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Prayer is the second illustration of how an inner life that is aligned with Jesus operates. Let’s pull up a chair, sit before Jesus, and learn from the Master who “lives to make intercession for us” (Hebrews 7.25).
If we are to be aligned with Jesus, both our inside condition and our outward expression must be one.
Jesus put it like this, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever 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” (Matthew 6.5-6).
Jesus makes it clear that the audience for prayer is God, not people who may hear us pray. It is highly disrespectful to our heavenly Father to be pretending to pray to him, while all the while we are hoping to impress people who may be listening to our prayer.
I am afraid that nearly every person who has ever prayed in public is guilty of hoping that their prayer is acceptable to the people who are listening. I don’t want to discourage anyone who is new to praying in public by adding any kind of condemnation. Don’t stop praying in public. Just keep at it and make some adjustments. This is my advice to people who are new to praying in public.
People who have some experience with public prayer need to pay close attention to how they pray. If you are using your prayer to give someone advice or to express your views on a subject, you are clearly aiming your prayer in the wrong direction. God doesn’t need our opinions and advice. Prayer that is aligned with Jesus is focused on God with a sincere desire to bring a request to him.
If you are comparing how your prayer sounds with that of another person, you need to know this truth. “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7). The most important thing about your prayer is not how it sounds, but rather the condition of your heart.
The Inner Room of Prayer
Jesus prayed in public. In fact, his prayers were so remarkable that his disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11.1). The disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to do anything, except how to pray. They would never have been encouraged to pray like Jesus without hearing him pray in the first place.
The issue is not whether to pray in public or not, but how we approach praying before other people. The main emphasis is to be conscious of being in God’s presence more than being heard by people around us.
That being said, there is a real value for people to have an “inner room” or a place of prayer. One of the best habits you can establish is to have a place and a time when you meet with God.
Your back porch with a Bible and a cup of coffee may be a perfect place and time to meet with the Lord. If you are new at prayer, consider meeting with the Lord as with a friend over coffee. When your coffee cup is empty, it may be a signal for you to end your prayer time.
Other people may find a walk around the neighborhood to be an excellent “inner room” for prayer.
Single mothers may have a very difficult time finding an “inner room” or a quiet moment. Try praying for your child while you play with her.
One of my most joyful moments in prayer is lying beside our grandchildren as we go to sleep. I may rub their back and silently pray for them, as they – and I – fall off to sleep.
There is a common theme that is present with people whose lives are aligned with Jesus. They meet with him every day. They have a place and a time for that meeting. Their “Jesus time” is sacred and is not neglected. If you don’t have a time and a place to meet with Jesus, please give yourself a gift and start doing it.
Trying to Impress God
Just as we can try to impress people, we can try to impress God with our prayers, too. Jesus told us not to do this and said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that 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 6.7-8).
I have heard people say, “Since God knows what I need before I ask, I don’t think I need to ask him for anything.”
That is a misunderstanding of what Jesus is teaching. One of the best ways to get better acquainted with the Father is by talking to him. One of the most natural things for a child to do with his father is to ask for things. The same principle applies to our relationship with our heavenly Father.
If you choose to live by the idea that “God knows what I need, so why ask,” you will cheat yourself out of a real and personal relationship with the Greatest Being of All.
Another question we may sincerely ask is, “Do I need help God answer my prayers in some way or another? What if I cry or pray more fervently? Will that get me an answer?”
Let’s not forget “the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7). In my opinion, what is going on in our heart when we pray is far more important that what comes out of our mouth.
If I am using a prayer book, which I do on occasion, and my heart is right, this is a good way to pray. If I keep on praying with a prayer burden where my heart is fully engaged, this is a good approach to pray. If I pray with tears and a broken heart, again this is good way to come to our heavenly Father.
On the other hand, if I pray the Lord’s Prayer from a prayer book and my mind is on something else, that prayer is an insult to God. He deserves the same kind of attention that I would give to any earthly dignitary, and more.
If I attempt to manufacture some kind of “prayerful” inner emotion or tears because the religious feeling is a sensation I want to experience, or because I think it is a formula for success with God, I am wrong.
Please note, I have failed at having the right “heart” attitude in prayer on a regular basis. Some of the things I have written in this article are corrections I have received from the Holy Spirit.
The bottom line is that prayer is a conversation with our Father in heaven. Let’s talk to him like we would approach a very important person, who also happens to be our Father in heaven.
In a conversation with God that is free from religious trappings and expectations, we can explore a relationship with the Greatest Being of All in a way that is both real and personal.
Grab a cup of coffee, go to your inner room and spend some time with him today. Enjoy his presence. Bring to him your needs. Learn, along with the rest of his friends and followers, what a joy it is to be in a friendship-relationship with God.
Dear God, you give us the greatest opportunity of all – to know you in a personal way. Please show us how you want us to meet with you. We ask you to teach us how to pray and we expect that you will help us. Thank you.