How Not to Pray
This post is part of a series on prayer. You can find all the posts here.
Sometimes the most effect way to learn what to do is by observing what not to do. Maybe this is why Jesus begins His instruction of prayer with how not to pray.
“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. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”Matthew 6:5-8
Here we have two examples of how not to pray:
- Don’t pray like a hypocrite.
- Don’t pray like a pagan.
There is so much unpack in these verses, but the most significant lesson to me is one of motivation—the why and the who behind our prayers.
In both cases we see wrong motivation.
Neither the hypocrites nor the pagans were having a genuine interaction with the Almighty God. Instead, they were having a “look at me/listen to me” moment.
Both examples point to an incorrect view of prayer—that of the one-sided monologue.
The hypocrites (the religious elite) Jesus spoke of prayed loudly and with eloquent words. Yet, their sole motivation was impressing others. Their interest was not in humbly approaching the throne of God to have their hearts aligned with God’s, but in impressing those around them.
Imagine someone comes up to talk to you. After casting a quick glance your way, they turn away from you, and although they continue to use your name, they are clearing speaking to the crowd that has formed around you. They make themselves sound good, they talk about how close they are to you, they recall all the things they have done for you, but never once do they look into your eyes. Never once to they turn to you and invite you to speak.
“Don’t be like them,” Jesus said.
God desires us to sit with Him. To look at Him. To simply be with Him. He is not impressed by our words or our achievements. He simply desires us—for who we are.
God is more concerned with our presence than our words.
I think He would rather we sit silent in His presence than say a bunch of words intended to impress others.
He also warned us about not praying like the pagans. They treat God like a genie or a magic spell. Thinking that if they can figure out the right incantation that God will surely grant them their request.
This is also an example of a one-sided monologue. For when we pray like that—trying to crack God’s secret code—we are not engaging in a genuine moment with our Creator. We are trying to manipulate Him to do our bidding. Instead of asking Him to help us surrender to His will, we are trying to bend Him to ours.
Both of these examples of how not to pray, provide a beautiful look into the heart of God.
A heart which desires us. Desires a genuine relationship with us.
Ponder that for a moment!
God desires you!
To spend time with you.
To hear from you.
To help you.
Prayer is the most powerful way we have to connect with the Almighty God. So let’s linger with the Savior today.
Let’s stop trying to find the right words and just sit with Him.
Let’s stop worrying about what others think, and turn our faces to the One who loves us more than we can fathom.
And let’s simply pray.