Some people believe that their prayers have merit. If this is so, then it could easily be concluded that the longer the prayer, the greater the merit. But is it true that if a person prays long enough, their prayer will have enough merit to atone for sin, or are eloquent prayers just idle words?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:5, 6
In these two verses, the Lord is not telling us that we should not pray in public. Jesus Himself prayed in public many times. Rather, He is teaching that a private prayer should not be made public. In our private devotions, our prayers are to reach the ears of no one except a prayer-hearing God. No curious ear is to hear the burden of our private petitions.
Jesus said, when you pray, go into your room, have a place for secret prayer. He had select places for communion with God. In fact, it was because He so often went to Gethsemane in the evening to pray that Judas Iscariot knew where to lead the soldiers when he betrayed Him.
We also need to have a private place, however humble, where we can be alone with God. Jesus said, “Pray to your Father who sees in secret.” In the name of Jesus, we may come into God’s presence with the same confidence that a small child comes to a parent. We do not need a man, a priest, or pastor as a mediator. Through Jesus, we may open our hearts to God as One who knows, loves, and hears us.
In the secret place of prayer, where no one but God sees or hears, we are free to pour out to Him the most secret and hidden desires of the heart, and the Father has promised that He will hear. Remember, He is a Father of infinite love and pity and He never fails to answer the cry of human need. He will speak to us when we take time to talk to Him. In James 5:11, last part, it says, “ [T]he Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” He waits with unwearied love and pity to hear the confessions of the wayward and to accept their penitence.
In the same way as a mother watches for a smile of recognition from her beloved child, He wants us to understand how earnestly and tenderly His heart yearns over us. He wants us to bring to Him our trials, our sorrows, our troubles, our wounds, our weaknesses, and our emptiness, and He will supply all of our needs (Steps to Christ, 100). The Bible teaches that no one who comes to Him will be disappointed.
Psalm 34:5–10 tells us how the Lord answers the prayers of even the humblest of His children: “They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. [T]hose who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.”
When we come to the Lord in secret and tell Him our needs, and plead with Him for help, we will not plead in vain, because Jesus said, “… your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” If we make Jesus our daily companion and friend, we will realize, that although we cannot see it, the powers of the unseen world are all around us. By looking to Jesus, we will become assimilated to His image and the result will be an increase in piety, purity, and fervor.
In Matthew 6:7, Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.” The heathen, then and now, look upon their prayers as having merit in and of themselves to atone for sin. If they could become holy by their own efforts, they would have something in themselves for which to rejoice, some ground for the boasting. This idea of prayer is the outworking of the principle of self-expiation, which actually lies at the foundation of false religion. The Pharisees adopted this pagan idea of prayer, and it is by no means extinct, even in our time, even among some who profess to be Christians.
When we pray using set, customary phrases, and the heart feels no need of God, we are just offering up words of the same character as the vain repetitions of the heathen. Nobody wants to talk to a friend who is just mumbling set words and phrases in their mind, but their heart is not in it, and this type of prayer is not acceptable to the Lord either.
Prayer does not atone for sin. It has no virtue or merit of itself. All the eloquent words that we might command are not equivalent to even one holy desire. So the most eloquent prayers can be worthless, idle words if they do not express the true sentiments of the heart. Praying from an earnest heart, expressing the real wants of our soul, the same way that we would ask an earthly friend for a favor and expect that it would be received, we have then prayed a prayer of faith, and we trust that prayer will be answered.
God does not need our ceremonial compliments. But the unspoken cry of a heart that is broken and subdued with a sense of sin and utter weakness and helplessness, will find its way to the Father of all mercy.
As He continued to talk about the Christian life, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24
Notice, He did not say you should not serve God and mammon. He says, you cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon is a Greek word that simply means real estate, money, property, wealth, material possessions. Jesus is saying you cannot serve God and material things. In other words, no one can occupy a neutral position. There is no middle class who neither loves God nor serves the enemy of righteousness. If we do not give ourselves completely to God, the facts of the matter are, we are completely under the control of another power, listening in our minds to another voice whose suggestions are of an entirely different character.
If we attempt to give God only half service, we are actually placing ourselves on the side of the enemy as a successful ally of the hosts of darkness. When men claim to be Christians, soldiers of Christ, but then engage with the confederacy of Satan, they actually prove themselves to be enemies of Christ instead of His friends as they profess to be.
We are talking about a battle for the mind and heart, not just about outward words or behavior. The strongest bulwark of vice in our world is not the terrible life of some abandoned sinner or degraded outcast, but the life which appears virtuous, honorable, and noble, fostering one sin, indulging one vice. When there is someone struggling with a terrible temptation, the example of such a person is one of the most powerful enticements to sin. Thus, a person who claims to be a Christian but indulges one sin, is used by Satan to be a stumbling block to others so that they not only stumble in this life, but may even forfeit eternal life.
