Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (James 5:13, NKJV)
Prayer and song. This couplet proves comforting and invigorating as we go through life’s storms and life’s calm. Suffering comes in many forms; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Prayer is a balm for the weary, an assuring strength during times of tumult and uncertainty. And so, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Even as suffering leads to earnest prayer, happy times evoke praise of the Almighty. The Lord is the source of joy that no one can take from us – the joy of victory over sin and death (John 16:20-22, 33). When life brings good fortune, Christians raise up songs of praise to God. We remember that God is the Giver of every good blessing; we did not create our happiness without His good providence. And so, James gives us sound instruction for difficult and happy times. He reminds us to look to God through all of life’s joys and sorrows. The Lord “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He will see you through.
One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9, NKJV)
Prayer is not an unconditional blessing. This way of viewing prayer is quite different from the way most view it. But, today’s passage makes the conditional nature of prayer very clear. God’s ear is not open to the person whose ears are closed to the law of God. Simply put, we cannot live in disobedience to God, yet expect God to be open and responsive when we decide to pray to Him. Prayer is not an escape hatch we take as a final resort. It is not a fire escape when all other possibilities are exhausted. Prayer is the ongoing communication of God’s child to the Father in heaven. “Pray without ceasing” is an active way of life for the person who listens to God’s law and follows it (1 Thess. 5:17, 18-22). Prayer is a spiritual blessing Christians have “in Christ,” precisely because we choose to “turn away from evil and do good” (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 3:10-11). We must prepare ourselves to be heard by God: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). Get right with God. Open your ear to hear and obey His law. Then, your prayers will be a blessing to God’s ear, and not an abomination.
43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:43–44, NKJV)
Jesus was reaching a point of mental fatigue as His soul agonized under the anticipation of the cross and all that would lead to it. Strength from heaven revived him, even as His sweat dropped profusely from him. Have you ever heard someone say Jesus sweated blood in Gethsemane? Many, if not most, Bible commentaries say He did. Yet, the text says His blood was “like” great drops of blood. Luke uses a metaphor to describe the intensity of Jesus’ distress. We need not distort the text in order to strengthen this scene of agony. The Lord’s humanity is on full display as He “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:7-8). Jesus arose from prayer to find His disciples “sleeping from sorrow” (Lk. 22:45). Yet, sorrow is not the time to sleep, but the time to “rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Lk. 22:46). When you face the agony of sorrow, turn your prayers heavenward for relief. Though your struggle with sorrow may be intense, pray for earnestly. Relief from heaven will strengthen you and secure your faith (Heb. 13:5-6; Jas. 1:2-4).
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13, NKJV)
Jesus is not saying to pray that we are never tempted; Temptations to sin come to us all. James settles the matter once and for all that the devil, not God, is the source of temptations (Jas. 1:13-15). Jesus is teaching us to pray for God’s watchful care so that we will not succumb to temptations (for by so doing, we choose to sin). “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” was the Lord’s exhortation to the three disciples who slept in Gethsemane; and to us as well (Matt. 26:41). Sadly, we often sleep even as we walk into the midst of temptations, all the while expecting the Lord to miraculously rescue us from spiritual harm. While praying for God’s assured protection and to use the available avenues of escape when temptations come, we must vigilantly watch for the enticements the evil one will set before us (1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Pet. 5:8). God’s deliverance from temptation comes as we watch and pray, resist the allurements of the devil and refuse to sin against God.
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. (Matthew 6:9, NKJV)
In what manner do you pray? Some approach prayer as a very casual conversation. While we are to avoid “vain repetitions” (empty rhetoric) when we pray, that does not do away with the awesome nature of prayer, or the awe-inspiring One to whom we pray. We must pray with utmost respect and regard for our Father. (We have been told of those who have tried to personalize prayer by beginning with, “Hi Dad” – a gross distortion of reverently addressing “our Father in heaven.”) God’s name – all that He is (His divine nature, holiness, grandeur and greatness) – shapes the reverence with which we must approach Him with our prayers. When you pray, fully recognize God’s sovereignty and absolute holiness (Rev. 4:8-11). Magnify His greatness and rejoice that we have the privilege of approaching Him in prayer. Although many call this passage “The Lord’s Prayer,” it is more aptly called the “Model Prayer,” from which we pattern the manner and content of our prayers (Matt. 6:9-15).
7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:7–8, NKJV)
How do you pray? The volume of words used in prayer does not constitute a prayer that pleases our heavenly Father. Liturgical attempts to approach the Almighty are met with the Son of God’s rebuke and rejection. Jesus likens empty rhetoric in prayer to the attempts of the heathen to move their lifeless gods to action (cf. 1 Kgs. 18:26-27). Citizens of the kingdom carefully avoid useless, purposeless words in prayer. The reason is obvious (yet, Jesus remind us, for we have a tendency to forget) – our heavenly Father knows our needs before we ask Him. Prayer expresses the deep yearnings of the heart to Him who made the heart and who knows what is in our heart better than we do ourselves. Our prayers express our trust in and dependency upon God, not our ability to repeat phrases men have deemed pious and persuasive (1 Pet. 5:6-7). Let us adorn our prayers with simple communication from trusting hearts, not with mindless prattle that offends the One to whom we pray.
5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5–6, NKJV)
Why do you pray? What is the driving motive behind your prayers? God, who knows the human heart, knows the insincere motives of prayer. Prayer is not a public display of a Christian’s devotion to God. We are warned not to pray desiring that people praise us for our piety. Hypocrites pretend to pray out of devout dependency upon God, but their motive is to be seen by others. Faithful Christians do not pray for the accolades of others, but so that the Father will hear and help them. They do not make sure everyone knows all about how and when they pray to God; they are content to communicate privately and earnestly with the Father. God promises to hear and answer these prayers. If we pray to be praised by others, men will answer our prayers with their praises. But, God will not answer us, for we have elevated ourselves above Him and trusted in ourselves instead of trusting Him.