November 2 I Friday
“And 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
In the school of prayer, we are all learners. In Luke 11:1, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray...” This is probably the level most of us are at. Our need is not for methodologies or structures on how to pray but simply that we need to pray.
What Jesus said about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount was part of a larger discussion on what motivates our acts of righteousness. Jesus warns that public prayer is a favourite of the hypocrites. Their motive for praying is not communion with God but to show off their piety and have their reputation enhanced. They want people to hear them pray and think, “My, what a spiritual man or woman of God they are!” If our stimulus to pray publicly is merely the fact that other people are listening, we need to re-evaluate why we are praying.
This does not mean, of course, that there is no place for public prayer. It was common for the early church to pray as a larger body, and Jesus Himself said, “...if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). A healthy church prioritizes corporate prayer, but we must be careful not to contribute words or give impressions at prayer gatherings that are not true expressions of our heart.
The public expressions of our prayer are only valid to the extent that they are expressions of our private praying. Jesus instructs, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6). The real mark of our prayer is revealed when no one is looking or listening in. Alone with God, we can be genuine and intimate with Him. There is no need for pretence, no desire to impress others, but simply the chance to share with Him our worries, pains and desires of our hearts. Hence why Jesus also warns against “babbling like pagans” (Matthew 6:7) or “vain repetitions” (KJV) in our prayers. Prayer is not about praying the right words, as if that is the mechanism by which we come to God. Prayer is an expression of our hearts, but when our words exceed our hearts, our words become empty.
The point of prayer is never to please others but, as David writes in Psalm 27:8, “My heart says of You, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face, LORD, I will seek.” Whether publicly or privately, may this be the motto that defines our coming to the Lord in prayer.
Prayer: Thank You, Father, for this chance to pray, and forgive me for when I have been more concerned with what others think of my prayers than with simply communing with You.