Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 17: Matthew)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5, Jesus instructs his disciples to love and pray for those who persecute them, with the purpose that they might be children of God. This call to pray for the persecutor comes on the cusp of the instruction against resisting evildoers. Christians are to turn the other cheek and give to everyone who begs or asks to borrow from them. They are to love and pray for their enemies and not just for their friends and family. Here we see that prayer is done on behalf of others, and in this case it is to be done for both loved ones and enemies.

Still in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 6, Jesus instructs his disciples how to pray. First of all, they are not to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Instead, they are to go into their room, close the door and pray to God. Second, they are not to babble on and on. The amount of words matter not, for God already knows what they need before it is asked. Jesus then gives them a prayer template:

Our Father in heaven, let your name be holy, let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

This prayer to forgive others is qualified: if you forgive, then you will be forgiven; if you do not forgive, then you will not be forgiven. Here we have an actual prayer that we can pray. Indeed, we are to pray this prayer: Jesus said, “Pray thusly” or “Pray this” or “Pray as follows.” Here is a prayer that we can indeed pray to God. In the sense that Jesus is God, the divine Son of God, we can say, much like the Psalms, that God has given us a prayer to pray back to Him. Whether this prayer is to be interpreted as a required prayer much like the Roman Catholics do or whether it provides the guidelines for prayer, we can learn something about prayer here. First, prayer is to be done so as not to attract attention to one’s self. Second, prayer doesn’t need to be verbose in order to be effective. Third, in prayer the disciple ought to revere God and seek both His kingdom and will on earth. Fourth, in prayer the disciple should ask for daily needs to be met. Fifth, the disciple should also ask for forgiveness of sins. Finally, the disciple should ask for deliverance from evil.

In Matt 14, after feeding the five thousand men with the five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. We know not what he prayed, but he did go by himself to a mountainside. We don’t know that it was secluded, but it may have been. What we can say about prayer is that, again, prayer should be done so as not to draw attention to one’s self.

In Matt 19, little children were brought to Jesus in order for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. The disciples that were with him rebuked the children. But Jesus said to let them come without hinderance. Here we see that prayer and the laying on of hands as some form of blessing can be done together.

Jesus went into the temple courts, as is found in Matt 21, and he drove out the market vendors, saying, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.'” After driving these people out, the blind and the lame came to him for healing in the temple, and he healed them. Here we see that the temple was meant for prayer and not for transactions, and Jesus took serious offense to the temple being turned into a market place. Later in Matt 21, Jesus cursed a fig tree and it withered, and the disciples asked him how this could happen. Jesus replied that if one has faith and does not doubt, that person can curse a fig tree and cause it to wither or command a mountain to toss itself into the sea and it will happen. He said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Here we see that prayer is powerful when the one who prays does not doubt when asking for something.

According to Matt 24, Jesus tells his disciples to pray that their flight will not take place in winter or in Sabbath when fleeing to the mountains from Judea at the time the abomination of desolation takes its place in the temple. Here we see prayer as a request, and this request is to affect when this flight would not occur. It is, in a sense, a prayer for deliverance.

The final pieces of information about prayer in Matthew are from Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before he is arrested (chapter 26). At the garden, he told his disciples to stay put while he went off to another part of the garden to pray, and when he went off he took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. This prayer was a response to sorrow and trouble. He told Peter and the sons of Zebedee to keep watch with him. He fell to the ground and prayed, asking for this cup to be taken from him, yet not as he willed but as God willed. He returned to his disciples, who were sleeping. he woke them up, and asked them to watch and pray. He prayed again, saying that if the cup could not be taken, then God’s will be done. He returned to his disciples, and again they were found sleeping. This time he did not wake them up; he went away to pray again, repeating what he had already prayed. When he returned a final time, they were still sleeping. He woke them up and revealed that he was now being delivered into the hands of sinners by his betrayer. What do we learn here? Sometimes we may need to pray when we are downtrodden. Sometimes we may need to repeat our prayers. Sometimes we may ask for something but it won’t be done and we need to accept God’s will over ours.

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