The world’s Redeemer frequently went away alone to pray. On one occasion his disciples were not so far away but that they could hear his words. They were deeply impressed by his prayer; for it was charged with vital power that reached their hearts. It was very unlike the prayers which they themselves had offered, and unlike any prayers which they had heard from human lips. After Jesus had joined them again, they said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
If we would offer up acceptable prayer, we should realize that in our petitioning we are in the audience chamber of the Most High. We should cultivate solemn thoughts, realizing that we are coming into close connection with our Creator. It means much to pray to our Heavenly. We come to lay our imperfect tribute of thanksgiving at his feet in acknowledgment of his love and mercy, of which we are wholly undeserving. We come to make known our wants, to confess our sins, and to present to him his own promises. He says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Jesus gave instruction to his disciples as to how they should pray: “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.” They do not receive their reward from God, but from men, from whom they seek their reward. They feel a certain satisfaction in publicly proclaiming their piety, and this is their reward. “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. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them. For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
What a contrast there is between this model prayer of Christ and the prayers formulated by human teachers! How brief, how expressive, how rich, how comprehensive! Praise and supplication are here mingled. Jesus has given to men a prayer in which every expression is full of meaning, to be studied and brought into practical life. The greatest mind may be charmed with its comprehensiveness, and the humblest intellect can understand its utterances. It is a prayer that expresses the essential subjects that we need to present to our Heavenly Father. Parents may teach this prayer to their children, and the Spirit may impress young minds with its truth. The children may gather the fact from this that our precious Saviour so loved them that he did not leave them in ignorance as to how to pray, but gave them a model prayer which they may present to God in simplicity and sincerity of heart. Christ will hear the prayer that he himself has taught to his disciples. Many times a day we may go as suppliants to God, and repeat this prayer with assurance that it will not fall to the ground.
It is not the work of any mortal to seek to particularize and explain all that is comprehended in the Lord’s prayer. The wisdom of the greatest Teacher the world ever knew, is not to be darkened and mystified by words. Christ has given the prayer, and we should individually study its meaning, and be careful not to pervert its childlike simplicity. In the Lord’s prayer, solidity, strength, and earnestness are united with meekness and reverence. It is an expression of the divine character of its Author.
The Lord Jesus says, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” But how few heed the words of Christ and pray after this manner! Is it not best for Christians to be doers of the words of Christ, and not hearers only? We are not always to be confined to the utterance of these exact words. The Lord frequently pours upon his servants a spirit of prayer and of earnest supplication, and directs their attention to certain things embraced in certain parts of the prayer. But how many tedious prayers are offered in our churches, that are more like giving the Lord a lecture than like presenting to him a petition. It would be better if these petitioners confined themselves to the prayer that Christ gave his disciples, rather than to pray in a tedious, ceremonious manner. Long prayers in a congregation are tedious to those who listen, and do not prepare the hearts of the people for the sermon which is to follow. The prayer of Christ was in marked contrast to these long prayers with their many repetitions. The Pharisees thought that they would be heard for their much speaking, and they made long, tedious, drawn-out prayers. They lifted up their hearts in pride, and cultivated a sense of their own superiority; but this made them appear very foolish in the sight of God, who knew their motives, and understood the selfishness and arrogance of their hearts. The Lord knew that when opportunity offered, they did not hesitate to practice fraud; they used false weights and balances, and took advantage of the widow and the fatherless. He knew that they devoured widows’ houses by charging exorbitant interest, and he could measure their pretentious claims to piety. They dared to parade their good deeds before the people, and for a pretense made long prayers, extolling and glorifying their own righteousness, which was as valueless in the sight of God as filthy rags. Let men take heed that they do not make religious exhibitions before the world of such a character that they will be a stumbling-block to sinners.
The model prayer of Christ is in marked contrast to the prayers of the heathen. In all false religions, ceremonies and forms have been substituted for genuine piety and for practical godliness. Dead formalism characterizes the devotion of those who have lost vital godliness. Prayer is made a mockery, and those who engage in it without feeling the spirit of their needs, can receive no reward of God. He who would pray should enter into the meaning of his prayer, putting heart and soul into his request. Let the Lord’s prayer be the real expression of your needs. Often to repeat this form of prayer will not be termed vain repetition. But even the Lord’s prayer may become a mere form. Prayer, how misunderstood, how perverted it has been! How few realize how solemn a thing it is to approach the throne of God. Angels bow before that throne with veiled faces, yet men who are stained by sin rush heedlessly into the divine presence. Let us remember that the holy angels approach the throne of God in reverence and holy fear. It is because men do not know God or Jesus Christ whom he has sent, that they take improper attitudes and utter improper words in their petitions. Instead of coming in contrition before God, men come without reverence in the family circle and in the congregation of the people. How many come to the season of prayer full of self-importance, and their prayers sound more as if they thought they must give the Lord information, than as if they expected to receive something from his hand. They do not approach God as humble suppliants, realizing that they are dependent upon him for life and health, for food and clothing, and for every temporal and spiritual blessing. They misinterpret the apostle’s words when he tells us to come boldly to the throne of grace. Many come into the presence of God without reverence or humility, acting more like bold, forward children than like meek and lowly followers of Christ. This is not the manner of boldness that the Scriptures advocate. The boldness that is here pointed out, is that which is born of faith in the word of Christ when he says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It is the boldness that comes when you realize that you do not need to dwell upon your own unworthiness and walk in the shadow that Satan would cast between your soul and God. It is proper that you should feel your weakness and soul’s great need, and it is at this very time that you may come to God in full assurance of faith, claiming the promise that the weary and the heavy laden shall find rest unto their souls. The boldness is confidence in God, not self-confidence. But all rashness, all irreverence, is to be far from those who would offer acceptable prayer. Then we may heed the words of one who speaks for God, when he says, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.”
While we are to offer our petitions with confidence in God’s promises, we are not to be rash, to practice circus-like maneuvering in the name of prayer. This is not acceptable to God or beneficial to those who hear. It is simply a performance of an erring, finite being who is unacquainted with the pure, chaste, elevated character of Christianity. We are to come before God in calm confidence; but let no one imagine that it argues that a man is fervent in spirit because he screams and groans and works himself up into a passion of feeling. We are to present our requests to God in faith, asking for the very things which we know that we need. When we have a sense of what God is, we shall realize our own unworthiness; but we shall also have confidence toward God, knowing what is his character of mercy and love. We shall come into his presence through the merits of Christ, and through him have boldness and confidence. We may plead the promises of God without the fear of being presumptuous.
Christ reproved the scribes and the Pharisees because of their self-righteous prayers; and prayers of this order, that are made to be heard of men, call down no blessing from God. The Pharisees rehearsed the good works which they had done, in order that men might hear them, and they made a pretense of thanking God that they were better than other men. They flattered themselves, and did not come with a broken heart and contrite spirit. They made no acknowledgment of sin. Nothing good came from the treasure of their hearts in expressing love and gratitude to God. Filled with self-righteousness, they felt in need of nothing, and regarded themselves as having attained the standard. There was no humility of soul in presenting themselves before God. But humility is always recognized by him who has said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
— E.G. White, Review and Herald, May 28, 1895