The Motive of Prayer

prayer

Why do you pray? It is clear that God commands His people to pray (; ), but why do you pray? This is important because if our motive is not honouring to the Lord, why should we expect our prayer to be of any value? When instructing His disciples the Lord Jesus said,

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” ().

It is interesting, that three times in this passage the Lord says, “when you pray“. This statement assumes that prayer would be a normal part of the believer’s life. In this passage He discusses the motive of prayer with two examples.

The Wrong Motive
This first example is of the hypocrite whose prayers are all about them (D.A. Carson refers to this as “play-acting praying”). Their prayers are marked by prideful recognition () and pointless repetition (). This is not teaching that public prayer is wrong, but rather public prayer that is prideful is the problem here. This individual is not worshipping God, they are not looking to Him for grace and mercy in their time of need (), nor are they concerned about the welfare of others. This is a me me me kind of prayer (cf. ). Such an attitude and practice seeks praise of man and ought not to be the motive of our prayers.

The Right Motive
The second example in this passage is of genuine and humble prayer. This kind of prayer is marked by private removal (). This is not an exclusive manner of prayer thus eliminating public prayer. Public prayer ought to take place (e.g. ; ). This is instructing us on what the right motive of prayer is. It is not to be heard of men and receive public recognition, it is to be heard of God and receive divine provision. This private removal characterized the prayer life of the Lord Jesus (; ; ) and is necessary before we pray publically. Furthermore, this kind of prayer is also marked by plain request (). Instead of trying to be eloquent using various clichés genuine prayer simply makes plain requests.

I asked the question at the start of this post, why do you pray? All of us need to examine our motives. Powerful prayer will begin with a sincere and God honouring prayer. In my next post I will consider the way in which we ought to prayer – the manner of prayer.

 

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

17 pray without ceasing,

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,

16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

Luke 22:14

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

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Andrew Courtis

Andrew Courtis

ANDREW - Serves as Pastor of Hills Bible Church. I am married to Dianne and we have three children (Kate, Emma and Jack). I was born and raised in Melbourne, moved to Adelaide to undertake theological studies (BMin.), and have completed additional studies with the Australian College of Theology (MATh.). I have served in pastoral ministry in both Melbourne and Sydney and am a qualified school teacher. I am committed to expository preaching and making the word of God known and understood.