When you pray | Matthew 6:5-8

Passage: Matthew 6:5-8
5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him! [NLT]
Jesus is leading us into an understanding of how to pray, but he is still dealing with the problem of the prideful heart. The problem is that many people were praying to be seen by the men around them, not to open their hearts to God. Let's take a look at the cultural context of these verses...
The problem is not public prayer but motives directed toward other people rather than toward God. It was probably common for pious people to recite their prayers individually in the *synagogue; it is not clear that everyone prayed simultaneously in all synagogues as early as Jesus’ time. The “chamber” could have been a storeroom; most people did not have private rooms in their houses, and only that room would have a door on it. Standing was a common posture for prayer.
Jewish scholars were debating the use of fixed prayers in this period; they generally held them to be acceptable if one’s intent was genuine. Greek prayers piled up as many titles of the deity addressed as possible, hoping to secure his or her attention. Pagan prayers typically reminded the deity of favors done or sacrifices offered, attempting to get a response from the god on contractual grounds.
Judaism recognized that God knew everything; the issue here is thus not Jesus’ hearers’ doctrine but their hearts. Jewish people saw God differently than Greeks saw their gods (even though even monotheistic faith was not always what it should have been). In Judaism, God was a Father who delighted in meeting the needs of his people; Judaism also recognized that God knew all a person’s thoughts. Jesus predicates effective prayer on a relationship of intimacy, not a business partnership model, which was closer to the one followed by ancient paganism. IVP Bible Background Commentary

This is another "heart-check" teaching. Jesus is trying to get us to understand that God sees all things and hears all prayers, but if you are really just praying to be heard of others than how can He respond to a prayer that wasn't truly directed to Him. I must ask myself, "Who am I really praying to?" My own personal prayer life is fraught with ups and downs, mostly caused by interjecting myself too much into the act of praying.
Often I actually find my mind wandering while I'm in prayer...and I have started to realize that this may not be such a bad thing. If you are in a quiet place and you are seeking God's Will, letting your mind wander across a certain problem is in essence sharing that situation with God. The hard part is staying on topic. Stay on topic and be sure to spend some time listening for a response.
I also believe that we should spend that quiet time away from the noise and distractions of this world. The direction from Jesus for us to go to a private room and pray to the Father is telling me that I don't spend enough time listening for the answer because I can't hear it through the fog of life. Private prayer is so very important. It is much more important than praying in a group, though this too should not be neglected.
Did you notice the ways that the pagans and Greeks prayed to their gods? Have you ever found yourself praying to God in the same way? Making deals with Him...or...piling up His titles to get His attention. I am definitely guilty of the "making deals" problem. My every day life works in much the same way. I'll do this for you if you do that for me. This was an eye opener for me. I need to change the way that I pray. If we try to make a deal with God it is tangled up with our sin problem. He does not respond in that way, but is concerned with our well-being "even before we ask for it". His "deals" or "covenants" with us are for our good...quite the opposite of the types of deals we try to make.
What about the "piling up His titles" problem? Have you ever heard someone start a prayer with.. "Father in Heaven, Lord and Ruler of the Universe, Master, Teacher, Friend, and Creator". What are they really trying to do here? Are they appealing to God's sense of power? Are they trying to flatter God? Interesting to think about...
I fear we are only scratching the surface on the subject of prayer. I call you to think on this. Search your heart and then listen to God's response.
Today, I will be praying in private. :)