A Powerful Prayer Perspective
In the ramp up by Jesus to teaching us how to pray as recorded in Matthew 6:5-8, he cautions against praying as the hypocrites do. The Jewish priority and ideal related to prayer were incomparable. However, some faults crept into their admirable discipline of prayer. These faults were not so much of neglect, but rather of misguided devotion.
Prayer had become formalized and rote. Beautiful liturgical prayers such as the Shemoneth ‘esreh – “The Eighteen” – which consisted of 18 lovely prayers were to be recited daily. I’m confident that many prayed these brief, meaningful prayers with sincere devotion and deep reflection. For some, it no doubt became a formula of recitation. Historians report that it even became little more than the superstitious incantation of a spell.
Praying came to be associated with certain times of the day or certain geographic places or physical structures. In fact, the efficacy of prayer throughout history has often been measured by the passion, eloquence, ornateness, and length of the one speaking the prayer.
In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus clearly provides two vital directives regarding prayer. First, all true prayer is offered to God and Him only. As a Christ-follower, my verbal prayers with others listening or not are to be my best and most humble effort to speak purely from my heart to the heart of God – period. Second, I should pray remembering that God is my ultimate Provider who is ever trustworthy – period. He is the God of love who is always more ready to answer than I am to pray. His provisions never have to be unwillingly extracted from Him or coerced out of Him.
When you pray, you come to a God who “knows exactly what you need even before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). In a moment, Jesus would teach the disciples how to pray (“The Lord’s Prayer” of Matthew 6:9-13) and would instruct his followers to pray in verse 10 – “Your will be done” (i.e. only the will of God to whom you pray be done, not yours). You don’t have to pray to impress, extract, coax, or deal. You pray – “God, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Matthew 6:8 seems to pale to insignificance in the bright light of the Lord’s Prayer in the 5 verses that follow. However, the power of that one verse is awesome in its instructive power. I learn several things about the privilege of prayer that opens up a powerful perspective for me as I reflect on verse 8.
- I should always pray with absolute confidence that God not only hears my prayer, but that He is for me. His answers to my prayers are not based on how great, good, or holy I am. His answer to my prayer is a pure expression of His grace – a gift freely given.
- I should always pray with a thankful heart. Thankful for what He has done and for what He will do. I look back and see what He has already done in my life, so I thank Him. I look ahead mindful of what God has promised to do, so I thank Him in advance for those things He has promised. My own experiences and the genuine testimonies of others whom I respect move me to praise and trust Him.
- I should always pray with a burden. Breakthroughs in my prayer life have tended to come when the Holy Spirit of God has burdened my heart. When the things that bring joy to the heart of God as well as those things that break the heart of God are lifting and breaking my heart, then I have that burden … that focus. As a result, my outlook on life, my active empathy for those around me, and my perspective on what really matters most are transformed.
- I should always pray believing. “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). After 45 years of pastoring, I still don’t understand how it works. Nevertheless, I know that faith is not something that I can manufacture on my own. And believe me, I’ve tried! Like the father of the afflicted son, I often say as I pray: “Lord, I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
- I should always pray in the Holy Spirit – with the awareness of the presence of God in me. Often, I don’t know exactly how to pray. I am at a loss for words. My thoughts are random or blank. In those times, it is wonderful beyond words to know that the Holy Spirit intercedes through me. When my ability to pray reaches a stopping point due to confusion, pain, exhaustion, rebellion, or faithlessness, God takes over (Romans 8:26).
Living in an atmosphere of prayer and praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is such a powerful perspective for life. Realizing that He knows our needs before we even pray should super motivate us to seek, knock, and ask (Matthew 7:7-8). What a gift we have been given as followers of Jesus. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him indeed.
John has been fully engaged in the church planting world since 1983. He has served as a strategist, coach, trainer, professor and concept pioneer. He has filled a variety of roles with Stadia since 2004 and came on board full-time in July 2012. As Church Relations Director, John coordinates the direct support of our church planting partners, with a focus on churches planted by Stadia. As a church planting statesman, John’s experience and prolific connections throughout North America are a huge asset for the Stadia family. John and his wife, Leslie, live in southwest Florida, where his wife leads an innovative decorative lighting business. They have three married children and six grandchildren.