In Christian circles, we often make prayer out to be something more than it is. Prayer is simply talking to God. Many have described that prayer is Trinitarian in nature, that it is "To the Father, Through The Son, By the Spirit." Jesus gives us the example that prayer is directed toward our heavenly Father. But it is only through the Son that prayer is possible. It is only because of the cross that we can have the relationship with the Father and pray to Him. The Spirit of God pricks our hearts and helps us when we pray.
I think sometimes, the greatest obstacle to developing a good, healthy prayer life is failing to distinguish between the formal and informal aspect of prayer. Of course, we should all have times of formal prayer. But the bulk of prayer should be informal. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul says that we should pray without ceasing. Obviously, he meant that we should always be in a spirit of prayer. Conversing with our Father should always be on our mind.
Back to Matthew 6: Jesus' greatest concern is the heart motivation of praying to be noticed by others. If that is the case, then we should seek to take our prayers to the closet by ourselves, so that our Father in Heaven will reward us for our prayer life. That doesn't mean we should never pray in public, but we should be checking our heart's attitude in the prayer. Here are a few questions to test your heart (these are taken and adapted from Kent Hughes commentary on the Sermon on the Mount).
- Do I pray more frequently or fervently when I am alone with God than when I am in public?
- Is my public praying an overflow of my private prayer?
- What do I think of when I am praying in public?
- Am I looking for 'just the right' phrase?
- Am I a spectator to my own performance?
How is your prayer life? Do you seek attention for it? May we all seek the Lord and see our hearts pour forth in passion for our Father who is in heaven.