How Not to Pray

Matthew 6:1-6

As Jesus begins his teachings on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, he starts by telling us how not to pray. Jesus is critical of mechanical piety, praying with the attitude that if you simply say the correct words often enough, you can purchase the favor of God. That is, some people approach prayer as a way of controlling God, rather than understanding prayer as the avenue by which our human will is transformed by God. The purpose of prayer is not to force God to accept our way, but to learn and then heed God’s will.

Jesus is also critical of ritualistic piety, the practice of religion that reserves the expression of faith for only certain places, at certain times, and on certain occasions. Christian prayer is an attitude of life that is always seeking to be filled with God’s presence. That’s the meaning of the biblical admonition, “pray without ceasing.”

Jesus is also critical of public piety, the practice of religion that is motivated in large part to be seen by others. Jesus refers to such people as hypocrites or mere actors playing to the crowd. The purpose of prayer is not to impress others but to commune with God

And Jesus is critical of prayer disconnected to life and the needs of others. We cannot seek to come into communion with God without recognizing we are in a community with others. The very first word of the Lord’s Prayer is “Our”; we cannot pray in isolation.

How then are we to pray? Our prayers are to be offered to God. Our prayers are focused on seeking God’s will. Our prayers should transform our life in community with others.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us, for we are sinners. Help us as we seek to follow your will.

Tom Graves

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