One of my favorite things when I taught Sunday School was teaching the little kids how to pray. It was amazing to see their progression over time—going from a timid kid who didn’t want to say the wrong word to a child who knew their relationship with God and approached him as a loving father. It’s amazing!
During the last half of 2020, I felt this pull toward intercession. While I’ve always seen prayer as important and loved teaching others to pray, I never felt a strong call to pray at all times like we’re told to do in 1 Thessalonians. But everything changed during the last few months of 2020.
I wasn’t praying with people, but I was just praying alone in my apartment. No one was there to hear me or be impressed by my command of the English language. And my prayer life came alive during those months. Most of the time I wasn’t even praying for myself or things that were in my own interest. Still, I felt alive. I met God in my apartment as I interceded for his people and prayed what I felt was on his heart.
“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.” Matthew 6:5-8 (ESV)
Just like we explored with Jesus’s instructions regarding giving, prayer isn’t an add-on for those who are super religious. It’s not the ultra-faithful ones who are called to pray. Instead, we are expected to pray. It should be a regular practice in our lives. After all, prayer is simply talking with God. Prayer should be as normal as talking with a spouse or a best friend.
When I look back on my life, I think a lot of it was spent like the Pharisees who loved to make a big show out of their religious practices. Years ago, I remember feeling convicted by these verses because the only time I was praying was when I was in a group of people. Even my prayers, for a while there, were based on my own abilities. I wanted to seem more “righteous” than I actually was. I wanted my relationship with God to be seen as “impressive” by others.
The showy version of faith isn’t the standard that I want to set. I want 2021 to be characterized by what Jesus describes in these verses. I want to make prayer an essential part of my life, not so that I can be seen as “holier than thou” but because it’s a joy to communicate with a God who cares deeply about me.
What is your standard for praying in 2021?
Jesus set the standard: prayer should be regular and intimate. While there are, of course, moments when we can and should pray with others, that should be from the overflow of our prayer life, not the main event. Prayer isn’t some religious experience that we do from rote memory, but is a dynamic conversation with the Almighty Creator of the entire universe. Let’s run to him in prayer today!
What is God saying to you about prayer?
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