Jesus’ 3 Do’s and Don’ts of Prayer

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks." 1 Thessalonians 5:17

"Jesus' Do's and Don'ts of Prayer" by Steppes of Faith

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJ

We’ve heard it many times that we are to pray every day. How do we do that? Even the disciples and the people of Galilee were confused when Jesus taught them what we call The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:1-8).

Jesus was providing a template for praying when He told us The Lord’s Prayer. It’s just a general guideline. But He had more to say about praying than that. Praying is more than reciting some words, it has a few rules.

A Gathering in Galilee

In the early chapters of Matthew, Jesus is preaching to crowds of people in Galilee. The people came from all around the Galilee area, some from many miles away just to hear Jesus speak. So, you can imagine Jesus wanted to convey a lot of information to His large, captive audience.

It is within these early chapters that Jesus sets the record straight about murder, divorce, adultery, love, wealth, judging others, charitable deeds, and the “Golden Rule.” In chapter six, He also talks about how to pray.

Jesus felt compelled to talk about prayer because for too long they had been given a wrong impression of how to do it. The people’s only example was from the Pharisees, and they were way off base.

The Pharisees would typically stand in the Temple praying in their loudest voices. They would do the same thing out in the streets. They weren’t praying loudly because they were overcome with emotion. Oh no. It was all a show for others to see, and they liked it that way. Their desire to be the center of attention fed their greed for power and puffed-up egos.

But then Jesus came to town.

The Don’ts of Prayer

In His message to the Galilean people, Jesus not only reiterated the importance of praying, He clearly explained how to do it correctly.

Yes, we can use The Lord’s Prayer as a guideline, but Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:5-8 three specific rules. All the do’s and don’ts, you might say.

Don’t Number 1

The first thing Jesus teaches about prayer is to absolutely not act like the Pharisees. Jesus knew the Pharisees were listening when He said this, which is why He doesn’t mention them by name in Matthew 6:5.

We should not act like Pharisees when we pray. God is not impressed with a show.

“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.” NKJ

Praying should never be a spectacle or a show for others to see. Unfortunately, too many of us grew up listening to priests and pastors who speak to their congregations using verbose, giant words hidden in dramatic gestures.

Let’s be honest, preachers like that are a big turn-off, but this is exactly what the Pharisees did. It made the people feel dumb and alienated. That’s problem number one.

The other part of the Pharisees’ problem is they weren’t really praying. They were only talking “at” God, not talking “to” Him.

If the Pharisees thought God was responding to their prayers, it would seem unlikely He would. God does not want to be talked “at.” Who does, right?

For example, if you have kids, at one point no doubt one of them has come to you jibber-jabbering away, and as soon as he’s done talking he runs away. Sound familiar? Did you hear anything he said? Probably not because he was talking “at” you, wasn’t he? This is how God feels when we talk “at” Him. We blah-blah-blah making our requests, but we’re not connecting with Him relationally.

So, Jesus is cautioning us to not talk “at” Him and to not make a show of our praying for others to see. The consequences of being a show-off are in the last sentence of verse five, “…they have their reward.”

What Jesus is talking about here is that men who pray simply to get noticed get the reward of men’s attention and nothing more. God calls this hypocrisy, which He absolutely does not reward. Rather, hypocrites are punished for their sin.

Don’t Number 2

The second thing we shouldn’t do when we pray is much like Don’t Number 1. Verse seven of Matthew 6 says,

“When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathens do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” NKJ

The Contemporary English Version puts it like this:

“When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. CEV

God doesn’t want us to recite our prayers. Some might point to The Lord’s Prayer in either Matthew 6:9-13 or Luke 11:2-4. Again, The Lord’s Prayer is only a template illustrating simplicity and conciseness when we pray. Also, some churches today have their congregations say scripted words and prayers, but Jesus is telling us not to do that or else we risk falling into repeated, thoughtless speech.

What God would rather us do is talk less and listen more. We should offer our praise and make our requests, but then we need to be silent and give God a chance to respond. If we don’t, we are talking “at” Him. This is not how Jesus wants to build a relationship with us.

Like any friendship or parent-child relationship, God wants to interact with us and be close to us. We need to practice listening more to Him instead of talking on and on without thinking.

The “Do” of Praying

So, what should we do when we pray? We know we need to listen more, but that can be tough in a busy house or a compelling church service on a schedule. Jesus knows we have this problem, so in verse six of Matthew 6 He tells us what to do.

“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.” NKJ

Jesus is telling us to pray privately in a room with the door shut. No noise, no distractions, just you and God spending time together. He loves to talk privately with us in a secret place.Find a secret place for your prayer time so you can be alone with God.

Your secret place can be any room in your house or wherever you are. I’ve been known to pray in the shower or even while I’m sitting in the carline at my sons’ school. Praying behind closed-doors is best, but I’m a big fan of praying wherever you are that has as few distractions as possible. No kids, no phone, no pets…just you and God.

God is all-knowing. He knows your secret place, and He sees and hears you there when you pray. He promises to reward us openly, out in public, when we treasure our private prayer time with Him.

How to Pray

So, we know we shouldn’t conduct grand prayers in public, we know not to be a “chatty Cathy” with God because He doesn’t want to be talked “at.” Instead, we know should go into a secret place to pray quietly with no distractions.

But, when we get to our secret place, then what? We’re down on our knees ready to go, but when we open our mouths the words are suddenly hard to find. I often have this problem, and I don’t know why. Over time, though, I’ve learned three steps I can follow that help me get through the awkwardness of silence.

