July 18 I Monday
“Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” —Matthew 6:1
In the opening verse of this devotion, Jesus gives a warning to His disciples as He starts teaching them about spiritual disciplines. The word for “be careful” in the Greek is prosechó, which literally means “to watch, to be on guard, to take great care and to give attention to this.” While it is relatively easy to identify the acts of the flesh when they present themselves, such as murder, anger, lust and adultery, our sinful nature can actually manifest in our righteous acts as it is rooted in a desire for the attention and affirmation of others.
In fact, the number one pitfall to our prayer life is actually the temptation to be seen and admired by others. Jesus tells us, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5). Hypocrisy can find its way into our lives through prayer.
In the New Testament times, there were no movie theatres or streaming devices, but theatres, large amphitheatres, where people would go watch a show. In live theatre, the Greek term for the actors was hypokrites—hypocrites. They were people playing the part of a character, pretending to be something they were not. Hence, Jesus warns that our prayer lives can become a place of hypocrisy, where we are acting like someone that we are not and being inauthentic in our prayer lives.
One of the dangers for those who are religious is that they could be praying on the street corners or in the synagogues to be noticed, observed and admired by others. They love it when people see how spiritual and how blessed they are. They have received the reward of their prayer in full, because the focus of their prayer is not a humble state of submission to God, but a good show for those who are watching. Jesus reprimands, “These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain” (Matthew 15:8-9). Our worship of Jesus is in vain when it is simply lip service without a heart after Him.
In our present day, we may not stand on the street or by the church when we pray, but we may pray publicly in our small groups or in Sunday worship. When we are tempted to fall into the pitfall of using high and lofty religious terminologies in our prayers to impress those who are listening, may we be careful, remembering that what God truly desires is a heart humbly seeking His face in prayer.
Prayer: Dear God, help me to watch out for hypocrisy creeping into my prayers. Thank You for the reminder that all You desire is a heart humbly seeking Your face in prayer. Amen!