rev-dr-walter-t-richardson_web.jpgOf all the privileges the people of God enjoy, perhaps the greatest is the privilege of prayer: personal communication with God. To be able to go directly and privately into the presence of the Lord is an honor beyond description. But, like anything else in life, we can even mess up something as profound and powerful as prayer.

Jesus exposed some of the problems in prayer that were rampant in His day. He condemned the pretentious and public praying of the religious elite of that day.  You see, the Jewish nation was a blessed and privileged people. God had chosen them, given them the Law and given them access to Him. But, over the years, substantial errors had worked their way into Jewish worship and prayer. These are the problems Jesus referred to in Matthew 6 at the start of this column.

First, prayer had become nothing more than a ritual. The Jew prayed but his prayers were scripted and the form was set. He either quoted them from memory or read them. Thus, a Jew could “pray” and not even think about what he was saying. Every morning and evening, faithful Jews would repeat the Shema. This prayer was formed from selected phrases from the Scriptures. Then, prayer was limited to preset times and occasions.  Instead of praying when they felt led to, or when a need arose, they prayed at set times.  Some religious groups do this today, and there is nothing wrong with praying at predetermined times, but we are called upon to be in an attitude of prayer at all times.  The Jews also believed, in Jesus’ day, that the longer and more elaborate the prayer, the more likely it was to be heard by God. Jesus warned against that practice.

But, perhaps the worst offense of all was the habit of praying to impress others. These people whom Jesus called hypocrites were guilty of standing in public places and praying loud and long prayers. Their desire was to impress others with their piety and religiosity.

Bill Moyers was on President Lyndon Johnson’s staff. One day, he was asked to say the blessing over a meal in the White House. As he quietly prayed to the Lord, he was interrupted by President Johnson, who said, “Speak up,” Bill, I can’t hear what you are saying.” Moyers replied, “I wasn’t speaking to you, Mr. President.” That is the essence of prayer. It is not about impressing men; it is about communing with the Lord.

Real prayer is personal. Jesus told His people to go into a private place to pray. There are things that need to be said in prayer that do not need to be said around others. When we pray in private, we can have liberty to declare our hearts to the Lord. We can pray about personal, private matters. We can call out names in our private time of prayer. We can be who we really are, for, in private prayer, there is no one to impress.

Real prayer is powerful. We are told that “your Father who sees you secretly will reward you openly.” When we pray to the Lord out of a sincere desire to have communion with Him, He will honor our faith and our humility and will answer in such a way that will demonstrate the fact that we have been with Him.

So, we should pray when the Spirit prompts us to pray; when we feel like praying; when nothing can satisfy the soul but prayer. Prayer is the element of being, the breath and the vital air. He is the most eminent and engaged Christian who is most favored with such strong emotions urging him to prayer. The heart is then full, the soul is tender, the sun of glory shines with unusual splendor and no storm cloud intervenes. Through prayer, one rises above the world and pants for glory.

We go privately alone with God. We enter the closet and breathe forth our warm desires into His ever-open ear and He who sees in secret rewards us openly. Prayer is privately sharing and publicly benefiting. It is personal and quiet supplication that yields public blessings.

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