Some time ago, in a place I can no longer recall, I came across a helpful reflection on Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew that applied the words of Jesus to guide us in understanding the nature of prayer.
Humility – Prayer is not merely outward. It is not about optics, looking holy, or winning other people’s admiration or positive attention.
[Matthew 6:1. Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.]
Internal – Prayer happens inside of us. It has an interior dimension. The ‘secret place’ is a metaphor for the heart.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.]
Silence – In prayer we need not always ‘babble on’. More words spoken out loud do not make God hear us better. Prayer is not about ‘more-words-the-better’. ‘Less is more’ begins to capture the quality of silence in prayer practice.
[Matthew 6:7-8. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.]
Trust – Prayer is not so much about asking God for things, because God already knows what we need before we ask, but rather sharing what is on our heart. We begin prayer already trusting in the faithfulness of the Divine Presence to us.
[Matthew 6:8. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.]
Spirituality – We need to go beyond material wellbeing alone and give priority to the spiritual treasures of the kingdom of God. In prayer and in our discipleship, we need not deny, but learn to value, what is not accessible merely by our senses or obtained by our efforts to acquire and amass things.
[Matthew 6:19-21. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.]
Peace – We need to learn to stop worrying about the future and to trust in God. Anxiety is not conducive to prayer. Anxiety makes us too self-centred and prevents us from realizing the gift of love already in our hearts.
[Matthew 6:25-32, Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them ……..Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?…….” ]
Attention – Prayer is about ‘setting the mind on God’s kingdom first.’ in other words, be present to this moment. Be attentive and mindful that prayer is not about quantity (i.e., saying prayers that sound great) as much as it is about quality (i.e. paying attention to what is on our heart).
[Matthew 6:33. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.]