Summary: The true and false audience and content of prayer
Why do many athletes pray before they compete? I’ve noticed with mixed martial arts fights, fighters gather with their trainers and recite the Lord’s prayer before a fight. Those that trash talk before a fight, putting down their opponent, are not the ones that I see praying. But the fighters who pray before their fight seem to have an interesting calm before they step into the octagon. Their prayer doesn’t seem to be for their opponent to be destroyed, or hurt, but that they would perform their best.
None of us can comprehend exactly how prayer functions within the infinite mind and plan of God. On the one hand, prayer is seen simply as a way of lining up with God regarding what He has already determined to do, and on the other it is pleading with God to do what He otherwise would not do.
The Bible is unequivocal about God’s absolute sovereignty. But it is equally unequivocal in declaring that within His sovereignty God calls on His people to seek Him in prayer-to implore His help in guidance, provision, protection, mercy, forgiveness, and countless other needs.
It is neither required nor possible to understand the divine working that makes prayer effective. God simply commands us to obey the principles of prayer that His Word gives. Our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6:5-15, commonly known as "The Lord’s Prayer" contains some of those principles.
Since God is God why should we pray? Do we need to inform Him of something? Are we seeking to change His mind? Is it just a duty? Do we gain righteousness by doing it?
Jesus continues His contrast of true and false righteousness, in particular the false righteousness typified by the scribes and Pharisees. As Matthew 6:2–4 exposes their hypocritical giving and verses 16–18 their hypocritical fasting, verses 5–8 expose their equally hypocritical praying. Their prayers were defective in 1) Their intended audience and 2) In their content. They give us some much needed guidance in genuinely relating to God in Prayer.
1) The Audience of Prayer. (Matthew 6:5-6)
A) The False Audience: Other People. (Matthew 6:5)
Matthew 6:5 "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. (ESV)
The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer. It is not only a prayer for us to repeat; it is a lesson in how to pray and what to pray for. It covers all our needs of body and soul, but it is also concerned about the needs of all our fellow Christians and of all the uncounted millions who do not yet know the Lord Jesus as their Savior. It is an appropriate prayer on every occasion that calls for prayer. It puts first things first, but it leaves nothing out (Albrecht, G. J., & Albrecht, M. J. (1996). Matthew. The People’s Bible (89). Milwaukee, Wis.: Northwestern Pub. House.).
Jesus begins: And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. “And” parallels the exercise of prayer with that of giving; the need of others whom we may be able to relieve with our own need which God is to relieve. Ὅταν with the present subjunctive expects us to be praying regularly (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (259). Minneapolis, MN.: Augsburg Publishing House.).