7 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.
8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
Matthew 6:7-8 NKJV
What is the right way?
Have you ever wondered whether or not your prayers to God are working, or if you are praying the right way? We live in a time where there is much doubt made about prayer, to be specific, praying to God. Not much is said when it comes to other religions and the practice of prayer in those religions, but much is made about praying to God. For the believer, many of us may wonder whether or not we need to pray and whether or not our prayer is actually working.
I was baptized when I was very young – 8 years to be exact. I knew absolutely nothing about prayer at that age, outside of “saying grace” before I ate a meal. From the time I was 8 to the time I was 20, I did not pray – I didn’t feel it was something I had to do. I was raised in the church and so my raising began to teach me things about prayer but I still felt that prayer was not something I needed to do. My dad was a pastor, and through that stretch of years (8-20), I still felt that prayer was not something I had to do.
Have you ever felt that you didn’t need to pray? For me, I was young and thought I was invincible. I was having absolutely no problems, little to no struggles, and so I figured I’m “already good” without having to say a prayer. I figured that “God’s got me already”, so why do I need to pray? I turned 21, graduated college, and something began to speak inside of me, insisting that I start praying. You know how people always talk about “this feeling” that they get, that “something” is trying to talk to them? That something, I now know, was the Holy Spirit speaking to my soul (spirit) and letting me know that I needed to pray.
Prayer, you see, is a line of communication between us and the Lord; it is a privilege giving to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I learned that I was living in a relationship with God and the Holy Spirit was letting me know that I was not talking to God. Something that we all learn by living is that all of our relationships require much communication. Whether it’s a relationship with someone you love, your friends, or your family, communication is key. Relationships break down when there is no communication.
I learned that God had been speaking to me for all of my life, but I was not talking back to Him. I was not praying! I believe the Holy Spirit was trying to prevent a breakdown in my relationship with God. Many people have either experienced or are experiencing a breakdown in their relationship with the Lord all because they stopped, or never, talk to God. You cannot expect God to “work for you” if you don’t believe in Him or talk to Him! I want to focus on prayer because prayer is of great significance and importance to not only the believer, but to all of mankind.
When we study about prayer, we realize that there are so many different varieties of prayer. The three most common prayers, are summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1. The three common prayers: the prayer of thanksgiving, the prayer of intercession (intercessory prayer), and the prayer of supplication.
One common theme I hear when it comes to prayer is how uncomfortable people are with prayer. First: there is, as I mentioned at the start, the uncertainty about prayer working. Second: many worry that they aren’t saying the proper (right) words when they pray. Third: some say that they don’t know how to pray; on this third point I want to say a few things.
You should not feel ashamed if you do not know how to pray because none of us started out knowing how to pray! I want to tell you that even Jesus’ twelve disciples wanted to learn how to pray. In Luke 11:1, one of the disciples say to Jesus, “teach us how to pray”. I imagine those men had all kinds of questions about prayer and so nobody should ever feel ashamed for having questions about prayer. One of the members at my church often shares with me his struggles with prayer and I am so thankful for him because many of us have to be taught the right way to pray and to keep with prayer. Let’s take a look at Jesus’ teachings on prayer.
I want to take a look at what Jesus says about prayer before teaching the model prayer in Matthew’s gospel. The first thing Jesus teaches the disciples (Matthew 6:5) was to not be like the “hypocrites” who would stand in the synagogues and on the corners, praying, and being seen. For these hypocrites, prayer was like putting on a performance to be seen. So Jesus says (Matthew 6:6), go into your closet (room), close the door, and pray to the Lord in secret. The first lesson we see here shows how intimate our relationship is with God, and also shows that our prayer should not be for show but should be sincere.
Something that has been bothering me a lot lately is the need for people to type out “#prayfor” and follow it up with the latest tragedy. This bothers me because I don’t believe that all of those who feel it necessary to type, or even say this, are praying. This also bothers me because prayer, when done the right way, is not about putting on a show but is about being sincere. We do not have to make some grand announcement when we are praying for somebody or for someone. I don’t know how often we tell somebody, “I am praying for you”, but never mention them in our prayer.
Now I want you to pay very close attention to what Jesus says here in our key verse:
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.
Matthew 6:7 NKJV
I have highlighted the words “vain repetitions”, “heathen”, and “they think” – these words are very key to Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Vain: meaningless or useless; futile. Jesus says, do not use “meaningless repetitions” in your prayer. In other words, when you pray, don’t be repeating things within your prayer trying to drag out your prayer. The heathens, when they would pray to their god(s) or maybe try to pray to God, would make their prayers be long. The heathens felt that if their prayer was a long prayer, their god(s) or God, would hear their prayers. Our prayers, when done the right way, should be simple and to the point with no begging!
