“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
– Matthew 6:5-6 (Jesus speaking; our 15th segment of the Sermon on the Mount)
Remember the linchpin verse we read two days ago:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
– Matthew 6:1
Yesterday, we read how this advice applies in the case of giving to the poor, and today we read about how it applies in the case of praying. In both cases, our actions will either be rewarded by men or God – but not both.
You would think that prayer is an activity people would realize should be practiced for God only. Nonetheless, you have probably heard people praying in such a way that it was obvious that they were trying to impress the people who were hearing them more than the God to whom the prayer was ostensibly directed. Here’s how Jesus described such behavior as practiced by some of the religious folks in His age:
In His teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”
– Mark 12:38-40 (emphasis added)
When you are praying in a group of people, it’s natural and appropriate to be mindful of what they hear – mainly because they can’t be agreeing with your prayer if they don’t understand what you’re saying. However, it’s tempting to forget momentarily about God and think too much about human ears. We must vigorously resist such temptations because it would only make the prayer useless for impressing God.
(Remember that prayer is more about listening than talking. Use the words below to start yourself, but then allow time to reflect more on the Scripture above before you say the “Amen.” During that time of quiet reflection, let God shape your thoughts and wait for a sense of peace to come. That’s your signal to say “Amen” and go forth to the day.)
Lord Jesus, I will make the majority of my prayers to You privately, and when I am praying with others present I will not pray “to them” instead of to You…(this is where you remain quiet to let Him work in your thoughts)… Amen.
(All scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the NASB.)