5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
A Week of Extraordinary Prayer
At the beginning of every year at our church, we dedicate a week to extraordinary prayer. We pray every morning and every day at noon. We pray through the night on Friday. And I preach on prayer. The aim of this focus on prayer is to help you see and feel in a fresh way how important prayer is so that you resolve to be a praying person.
My approach is not to give a detailed exposition of one text but a broad overview in answer to three questions:
1) What is prayer?
2) Where or with whom we should we pray?
3) And why should we pray?
And in the last part of the message, I will try to focus our closing attention on Jesus’ main, overarching concern in prayer that will give unity and depth and a magnificent scope to all your praying.
Lord, come and help us understand and love prayer.
1) What Is Prayer?
By prayer, I mean intentionally conveying a message to God. It’s frustrating—isn’t it?—how unclear language can be if we are not careful. Why do I say “intentionally conveying a message to God? Why don’t I just say that prayer is talking to God? Well, because romans 8:26 says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” I take this to mean that there are groans of our hearts that the Spirit inspires that are sometimes wordless. So prayer is usually talking to God, but there are times when you can’t talk and can still pray, that is, convey a message to God.
Or why don’t I just say, then, that prayer is communicating with God? Well, because that sounds like I’m talking to him and he is talking to me. But that is not what prayer is. God talking to me is never called prayer in the Bible. When God communicates something to us, we call it revelation or illumination. It is not prayer. And we get into a big, unbiblical muddle if we use the word prayer for what God speaks to us.