Many people think the right way to pray is this because many of us was brought up in churches where some deacons and preachers would pray these long drawn out prayers. A prayer does not have to be long! Just the other day, I was reading online about a son who told his father that he often prays to God a prayer in which he says, “I don’t know, but I know that You know”. Would you believe me if I told you that the Lord would much rather hear these types of prayers from us rather than the long drawn out prayers that use vain repetitions? Sometimes you may have much to pray for and it can draw out your prayer, but the point here is that we should keep our prayers simple and direct.
I believe this is true because we see Jesus affirm His teaching with this:
“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
Matthew 6:8 NKJV
Again He says, “do not be like them (the heathen)” when you pray. To all of this, Jesus points out something that is very important to know when we pray to God. Jesus tells us that the Lord “knows the things you have need of before you ask Him”. God already knows our needs before we even come to Him! You can see why God does not need to hear us repeating vain repetitions in our prayer! You may then ask, “why do we need to pray if God already knows what we need?”
I want you to consider this example I am about to use: no parent wants their child going to somebody else, first, when they need help with something. My dad would always tell me and my brother, “if you need to talk, if you need help with anything, come to me.” I imagine that many of our parents were this way and that if you’re a parent, you are likely the same way when it comes to your child (or children). God, like a parent, wants His children to come to Him if and when we are struggling with something or need something.
Parents can always sense when their child is either struggling with something or need something, but it does no good for the child, or the parent when the child does communicate what is going on with them. Guess what, this same thing is at play in our relationship with God. God, however, knows exactly what is going on but He is not going to comfort you if you don’t come to Him.
Your prayer is between you and the Lord. When you pray, you should say a prayer that comes from your heart! There is no need of you trying to pray a prayer with well-rehearsed sayings and eloquent speaking because He already knows what you need. I believe that God wants to hear your words, and not necessarily the words of others. I used to think “I’m good” and did not need to pray because my dad and mom were already praying for me. There’s certainly nothing wrong with requesting for others to pray for you, but at the same time, you know what you need and the Lord wants to hear from you! Everybody does not know what you’re going through nor can they read your mind; it is of great importance that you pray for yourself.
Become comfortable with prayer
“How often should I pray? When should I pray?” are questions that also get asked about prayer. Jesus taught a parable about a persistent widow that was constantly asking a judge about getting justice (Luke 18:1-8). The lesson that was learned from this parable is actually summed up in the first verse of this passage.
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart
Luke 18:1 NKJV
When you pray the right way, you are diligent (consistent) in your prayer. I tell you that there’s no set appointed time of the day when you should pray. There is also no set number of times in a day that you should pray – do not stress or worry about these things. Prayer should simply be consistent. Paul echoed this teaching in Ephesians 6:18 when he taught the people of Ephesus that they should “pray always”. We should always be in communication with the Lord just like how we are always in communication with those that we love.
The most important thing you should know about praying the right way is that you should direct all of your prayers to God and you must do so out of genuine faith. If you have no faith in prayer or in the Lord, what would be the point of that praying to Him? How could you expect a prayer of no faith to work? The problem that we face, in our country, is that there are so many prayers being said with no faith in them.
Another problem that we especially face here in this country is that prayer often gets thought of as the “end-all-be-all” (the MacGuffin) for everything. Prayer gets thought of as a magic tool that will help resolve (fix) everything, but I don’t believe that is not what prayer is meant for. When you pray the right way, understand that there is still going to be work for you to do! Just because you have prayed to God, that does not mean you can now go sit down and do nothing – this is the action that many people seem to be taking nowadays. The Lord often provides the tools (the means) for achieving success. This means that success will not happen overnight just because you prayed.
Prayer ultimately brings comfort from the Lord. Prayer brings comfort to the believer because we know that we are in communication with God, we know that He hears us and that He also answers us. Prayer works so long as you place your faith in that prayer and in God. Prayer especially works when you know what prayer is and you choose to pray the right way. Through prayer, we strengthen our personal relationship with God.
We often look for a checklist to make sure we are doing things right. However, the problem with these checklists is that they make us become robotic and zombie-like. God did not create us as robots or as zombies so we should not become robotic in our faith, in our praise, and in our prayer. If you have one of those checklists lying around, I want you to take that list, ball it up, and throw it in the trash. Let us become genuine (real) in our prayer life and let us pray prayers from our heart!