Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV): “And when you 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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Prayer, as God designed it, is not primarily about communication, but about communion between Him and the one who is praying. In the ancient world, the privilege to approach the king on his throne was limited to a select few, and even they could not come into the throne room cavalierly or without an invitation. Still fewer could come in just for a chat or to pass the time of day. It was understood that they king was busy with vital issues, that his time was precious, and there were harsh penalties for wasting any of it.
Of course the children of the king had much greater access to him than other people, although even they approached the throne with all of the respect and ceremony appropriate to the high office held by their father. But they could come to talk, to ask questions, or to express specific needs that they might have.
Prayer, properly understood, is entering the throne room of the Great King, God Himself. It is the unique privilege of God’s children, those who have become His children by receiving Jesus as their Savior (cf. John 1:12-13). Those whom God has adopted have His permission to come before His throne at any time. We can come with our requests, with praise and worship, or just to talk. Of course understanding that prayer brings us into God’s presence should move us to do so with proper respect, in humility and honor for God, never with a sense of entitlement.
It is this communion that is lacking in many public prayers, and in prayers that use formulas or scripts; the heart is not consciously and humbly entering into God’s presence – the words are simply spoken. They may be good words, maybe even great words, words that impress everyone listening in, but they don’t impress God at all. They do not come from a heart seeking Him, seeking to come into His presence to know Him better. They are just words. As such, they do nothing to build a person’s spirit or to enhance their relationship with God.
Some pray long, repetitive prayers, believing that the sheer volume of words will make their prayers effective, or show their sincerity. But those prayers usually suffer from the same malady – there is nothing of communion in them. They merely use formulas or specific wording in an effort to persuade God to bestow His blessings.
True prayer is communion. It is all about relationship. It takes time and effort, and can only be done by those who sincerely desire to touch the very heart of God. It is most effectively done out of the public eye, where no outside observers will have an influence or act as a distraction to the intimate interaction between the pray-er and God. There in the secret place, the heart of the pray-er is lifted up, seeking God’s heart, until it enters into His heavenly throne room. And there we talk heart to heart with the creator of the universe. Requests can be laid before God, and often are. But the greatest takeaway for those who truly pray is a conscious experience of being in God’s presence – of being truly heard, truly loved, and of truly hearing God’s voice in return.
Father, it is this kind of prayer that I always crave. Thank You for allowing me to fully enter into Your presence, for that amazing privilege and honor. Thank You for speaking clearly to my heart, and for allowing me to experience a deeper relationship with You every single day by spending time in Your presence. Keep me always from prayers that have any other purpose, any other motivation. Amen.