Matthew 6:5–15 – “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.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The world’s most famous prayer from Jesus Christ is a snapshot of His relationship with His Father. Most of us are at least cursorily familiar with the Lord’s Prayer. You’ve probably said it at some point in your life at least once, and many of us have it memorized. It’s been set to music, recited in worship services, and even plastered on all kinds of products. Its simplicity, coupled with our familiarity with it, has tempted us to forget what great teaching the prayer is for us and just how great a gift it is to us.
The Lord’s Prayer itself only takes up one short paragraph (just four short lines, depending on the translation). In its context, however, this whole passage constitutes Jesus’ message instructing us on how to begin or deepen our parent-child relationship with God.
In Matthew 6:5–8, Jesus prefaces His teaching on how we should pray by first telling us how we should not pray. There are two groups that Jesus highlights as examples of how not to pray: the Pharisees and the Gentiles. In our day, we would consider these groups the religious and the rebellious, respectively.
Jesus was pointedly clear that we should not look to religious people for lessons on prayer. Indeed, while some religions and religious people may seem very pious and serious, Jesus is emphatic that this type of prayer is a problem because it diminishes our relationship with God, which defeats the entire goal of praying. Religious prayer is typically a performance for the approval of a human audience; it is heaping up empty phrases and big words into lengthy prayers as if God needs to be informed or compelled. You don’t have to wear the Father down as if He didn’t hear you the first time or just needs some extra convincing as if prayer was a stick, and He was a piñata.
On the other hand, the Gentiles “heap up empty phrases.” These are trite pithy statements that people who don’t know God echo from other people who don’t know God. Examples include, “when God closes a door He opens a window” from the book of 1 Nowhere 2:3, and, “You just need to send out good thoughts so that the universe will bless you,” which is a direct quote from 2 Nonsense 6:66. God’s not broken. Neither is He stingy. God is a good Father who knows what we, the kids He loves, need.
The third option is to be like a child. Christian prayer is to be humble, simple, respectful, sincere, and relational; it includes both speaking to and listening to God. By teaching us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was not telling us what to say, as if His words were to be repeated over and over like an old record stuck in a groove. Instead, He says, “Pray like this.” His prayer, then, is a model of prayer that, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can learn from as our own prayer life matures.
From this prayer, it is clear that Jesus has a relationship with His Father, loves His Father, trusts His Father to provide, and honors His Father just like a kid with a good dad. And His Father sees His heart posture and lovingly hears and answers, just as He does with us.
- Do you tend to be more religious or rebellious?
- How can you focus more on your relationship with God as Father instead?
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