The apostle John talks about this problem in 1 John 2:15, 16, saying, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Jesus says that we should not allow ourselves to be caught up in the sum and substance of our lives—making a living, making sure we have food to eat and water to drink, a home and clothing to wear—but instead we must be careful to seek first the kingdom of God. This is a better, higher way to live, so that we are not pressed down all the time, just trying to survive. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:31–33, “[D]o not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Jesus was opening to them the treasures of heaven, but the people who were listening to these words were still anxiously waiting for Him to announce that He would set up an earthly kingdom. Uppermost in their minds was how a connection with Him would best advance their prospects in this new kingdom. Interestingly, that is the same question many people ask today. What church can I go to that will best advance my worldly interests, my professional or business interests?
Jesus is trying to show us that in making the things of this world our supreme anxiety, we will become like the worldly people around us, living as if there were no God whose tender care is over all His creatures. Jesus said, the nations seek after these things, but your heavenly Father knows what we need (Luke 12:30) and He tells us instead to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
In other words, Jesus is telling us that He has come to open to us a kingdom of love, righteousness, and peace. We must open our hearts to receive this kingdom and make its service our highest interest. Even though it is a spiritual kingdom that He offers us, we are not to fear that the needs of this life will be uncared for. If we give ourselves to God’s service, the One who has all power in heaven and earth will provide for our needs.
This does not, however, release us from the necessity of effort. Jesus does not say we have nothing to do, that God just hands us whatever we need. He said, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Matthew 6:26. How does the heavenly Father feed the birds? Does He put the food in their mouth? Absolutely not. He provides the food, but they have to go and find it.
In the same way, God provides for the needs of all of His children in this world, but that does not release us from the necessity of effort. When Adam and Eve sinned, God said to Adam that he would eat bread, the product of his personal effort from that day forward. As Christians, Jesus teaches us that we are to make Him first, and last, and best in everything. We are not to engage in any business, or follow any pursuit, or seek any pleasure that would hinder the outworking of His righteous character in our lives. Everything we do is to be done with this as our uppermost and first interest.
Friend, God’s everlasting arm encircles every soul who turns to Him for aid, however feeble that soul may be. Poverty or wealth, sickness or health, whether educated or uneducated, simple or wise, all are provided for in the treasures and promises of His grace.
The Bible tell us that the precious things of this world are going to pass away, but the soul that lives for God will abide with Him. The apostle John says, “The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:17. If we learn to lean on God for wisdom, seeking Him for direction, if we commit our lives to Him, He will not only be our comfort and hope in this world, even amid loss and affliction, but in the world to come He will welcome us to an everlasting home. “ ‘For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed.’ says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah 54:10
For this reason, because God cares for everyone who turns to Him for help and shields them and protects them, we do not need to live a life of worry. One of the biggest health problems in the western nations today is depression brought on by continual anxiety and worry. When on this earth, Jesus lived a dignified life in all its details by keeping before men the glory of God and subordinating everything else to the will of His Father. If we follow His example, He gives us the assurance that all things needful for this life will be added.
He does not promise that we will have the luxuries of life, but He does promise that what we will have in the future world will far exceed anything we could have here. For now, what is promised is what you need, not necessarily what you want. Since we are assured of this promise, if we commit our lives to Him, we will have no need to worry. Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34
If you have given yourself to God to do His work, you do not need to worry or be anxious about what is going to happen tomorrow, because the One whose servant you are knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). The events of tomorrow, which are hidden from our view today, are open to the eyes of Him who is omnipotent. If we decide we want to manage our own life without His aid, to take matters into our own hands, if we want to depend on our own wisdom for success, then we are taking upon ourselves a responsibility that belongs to God, and thus are really putting ourselves in His place. As a consequence, we may well experience anxiety and apprehend danger and loss.
But, if we really believe that God loves us and means to do us good, we will be able to cease worrying about the future because we will have placed out trust in God as a small child trusts a loving parent. Our troubles and torments will then disappear, for our will is swallowed up in His will.
While Jesus is promising us this kind of help for today, He does not promise us that He would bear the worry, or anxiety, or burdens of tomorrow. Instead He said to Paul, and to us, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you … .” Like the manna that He gave the children of Israel in the wilderness, His grace is bestowed each day for that day’s need. One day alone is ours and during this day we are to live for God.
Just this one day, we must put our hand in the hand of Christ, and trust Him with everything in our life—our purposes, our plans—casting all our care upon Him. He says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11. “In returning and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15
Dear friend, if you seek the Lord and are converted every day, if you will of your own spiritual choice be free and joyous in God, you will find peace and joy in His service, and an eternal home with Him.
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.