Summary: Prayer is meant to be at the heart of a relationship to Jesus. Jesus assumes you are already praying. He doesn’t say IF you pray but WHEN you pray any relationship is built and strengthened through communication and with God, that’s prayer
Prayer is meant to be at the heart of a relationship to Jesus. In our Scripture today, Jesus assumes you are already praying. He doesn’t say IF you pray but WHEN you pray. Last week, we learned that Jesus is directing the Sermon on the Mount to hypocrites. The Greek word for hypocrite means stage actor. It’s a person pretending to be someone you’re not. Hypocrites in this case would be religious people who are sincere but are just talking the talk and not walking the walk. Now why is prayer so important? We’re not called to religion, we’re called to a relationship with Christ. And any relationship is built and strengthened through communication and with God, that’s prayer.
The greatest need that you and I have in our lives is to know God in a deep and intimate relationship. The Psalmist put it this way “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you dear God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Psalm 42:1. Blaise Pascal, the French physicist in the 17th century, said: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which can’t be filled by any created thing, but only by God the creator, made known through His Son Jesus Christ.” It’s important that we all recognize this thirst because we attempt to quench it with many other things: relationships, material belongings, financial security and even religion. Religion focuses on religious practices, rules, observances, and traditions, all in an effort to find favor with God. And even though we may be sincere in our religion, it is inadequate to satisfy this thirst to know God.
Moses knew God and experienced the power of God in incredible ways. Think about the burning bush or the 10 plagues that God worked through Moses to convince Pharaoh to let His people go or the parting of the Red Sea or receiving the Ten Commandments. Yet despite all of this, Moses still isn’t satisfied. Moses said, “God, can I just ask you for one thing? I want to see your face.” We want to know God, and nothing else will substitute or satisfy our thirst.
Jesus addresses several keys to effective prayer. First, carefully choose the place you pray. Think of this past week and identify places and times where and when you prayed. In the car, bathroom, work, bed, in front of your computer, at the dinner table? In a sense, Jesus is making the point that many of us are so busy that we don’t really get focused on our prayer relationship with God until we are in a formal public place like a worship service. In this passage, we see a Pharisee praying on the street corner, a common practice in Jesus’ time. Orthodox Jews continue a similar practice today, praying wherever they are three times a day —9 in the morning, noon, and 3 in the afternoon and that’s often publicly. Now, Jesus isn’t knocking tradition because they can give us focus and discipline in our lives. They can also be powerful times of prayer. Remember the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples, which occurred as they gathered at 9 am for prayer? Powerful things happen when we come together to pray, so Jesus is not knocking formality or tradition.
But if that is the only time you pray, then you’re missing out on the relationship Jesus wants to have with you. We have to go beyond public times of prayer to private times. Some of your Bibles translate Jesus’ words this way: “go into your closet and pray.” Literally it means to go into a room with no windows, in other words, a place where no one will see you but your heavenly Father. This is the place where you can be yourself and share all of your hopes, your fears, and your sins. So find a place where you can be alone with God without any people or any distractions.
Second, check your view of God. One of the reasons we struggle with prayer is our image of God. Many of us have a view of God as an angry and vengeful judge who is just waiting to judge us. That image has also crept into some of our Christian literature and art throughout the ages. The result is that we feel guilty when we come to God and are hesitant to name our sins. Thus, it’s easier not to confess our sins or to avoid prayer altogether. Jesus shared a distinctly different view of God. In the Lord’s Prayer, he addresses God using the word “Abba” which is what a young child would use as a term of endearment or affection towards their father, like “Daddy.” God is not a God of judgment and vengeance but one of love, forgiveness and acceptance.