Praying the Way Jesus Taught
Is it possible to pray badly or poorly? While God doesn't “grade” our prayers, it is possible to pray in a way that Jesus would denounce. Before Jesus teaches His disciples to pray with what we now refer to as The Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6:5-8, He teaches them, and us, how not to pray. In this narrative, Jesus offers us at least four prayer directives:
1) Make prayer an integral part of every day. (Matthew 6:5,6,7a)
No doubt Jesus valued prayer. The Gospels portray Jesus bookending His days with prayer (Mk 1:35; 6:46); and I’m sure Jesus was praying throughout the day too! (1 Thes. 5:17). In Matthew 6:5-8, we see Jesus use a phrase again and again… “When you pray.” What is important to recognize about this is what Jesus doesn’t say… He doesn’t say “if you pray.” Clearly Jesus expects His followers to make prayer a vital practice in our lives, just as He did. It is an essential life tool. Do you take time to pray in a meaningful way daily? Is it a practice you employ throughout the day?
2) Ditch pretentious piety. (Matthew 6:1;5)
Jesus had a strong warning against practicing pretentious piety. Say that three times fast! If you’re like me, you can’t; but even if you can, it is not something you should ever do, according to Jesus, especially as it relates to prayer. Piety is not a bad thing… it has to do with righteous practices to honor or revere the Lord; but pretentious piety is to do those things in order to call attention to yourself. The Pharisees were notorious for this and Jesus knew it! He did not want His followers to be like that. In other words, whatever we do, whether it is praying, or giving, or serving, we should always do it to bring glory to God, never to ourselves. At Watermark, we talk a lot about making an impression and leaving a mark, but always for Jesus Christ!
3) Embrace quiet humility. (Matthew 6:6)
There is a vivid contrast between pretentious piety and secret piety. Now to be clear, Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t pray in public. He’s saying that any prayer we pray in public, or in secret for that matter, should ultimately be for God’s glory, not ours. There’s also something special about praying in secret or solitude. Of course, Jesus practiced that. Can you think of some benefits of praying in solitude? If you don’t have one, find or create a special prayer space.
4) Limit your words. (Matthew 6:7-8)
After Jesus had warned His disciples not to pray to impress other people, He warns them not to pray to impress God! The truth is, God is not really looking for long, meaningless, repetitious words in our prayers. He is far more concerned about our commitment, our humility, and our hearts. If you’re looking for a simple, but powerful prayer, take a look at the prayer of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:36-37. Clearly the Lord doesn’t desire wordy prayers meant to impress; He desires humble hearts simply yielded to seeking His will!
For much more, click here to listen to: Prayer Matters - Pray 3 - How to Pray the Way Jesus Taught.