The effectiveness of, and need for, prayer

By James Maginnis

Read Matthew 6:5-15

Prayer is not optional in our Christian walk; it is an essential part of our relationship with God and something we should be regularly partaking in. Jesus confirms this here with four simple words; ‘And when you pray’ (v5). There is no question, there is no ‘if’, there is simply an expectation that His followers will be engaged in prayer to their Father, as Jesus Himself was regularly through His earthly life, and this is an expectation that is echoed throughout Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, Philippians 4:6-7, Ephesians 6:18, James 5:13-16).

After Jesus reminds us of our need to pray, He also shows us what our heart’s desire should be as we pray (v9-13):

  • Our hearts should be in awe of our Father above all else, realising how privileged we are to even call Him ‘Father’ and revering Him for who He is. (v9)
  • Our heart’s desire should align with His, seeking the advancement of His Kingdom here on earth above all else. (v10)
  • Our hearts should recognise our need of the Father’s provision and realise that all we have and need are given by Him. (v11)
  • Our hearts should recognise our sinfulness and see the need for forgiveness that only our Father can deliver. (v12)
  • Our hearts should seek to forgive others as we have been forgiven by our Father. (v12)
  • Finally, our hearts should desire to flee evil at all cost, and recognise that God is the only one who can deliver us from it. (v13)

Now this might make us feel like our prayers are inadequate, after all our hearts don’t naturally do these things, so does that make our prayer ineffective? Well, before Jesus shows us how we ought to pray, He tells us that ‘…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.’ (v8) Jesus tells us this because there were (and still are) those who pray with complex language and buzz words, these are people who are trying to pray ‘effectively’, they think their structure, fancy phrasing, and deep theological language are what make their prayers effective. Ultimately, they’re trying to impress God and win Him over, to convince Him to answer their prayer, but they’re missing the point. What Jesus highlights to us here is that we don’t have to sell anything to God, we don’t have to convince Him of our need, He already knows. So, when we pray, we pray knowing that our prayers aren’t effective because of anything we do, or ineffective because our hearts aren’t perfect, but our prayers are effective because of who God is; because He already knows our need, and He cares for us in that need. This means when we pray, we don’t have to ‘heap up empty phrases’ (v7) but we can simply pour out our hearts to our loving Father, and even though our hearts aren’t perfect (yet), that same Father sees our need, hears our prayer and lovingly provides for us as He wills, all while working in us to incline our hearts to His will (1 Thessalonians 5:24, Philippians 1:6).

So as you pray for whatever ministry you’re involved in this summer (and beyond), challenge yourself to consider the condition of your heart in prayer, but also remember we have a Father who hears our prayer in spite of our shortcomings (1 John 5:14), and why? Because He loves us!

For further study on this topic this week, consider the following 5 passages of Scripture:

Monday: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

Tuesday: Philippians 4:4-9

Wednesday: Ephesians 6:10-20

Thursday: James 5:13-18

Friday: 1 John 5:1-14


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