Several months ago, my sister Leanna and I were asked to co-teach a Sunday School lesson on prayer for the ladies’ class at our church. Our class has been traveling through Jen Wilkin’s study of the Sermon on the Mount, and our particular text was Matthew 6:5-8.
Leanna and I each dissected the passage on our own and compiled a lesson of both our gleanings. Through this study of Jesus’ warnings of how-to and how-not-to pray, I’ve personally been reminded of five simple—yet profound—truths from his own words to inspire my prayer life.
- Prayer Is Expected
And when you pray… (Matt. 6:5a)
Prayer—the intentional act of talking with our Father—isn’t an option. It’s a command.
- Private Prayer Informs Public Prayer
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 (Matt. 6:6).
The hypocrites stood on the street corners to pray so that they would be seen. This is such a paradox. Private, secret prayer alone with the Father should precede public prayer, because it’s in the secret place that our motives are aligned, and our heart tuned correctly.
- The Focus of Prayer is the Father
…pray to your Father… (Matt. 6:6b)
Jen Wilkin wisely teaches that our public prayers should sound like our private prayers. If we begin to notice extra embellishments or added length to our prayers in public, it may be time to ask ourselves if we’re praying for the Father, or for those who are listening.
- The Goal of Prayer Is Intimacy
…your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matt. 6:8b).
It’s a question I think every Christian has at some point asked. Why pray if God already knows what I need? What’s the point?
Just as a marriage relationship could never flourish without constant communication, so it is with the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father. God knows what we need, and he wants us to ask for it. He wants to hear the cry of our heart.
Prayer doesn’t change God. It changes [us]. (C.S. Lewis)
- Genuine Prayer Flows from a Desperate Heart
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39).
We don’t begin to cultivate a heart of continual, authentic prayer until we grow desperate for God. I can think of more than one instance where something was stripped from my life to bring me to my knees with a desperation that elevated my prayer life to an incomparable degree.
Like children who shamelessly pester their parent for everything they need, the Father desires us to come to him helpless, needy, and poor in spirit so that we can truly experience who he is in light of just how small and disabled we are.
Paul Miller captures this beautifully in his book A Praying Life:
God… cheers when we come to him with our wobbling, unsteady prayers. Jesus does not say, “Come to Me, all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.” No, Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
 Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, (NAVPRESS; Colorado Springs, CO; 2017), 19,20