Our attitude to each other is so important when it comes to developing our prayer life. Jesus said, ‘And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.’ (Mk. 11:25). Forgiveness is such an important key to the activity of heaven happening in our lives.
In Matt.6:5-13, we can read about the teaching of Christ on prayer. This is really where we need to start. But before we get into it, we need to realise that before Jesus taught the mechanics of prayer, He spoke on the motives of prayer. We need to remember that men look on the outward appearances of things, even the words and fervour of prayers, but God looks at the heart. And then we need to notice that he said that it was ‘when’ we pray, not ‘if’ we pray. It seems that he took it as read that people in relationship with him would naturally want to talk to him. Michael Casey writes, ‘Human life is one long movement toward God. Prayer is the moment when we become more aware of the nature of that journey.’
Firstly then, Jesus starts by teaching us how not to pray. (Matt.6:5.7) He gives three ‘don’t pray like this’ directives. The first one is ‘don’t pray like the hypocrites’. The word literally means ‘play-actor’. In other words, this is when we are pretending to be someone that we are not in reality. Prayers can be used to impress God of our spirituality, hoping that He will think that we are deeply spiritual. God actually hates that kind of stuff, preferring that we would be real and honest with him. The first stammering words of a child are delightful to the ears of the parent. And so it is with our Father in heaven. The confessing of our weakness and difficulties actually draws his huge heart towards us. The classic case in scripture is of the comparison between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector: The Message puts it like this: ‘The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’
Secondly, Jesus said, ‘don’t pray in order to be seen by men.’ This kind of praying draws attention to yourself. This is where we find ourselves praying publicly in such a way to attract affirmation, applause or appreciation from those around us. It is the giving of the impression to others that you are quite spiritual. Jesus taught that we should ‘beware of practicing our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then we will have no reward from our Father who is in heaven.’ (Matt. 6:1) Thirdly, Jesus said ‘don’t pray with meaningless repetition.’ In his day, the Jews had this saying that ‘everyone who multiplies prayer is heard; and that whoever prolongs his prayer, his prayer does not return empty; and he that is long in prayer, his days are prolonged, and, according to their canons, every day a man ought to pray eighteen prayers.’ It’s not length or volume; it’s depth and reality of heart that gets his attention.