“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.” (Matt. 6:7-8)
The reasonableness of our worship, and of prayer to God, prompts us most naturally to look to Him Who made us, in the fitness of acknowledging His continual favors, and the assurance we have that He is present with us.
God attends to and directs those who seek to recommend themselves to Him in the best way they are able.
The power, wisdom and goodness displayed in bringing us into being, and the various ways and methods to make it happy to us, are a just foundation for this our application to our Maker.
Nor can He ever be absent from us, so as not to hear and attend to us. For the same divine energy by which he first made us and all nature is necessary to support us in being. We cannot divest ourselves of the idea that His continual presence is with us.
We need never fear our being overlooked or disregarded by God. Our attention indeed can only be fixed on one object at once, and we are soon disturbed and perplexed with a multiplicity of affairs. But, as the sacred writer speaks, “Yahweh’s eyes are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Prov. 15:3)
These natural grounds of the duty of prayer and thanksgiving to God appear plain and obvious, and afford much satisfaction to the pious mind.
Nevertheless it is a great privilege, that we have the express encouragement from God to offer up our prayers to Him, which He has given us by holy men, His prophets; and last of all by our Savior, Jesus.
And in that part of our Master’s sermon which is before us, he is giving some cautions to his followers concerning this duty, and directing them how to perform it in the way most acceptable to God and useful to themselves.
After severely condemning many in those days, who, by their holy outward appearance of great devotion, sought to impose on the world that they were better and more to be trusted than others, to serve their private ends of gain and ambition.
Jesus’ words are a caution to those who thought they were religious because of the frequency and length of their prayers, or who thought so poorly of their Maker, as if He, the all-knowing God, needed to be told often about their needs, as if He had forgotten them!
Our prayers and thanks to Him are not needed for any information or satisfaction that He can derive from them, they are in the highest degree serviceable to ourselves, and therefore are fitly and most kindly enjoined by Him who seeks our good.
Everything in us, good or bad, is the effect of habit. To keep up a due sense of God, it is necessary to think of Him frequently, to bring Him, His goodness, His greatness, freshly to our minds. And this is done most effectually in prayer, which puts us into His presence.
To pray with any degree of fervor or earnestness, one must have some persuasion that it will be of service to him to procure what he prays for.
The Scriptures therefore uniformly represent Almighty God as listening to the prayers of human beings, and disposed to bestow upon them everything they ask that is good for them.
However, as we ourselves are creatures so shortsighted and unknowing what might be good for us, and our heavenly Father, who is ever most kindly disposed toward us, as our Master here tells us, knows what things we have need of before we ask him, we should never pray for anything but only so far as His wisdom may see it best for us.
The great subject of our prayers to God undoubtedly ought always to be for our virtuous improvement, and to be assisted to do his will in all things, and that we may be assisted in watching over ourselves where we are most likely to fall; giving us such a great love of wisdom and goodness it will keep us above the narrow gratifications of our appetites and every unlawful desire, and make all the temptations of the world lose their power over us.
The great end of prayer is to bring us to live under a habitual sense of the divine presence, with which it will be impossible for any to live or continue in any known evil or dishonest practice.
Far from interrupting or taking us away from our worldly pursuits, prayer furnishes us with a greater ability to go through the necessary duties of life, and spread continual comfort, cheerfulness, and joy all around us.
(Adapted from a sermon by Theophilus Lindsey, given in March, 1778)