As promised on February 7, 2013 (from Spiritual Formation Thursday: The Jesus Prayer), today’s post of Bible Study Wednesday will be about Jesus’ teaching about prayer from Matthew 6. I wanted to do this to show that praying the Jesus Prayer over and over again is not against the Bible. This is a bigger problem than some of you might think, many very conservative evangelical Protestant Christians who, frankly, think the practice of the Jesus Prayer is against the Bible and a totally useless prayer. I cannot agree with this because of the personal experiences I have had with the Jesus Prayer and the experiences I have seen other people have with it.
First off, I should acknowledge that this passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount. If you will indulge by rabbit trail, the Sermon on the Mount was not one sermon, but most likely pieces of several sermons, preached many times and in many places. But St. Matthew, most likely did not want to say well in this place Jesus said this and then over here he talked about this, etc. (he also probably did not remember where Jesus said all these things). Alright back to the main point. Jesus starts his preaching on prayer, by bringing up something that his audience would have seen. He brings to mind someone, everyone in his audience, and pretty much any audience for that matter, would hate: the hypocrite. They make a show of their pious nature, going out onto the street corners and in the middle of the synagogue to pray. Most of the people Jesus was talking to would be praying rote prayers, like the Shema, binding their hands and foreheads with leather straps and boxes. But in contrast Jesus tell people to go into a private place and pray there. God will hear their prayer, even if no one else does. So Jesus does not want use going out into the middle of the local church building and pray loudly, possibly interrupting other people’s prayers. Or going out to the busiest part of the city and calling out to God, so that everyone can see how religious/spiritual we are. This does not change us as prayer should, it puff us up.
Jesus then moves on to talk about how the Gentiles pray. He does not want us to pray the same way the Gentiles do. We are not to heap up empty phrases and call that prayer. So how the Gentiles prayed was to ask, let’s say, Zeus for something. Then right after they asked Zeus for something they would ask the same thing from Hera or some other got in the pantheon. They thought if they asked enough gods for favors then maybe they might get what they asked. So saying the Jesus prayer is not like heaping up empty phrases, it is asking Jesus for mercy and acknowledging who God is. It is a prayer of praise and petition. I know that I constantly sin and thus I need mercy and forgiveness all the time, so by the time I say one prayer I might have sinned or might need more mercy. Jesus also does not want us to make requests as much, because God is a good Father, he knows what we need and he will give us what we need. This is another reason the Jesus Prayer is good, because it only asks for mercy which God is rich in, it does not address any other needs we might have. Instead it lets us just focus on God. It is also not that we should not ask God for things, because in the Lord’s Prayer which follows this teaching, there are requests for things, like food, forgiveness, and protection.
Question: What have you been taught about these teachings on prayer?