Praying Hands, photo by C Jill Reed from Flickr
“And when you pray. . .” –Jesus, Matthew 6:5
In The Sermon on the Mount, an assumption Jesus makes is that the follower of God will pray. Jesus says, “When you pray” three times in Matthew 6:5-8.
Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse, “when you pray,” states, “It is taken for granted that all the disciples of Christ pray.” The commentary goes on to say, “You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray.” As followers of Christ we will pray just as we will eat or breathe.
Prayer is a natural relationship with Christ and has Christ as its own reward. Brother Lawrence, who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God, wrote "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God." It is only natural that followers of Christ would be in such an intimate communion with Him in prayer.
Jesus goes on to say this about prayer in The Sermon on the Mount, “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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5).
The religious leaders of the day were seeking attention and notoriety for their prayers and “self-righteousness.” The reward they received was the attention and fame. However, they were missing the point of prayer altogether. The point of prayer they were missing was a relationship with the almighty God. Prayer is a relationship with God and is its own reward.
Jesus instructs the crowd of disciples, “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” (Matthew 6:6).
A relationship with our Father is its own reward. Relationships take time and intimacy. It is in the practice of prayer that we have the reward of prayer, intimacy with God. As E. M. Bounds put it, "Prayer is not learned in a classroom but in the closet." In meeting intimately and privately with God in prayer, we learn how to relate to God intimately. We learn to pray.
Jesus continues, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
Often times we can have the false belief that God will not hear our prayers unless we get our words right, or unless we have enough words. The Bible is clear, we often do not even know how to pray, but God gives us the right words and even interprets our groans. As it says in Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
Jesus goes on to say, “Do not be like [the pagans], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
As a loving Father, God knows what we need, even before we ask. If God did not already have our best in mind, or if God was not aware of our needs, He would cease to be a loving Father and would cease to be God.
In Matthew 7:9-11 Jesus says this clearly, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
So, when you pray . . . “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (Mt 6:5–8). Peabody: Hendrickson.