“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.” —Matthew 6:6
By definition, the Christian life is not primarily an experience or a feeling but a relationship. All relationships, including our relationship with God, grow or wither in proportion to the frequency and quality of communication that takes place. When the Christian life runs dry, there has often been a breakdown in our prayer life. This is why Jesus says, “When you pray,” not, “If you pray.” As one of the primary ways we come to know our heavenly Father, prayer is not an option but a necessity for a strong relationship with Him.
As with giving, the motivation behind our prayers will affect the quality of that relationship. A parable later in Jesus’s ministry illustrates this well. A Pharisee and a tax collector went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood up and prayed loudly and proudly, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). The Pharisee’s pride was evident. His prayer had little to do with God and everything to do with inflating his ego.
Meanwhile, the tax collector stood at a distance, presumably away from the crowds. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus then explained, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).
The hypocrites are those who pray to be heard, but the righteous pray to meet with God. Anyone can pray in public, particularly when motivated by an audience, but it is time alone with God behind closed doors that gives evidence of the reality of our prayer life. There is no pretense when we pray in secret. We do not need to hide our sin or adopt a special vocabulary. We can speak with God exactly as we are, confident that He knows our hearts and what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8).
The sovereignty of God does not preclude the necessity, nor the effectiveness, of prayer. Even if God never answered another of our prayers, prayer would still be necessary because it is the talking part of our relationship with Him. Our spiritual life will not grow if we treat prayer like a shopping list or if we simply repeat the same prayer for our family and the missionaries each day. If we are going to know and experience God in a meaningful way, then regular, secret, natural and believing prayer cannot be absent from our lives.
PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for wanting a relationship with Your people. Make prayer an increasing priority in my life so I might come to know You better.