When You Pray (Matthew 6.5–15), Part 1


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In Mathew 6.5–15, Jesus teaches his followers about the spiritual discipline of prayer. As we read that passage, four questions arise: How often should we pray? Where should we pray? Should we use patterned prayers? And what should we pray for?

First, how often should we pray?

Jesus does not say. In Matthew 6.5, he begins, “And when you pray…,” then talks about where to pray. Jesus assumes we will pray; he does not tell us how often.

Jesus’ own life suggests an answer, however. According to Luke 5.16, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke does not quantify the word often, but his words indicate that Jesus prayed at regular intervals. I think we can safely assume that Jesus observed the set hours of prayer practiced by his fellow Jews. Several clues point in that direction:

  • Jesus’ parents kept the Old Testament laws regarding circumcision, purification, presentation of infants to the Lord, and sacrifice, as “the custom of the Law required” (Luke 2.21–27).
  • Not only that, according to Luke 2.41–42, they went to Jerusalem every year for Passover, “according to the custom.”
  • Luke 4.16 tells us that Jesus “went to Nazareth…and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.”
  • According to Acts 2.42, the early church members “devoted themselves…to the prayers.” (Without explanation, the NIV translates the Greek plural with an English singular.) The prayers most likely refers to set hours of prayer observed throughout the day.
  • Finally, according to Acts 17.2, “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”
 What emerges from these clues is that Jesus, instructed by his parents and imitated by his protégés, faithfully practiced Jewish customs, including Sabbath observance, synagogue attendance, and prayer. If we want to experience God through prayer, we ought to follow Jesus’ example.

At minimum, this means making time for biblical meditation and prayer twice daily. Psalm 1.1–2 tells us that the person whom God blesses “meditates on his law day and night.” And in Psalm 88.1–2, the psalmist exclaims, “O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you.”

Going further, it means praying whenever a need arises. According to James 5.13–14, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him….”

Ultimately—when we have developed good spiritual habits—prayer will come to us as naturally as breathing; that is, we will always be praying. Consider Luke 18.1: “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Or Ephesians 6.18: “pray in the Spirit on all occasionsalways keep on praying.” Or 1 Thessalonians 5.17: “pray continually.”

So, how often should we pray? Routinely, occasionally, and always!

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