In Matthew 6:1-15, we find Jesus teaching His disciples how to pray. Before He got into the specifics of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus issued some pointed instructions about checking our motivations as a necessary prelude to our actions, as well as our interactions, with our heavenly Father.

If we were to ask Jesus to enlarge on this today, He might say something like this:

“First, don’t do what’s right to be seen, but to serve. Otherwise, the only one you’re serving is yourself. You may be doing the right thing, but if the reasons are wrong, you cancel it out. By trying to build your own brand, you’re tearing down the character that God wants to build in you. Character is what lasts.

“Whatever others may think of you, God knows your thoughts, your motives, your needs. He doesn’t have an opinion about you; He has absolute knowledge. He also has a deep desire for you: that you will keep moving forward in faith to fulfill the potential He has instilled in you.

“And when you pray, be careful that you’re not putting yourself on a stage, playing the part of a pious person. Remember that God is always front and centre in the audience, and He knows everything about your off-stage life. Scripted lines may play well to some, but He won’t be applauding.

“So when you pray, just be real with God. He’s always real with you. Talk with Him, not to Him. Tell Him what’s on your heart. You don’t have to explain anything to Him or give Him any background. He already knows what you need. Most of all, you need to build your relationship with Him, and with it, your trust. Don’t forget that prayer is two-way communication. Stop talking long enough to listen and reflect.

“Here’s how to start: Focus first on who God is. He’s the Father, you’re the kids. He’s the One in charge, not you. He’s the One who knows, not you.

“Though He is exalted over everything He has created, His desire is the absolute best for each of His children. His purpose is to nurture them in every way, to guide and to guard them as they grow, to love and to teach, to correct and to discipline when necessary. 

“Unlike you, God is holy — a vital thing to remember. He’s not to be treated casually. You wouldn’t approach Queen Elizabeth by saying, ‘Hey, lady! Can you do me a favor?’ If you think that’s bad, how much more offensive to refer to the Sovereign of the universe as ‘the big guy’ or ‘the man upstairs’? He’s not a mere man, and He’s not on the floor just above yours. Out of His amazing love, He has invited you to speak intimately with Him, but not flippantly. He is to be revered.

“In the same way, your goal in prayer, and in life, is for His work to be done. God doesn’t exist to do whatever you want! What a colossal mess you’d be in then! Whatever your situation is, pray for His will to be done — and mean it. That’s when you’ll know that you really trust Him.

“Asking for what you need every day will remind you — and you will need reminding — that every good and perfect gift comes from God, and is not to be taken for granted. You are not entitled to anything. Being thankful for basics will keep your hearts in a healthy rhythm.

“Forgiveness is a basic daily need — for you and from you. It’s a circular thing: a way has been provided for you to be forgiven your countless sins against God, and that should lead you to forgive those who sin against you. When you choose not to forgive, it breaks the circle, so God’s forgiveness can not longer reach around to you. The great news is that you can reinstate the circle right now, but it’s up to you to see that it keeps coming back around to you.”

Father, I pray that You will help me to apply, absorb and actuate the truth You have freely given. Amen,