Prayer is not demanding from God. It is not simply asking from God. It is not talking about God. It is talking WITH God. Jesus, God revealed in the flesh, teaches the disciples to pray in Matthew chapter six. In his lesson, Jesus destroys hypocritical prayer. Much of what passes for prayer is simply vocal presentation meant mainly to impress those listening. While the main focus of the passage is rightly the Lord’s Prayer, it is important not to miss those things that Jesus says prayer is not.
1. Prayer is not public speaking. Much of what is called prayer today in churches is simply a functional ritual used to transition between different parts of the service. Many non-liturgical churches would be surprised to discover after careful introspection how truly ritual bound their services can be. Perhaps even worse, is when prayer is used by a person to deliver a message to the people. Prayer is talking to God, not a device to manipulate or impress. A good sounding prayer is rewarded by the listeners with praise. Jesus says God rewards those who pray in secret.
2. Prayer is not repetition. Some will pray and endlessly repeat themselves hoping to impress upon God the importance of the request. Jesus says that such a practice is pagan. Here a strong parallel comes from the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The false prophets danced, chanted, and endlessly entreated a constructed idol that could not hear. Elijah simply prayed to the living God. It is important that Christians realize that the God they pray to is alive and well. Jesus says that God already knows the need before it is asked.
One of the greatest answers to prayer in my own life came after a period of inner struggle. I wanted God to show me answers, but I was holding out on him. At the end of the Lord’s Prayer there is an often overlooked warning from Jesus. He says that if we want to be forgiven by God, we have to forgive others. One of the great obstacles to communion with God is bitterness, anger, hatred, or hypocrisy when we expect something to be extended from God to us that we coldly refuse to extend to others.
Does God answers prayer? Of course, but you have to be able to talk with him first. Many people think they are praying when they are actually just talking into space.