“When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.” – Matthew 6:6
When you were a child, you may have been taught a short prayer. It might have been this one: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” That’s a pretty scary prayer, for kids, don’t you think? It made kids want to sleep with one eye open: “Oh, no! If I fall asleep I’m gonna die!” Here’s another familiar one: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” But that 10-second prayer was evidently too long for some kids, so they shortened it to: “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub. Yay, God!”
For a 3-year-old, memorizing a simple prayer is a good way to learn to pray. But if you’re 15, 25 or 65 years old, and you’re still praying canned prayers that sound like a broken record, then you haven’t really started to pray. This is nothing new; it was going on in Jesus’ time as well. That’s why, in His great Sermon on the Mount, He set out to teach us the RIGHT way and the WRONG way to pray.
In Matthew 6:5, Jesus begins telling us the wrong way to pray: “Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” In those days, when Jewish men prayed in the synagogue, they would often pray standing with their arms lifted in the air. That was a common prayer position in a worship service and in private prayer as well. But on a public street corner, it stood out like a sore thumb. It was a position that screamed out, “Look at me! If you want to hear a prayer that will knock your socks off, listen to me pray!” And Jesus says plainly, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
In other words, the “attaboys” that flashy pray-ers get from other people are all the reward they’ll ever get. They won’t receive any reward from God. The wrong way to pray is to pray in a way that makes YOU the center of attention.
In verse 6, Jesus explains the RIGHT way to pray. As the New Living Translation puts it: “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.” Simply put, the right way to pray is to pray discreetly and privately—motivated by a heartfelt desire to spend quality time with your Father in heaven. In other words … pray like Jesus.
In Matthew 7, Jesus continues: “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” In those days, pagan worshipers would string together long, unintelligible phrases and repeat them over and over as a mantra. Jesus says, “Many hypocrites’ prayers are like that! Their prayers are full of words, and some of those words sound really impressive. But their prayers are meaningless. They claim to be talking to God, but they’re actually just putting on a dog and pony show for people. They’re just … babbling.”
Now, you and I can babble almost as badly as the pagans. Before lunch on Sunday: “Dear God, bless this food that we are about to receive to the nourishment of our bodies. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” And the same thing before lunch on Monday. Then, before bed on Sunday: “Dear God, thank You for this day. Help us to get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed in the morning. Forgive us for our sins. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” And the same thing before bed on Monday. It becomes meaningless babbling!
Why on earth do we pray the same tired old prayers? We could never get away with saying the same tired old lines to people we're in a deep relationship with. If you spoke to your spouse every day with the same tired old language that you speak to God every day, would they think your words had any meaning whatsoever? Parents, if you spoke to your kids every day with the same tired old language that you speak to God, do you think your kids would feel loved?
At times in our lives, we’ve all heard Christians stand up in church and pray beautiful, eloquent prayers. And we’ve thought to ourselves, “Wow! I wish I could pray like that!” But Jesus turns to us and says, “No! I don’t want you to pray like that. You are a unique child of mine, and our relationship is special. So, your prayers to Your Father in Heaven should be special. They shouldn’t sound like anyone else’s. Don’t worry about using the right words. Just talk with God like you’re talking to your Daddy who loves you more than anything in the world.”
Your Father knows what you need, and He is waiting for you to bring that need to Him. He wants to listen to your needs and meet them. He wants to hear you praise Him for who He is to you, and He wants you to thank Him for the unique blessings that He’s sent your way. And He wants to share His heart and thoughts with you as well.
You need to spend quality time with God—every day—just the two of you. He is waiting for you to come to Him. He is waiting for you to pray like Jesus.
Dane Davis is the Pastor
of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service
tomorrow at 9 a.m. at