One of the most important things in the life of a Christian is talking to God – prayer. Have you ever thought about that? One of the greatest privileges, we have, is that we can talk to God just like we talk to any other man, and we can hear Him talk to us as well. We want to continue looking at what Jesus spoke and taught His disciples about speaking to God, what we call prayer, communicating with God, talking to Him.

We saw in the last study that the most important thing about prayer is not the words, but the attitude of heart with which we approach God. The most important thing, Jesus said in this connection, was that we should not act; we should not pray in order to impress men. We seek honour either from God or from men. For example, if you pray and you let other people know that you are a great man or woman of prayer, or you are always talking about the time you spend in prayer, the hours and days you spend in praying and fasting and things like that, the chances are that you will not get any answer to your prayers. Did you know that?

You can pray and fast for days and get no answer from God for any of those prayers, if you did it to show men. You talk about it afterwards to other people saying, ‘You know I was praying and fasting here for 3 days or 7 days before God.’ Do you know what Jesus said about that in Matthew 6:5? He said about such people that they already have their reward in full. What is their reward? They wanted the honour of men that they are very godly men and women, and they got that reputation from men as their reward. Men began to think that they are very godly people. Jesus said that that is what they wanted and that is what they got. They are not going to get anything from God; there will be no reward from heaven. All those prayers and fasting was wasted.

Now on the other hand, here is another person who doesn’t let anyone know about his prayer life, it is all in secret; he shuts the room and prays. Maybe his wife or those living at home know, but he tries his best to conceal it, hide it from as many people as possible. He never talks about his prayer life with anyone. He prays to the Father in secret. He doesn’t get any reward from people, because nobody knows anything about his praying. But he gets a full reward from God, because God sees him in secret. Now my question to you, dear friends, is which of these two types of people do you want to be? Do you want a reward from men, where you get a reputation as a godly man or a godly woman or a man of prayer or a woman of prayer? Or, do you want God to approve of your life and answer your prayer and bless you? He will reward you openly. People will see, when there is a blessing of God upon your life, that you are one who prays to God in secret and God rewards you.

So that is the first thing that Jesus said in relation to prayer – this is how you should not pray. If Jesus said that as the number one danger in prayer then we can be pretty sure that that is the thing that we must beware of the most. You know man is basically religious. We like to show a lot of our religion to get a reputation before people that we are very religious and holy people. One way we get that reputation is by letting people know how much we pray, how much we fast, and how much money we give to the Lord’s work, or what sacrifices we have made for the Lord, etc. Jesus said, ‘Be very careful that you don’t tell anybody any of these things. Let God see it and that is enough.’

The other thing that Jesus told us not to do is, ‘‘When you are praying, don’t use meaningless repetition as the heathen people do, because those heathen people think that they will be heard for their many words’’ (Mat. 6:7). This is the second mistake that a lot of people make when they are praying. They think that God will hear them if they use many words. They keep on repeating the same thing over, and over, and over again, as though God was deaf and He can’t hear you if you say it once. They think that the reason why God hears some people is because they pray for a long time and that God does not hear those who pray for a short time. This is another heathen concept. You think that if you pray for one hour, God would definitely have heard you, but if you pray for one minute, God won’t listen to that, because it is too short. Where did that idea come from?

When Peter was walking on the water and when he turned his eyes away from Jesus, he began to sink in the sea. He turned to the Lord and said, ‘Lord save me.’ This prayer lasted may be one or two seconds. That is how long his prayer was and the Lord answered it. How long does your prayer have to be before God answers it? Peter’s prayer was less than two seconds. So it is not a question of length of time, nor is it a question of repetition – particularly meaningless repetition. We read, in the Garden of Gethsemane, that Jesus prayed the same thing three times, but it was not meaningless repetition. It was from His heart. Sometimes when you have a burden in your heart, you take it before God, and you take it again and again and again until the burden goes.

So that is not the type of repetition Jesus is speaking about. Jesus had Himself said in another passage on prayer about a widow who went to a judge. We read that in Luke 18:1-7. She kept on asking for one thing, ‘Give me justice against my enemy.’ She went back and said the same thing again and again and again until finally, the judge heard it. Jesus said that, that is how you have to pray. ‘‘His elect cry out to Him day and night and don’t you think God will avenge them?’’ Jesus said, in another parable, when He spoke on prayer, that a man went to his neighbour and said, ‘A guest has come by my house, and I don’t have any food.’ The neighbour wouldn’t open the door because it was late. Still he kept on knocking until the neighbour opened the door and gave him some bread. The lesson here is the same. We need persistence in asking for something again and again and again.

So in talking about repetitive prayers we are not talking about that type of persistence which Jesus Himself encourages in Luke 11 and Luke 18. Instead, He is talking about meaningless repetition. For example, immediately after the advice on how not to pray, Jesus told them how to pray. He said, ‘When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’’ and so on in Matthew 6: 9 onwards. Now you can take that prayer and repeat it meaninglessly before God, just repeat it like a parrot. Supposing you repeat that prayer 20 times – ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come’ and so on and you say it 20 times, is God going to hear it? Another fellow prays the same prayer 50 times. Is God going to hear him more?

Some people have that idea that if you keep on repeating that prayer 30-40 times, the more times you repeat it, the more God is going to hear you. Jesus said very clearly in Matthew 6:7 that it is a heathen idea. It is the heart that determines what God hears. If it doesn’t come from the heart, and if it is a meaningless repetition from your mouth, it has no value at all. Don’t think that God will hear you because you use many words. It is not the number of words that determines whether God hears us or not, it is the condition of our heart. So He gave us two warnings concerning how we should not pray. One, seeking the honour of man by acting and pretending to be holy, and second, repeating ourselves meaninglessly again and again and thinking that if we pray for a long time, God will listen to us. These are the two things that Jesus warned against severely. Only after that introduction did He go on to tell His disciples how they should pray. And in connection with heathen practice of meaningless repetitions, Jesus said one more thing: Don’t be like the heathen, because ‘‘Your father knows what you need before you ask him’’ (Mat. 6:8).That is a very important thing to remember.

See, when you pray to God for something, you are not informing God about a need which He does not know about. If you ring up on the telephone and tell a man that such and such a thing has happened or that such and such a thing is needed, it possible that the other person never knew it before. But when you tell God something like ‘Lord someone is sick,’ He already knows that. ‘Lord someone needs money, perhaps, to live,’ God knows that as well. There is absolutely nothing that God doesn’t know. Please remember that when you pray. That, your prayer is not a means of informing God what He doesn’t know. Yet some people act like that.

Sometimes people think that prayer is trying to force God to have compassion on some person whom God is a bit hard-hearted to. That is all ridiculous! God has more compassion for everybody in the world than you and I can ever have. And He knows everything that happened long before you and I hear of it. He knows our needs before we asked Him. So all these things are not the reasons why we pray. We pray as an expression of our dependence upon God and our faith and our testimony that He is the one who provides all our needs. Once these wrong ideas are cleared out of the way, then we can pray exactly the way God wants us to pray.

This is part of the Basic Christian Teachings Series, a set of 72 short messages presented by Zac Poonen.  You can download the audio mp3 files or listen to Basic Christian Teachings by clicking here.