How do you speak to God who truly knows everything and has all power to accomplish all good? You speak in deep humility as one in need—as a child who is deeply loved by a perfect Father. This is how Jesus teaches His own to pray, and it is thoroughly God-centered.

Indeed, in all religious exercises, as in the three pillars of Judaism (Matthew 6:1-18), whether it be almsgiving (Matthew 6:2-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-15), or fasting (Matthew 6:14-18), our focus must be centered on God lest we play the hypocrite. We do not, for instance, pray to impress men (Matthew 6:5) or to demand from God (Matthew 6:7)—both of these are man-centered. Rather, to be centered on God is to be ever mindful of His threatening majesty and tender mercy. And this can only be realized rightly in and through Jesus Christ, who alone guarantees that we can enter into relationship with God as our loving Father. So Christ teaches us to pray where no one but our “Father” is (Matthew 6:6), addressing Him as “our Father” (6:9), and looking privately to our “Father” for our reward (Matthew 6:6).

According to Christ, we are not to “heap up empty phrases” as though we are estranged from God and do not know Him. Nor are we to “think that [we] will be heard for [our] many words” (Matthew 6:7). We do not pray as though to badger a reluctant deity, but to cry out to our loving Father. Prayer is not an instrument of manipulation or a battering ram to insist that our will be heard. The Creator does not need to be informed or solicited by the creature. Self-centered practice as well as self-centered theology hinders true prayer.

Christ also teaches us that our “Father knows what [we] need before [we] ask him” (6:8). We do not pray to inform God. Our all-knowing Father does not need us to tell Him what we need or want, as though to treat Him as ignorant. As with His people of old, God says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). We are to pray to God as our loving Father who knows perfectly both what we want and what is best for us (Matthew 7:9-11).

We are to pray because we have a heavenly Father, not simply because we have a need. God is our Father, and our communications with Him must not be limited to our needs. John Calvin warmly summarizes:

Where lies the advantage of prayer? If he is ready, of his own free will, to assist us, what purpose does it serve to employ our prayers, which interrupt the spontaneous course of his providence? The very design of prayer furnishes an easy answer. Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things.

Listen to the sermon, “God-Centered Praying” for further study on how we are to pray.