How can we define prayer as children of God? In this way: Prayer is a relational expression that vocalizes our trust in our Heavenly Father. At the same time, just as a son speaking with his father learns to think, speak, and act like him, so speaking with our Heavenly Father will conform us into his image. At the same time, prayer must be done wisely, according to God’s will, with an expectant faith and trust that he hears and answers his children in Christ, all for his glory alone.
Prayer is, arguably, one of the greatest struggles of the Christian faith. While some may lament their poor Bible study habits, or their failure to share the gospel as frequently as they should, almost all would likely mourn over their poor prayer life. Almost no one will say that they feel they have reached the pinnacle of their prayer life; almost all are forced to admit that we do not pray as we should. And, yet, prayer is the oxygen of our spiritual life. Just as we need to breathe to live physically, we need to pray to live spiritually.
Prayer, however, is a privilege of the saint with many promises. For example, God promised in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” While that particular promise was given to ancient Israel through King Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, the principle remains the same: God will honor the humble prayers of his saints. If the saints today would submit themselves to God in humble contrition and earnest prayer, would not God still send reformation and revival as he has done countless times in the past?
Yet, we do not currently have revival or reformation. We do not see a white harvest being reaped by many laborers, though Jesus commanded us to pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest that is ripe and white and plentiful (Matt 9:36–38). Instead, we see the decline of Christendom in the West. We see morality on the downgrade. We see churches emptying and closing.
Ultimately, our culture partially reflects the failures of the Church at large. When our churches are healthy, functioning, and thriving, the culture is bereft of godlessness and full of holiness. But how does that happen? In part, it happens when our churches are full of saints who are warriors of prayer, praying as God intended.
Consider the great revivals of the past. When Martin Luther saw reformation, he was known as a man of prayer. One of his most famous quotes is, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” When Charles Spurgeon saw the Metropolitan Tabernacle filled with thousands in the nineteenth century in London, it was because he prayed earnestly. When the Puritans saw revival in England and America, it’s because they were men and women of prayer.
We must be people of prayer. We must be prayer warriors who pray as God intended. To borrow a line from William Carey, we must pray expecting great things from God, and then we must go forth to attempt great things for God, by his grace and for his glory. But it all begins with knowing how to pray, which Jesus fleshes out for our benefit in Matthew 6:5–9. Here, he aids us by offering us two warnings about what prayer is not and then shows us what prayer is.
Let us consider these truths and learn to pray as God intended:
1. Do not pray as the hypocrites do, to be noticed by others, but to be heard by God.
Jesus’s command in Matthew 6:5 is a simple one: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” This is a picture of how the Pharisees evidently prayed. They would stand in public spots and pray long-winded, elaborate, and noticeable prayers. As they did so, they would be seen by people—which is exactly what they wanted!—and they would be praised. Surely, some would say of them, “There are none more holy than they!”
But that was it. Their reward was being praised by men. There was no answer from God. As it turns out, even if the content of the prayer was theologically accurate, God had no interest in answering because it came from a hypocritical heart set on others, rather than focused on God.
Before dismissing this warning as peculiar to the Pharisees, we must see this as a danger common to man.