Summary: I'm starting a series on the different prayers of the bible. In looking at why they prayed, how they prayed and what they prayed, we'll gain insight into how we should conduct our prayers. We start our journey with the most popular prayer-the Our Father.
THIS IS HOW YOU SHOULD PRAY
Series on specific prayers in the bible. We start out with the most familiar one-the Lord's prayer. The Our Father has become a standardized prayer that many of us learned from childhood. But have we ever taken the time to consider what we're actually saying here?
1) You should not pray like this (5-8).
Matt. 6:5-8, "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. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
The gospel of Luke has a shorter version of this prayer. But the passage starts with one of the disciples, after hearing Jesus pray, asked him to teach them to pray. Listening to Jesus pray wasn't like what they were hearing from the religious leaders so they wanted to pray like Jesus.
Jesus identifies two classifications of people to not be like when we pray-hypocrites and pagans. And since Jesus used the word 'hypocrite' to describe the religious leaders in other passages it's most likely he's referring to them. He states their desire is to be seen by others. Jesus says that we shouldn't pray for the purpose of being seen.
In Jesus calling them hypocrites he's saying their motives were not pure. The reason they are praying like this is to be seen by others, not because their heart is in it. If no one could see them they would not be praying with such passion. Perhaps they prayed only when an audience was present-like they're a performer.
In fact, the Greek word Jesus uses here for hypocrite has the connotation of an actor-someone who portrays themselves as someone else. But more than that-hypocrite means someone who is arrogant and hard of heart, utterly devoid of sincerity and genuineness. Therefore, these religious leaders portray themselves as someone who is sincere and genuine in their prayers but in reality are the opposite.
"They have received their reward in full". This means that the blessing they might have otherwise received from God for their genuineness they will miss out on and receive the reward of accolades from the people. This is the attitude Jesus described in John 12:43 when he said "they loved praise from men more than praise from God". What was more important to these hypocrites was that they were seen and heard and praised by people. Therefore, God didn't honor their prayers with a blessing; they had already received all the blessing they were going to receive from their audience.
Jesus tells us to go into our closet and pray. Albert Barnes mentions in his commentary that in the second story of a Jewish home above the entrance there was a small room appropriated for secrecy and solitude where the pious Jew might offer his prayers, unseen by any but God. This is the place commonly mentioned in the New Testament as the upper room, or the place for secret prayer." This is interesting given the fact that Jesus held his last Supper in the upper room. So it makes sense that Jesus' longest recorded prayer was in this room of prayer (John 17).
Jesus wants us to be in the habit of developing a private, personal prayer life. Most of our time in communication with God should be spent one-on-one. I don't believe Jesus is telling us to never pray in public; he's simply telling us the importance of sincere, transparent prayer. Our prayers are going to be different in private than in public-we're going to be more transparent with God then we would be when we're around others but that doesn't mean when we pray publically we are to be any less real. When we pray, especially if it's in front of others, let's make sure our words are coming from our hearts and not simply our heads. If you don't believe it or feel it then don't say it.
Then Jesus highlights another type of person we don't want to pray like-pagans. He points out their babbling which can also be rendered as chattering. When we use the term chatterbox we know it to refer to someone who talks to much. We would understand a babbler to be someone who just goes on and on about something-sometimes using unintelligible words.