Lord, teach us to pray (Part 2): Preparation and setting
Jesus taught us how to pray when one of his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).
Because prayer is a spiritual activity, Jesus started by describing the preparation and setting conducive to effective prayer. The preparation and setting may be summarized as follows: when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand in the synagogues and street corners to be seen by people; instead, go into your room; close the door; and pray to your Father who is unseen but sees and rewards in secret; and do not use many words like pagans do because your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (Matthew 6:5-8).
We learn from the preceding passage that prayer must be purposeful, focused, and spiritual. Purposeful because prayer is a form of worshipping the Almighty God and not showing off to people; focused because we are communing with the Divine God who deserves our perfect attention without avoidable distractions; and spiritual because we are praying by faith to the Spiritual and Omnipresent God who is unseen.
First, we should note that there were priests, high priests, and chief priests in the Land of Israel, but Jesus did not tell the disciples to go to the priests to pray for them. He taught them how to pray so that they could pray by and for themselves. There is nothing wrong in joining forces with others to pray, but we should not delegate to others, no matter how powerful or highly placed, our responsibility to pray for ourselves and others.
Second, prayer is not a spectator sport where we pray for others to hear or see. Privacy is important. Privacy ensures that our communication with God is as secret and confidential as possible and not a matter of public spectacle. That is why Jesus says we should go into our room and pray. After all, when we pray, we are appealing to an audience of one, the Almighty God, through His Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Third, not only does Jesus want us to go into our room, he also wants us to close the door. These acts prevent public spectacle, minimize distractions to the person praying, minimize disturbance to others, and foster personal relationship with God. Shouting for others to hear may not necessarily provide incremental benefits of getting our prayers heard or answered faster or better since the Lord‘s ear is not too dull to hear (Isaiah 59:1). We may only succeed in getting our neighbors angry because we would be disturbing their peace or depriving them of their sleep. God who heard and answered the prayer of the Prophet Jonah from inside the belly of a fish in the midst of a violent storm on a raging sea (Jonah Chapters 1 and 2), will certainly hear us in the quiet and serene environment of our Church or room.
Moreover, mortal men should know that we cannot shout at or “command” the Almighty God to do what He would otherwise not want to do. We approach the Lord in prayers not from the standpoint of being righteous or powerful with a sense entitlement, but with humility and a contrite heart recognizing that we are sinners or, at best, sinners saved by grace. God does not owe us anything; we owe Him everything.
Fourth, we should bear in mind what Jesus said that we should not use many words because our Father knows what we need before we ask Him. It is often heard from people who have consulted fetish priests and other agents of the devil that the person is powerful because he or she was able to tell them about their problems without a word from them. If agents of the devil know about their clients’ or customers’ reasons for visiting them, do we not believe that the Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and Our Maker, knows about our problems, wants and needs before we ask Him? Therefore, if God heard or answered our prayers, it was not because we shouted the loudest, used many words, or used the most flowery language.
Fifth, Jesus singled out two groups of people whom the disciples were not to emulate: hypocrites and pagans. Jesus did not want the disciples to be like hypocrites who stood and prayed in synagogues and street corners to demonstrate their piety before people. Nor did he want them to use many words like the pagans did. Lest we forget, the people whom Jesus referred to as hypocrites were not necessarily ordinary, low-level members of the community, but may have included some of the influential leaders such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes, and priests.
As in the days of Jesus, there are some people today whom Christians should not emulate. Their preaching and prayers in the Churches and on street corners have now been amplified by radio, television, Internet, and various media, and have enhanced their ability to deceive many people. We should watch out for those who may be working in concert with pagans and idol worshippers to commercialize and make mockery of Christianity for their own personal gain. Christians are positive changers and so we should seek to change the world and not allow the world to negatively influence us. Do not allow those who have sold their souls to the devil and are misleading people, to take you to hell with them.
Lastly, we need to know that Jesus is telling us that prayer is not if, but when; that is why he said, “when you pray.” Prayer is important and we should pray as often as possible. Jesus set an example for us by praying to the Father several times (e.g., Matthew 26:39; Mark 1:35; Luke 5; 16; and John 17:9). So did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and a host of others. We should emulate those great men of God who, by faith, recognized the importance of prayer and prayed to God in their daily lives.
Emulate prayer warriors, but do not delegate your prayer responsibilities to anyone. If we build the right personal relationship with God, we would have no need to depend on others to commune with Him. All of us can use prayer partners, and it may be helpful to participate in prayer networks etc., but do not delegate your prayer life to any group or anyone, high or low. You need to build your own, personal relationship with God through regular fellowship with Him. No one can build a personal relationship for you. As the Apostle Paul advises, we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Just follow the framework that Jesus provides and you will be fine.
A Christian who wakes up in the morning, spends time preparing for work, school, and other daily activities, and leaves home without praying is like a soldier who spends time preparing for battle, but leaves the army barracks or camp for the battlefield without checking with his or her base commander. Yes, we are soldiers in the army of the Lord and we need to prepare by checking in with our Lord routinely before we embark on our daily activities.
Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers.