around Lazarus’ grave (John 11:41-42). Jesus forbade public prayer only when done for show to impress others, and He taught by word and example that our prayers should primarily be in private.
It was Jesus’ custom to pray in private (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16). When praying to the Father, Jesus said we should keep it private, simple, and honest. To pray like this, Jesus gave the following instructions in Matthew 6:6-13:
• “Go into your room”
• “Close the door”
• “Pray to your Father”
• “Do not keep on babbling like pagans”
Jesus went on to say our prayers should include:
• Worship and praise of God: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name”
• Submission to God’s will: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”
• Requests for what we need, with gratitude for what God provides: “Give us today our daily bread”
• Confession of our sins, asking God for forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”
• Asking for protection from evil: ”And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”
If this is all God is asking for when it comes to prayer, why do I sometimes find myself hesitating to pray? This is not a daily problem for me; it is my normal practice to pray to God sometime each morning and usually I look forward to it. However, at least once a week or so, I hesitate, procrastinate, and delay going to God in prayer. Why do I do that?
It seems that, when I truly pray as Jesus commands, I often become ‘broken’ all over again, like the first time my eyes and heart were opened to the Gospel and I could finally ‘see’, as written about so beautifully in the song ‘Amazing Grace’. At times, when I pray, my sinful nature becomes starkly clear to me all over again. God’s graciousness, His provision in Jesus’ atonement on the Cross, washes over me anew, and I am once again acutely aware of my deep love for this Living God who loves me so! I am humbled by His love, His mercy, His patience with me, and my deep need of Him. However, the old nature in me, the sinful nature that Paul talked about in Romans 7:14-25, does not like being reminded of my deep need for God, even though my spirit thrives on it. And so, I push past the resistance… and pray.
As a born again child of God my Father, I claim the promise in 1 John 5:14-15 that God does hear me when I pray to Him. In faith, I kneel. In faith, I pray. In faith, I know He hears me. In faith, I know I have what I asked of Him, when I pray for His will. It is promised that God answers all of my prayers offered in this way, whether the answer is now, sometime in the future, or in the next life to come. His will and timing (not mine) be done.