Teach Us to Pray


Matthew 6:5-18
5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 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. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9“This, then, is how you should pray:

“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.
12And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation, a
but deliver us from the evil one. ’

14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.16“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.


Recently at work, our leadership team received a company-wide email from a customer. It included a glowing review for a coworker who had gone above and beyond normal expectations. Excited by her accomplishment, I was about to send a congratulatory email for a job well done when DING!...I received a notification that a new email from this colleague had just entered my inbox.

“I did that!!! Toot Toot my horn!” the email read.
Needless to say, any kind word or expression of gratitude I could share at this point had been diluted by this individual’s not-so-humble brag. Similarly, today’s passage teaches that making a show of one’s own (self) righteousness is a sorry substitute for the reward God bestows for following His ways.

In verses 5-18, we are gifted not only with a model prayer from Jesus himself, but we are also shown the principle that the unseen God rewards the unseen prayer and fasting of His people. The passage both begins and ends with Jesus sharing what our heart’s posture should be when we approach prayer and fasting - both of which are assumed to be a regular part of the Christian life (“When you pray…when you fast…”).
Unlike “the show” put on by religious hypocrites, we are told to pray in secret. To pray “in secret” implies we are to offer up earnest prayers motivated by a humble heart - one that is not driven by the recognition or opinions of others. In doing so, we can rest assured knowing that our Heavenly Father hears our prayers and honors what we have done in private. This reward is to be desired far more than the immediate gratification and weightless admiration that man can offer. In verse 7, the passage continues cautioning that prayer should neither be mindlessly recited nor attempt to meet a certain word count to get God’s attention. On the contrary, we are told that God sees our heart and knows what we need before we ask it. Isn’t that amazing? God already knows what we need and yet, we are still taught to approach God with our requests - because He wants to hear our heart’s desires.

After Jesus explains the posture by which we should approach prayer, He provides an example of how to pray. Note the brevity, simplicity, and comprehensiveness of this prayer. Also, take note of the subject matter in this prayer. We find three petitions directed toward God (vs.9-10) and three requests focused on human needs (vs.11-13). The takeaway here is not that our prayers must be symmetrical or formulaic, but rather that they recognize both God’s sovereignty, and our own reliance on Him.

At the end of this passage, in verses 16-18, we see the same principle from earlier applied to fasting. Jesus instructs that when you fast, do not make a show of this either. It is hypocritical to deny fleshly desires while simultaneously seeking to enhance your own persona by making sure others are aware of your sacrifice. This is not a sacrifice that pleases the Lord! It’s very possible that others may find out you are fasting, but it should not be obvious. We should humbly go about our day as regularly as possible during a fast. Just as with prayer, the unseen God rewards the unseen sacrifices made from a sincere heart.

Action Step

Throughout the week, examine your own prayers and examine how your prayer life reflects the posture of prayer outlined in Matthew 6.

 Ask yourself:
  • Where am I praying?
  • When am I praying?
  • Why am I praying?
  • What or Who am I praying for?


Regardless of whether you feel your prayer life is healthy or not, ask the Holy Spirit to help you overcome selfish motives and desires. Ask for humility. Ask for wisdom in learning to pray. Ask for boldness to believe and pray like He can do more than we can fathom.  Ask that the Lord would teach you how to pray for the things that really matter most. Ask that your spiritual life would reflect Christ’s image more and more, day by day.
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