This series of blogs is entitled How to Exercise Spiritually. My goal is to encourage you to exercise the basic disciplines that promote spiritual growth. We are going to look at five spiritual exercises: prayer, Bible study, tithing, fellowship, and sharing our faith.
We begin with Part 1: How to Pray. Looking at the model prayer that Jesus gave us in Matthew 6:5-13, I want to share with you six ideas for praying.
- Approach God with the right motive.
Jesus says this in Matthew 6:5-8. “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They like to stand in synagogues and on street corners to pray so that everyone can see them. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you. When you pray, don’t ramble like heathens who think they’ll be heard if they talk a lot. Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:5-8 (GW)
The wrong motivation is trying to impress God or others. He gives two examples of the wrong motivation for prayer: the Jewish leaders and the heathens. The motive of the Jewish leaders was trying to impress others. Jesus called the Jewish leaders hypocrites because they were like actors on a stage, pretending to be holy and righteous by their actions of prayer. The second example of a wrong motive is the heathens. Their motive was trying to impress their gods. The Gentiles believed that their gods had to be aroused into listening. So they would chant meaningless words over and over only to end up in some kind of self-hypnotism. Jesus teaches us that these motives are wrong and hypocritical.
Rather than be like the hypocrites or heathens, Jesus gives us the right motive: Desiring to communicate with God. Jesus says in verse 6, “When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.” Does this mean we are to never pray in public? No, that is not what Jesus is saying. The point here is our motive in prayer, not where we pray. I believe Jesus is teaching that if we will spend the time in private prayer with the right motive, then our public praying will take care of itself. When we practice intimacy with God on a daily basis, then it doesn’t matter if the whole world listens to our prayer. God is the one we are focused on, not others who listen.
- Approach God with praise for who He is and thanks for what He has done.
Jesus now gives us a model for praying. “Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored.” Matthew 6:9 (NLT) Jesus is teaching us here that our prayer is to include praise of God. We are to praise God for who he is. We learn about God and his characteristics through his different names in the Bible. Here, Jesus calls him “Father”. We can also praise God by thanking him for what he has done. Psalm 100:4 (NIV) reminds us to praise God and give thanks. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” So we are to honor his name and give thanks to him.
- Approach God with commitment to do His will.
“May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 (NLT) Here we learn to pray for God’s will to be done. In the Bible, we can read about what God’s will and his kingdom were like in the past. We can then recognize it in our present day and pray for it for tomorrow. As we pray for God’s kingdom and God’s will to be accomplished, then we must be committed to do it ourselves.
- Approach God with dependence on His provision and protection.
“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11 (NIV). “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:13 (NIV). As Jesus pointed out earlier, God knows our needs even before we ask. But we still must come to him asking for his provision and protection. And notice here the daily dependence for daily needs. Each day brings new needs that we have and that we must ask God to provide for. Praying for God not to lead us into temptation is a great reminder for us to stay away from those places where we are so easily tempted. I have a responsibility to stay away from temptation and God has a responsibility to protect me from Satan. We need God’s provision and his protection, and we must ask for it. By asking God, we are demonstrating our dependence on him.
- Approach God with admission of sin.
“And forgive us our sins…” Matthew 6:12 (NLT) How could we possibly approach God without admitting that we have sinned against him? Everyday, we sin against God. Everyday we commit specific sins against God, against our neighbors, friends, and family. We are not perfect. So we must approach God admitting our sin and receiving his forgiveness.
- Approach God with concern for others.
“…Just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.” Matthew 6:12 (NLT) Our primary concern to is forgive others when they sin against us. Without God’s forgiveness, we cannot enjoy a relationship with him. Without our forgiveness towards others, we cannot enjoy a relationship with them. When we forgive others, it doesn’t mean that we will forget, but it does mean that we will no longer blame them. As long as I still blame someone else’s sin for my present circumstances, then I haven’t forgiven them. But if I can look at my present circumstances without blaming others, then I have forgiven. There are other concerns that we can pray about as well. For example, we can take this model prayer and use it to pray for our family and friends, church family, or government leaders.
Jesus gives us a great model to use as we exercise our communication with God. However, we all have numerous excuses to keep from exercising prayer. I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I can’t focus long enough to pray. I don’t know what to say. I’m mad at God. My mother prays for me so I don’t have to. We all have our excuses and we all struggle with faithfulness in prayer.
I encourage you today to make a fresh commitment to God to spend time in prayer each day. Every morning, will you set aside time to communicate with God? Will you develop the spiritual exercise of prayer? God is waiting to communicate with you.