Jesus says, in Matthew chapter 6, verses 5–6, "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."
By saying this, Jesus was not creating a rule against public prayer — Jesus himself sometimes prayed in public — His point is that we should pray not just to be seen doing it.
Prayer is done for God, not for appearance. Our Lord warned against hypocrisy and the outward show of our duties. Instead, Jesus tells us that what we do must be done from an inward principle. This allows us to be approved of God, and not praised by men.
We must take heed of Christ's advice, for it is a subtle sin. Vanity creeps into what we do before we are aware of its presence. Praying like the hypocrites that Jesus spoke of serves only your pride, while prayer in secret, away from the eyes of men, serves God. The less notice we take in our own good deeds, the more God takes notice of them. He will reward you, not as a master who gives his servant what he earns and no more, but as a Father who gives abundantly to his sons and daughters who serve him.
"And when you pray, do not keep 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." (Matthew chapter 6, verses 7–8)
God knows what we need, but we should still ask (Philippians chapter 4, verse 6), and we should also be persistent (Luke chapter 18, verse 1–8). However, the effectiveness of prayer depends on God, not us. We do not have to maintain a certain posture, achieve a certain number of words, pray for a set amount of time, or speak with special eloquence. Jesus gives us an outline, or a template for prayer, one based on a model of simplicity.
"This then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.'" (Matthew chapter 6, verses 9–10)
The prayer begins with simple praise to God — it doesn't have to be elaborate, just an expression of your desire for God to be honoured and that the people on this earth would respond to his will.
"Give us today our daily bread." (Verse 11) By saying this, you acknowledge that your life is dependent on our powerful Father. Even though we may go to the store to buy bread, or make it from scratch at home, we must remember that God is the one who makes it all possible, and we depend on him day by day.
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." (Verses 12–13)
Not only do we need food, but we also need a relationship with God. This is a relationship we can often betray and are therefore in need of forgiveness. This prayer also reminds us that we should be merciful to others. After all, it's only fair — if we ask God to be merciful to us, we should extend that mercy to those around us. We are human and we fall for the human condition, therefore, we also need to acknowledge that we need God's divine help so we can resist temptations.
That ends the prayer. Jesus then emphasizes again our responsibility to forgive one another, saying"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew chapter 6, verses 14–15) The more we understand how good our God is and how short we fall, the more we can grasp our need for mercy, and so we should be willing to forgive others.
Christ saw that it was necessary to show his disciples what must commonly be the substance and method of their prayer. Remember, we are not tied to use only this template when we pray, but it is important to remember it and it is good to follow it. This prayer has much in a little; and it is important to gain an understanding of what this prayer holds and means. There are six petitions in the Lord's Prayer; the first three relate more specifically to God and his honour, and the last three relate to our own concerns, temporal and spiritual.
This prayer teaches us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and that all other things shall be added (Matthew chapter 6, verse 33). After speaking of the things of God's glory, kingdom, and will, we pray for the supports and comforts that we need in this present life. Every word here in this prayer has a lesson in it.
We ask for bread, that teaches us sobriety and temperance. We ask only for bread, not for what we do not need. We ask for our bread, teaching us honesty and industry. We do not ask for the bread of others, nor the bread of deceit (Proverbs chapter 20, verse 17), nor the bread of idleness (Proverbs chapter 31, verse 27), but the bread honestly gotten by us. We ask for our daily bread, constantly teaching us to depend upon God's divine providence.
We ask God to give it to us — not sell it to us, nor lend it to us, but give it. Even the greatest of men and women must be grateful to the mercy of God for their daily bread. We pray, "Give it to us." This teaches us a compassion for the poor, and that we should pray with our families. We pray that God would give it to us this day. This teaches us to renew the desires of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed daily. As each day starts we must pray to God, and come to an understanding that to go a day without prayer is like going a day without food.
The Lord's Prayer teaches us to hate and despise sin while we hope and believe for God's mercy. We are also taught to distrust ourselves, and to rely on God's providence and grace to keep us from it. Furthermore we are to be prepared to resist the tempter, and not to become tempters of others.
Jesus ends with a promise; if we forgive, our heavenly Father will also forgive. We must forgive, as we hope to be forgiven. Those who desire to find the mercy of God must show mercy to their brothers and sisters – the people around them. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour came into this world as the great Peace-maker. His duty was not only to reconcile us to God, but one to another.
Lehi is a youth worker at Zeal Youth Centre in Wellington, NZ, and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He loves painting, writing bad poetry, and doing life in the company of people with big hearts.
Lehi Duncan's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/lehi-duncan.html