Hypocritical prayer is an oxymoron; hypocrisy and prayer just don’t go together. Anything that we properly call prayer should be divorced from hypocrisy. The Lord teaches us this in the Gospels when he talks about those who pray for an audience; for them prayer is a show. And if you’ve been praying any length of time, you know that you don’t need an audience for your prayers to be a show. Sometimes we’re watching ourselves pray. We’re admiring the eloquence of our appeal. We like the turn of phrase. So our prayer can go from being an act of communion with God to a demonstration of pride.
But real prayer is an expression of love. Real prayer is an expression of perseverance. It’s an expression of gratefulness.
Why love? Because in prayer we’re communing with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We’re praying to the Father in the name of the Son through the Spirit. And in the act of prayer, we’re meant to enjoy them and to get to know them and to commune with them. How can prayer be communion without love?
In prayer there should also be perseverance, steadfastness, press- ing in, continuously knocking at the door. This perseverance is necessary to prevail against our flesh. Our flesh wars against the spirit. And, boy, I tell you, when we pray, don’t we sometimes experience a wandering, distracting mind? When we pray, don’t we sometimes experience our frailty, our weakness, our fatigue? I’ve fallen asleep praying just as our Lord’s apostles did in the garden of Gethsemane. So we need perseverance, and we need that pressing into the things of God, that pushing out the distractions of the world, that crucifying of the flesh, again, that we might have this fuller communion with the Lord.
Finally, prayer ought to be an expression of gratitude. Let us count the blessings of the Lord. Let us mark his providences. Let us observe the divine interruptions that have broken into our lives, such that we might receive not only Christ but everything in Christ, and receive and experience it in surprising ways, in opportune times, in times later than we had hoped for or expected. The divine interruptions of God, which are blessings and distributions of his kindness to us, ought to cultivate gratitude in us. Our prayers ought to express that gratitude so that we’re conscious of the kindness and goodness of the Lord.
Even when we can’t trace God’s hand, as the saying goes, we can trust his heart because we know God is good, and we’re grateful for his goodness. That spurs us on in our prayer and perseverance, and it turns us again in love toward Christ our Savior, God our Father, and the Spirit our Comforter.
Before you enter into prayer, ask thy soul these questions: To what end, O my soul, art thou retired into this place? Art thou not come to discourse the Lord in prayer? Is he present; will he hear thee? Is he merciful; will he help thee? Is thy business slight; is it not concerning the welfare of thy soul? What words wilt thou use to move him to compassion? To make thy preparation complete, consider that thou art but dust and ashes, and he the great God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that clothes himself with light as with a garment; that thou art a vile sinner, he a holy God; that thou art but a poor crawling worm, he the omnipotent Creator. In all your prayers forget not to thank the Lord for his mercies. When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words, than thy words without a heart. Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.