Imagine two scenarios.
Scenario one: I never talk to Bethany in private. She tries to talk with me but I am never interested, until we get in public. When other eyes are looking besides her own, and when other ears are listening besides her own then I seem greatly interested in her. Why the difference? The conversation that seems to be about her, isn’t about her, it’s about me. It’s about putting on a show, putting up a façade to give an impression.
Scenario two: I am away on a mission trip. I hardly ever call Bethany until the last couple of days. Those conversations are liberally littered with “I love yous.” In our final conversation the day before I arrive I mention to her how horrible the food has been and how wonderful it would be if she would meet me at the airport with a Webber’s Root Beer and Burger. She does not bring one, perhaps she is planning that we all go there as a family. I am furious upon seeing her without the root beer and burger. She then realizes that “all the right words” that I said previous in our conversations were only empty phrases. The conversation wasn’t about how much I loved her, but about how much I loved root beer; she was simply the means to the end. I was not after her heart, I was after beverage and sustenance.
Scenario one is conversing like a Pharisee, scenario two is conversing like a pagan. Prayer is dangerous! The other acts of piety dealt with in 6:1-18 receive only one warning, prayer receives two. The methods are not what is being contrasted here. If you read this passage and only change your method, it is as if you put a bandage on your arm to deal with profuse internal bleeding.
In scenario one, now dealing with our text, vv. 5-6, the issue isn’t posture; for instance, the tax collector as well as the Pharisee pray standing in Luke 18:9-14. The issue isn’t public prayer as opposed to private prayer; there are numerous examples of public prayer that are blessed by God in scripture. The issue is praying in public to be seen and praised by others. The issue is prayer for publicity, not prayer in public. The issue isn’t the method, but the motive.
In scenario two, vv. 7-8, the issue isn’t repetition. Jesus would repeat the same prayer in Gethsemane. The pagan worshipper thought he had to appease or flatter the gods to get what he wanted. He would use certain formulas so that the gods would listen. The reason Christians are not to pray in this way is theological; we have a loving omniscient Father. The issue here is not method either, it is the mindset with which we come to prayer. Theology shapes your prayers profoundly, I would say more than anything.
If you want to grow in prayer don’t look for new technique, look to your God. Ever more important than method is your motive and mindset.
Too often when we struggle with prayer we focus on the wrong things. We focus on praying better instead of focusing on knowing better the one to whom we pray. And we focus on our need for discipline rather than our need for God. – Kevin DeYoung