Prayer is, at once and at the same time, an often neglected and undermined but most basic and powerful discipline of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
And it is precisely the reason why, in Matthew chapter 6, the Lord singled it out from the rest of the disciplines of a disciple for extensive treatment providing us with a blueprint, a pattern and format of how to pray, how to correctly connect with God. He instructed His disciples in the manner after which we are to fashion our communication with the Father.
All three disciplines of giving, prayer and fasting that Christ expected His disciples to routinely engage in or practise had two things in common.
First, was the fact that they represent the bread and butter of discipleship, the bricks and mortar, the basics that were expected from every disciple of Christ, every disciple. Period. The second thing all three had in common was the fact that they were strictly for an audience of One – God alone. In all three cases Christ was at pains to point out that their public practise was counterproductive. It is not to say that public or corporate fasting, prayer and giving have no place in the Christian life but that each disciple also ought to practise these privately, away from prying eyes. Christ was here addressing the issue of personal disciplines of a disciple that are to be practised before God alone and nobody else. The privacy of these practises was what added value to them and so had to be preserved and maintained if they were to produce their intended results. Hence the reason why Christ reiterated the need to practise them in private.
Of the three, Jesus gave the most detailed attention and exposition to prayer.
Very often we reduce prayer to a platform for communicating our needs to God and nothing more. Our personal prayer pattern and priorities reflect our priorities in life and in offering a correct pattern and format for prayer Christ is seeking to address those misplaced priorities. Prior to delivering the format however, Jesus made some serious disclaimers that we would do well to take note of.
Disclaimer # 1: Long prayers have no value in themselves and will not score you points or get you anywhere with God.
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. Matthew 6:7
Prayer, Jesus said, is not about the number of words you can muster during your prayer time nor how eloquent and articulate you may come across – who are you trying to impress after all? God remains singularly unimpressed with your verbal prowess. That is not what He is seeking from you as you approach Him in your personal time of communicating with Him.
Disclaimer # 2: Prayer is not a platform for the provision of information to God.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:8
God is not in search of information about you or where you are at. He does not suffer from a lack of information nor are there knowledge gaps in His mind regarding your predicament or situation that require plugging. He is utterly in-the-know; in fact he is in-the-super-know. He knows all right. Nothing escapes Him at all – not even those things that escape you. His understanding is unsearchable – you cannot figure it out. Cue His response to His people who moaned that their predicament was somewhat concealed from Him or that He conveniently disregarded it. Isaiah 40:27 – 28
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
The Lord knows all that there is to know about you and much more – both your deepest fears and weaknesses and what lies ahead too; those things which even you yourself are blissfully unaware of.
There is indeed a time and place to bring our heart’s cries and daily as well as innermost needs before Him but that is definitely not what prayer is all about nor even its primary purpose. Because even when we bring our needs and challenges, weaknesses and fears before Him, what God desires and looks for in them is our trust and dependence on Him for them and not simply our communication or information provision. God is seeking and delights in our childlike trust and reliance on Him.
We will attempt to corroborate this truth in the next blog by taking an overview of a man God commended for being after His own heart.