CNN Talk Show host, Larry King, wrote a book called Powerful Prayers. King is not a believer, He admits in the introduction of the book that he’s agnostic, (he doesn’t know if there’s a God or not) but over the years he has interviewed so many people that he was overwhelmed that prayer is such an important part of their lives.
Every poll taken says that people pray regularly. It’s a universal fact that people everywhere pray. Not just Christians, even 17% of all Atheists pray!
Larry King says that if he were to pray, he did not know who or what to pray to. He sought out a Jewish Rabbi. One of the things that he wanted the rabbi to show him was how to pray. In the New Testament book of Luke chapter 11 the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us how to pray.” Prayer was so important to Jesus that he spent a good section of the Sermon on the Mount teaching about it.
The typical prayers that are prayed can be selfish. If I’m not careful, prayer can be all about me and what I want. Prayers can also be for show. Prayers that are only focused on self or focused on impressing others are may be normal but what Jesus teaches us about prayer is different.
Throw out every idea you’ve ever had about prayer for now. Have an open mind to hear what Jesus says about prayer. In Matthew 6, which is in the Sermon on the Mount, gives us three guidelines on how to pray.
1. Be Real
In Matthew 6:5 Jesus says, “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.” In the New Testament times, the Pharisees were pros at phony prayers, they were not real but showy. The Pharisees prayed at 9 a.m.,12 noon, and 3 p.m. every day — just like drinking Dr. Pepper. Prayer became a show, a chance to be seen by others not a real conversation with God.
Two things I try to remember in praying.
- I don’t need to try to impress others with my prayers. Have you ever heard a prayer prayed and when they finished you wanted to go, “Wow! What a performance!” It sounded so good and you thought that it was great.
Or have you ever been in a prayer group and everybody’s praying around a circle and you’re thinking, “There’s only three left until me… only two left… only one… I’m next! What am I going to say that hasn’t already been said? What are they going to think?” The moment I stop worrying about what other people will think and just be myself the easier it is to pray. God doesn’t care how I say it, but what comes from my heart that is real.
- I don’t need to try to impress God with my prayers. Often I pray things that I think God wants me to say, rather than praying what’s really on my heart.
The second guideline:
- Be Removed
“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.”
Did you see the movie “War Room?” I recommend it if you haven’t! It’s a great movie on the power of prayer and having a special place like a closet where you can focus on prayer. Why? It helps to remove the distractions. Also each time you see this place it can also serve as a reminder to continue to pray. A place of prayer is somewhere you can focus on God, clear your mind, be quiet for a minute, and just tune into God.
That’s why we close our eyes. Not because the Bible says so or that it is holy but it helps remove distractions. The third guideline:
- Be Relational
God is a relational God. We shouldn’t do all the talking. Jesus says
verses 7-8 “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.”
In prayer I don’t want to keep on babbling. Prayer is a conversation. There are times I talk and there are times I need to listen.
In the past I tried to copy other people’s prayers. I got caught up in all of these religious clichés: “lead, guide and direct us”, “bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies”, “bless the gift and the giver”, “God, help so and so…”. Our favorite word… when we don’t know what to say, we say the word “just” — “God, we just want you to do this, Lord, we just thank you,” It’s a filler word. Do you get tired of religious clichés? I do.
I love to hear new Christians pray. They haven’t learned the clichés yet. They just say, “Hi God. It’s me. What’s up with you?”
Be relational, not fancy or pompous. Can you imagine if I walked in the door at night and my 7 year old daughter Danielle says, “Oh, almighty procreator of our family. How wonderful thou art, who sovereignly deposits toys for me. Oh, the majesty of thy wonderful self! We beseech thee to come eat dinner with us.” I’d check her pulse and temperature! And call the Poison control center. I want her to say, “Hey! Daddy’s home. Good to see you, dad!”
I’m not saying be flippant. God is more than “The Big Man Upstairs.” He is our Father. Jesus said, “Pray Abba Father” which means “Daddy.” We don’t have to use fancy language. Prayer is a genuine conversation with God. He knows me and he knows my needs. I can be real and be relational, and share what is really on my heart. I can also listen.
Those are good guidelines. What do I say? Fortunately, Jesus tells us. He gives us a model in verse 9, “This, then, is how you should pray…” It does not say, “This, then, is exactly what you should pray.” In the Bible, we are never commanded to pray the Lord’s prayer, He says, “This is how you should pray.” Not the exact the wording, but a model, a framework, and an outline by which we can learn to pray.
Prayer is an act of giving and receiving and Jesus says there are six things we can give to God in prayer. We’ll look at those in the next post.