We find in the gospels numerous places where Jesus instructed on prayer. Jesus taught us both how to pray, and how not to pray. And some of his instruction on prayer appears contrary to human nature. For example, in these next verses, we see Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies, and those that use us:
But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, (Mat 5:44 WEB)
bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. (Luk 6:28 WEB)
Jesus also spent talking about how not to pray. For example, he says that we are not to make a big deal in front of people with our prayer. He further says that those that pray in front of men because they want to be praised for their great prayer have received their reward.
“When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. (Mat 6:5 WEB)
So, instead of making a big deal of our prayer, Jesus tells us to go by ourselves, and pray somewhere where it’s just between you and the Father.
But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Mat 6:6 WEB)
Here is some food for thought: While Jesus does teach the group how to pray there are no records where Jesus led the group in prayer. Every time it talks about Jesus praying he is doing it alone.
Here is some food for thought: Jesus never once led the group in prayer. Every time it talks about Jesus praying he is doing it alone.
Another warning that Jesus gave about prayer is that we are not to pray the same prayer over and over again. Rote repetition of prayers is fruitless.
In praying, don’t use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Therefore don’t be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him. (Mat 6:7-8 WEB)
How does this fit with the Catholic practice of saying Rosaries or praying repetitious prayers for “penance”? For example, I remember confessing sins to a priest one time and being told to say five “Our Fathers”, five “Hail Marys”, and an Act of Contrition. Did I have to say those prayers repeatedly so God would eventually hear? Is it penance to pray to God? This practice looks contrary to Matthew 6:7-8 to me.
Here is another account where Jesus tells a parable that compares a hypocritical prayer to a righteous one. The Pharisee is proud and thinks that he is praying justly but he is bragging. He brags that he is not a sinner and that he fasts and faithfully tithes. On the other hand, the humble publican beats his breast and asks for mercy. Jesus praised the publican’s prayer. He ends the parable with the proverb that if you exalt yourself before God you will be humbled, but if you humble yourself before God you will be exalted:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortionists, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luk 18:10-14 WEB)
How to Pray
Pray like this:… (Mat 6:9a WEB)
“Pray like this” does not mean to say these exact words, but to use the example as a guide for a righteous prayer. Here is the “Lord’s Prayer”:
|‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.’
(Mat 6:9b-13 WEB)
|He said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”
(Luk 11:2-4 WEB)
I have included the versions of the Lord’s prayer from both the gospel of Matthew and the one in Luke. There is no doubt that while they are very similar, they are not the same, especially that Matthew has phrases that Luke does not. This is not cause for alarm as it is more than reasonable that Jesus would teach the same teaching more than once. But if we are to speak exactly the same words each time, wouldn’t the above prayers be identical. Yes, they would. So the “Our Father” is a model upon which to base our prayers, not the one prayer that we are to memorize and say repeatedly.
Some of the elements in the Lord’s prayer include praising God for the great things he has done for us, asking for our needs to be met, asking for forgiveness, guidance, and deliverance.
Pray from the heart. Speak to God, telling him the great things that he has done for you and everyone. Confess your sins to him, and ask for forgiveness. Ask the Lord to guide you and provide for you. Recognize his greatness, and talk to him. That is how you pray
The Power of Prayer
The Gospels give us clear accounts of what is possible when we pray:
Peter, remembering, said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered away.” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. For most certainly I tell you, whoever may tell this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and doesn’t doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is happening; he shall have whatever he says. Therefore I tell you, all things whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received them, and you shall have them. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. (Mar 11:21-25 WEB)
Here we have clear guidance from the Lord on the tremendous availability of power when we pray. There’s more on this in a previous post.
More Encouragement on Prayer
While we are told not to use vain repetitions as in one of the verses above, the next verses tell us that there is power in presenting our case to the Father more than once.
He also spoke a parable to them that they must always pray, and not give up, saying, “There was a judge in a certain city who didn’t fear God, and didn’t respect man. A widow was in that city, and she often came to him, saying, ‘Defend me from my adversary!’ He wouldn’t for a while, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God, nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will defend her, or else she will wear me out by her continual coming.’” The Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge says. Won’t God avenge his chosen ones, who are crying out to him day and night, and yet he exercises patience with them? I tell you that he will avenge them quickly. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luk 18:1-8 WEB)
Some of the things that we are guided to pray for include praying for workers to evangelize and disciple new believers, and to help us avoid temptation:
Then he said to them, “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he may send out laborers into his harvest. (Luk 10:2 WEB)
Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mat 26:41 WEB)
Lastly, if we take to heart that Jesus taught us to pray from our hearts to the father, then this is something that we can do whenever and wherever. Certainly, we can take a few minutes to pray when we get up, before we nod off to sleep, and before we receive a meal. If prayer is just talking to God, then this is something that we can do all day long.
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