The What and Why of Prayer

2.6.24 Devo Image

“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. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”—Matthew 6:5–8 (NIV)

Have you ever stopped to think about what prayer is? What it really, truly is? In the most basic terms possible, prayer is talking to God! It’s a conversation between us and God. It’s our two-way relational lifeline, a direct line to God! How amazing is that? But even more amazing is that God wants to interact with us. In fact, God is more ready to hear from us than we are to pray! 

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Well, if prayer really is what I’ve described it as, then these words of Jesus are of vital importance. 

Think about it: “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.”

Prayer isn’t a tool to measure our holiness or to impress others. It’s not for the approval or admiration of man. To make it so is such an abuse of this indescribable gift we have. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it a sin to “pray” in such a manner. That’s not prayer; it’s a performance. It’s akin to putting on a play or performing a skit. 

Prayer is about us talking to the God of the universe who is so overjoyed to genuinely hear from us and speak to us. Does this mean public prayer is bad? No! It’s actually a wonderful thing and a gift we get to pray with others publicly—that we get to, alongside others, come before the throne of grace and sit and speak with our Father. But when we do, may we never think about how good, spiritual, and holy our prayers sound, because at that point, we’ve made prayer all about us.

Next, Jesus says, “Do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” The Greek word for babbling is defined as “long-winded, meaningless repetitions” and “empty words.” It’s kind of like just mindlessly uttering the same thing over and over—no thought, no effort to truly commune and communicate with God, just following the script. Sadly, despite this exact warning by Jesus, that’s exactly what verses 9–13 have become for millions (maybe billions) throughout the world over the last couple of hundred years—just something to repeat daily, an item on a checklist we can check off and say, “Hey, I prayed. I did my Christian chore.”

As we’ll see tomorrow, the Lord’s Prayer is not a script, but a template, a model from Jesus to help us see we should praise the Lord, seek His will, bring our requests before Him, ask Him to provide, ask for His help in our struggles and temptations, and ask for His help in our relationships. It’s not a magic script, friends. Please don’t use it as one!

I want to close by encouraging you as Jesus did when He said, “When you pray . . .” Make prayer a regular part of your life—not as a performance, not as an empty, mindless task on your checklist, but as a moment to sit with God Himself and have a real conversation like you would with a friend, parent, or loved one. 

Pause: What is prayer and what is it not?   

Practice: Commit this month to praying twice per day, every day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. 

Pray: Heavenly Father, as the old hymn says, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!” What an indescribable privilege it is that we get to pray, that we have this gift of an open line of communication with You, that You, King of the universe who holds everything in Your hands, desire to speak with us and always make time to give us Your ear. Father, may I never take the gift of prayer for granted, may I never abuse it for my own benefit before others, and may I never see it as a task or chore on a list. May my words never be stale repetition, instead may our time together be filled with true, genuine relationship and honest, loving conversation. In Jesus’ name, the name through which I have gained access to Your throne room, I pray. Amen.

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.