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. 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.
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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:5–9)
The Lord’s Prayer is something which is familiar to us all. Even those who rarely enter a church building will know its well worn lines. Less familiar are the lines above, which are the words Jesus utters before teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. These verses are to do with the attitude of prayer, and over the next few days we will look at how they guide us as we pray.
First, though, I should acknowledge the challenge which lies in the second of Jesus’ words: “when”. Whilst public prayer is a staple of a church services, it is very often the case that prayer ceases at the church doors. It is easy to pray in an emergency, but is also easy to forget to pray when life is mundane.
Thomas Manton (1620–1677) once likened prayer to gardening. If you neglect the garden, it is soon overrun with weeds. If you neglect prayer, your life is soon overrun with troubles. In fact, you might go as far as to say that regular prayer can help avoid the anxieties which drive you to your knees. Little and often is the way to go.
One last thing: when you read someone writing about prayer, it is easy to feel guilty. Guilty that you do not prayer enough (or at all). Guilty that you can’t even see the point of all this. If that is the case, then don’t listen to that nagging voice. Simply start where you are, and pray out the things which are on your mind. A mother is overjoyed with her child’s halting first word, and our Father is delighted as you begin speaking.
So as we begin to look at how we pray, perhaps a good start is to turn “if you pray” into “when you pray”. You may feel your prayers are wandering, weak and wobbly but you can be confident that your Father hears them.