If you struggle to pray, take heart, because prayer is a learned discipline. The disciples didn’t know how to pray either, and so they asked Jesus to teach them (Luke 11:1). And Jesus did. What follows the request in Luke 11 is Jesus’ prayer tutorial, a model prayer that we have come to refer to as The Lord’s Prayer.
Matthew also recorded The Lord’s Prayer, but expands some on Jesus’ teaching regarding prayer as a whole. Before giving us this model prayer, Matthew recorded Jesus’ prayer “don’ts”:
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:5-8).
Jesus is not just teaching what to do when we pray; He’s also interested in showing us what not to do. And He doesn’t want us to pray as so many were praying during that day and time. He did not want prayers full of flowery language and self-importance; He did not want prayers of insincerity and mixed motives; He did not want prayers of endless length. And why not?
The specific reason Jesus gives is that our Father in heaven knows what we need even before we ask Him.
This is where it gets a little bit tricky, because if you’ve got a cynical bent, perhaps you push back on Jesus saying something like, “If God already knows what I need, then why do I need to pray at all?” Point taken – there is some mystery here. But make no mistake – God’s knowledge of what we need is not meant to move us to less prayer, but more prayer. It’s not meant to constrict us but to motivate us. And along with that motivation, the knowledge of God ought to change the way we pray. Here are three implications for our prayers if God already knows what we need:
1. Our prayers become honest.
The reason is simple – why not? There is nothing at all not laid bare before God, so why not be as completely, gut-level honest with Him as we can be? We don’t have to find the right words. And, gloriously, we don’t even have to have all our motivations sorted out. Often we don’t – we pray for an outcome and only later discover the true motivation behind our desire. But in the meantime, we can know that God knows what we need, even if we do not. That means there is nothing in the world to keep us from being as honest as possible in our prayers.
2. Our prayers become simple.
I miss the days of simple prayers with our children because everything seemed so much less complicated. But as we start to grow up, we start filling our prayers (and our lives) with all kinds of qualifications. But if God already knows what we need, our prayers can return to that state of simplicity we once had. We can trust our Father, and in that trust, we can simply and freely ask for what we think we need.
3. Our prayers become immediate.
If God knows what we need, then we can pray at any time knowing that we are never going to bring a request before Him that is surprising, off-putting, or shocking in some way. God’s knowledge of us and our situation removes any obstacle to prayer because we are talking to Him about something He is already aware.
Friends, the knowledge of God is not constricting; it’s freeing. It makes our prayers more honest, more simple, and more immediate as we come to a Father who not only loves us, but knows what we need in advance. We can be confident as we approach this throne of grace knowing that this Father will not always do what’s comfortable, but will always do what is best.