Matthew 6:5-8 ¶

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.  7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.  8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.  

When Jesus began to teach about prayer, He assumed that people prayed. Jesus does not say, “If you pray,” but, “When you pray.” It is good to be able to presume the redeemed of the Lord are pious, for the privilege of true prayer is reserved for those who know God as Father, Christ as Saviour, and the Holy Spirit as Advocate. Prayer is reserved for those who have confessed their sins. The Psalmist said,

“If I regard iniquity in my heart,
the Lord will not hear me.”

Individuals pray in order to have fellowship with God.   Some basic questions might arise.    

“How do I pray?

“Is there a model prayer that will guide my own efforts to speak to God?”

“What assurance can I have that God is listening?”  

Jesus has provided an answer to each of these heart-felt inquiries, because God still listens to the person who cares to talk to Him.

In preparation for prayer,   Jesus provides the following instruction. “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (Matt. 6:6).   Of course, the mind immediately leaps forward to ask,

“Lord, what about formal worship services where many public prayers are offered?”

“Jesus, what about a special prayer meeting?”

“Should people pray together, and out loud?”  

To each inquiry, the answer is, “Yes!”   There is a place for public prayers.  

The Bible is full of prayers expressed in public by Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Stephen, Paul, and Jesus. Public prayers are essential for teaching others how to pray, and for preparing hearts to worship.

There is a place for a special prayer meeting.  

Prior to Pentecost, God’s people came together to pray in an upper room (Acts 1:12-14). After he was arrested, the church gathered to pray for the release of Peter (Acts 12:5-17).  And, when the church gathered, individuals prayed out loud.   At the end of a public prayer people would say, “Amen,” or give thanks (1 Cor. 14:6).  

However, Jesus does put an emphasis upon private prayers. Jesus said that His followers must not be like the religious hypocrites of His day, who loved to pray while standing in the synagogues, and on the corners of the streets (Matt. 6:5). The primary purpose of this activity was to be seen and heard of men.  

There are some individuals who want the world to know how pious, religious, and spiritual they are. It is not difficult to understand why some people court public recognition. It is human nature to want to be affirmed and praised.   Unfortunately, there are individuals  who seek for religious recognition in an extraordinary way, because they know others can be impressed with eloquence. We listen for flowing sentences, flowery words, emotional overtones, and the sound of sincerity. If all these elements are present, we quietly admire the person who can speak to God in such a manner.  

In 1970, when I was in the tenth grade in a Christian school in New Orleans, Louisiana, I met with a group of students at lunch time for prayer. The first time we met as a group, one of the young ladies prayed. When she was through, someone immediately said what we all felt and thought: “That was beautiful!”  

It was a lovely and sincere prayer offered with grace and humility. However, not everyone prays with eloquence, or authenticity. Jesus said that when prayers are offered, only to impress others with an external sign of piety, there is a reward.  

It is the “praise of folly,” as the Catholic theologian Erasmus (1466 – 1536) would have said. As helpful as listening to an eloquent prayer might be, for the child of God, Jesus said that prayer is to be primarily done in private. A closet is to be found, and the door closed. Preparation for prayer includes silence and secrecy. The world is to be shut out, so the heart can be shut in with God.      

The words of Jesus are more than a good idea. They are a practical, and Royal Command to be implemented. Every disciple of Christ is to find an area, sanctify it unto the Lord, and consecrate it as a holy place. There the soul can sing a song that expresses the longing of the heart to know the Lord Jesus.

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.  
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above; Praise the mount!
I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.  
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.”  

To raise one’s “Ebenezer” (Heb. “stone of help”), refers to a historical event whereby the enemy of God was routed because the people of God repented and were blessed of the Lord. The story is recorded in 1 Samuel 7, during the end of the time of the Judges.   In the providence of God, in the eleventh century before the birth of Christ, Israel experienced a revival under the leadership of Samuel (c. 1070 – 1012). The prophet had gathered the people at Mizpah where they confessed their sin, and Samuel offered a sacrifice on their behalf (1 Sam. 7: 5–9).  

It was during this time of repentance and spiritual renewal that the enemy attacked.   “While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle” (1 Sam. 7:10).   The Israelites went out to fight against the invaders. In matchless grace, God sent His people supernatural help: “That day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites” (1 Sam. 7:10). Israel’s victory over the Philistines was decisive.   Several cities the Philistines had captured were restored to Israel, and it was a long time before the Philistines tried to invade Israel again (1 Sam. 7:13–14).  

To commemorate the divine victory, “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named the stone structure, ‘Ebenezer,’ (Heb. “stone of help”) saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (verse 12). For generations to come, every time an Israelite saw the stone erected by Samuel, he would have a tangible reminder of the Lord’s power and protection. The “stone of help” marked the spot where the enemy had been routed, and God’s promise to bless His repentant people had been honored. The Lord had helped Israel, all the way to Ebenezer” (  

Every Christian can erect their own “Ebeneezer” to the Lord. We need not think we must go to Jerusalem, or Israel, or to the Jordan River, in order to meet with the Lord. All we need is to know that Christ is seeking us, to help in our hour of need.     “Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wand’ring from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, Interposed His precious blood.”   ~Robert Robinson   The promise is made that when the sincere seeker wills to be alone with God, the Father will see. The Lord will draw near each person who prays, and there will be an open reward.

The religious hypocrite will receive an open reward, the praise of men. But those who pray in secret will also be rewarded.  One open reward is a greater spiritual persona.   Others will know we have been with God.

When Moses returned from 40 days in the presence of God, the Bible says that his face glowed (Exodus 34:35). Moses did not know his physical countenance had changed because being in the presence of God’s glory had become normal. But the Israelites knew something was different about Moses. Here was a man who had spent time with God, and it changed his life.   For those who are struggling with a secret sin, or an addiction, here is one path of deliverance. Go and spend time alone with God.  The experience will forever change your life.  

When Jesus began His public ministry, the Bible says He was led by the Spirit into the desert. Jesus went to a place where He could be alone, in secret with the Father. Then, filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned to a public ministry with spiritual power (Matt. 4:1-17).   The lesson to be learned is that we are to seek, not the reward, but the Lord Himself, while realizing that God will honor those who long for Him.  There is another preparation for prayer.             T

rue worshipers of God are not to use vain, or empty repetitions. The motive for empty repetitions is a mistaken notion that individuals shall be heard for their much speaking. Spirituality by volume is not a status that God honors.

Those who are sympathetic to the charismatic movement, should pay attention to this principle because, a distinguishing mark of those who believe they are speaking in tongues is guttural repetition.  

There are sincere people who believe they are speaking to God in a heavenly language, but no heavenly language would dare to violate a principle established by Christ.  

It is instructive to notice the Greek word translated “vain repetitions” is battologeo (bat-tol-og-eh’-o); to stutter, i.e. (by implication) to prate tediously. The saints in the church of Corinth were notorious for using vain repetitions when they prayed. They spoke in tongues. The people stuttered and foolishly spoke in non-sensical ecstatic utterances thinking themselves spiritual.   Paul wrote a rebuking letter to the church, telling God’s people to pray without stuttering but with understanding. Paul himself prayed in this manner writing, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15).  

When the mind of a person is engaged, there can be rational communion with God, as His invitation is honored. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

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