Step 1: Humble Yourself

If you’re going to get alone with God in a secret place, first you need to humble yourself and feel your need to be with your heavenly Father. The proper attitude and mindset are essential for effective prayer time.

So, take a deep breath and relax. Lean into the quiet and allow the Holy Spirit to help you focus on God and the conversation you’re about to have with Him.

Step 2: Call His Name

In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus begins by saying, “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is Your name.” If this is how Jesus talks to His Father, so should we. Open your prayer time by calling the Father’s name and offering praise.

Sometimes when I pray, I don’t really know what to say, so I simply call His name. I just say, “Father.” Just saying His name gives me instant peace and calm as I enter His presence. The cares of the day begin to melt away knowing I’m connecting with the One who truly loves me unconditionally.

I know a great song on Christian radio that says when you don’t know what to say, just say Jesus. I love that song! It’s so true. Just call His name and He will respond with His love and attention.Call to the Father in prayer then stop to listen. He will respond to you when you are still.

Step 3: Be Still

Jesus told us in Matthew 6:7 that we shouldn’t go on and on when we pray. Instead, we should be still and listen to God. We can’t hear what He has to say if we keep talking.

So, be still. Soak in His presence and allow it to transform your mind. Listen to His response to you. It may not be words you hear but perhaps a spiritual feeling. Either way, you’ll understand what Jesus said in Matthew 6:8.

“Therefore, do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” NKJ

If you need verbal confirmation, God will give it to you. If you need a big hug of reassurance, He will give it to you. He knows exactly what you need even before you did. All you need to do is be still and listen. He will respond to you in the exact way you need it most.

Make prayer a priority in your daily life. Find your secret place, call to the Lord, and listen for His response. Spending time daily with God will transform your entire walk with Him. You’ll feel closer and more loved than ever before.

God longs to connect with you and be close to you. Will you give Him your time today?

Your Turn

How do you spend time with God? What do you do to connect with the Father? Let’s share our ideas so others can feel encouraged to find their own secret place with Him.

And don’t forget, if you need prayer, please reach out to me. I’d love to pray with you any time for whatever you need. 😊

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9 Replies to “Jesus’ 3 Do’s and Don’ts of Prayer”

  1. Hi, I got here through a google search for a particular question that doesn’t seem to be addressed anywhere. When I was a kid my family would recite one of several prayers before a meal then we would begin begin eating. Fast forward many years, we now have different family members. The tradition among the new people is to add intercessions (sometimes, I think petty ones) before saying amen. This has always felt a little like “Thank you, God but as long as I have you on the line, I’d like to add a few requests.” Instead of just giving thanks. Is this out of line or is it just uncomfortable because it is different than what I grew up with?

    • I don’t believe God dislikes the additional prayers, even during dinner time. I believe God loves our prayers any time, any place. The fact people are adding on to what has been a traditional dinner prayer may feel unusual, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate or out of line. In my family, I wish they would feel comfortable enough to present their prayers in a common setting. That way, we could all pray over their requests together instead of one-on-one in private. I think I would feel much more connected to what’s on their minds and hearts so that even after dinner is over, I can keep praying for them. Perhaps your situation is a great opportunity to direct your family toward a habit of praying as a family. The food may get cold, but the health of our loved ones’ souls and their relationship with our heavenly Father are more important. God bless your family, Andrew. Sounds like you’re on the right track.

  2. This is great! Thank you for the wonderful reminders.I also like praying scripture, being emerged in Gods holy word.

  3. This is very helpful when praying. I sometime don’t know what to say to Jesus when praying. I go to my room to pray at night.I feel like he hears me and answers me.I just want to be sure I am doing it correctly. Thanks maryf

    • Hi Mary! I’m sure God is pleased that you are concerned with how you pray. Yes, there are a few things to know, but overall just make it your own. He wants to hear your heart, so just be natural and honest. And if you don’t know what to say, then just be still. Let Him do the talking. You’ll become more comfortable with it as you daily sit in His presence, you’ll see. God bless you, Mary. Thanks for reading!

  4. Maybe you should pray more and ask God for the truth. Repititious prayer is repeating just to repeat and do it… the Our Father is a very Holy prayer. Not just an example. It states all we need to ask of Him especially when it’s hardest for us to pray. The Rosary done correctly is meditation on the mysteries of Jesus. You have to think about scripture and see what God wants to reveal to you. Just repeating the words is where one might go wrong. But I say be careful declaring what is wrong, if you in fact don’t know yourself. Ask with all your heart and the Truth will be revealed to you.

    • I think you said it right when you said, “done correctly.” Too many of us pray without taking note of our words. This is not heartfelt communication with the Lord, which is what He desires most. Yes, the Lord’s Prayer is special, but it was never intended to be a prayer that’s taken out of a box and repeated on a regular basis. It can indeed be helpful when it’s hard to pray, I completely agree with that, but it should never replace honest outreach to God. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 6. Rabbis were known to compose prayers for others to repeat, but Jesus cautions against it. Thanks for reading. May you also ask with all your heart that truth be revealed to you through the Holy Spirit. God bless.

  5. I grew up learning how to pray by reciting various prayers, and it has been difficult to get out of the habit of reciting prayers without thought. However, when I am able to break out of the rut of thoughtless repetition and give my full attention to God, I find that I feel closer to God and am able to feel more confident in God’s purposes for my life.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Patricia. Many parents, me included, have taught our kids “now I lay me down to sleep…” It’s a good introduction to kids about giving thanks and honoring God. But when we get older, our prayers should come more from the heart and not a script. Bless you for giving your prayer life more attention. You’re already seeing the goodness in it. That’s so fantastic! Keep it up!