Why do you pray? It is clear that God commands His people to pray (Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17), but why do you pray? This is important because if our motive is not honouring to the Lord, why should we expect our prayer to be of any value? When instructing His disciples the Lord Jesus said,
“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. 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. 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” (Matt. 6:5-8).
It is interesting, that three times in this passage the Lord says, “when you pray“. This statement assumes that prayer would be a normal part of the believer’s life. In this passage He discusses the motive of prayer with two examples.
The Wrong Motive
This first example is of the hypocrite whose prayers are all about them (D.A. Carson refers to this as “play-acting praying”). Their prayers are marked by prideful recognition (Matt. 6:5) and pointless repetition (Matt. 6:7). This is not teaching that public prayer is wrong, but rather public prayer that is prideful is the problem here. This individual is not worshipping God, they are not looking to Him for grace and mercy in their time of need (Heb. 4:16), nor are they concerned about the welfare of others. This is a me me me kind of prayer (cf. Luke 18:11-12). Such an attitude and practice seeks praise of man and ought not to be the motive of our prayers.
The Right Motive
The second example in this passage is of genuine and humble prayer. This kind of prayer is marked by private removal (Matt. 6:6). This is not an exclusive manner of prayer thus eliminating public prayer. Public prayer ought to take place (e.g. Acts 4:24-30; 1 Tim. 2:8). This is instructing us on what the right motive of prayer is. It is not to be heard of men and receive public recognition, it is to be heard of God and receive divine provision. This private removal characterized the prayer life of the Lord Jesus (Mark 1:35; Matt. 14:23; Luke 5:16, 22:14) and is necessary before we pray publically. Furthermore, this kind of prayer is also marked by plain request (Matt. 6:7-8). Instead of trying to be eloquent using various clichés genuine prayer simply makes plain requests.
I asked the question at the start of this post, why do you pray? All of us need to examine our motives. Powerful prayer will begin with a sincere and God honouring prayer. In my next post I will consider the way in which we ought to prayer – the manner of prayer.