Why Pray?

August 30, 2023 | Blog,

If you were to ask me about an area of my spiritual life that I wish were stronger, I would tell you it is my prayer life.  In fact, that is probably a common theme with most of us I would suspect.  There are typically a couple of barriers that keep us from developing a deeper prayer life.  First, we wonder if prayer really makes a difference. We ask ourselves, “Do my prayers matter?” It’s easy to fall into a kind of fatalism that says, “God will do, what God will do.” That can cause us to stop praying because we think our prayers don’t matter. Another barrier to a deeper prayer life is the little voice inside that tells us we’ve got more important things to do. Prayer is good but we need to get on with the “real business” of the day. So, we don’t pray as we ought to. Can you relate to either of those barriers to a deeper prayer life? If so, I am sure the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:5-8 will be both a challenge and encouragement.  Our Lord said this about prayer:
Matthew 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.  6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Notice Jesus says, “when you pray”, not “if you pray.” He assumed his followers would be regularly in prayer. Now, if God already knows our needs, as verse 8 says, even before we ask him, then it is natural to ask the question: Why pray? I believe the text answers that question for us. In this text, Jesus first mentions some reasons why we should not pray, and then he gets to the heart of why we should pray.
1. We should not pray to be seen by others
In verse 5 Jesus isn’t speaking against having a certain posture when we pray, like standing for example, for this was also the usual posture for Jews in prayer. Nor was Jesus speaking against praying in public if the motive was right. What Jesus is speaking against here is having the wrong motive in prayer. The motive of the hypocrite is always “to be seen” by others. Hypocrisy isn’t just a danger in prayer. It is a danger on all fronts. We can go to church for the wrong reasons, for example, to merely see others, or to be seen by others, or to feel good about ourselves, or to be able to check that item off our week’s spiritual check list. I went to church this week. Check. I read my Bible today. Check. I prayed today. Check. I gave my pocket change to a homeless man. Check. Wow. Look how spiritual I am.

If our goal in the spiritual disciplines (like giving, praying, fasting) is to be seen and praised by others, then Jesus says that we will receive that reward, for he says at the end of verse 5, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” In other words, if what you want is applause from others, you’ll get it. But in getting that, you lose out on God’s reward. To fight against hypocrisy Jesus gives this guidance in v.6, “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.” Some people take this verse together with the previous one and conclude that it’s wrong to pray in public.  That’s not what Jesus is saying.  It isn’t wrong to pray in public (see Acts 4:24). Jesus is not against praying in public. What he is against is hypocrisy in prayer.
2. We do not pray to impress God
God isn’t more impressed if we use King James English, or if we pray really long prayers. Look at v.7, “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Actually, fewer words are better. Ecclesiastes 5:2b says, “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” It would be better to pray a short, meaningful, heartfelt, authentic prayer, than a long prayer that is mechanical, repetitious, shallow, and insincere.
3. We do not pray to inform God
Look at verse 8. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” We can’t tell God anything he doesn’t already know. God knows it all. He knows about your bad habits. He knows about your family problems. He knows about your financial worries. He knows about your aches and pains. He knows what thoughts keep you up at night, or what wakes you up early in the morning! If that’s true, then it brings us back to the original question. Why Pray? If we do not pray to impress God. If we do not pray to inform God of things, then why do we pray?
4. We pray to express our dependence on the Lord and enjoy fellowship with Him
Prayer isn’t for God’s good. It’s for our good. As verse 6 says, it’s about consciously and deliberately coming before God, our heavenly “Father”, and getting alone with him.
I have heard of some people going to sit in their car as their secret place of prayer. Or they put on their head phones in a café and pray. Others, like me, prefer to go for a walk and pray. God doesn’t need our prayers, but we need to pray. We need to pray to express our dependence on him and enjoy fellowship with him. Furthermore, in a mysterious way, that I don’t claim to fully understand, God uses our prayers to accomplish His will in our lives and the lives of those around us. 

Therefore, as it says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We so easily can stop praying when our prayers seem unanswered.  But Scripture tells us, “Don’t become weary” in doing good—in praying—for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. What harvest? Perhaps Jesus was referring to the “reward” of prayer in Matthew 6:6. Our Lord doesn’t specify what exactly that reward is. Perhaps the reward will be deeper fellowship with him. Maybe it will be greater joy, renewed hope, or encouragement.  Maybe it is seeing our prayers answered and enjoying the blessing of seeing God at work. The reward may vary in this life depending on the situation. But, whatever reward may be available now, there is surely an aspect of God’s reward that we will only see in heaven. In heaven, we will finally see clearly how our prayers made a difference. Perhaps some person whose salvation we prayed for will greet us as we walk the streets of heaven. Or perhaps some family member we prayed for will tell us how God used those prayers to work in their life. Or perhaps God himself will tell us how our prayer mattered in the life of the church and the furthering of the great commission.
I don’t claim to know every possible reward for prayer, but I do know that if God promises a reward for prayer, and if God always keeps his promises, then there will be a reward. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

With Christ’s love for each of you. Keep praying!

Your Pastor

Bryan Guinness

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