Matthew 6 has a few important “don’ts” about prayer. These instructions were coming against the rituals of the spiritual leaders that had turned prayer into a public display of empty religion. Jesus instructed his disciples to spend time in prayer in private, not on the street corners to be seen and praised by men.
God took more delight in secret prayer than in public antics. And verse 7 states, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He showed them an example of a prayer. This is what is called the Lord’s Prayer. But it was meant to be an example to follow. It was not meant to be something to simply memorize and repeat daily without thought. All of these “don’ts” led up to a major “do” for the disciples: to pray.
There was a significant and specific purpose behind the time that Jesus took to teach His disciples about prayer. They were twelve men that had been hand-picked for an incredible mission. They were one day going to be Apostles who would carry the message of the gospel throughout Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea, and the world. This was a tough assignment. But it would have been even tougher if they did not know how to access the power and presence of God. Prayer was going to be their ticket for an ongoing relationship with the Father, and this relationship was what was going to give them success in their future ministries.
The ministry of the Apostles was based on what is called the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) They had the responsibility of doing for others what Jesus had done for them for three years: they were to teach the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. This included leading people to the salvation of the Lord, raising the dead, healing the sick, following the Word of God, and more.
Gone were the days of observing the things of God from a ritualistic viewpoint. No longer was mankind to stand off to the side while a priest interceded for them. No more substitutions. No more vain regulations. The time had come for mankind to taste and see that the Lord is good. It was to be a personal experience. And it began with the Apostles. They had firsthand experience when it came to spending time with God. Jesus was the Word of God made flesh, the physical representation of everything that God is. And upon His ascension, Jesus promised a replacement, the Comforter, the Spirit of God that would dwell within their hearts. And through prayer, they had direct access to the throne of God at any time. They could receive forgiveness, healing, strength, affirmation, provision.
But prayer is not to be just a method of receiving. It is first to be a method of offering the “sacrifices of our lips.” (Hosea 14:2) It is an opportunity to praise God for the things He has done and to worship Him for who He is. It is true that petition is a part of prayer. But it is not the heart of it. Honoring God and giving him praise should be at the forefront of every Christian’s mind, for without Him life has no meaning and no purpose. Outside of the Kingdom of God, there is no hope. But those who understand the value of prayer have the benefit of entering into the presence of God, and leading others to do the same.