In Jesus days on earth, there was hardly an occasion in the life of a devout Jew that didn’t have a stated formula for prayer. It was the intention that every happening in life should be brought into the presence of God. The devout Jew had set times for prayer at 9:00 a.m., 12 midday and 3:00 p.m., and wherever they might be at those times they were required to pray. Some of them would be certain to be in a conspicuous public place at these times to pray so that they would appear pious. Many times their prayers would be long and composed to impress those around them rather that being addressed to God.
Jesus condemned this practice in Matthew 6:5-6 when He said: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they are fond of praying standing in the synagogues and at the corners of the streets, so that they may be seen by people. This is the truth I tell you—they are paid in full. But when you pray, go into your private room, and shut the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what happens in secret will give you your reward in full.”
There was a practice among the Jews to make their prayers long, as if by doing so they would impress God and get their prayers answered. It is told that Charles Spurgeon had in his congregation a man who had a tendency to pray long and eloquently when called upon to pray in church. Once, when this man had prayed for too long, Spurgeon came down from the dais and tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Just thank God for his blessings and ask Him for something, and then say ‘Amen’”.
Jesus said, “When you pray, do not pile up meaningless phrases, as the Gentiles do, for their idea is that they will be heard because of the length of their words. So, then, do not be like them, for your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:7-8
Jesus laid down two great rules for prayer. First, He says that all true prayer must be offered to God and not the people around them who are listening. When we pray, whether in private or public, our thoughts and desires should be addressed to God. Second, we must remember that God is a loving God and is more ready to answer than we are to pray. It isn’t necessary to coax, pester, or bargain in order to receive an answer from God. If we can remember this, we will be able to go to God with our prayers and sincerely pray, “Thy will be done.”
Jesus continues to tell us how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, by giving us what has come to be identified as “The Lord’s Prayer”. Prayer is communion with God. What a baffling but glorious privilege it is for us, common and sinful as we are, to be able to approach the throne of Almighty God.