Before Jesus taught the disciples what to pray He instructed them on how to pray. All prayer begins in the heart. There is a right heart attitude to pray with and a wrong heart attitude to pray with. So it is important that we examine our hearts as we pray so that the Lord will be pleased with our prayers. So let’s look at what Jesus teaches his disciples on how to approach God with the right heart attitude:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. -Matthew 6:1 (ESV)
This does not mean that we should hide our righteous works from those around us. It is not bad for someone to witness our prayers, or good deeds. It is bad if the reason for our good deeds are to be seen by the people around us. If wen seek to gain a good reputation from those around us by puting on a performance for them then we have not prayed with the right heart attitude. We have prayed for your own glory, and not for the glory of God. If we pray this way we will get no reward from God. What does it matter what others think if it is not true? If we pray in public then our prayers should be for worship and not to make ourselves look better in the eyes of those around us.
This point is important because Jesus repeates it here:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. -Matthew 6:5 (ESV)
He actually points out the ones who are hypocrites. they pray to recieve compliments and not to honor God. Instead Jesus teaches the opposite:
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. -Matthew 6:6 (ESV)
The Greek word for room here means an inner or secret chamber. There are two ways to look at this. The first is that you should go into an inner room in your house and pray. This is not wrong and you may have heard of people going into a prayer closet or prayer room to pray. You can get that from this verse and there is no problem doing just that. There is no way a person can be accused of being showy if they are hidden away in a room.
However, the Jews at the time (and even today) pray together in public at designated locations such as a Synagogue or the Temple (the Western Wall now). In this case the instruction of Jesus can still be followed. Jesus and His disciples all wore prayer shawls (tallitot). We know this because the people touched the tassels (tzit tzit) of Jesus and were healed. If Jesus wore one then the disciples all wore them as well because they would do everything their Rabbi did. In fact all observant Jewish males would have worn a prayer shawl. When you pray with a prayer shawl (tallit) you put it over your head. If you want to pray in private you close the ‘doors’ of the prayer shawl and you pray in your ‘inner chamber’.
We see that Jesus points out another senario in the following passage:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” -Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)
Both of these men were praying in the Temple. One was proud and arrogant and the other was humble and repentent. So in our prayer time we should note that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
Jesus gives one more intstruction before teaching the Disciples His prayer:
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. -Matthew 6:7-8
Jesus is talking about trying to manipulate God. The nations try and get God (or their gods) to answer them by praying the same thing over and over again. They think that if they pray the same phrase over and over again thier god will hear and deliver what they ask for. On the contrary Jesus says that the Father already knows our needs, and He is looking to provide those things for us. A child thinks he can get what he wants by saying, “Please, please, please!” to the parent in order to get his way, he reasons that if he says the word enough times the parent will give in. This type of manipulation does not work with our heavenly Father. He knows what we need and He seeks provide us with whatever it is.
So it boils down to two major things to keep in mind when we pray. We cannot have pride or arrogance before God or others, and we cannot try to manipulate God. Once we adjust our heart attitude properly God is able to listen to us and accept our prayers.