There is much teaching on prayer and many wonderful prayers of God’s saints recorded in the Old Testament scriptures. But with the coming of Christ, prayer took on a new aspect and rose to a new spiritual level. His coming into the world brought with it a new revelation from God, and a new relation to Him. Gradually, step by step, on the basis of the new revelation of God the Lord Jesus led His disciples into a new prayer-life. The first teaching of Christ on prayer in the New Testament is found in the Sermon on the Mount; and there, also, we encounter a new and wonderful name of God which He taught to His disciples. This name was Father.

Never before did His people address Him in such a way. Many great, loving, endearing, adoring names and titles are applied to Him in holy reverence in the Old Testament (as in the book of Psalms for instance)–but never once did the saints of old call Him “Father”–except in a few instances when He is called Father with reference to Israel, nationally (Isa. 63:16; 64:8). The message God sent to Pharaoh was, “Israel is my son, my first-born” (Exod. 4:22); and, again, in Deut. 14:1 it is said, “You are the children of the Lord your God.” But this relationship is always to Israel as a people in a national sense. No individual among them did ever directly and personally address God as his Father.

But when Jesus came, He taught His disciples to call God “Father.” The new relation of sonship came through Christ. “For to as many as received him, to them that believe on his name, to them gave he the right to become children of God . . . who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12,13). The name “Father” occurs first in Matt. 5:16, where He says to His disciples, “Even so let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” Then again in v. 45, “that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” And then repeatedly afterwards.

The Importance of Motive
Christ’s first reference to prayer comes in the course of His teaching on the necessity of sincerity and pure motive in religious acts–in giving, in fasting, in praying (Matt. 6:1-18). If, like “the hypocrites” they should do these things to be seen of men, or to get praise and credit from men, it will count for nothing with God. But what is done as unto Him alone, the Father who sees in secret shall recompense. So when you pray, don’t do as the hypocrites, “for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men . . . . But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees in secret shall recompense you” (Matt. 6:5, 6). This is lesson number one. Don’t pray for show–to be seen (or heard) by men. Not that public praying is wrong, for the Lord Himself and His apostles prayed in public. But the purpose and motive is everything. God looks on the heart. Let your prayer–whether public or private–be unto God, with no other thought or object beside.

Praying in Private
But a further lesson is implied and included: namely, the need of private, secret prayer. No public praying, no joint praying at prayer-meetings or with family-group, as good and valuable as these are, can take the place of our own private, secret communion with God. Often a Christian will be heard saying, “I pray all the time; I pray when I am working, or going, or resting.” This, if really so — if not merely an excuse — is very good indeed. Of course the Lord Jesus knew the secret of that. Nevertheless He found it necessary to get away from the crowds, to get away even from His own disciples, to get alone with God. For Him there was no closet, nor inner room; He had no door that He could close. But there was the wilderness, the friendly solitude of the desert, and the lonely mountain-height, where in secrecy and free from all distraction He prayed to His Father. And as it was for Him, this is a spiritual necessity for every one of us. Alone with God –the world shut out–we are, as it were, face to face with our Father before whom we present ourselves, who sees in secret, and who hears all our confessions, our pleadings, our supplications and intercessions. And He rewards openly. An hour of such communion with God will bear obvious fruit in the public life and work of the child of God.

Talk without Heart
Now follows lesson two. “In praying use not vain repetitions as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard because of their much speaking” (Matt. 6:7). The Gentiles, in their ignorance, think that prayer is a sort of meritorious performance. And, of course, if that were the case, it would follow that the more prayers a man can put out, the more he will get for it. On that principle, they have devised “prayer-wheels,” to multiply prayers indefinitely by machinery, as it were. So, like the prophets of Baal, they cry monotonously through the weary hours, “O Baal hear us, O Baal hear us.” If only that sort of folly were confined to the “Gentiles”!
Come Again, and Again, and…

But–the Lord continues–“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you need before you ask him.” But if He knows beforehand, why do we need to tell Him of our wants, why do we have to ask of Him–why pray at all? Simply because He has made blessing depend on prayer. He wants us to come and ask of Him so that He may keep us in touch with Him, coming back to Him continually as our needs recur. This is God’s way; and it is good, as all His ways are. Had He chosen to do so, He could have given us full abundance of everything at once and without our asking. The result would have been that we would have become independent of Him, and would have forgotten the Hand which bestowed the gift. For after all, God loves us. What loving parent would not want to keep up close and frequent contact with his children? So our Father in heaven keeps us coming back to Him for help, for comfort, for the supply of constantly arising needs, and every want of spirit, soul, and body. And our asking prepares us for the receiving of His gifts.