Thursday, April 14, 2011

Praying for the Approval of Man

Today we are continuing in our study on the Sermon on the Mount.  Today will be much like yesterday's in that we are not to do things so as to seek the approval of man.  Here is today's text.
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6:5-6 NKJV
Today we are beginning a series of messages on prayer.  Jesus first gives two wrong ways to pray and then follows with his model prayer.  Today we will be addressing the first wrong way to pray.  This involves praying with a wrong heart.  It is about praying not to have a conversation with God but to be seen by men.  Just like charity, that is not really prayer at all.

First we need to define just what prayer is in order to get a better understanding of why there is a right and wrong way to pray.  Prayer is simply talking to and hearing from God.  It is not a mystical spell as some treat it as.  It is not an expression of any kind innate power we have either.  Those are New Age constructs that have infiltrated Christianity through many popular teachers. The power of prayer is not in the power of our words but it is about the power of Whom we pray to and our relationship to Him.  Remember, it is God who is sovereign not us.  God is ultimately the one who decides to act.  Sometimes we think we are the initiator, but we fail to consider where the inspiration came from in the first place.  When the Apostles commanded a lame man to walk, was that their idea or were they led by the Holy Spirit living inside their hearts to speak that command?  Obviously, the answer is the Holy Spirit.  That was a bit of a tangent.  To sum up what I began to say, prayer is essentially a conversation between us and God. 

Jesus now tells us the first wrong way to pray.  He says "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men."  I think we need a little historical context to understand just what Jesus was saying.  Prayer was important in the life of a Jew.  They had specific prayers they had to make at specific times of the day.  It was the same prayers at the same time each day.  That said, the people knew that they had to make time for their prayers throughout the day and planned accordingly.  The people Jesus is referring to here are those who planned to be in very public areas when those times would come around.  The would "accidentally" be out in public when prayer time came around and make sure everyone saw it when they stopped what they were doing and said all their prayers with perfect diction right then and there.  People were impressed with their "holiness".  God, however, was not. 

So what does this mean for the Christian today?  While we do not have set times a day each day to pray, there are people who love to show off their praying.  One thing that is a pet peeve of mine is people who have what I call "prayer voice" or who always pray in King James language.  I do not understand the purpose of it and while it may not be true for everyone who does those things, I believe that many are showing off just a little.  The prayer voice and language are all things to try and make you sound more spiritual.  Can you imagine how your spouse would feel if whenever people were around, you talked to her in a different voice and used different words than how you talked to everyone else?  I am sure at the very least your spouse would think you a bit strange.  Of course you also have the many pastors who turn prayer into some kind of show.  They make sure that everyone sees just how "serious" their prayer  is with tears and tightly closed eyes.  There are many other examples, but I am sure that just about everyone has seen someone who has tried to show off a little bit in prayer so we all can see just how spiritual they are.  The fact is that anytime you pray in such a way as to be noticed by man, you are praying with the wrong heart.  Just like the Pharisees, God is not impressed. 

Here is what Jesus says about those who show off in prayer. He says, "Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward."  Just like with charity, that praise from man is all they get.  The reason why is because that is who those people are talking to anyway.  They are not talking to God, they are talking to the men they are trying to impress.  It would be like sitting next to my wife and shouting aloud for everyone to hear that I love her. Was I really proclaiming my love to her?  No, I was trying to show everyone else in ear shot that I really love my wife.  I was not really talking to her at all.   When we pray to be seen by men, we are speaking more for others to hear us pray then for us to actually pray.  Think of that when you pray in public, are you praying for others to hear you pray or are you honestly just praying to God? 

Jesus now tells us the correct way to pray.  "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."  Please know that Jesus is not condemning any kind of public prayer at all.  Even Jesus prayed publicly.  We should pray publicly.  What Jesus is saying is that we are not to show off when praying.  We are not to pray in such a way to make ourselves a spectacle.  He is also saying that unless it is necessary, our prayers should be in private. The reason this is so important is because it takes away distractions.  Whenever we pray in public, we run the risk of altering our prayers depending on who is around us.  In our rooms, in private, there is no such risk.  You are free to be just who you are and come to God with the kind of honesty you just can not get when you pray in public.  It also takes away the distractions from hearing the still small voice of God as He speaks to you in your times of prayer.  Again, think of your spouse.  Do you have your most personal, intimate conversations when surrounded by other people or do you do so when it is just you and your spouse alone and in private?  That kind of intimacy of having that one on one time with God is essential to fostering our relationship.  Whether you want to just let go and rejoice before God or whether you are on your face in tears before God, you are just free without temptation or distraction to really have a great conversation with God.  For me, I have a long drive to work, and so some of my best conversations with God are on those long lonely drives. 

God promises to reward those times of private prayer, free of any show to man.  Many times that reward is the prayer itself.  When you have that time of intimacy when you are able to just strip yourself down of all pretense and come to God just you are, you will really hear back from God.  That intimacy developed through those times is like nothing else on earth and it will have an effect on you in your life.  That intimacy will lead to some of the most wonderful fruits of the spirit including peace, love, and joy.  It will also give you a much clearer direction for where God wants you to go.  As you develop that intimacy with God, it will last long after you leave your room and stay with you as you go through your day.  That kind of relationship will be a shining beacon to the world around you. They will notice a difference and you will have a testimony.  That private prayer time will have very public effects and that is your reward. 

The core of the lesson today is that prayer is between you and God.  We are not to make a show of it in order make ourselves somehow look more holy.  Jesus often went all alone to pray and we need to follow that example.  If even our Lord needed that time alone with the Father, how much more do we need that time?  Yes it is fine to pray for someone in public who asks you to pray for them, to pray aloud in a prayer service at church, to say grace in restaurants, and any of those other public forms of prayer that are a part of our lives.  Even then, though, we must pray as though there is no one else around.  We must pray just as we would when alone, otherwise it is some show for the sake of the people around you and not that communication just between you and God.  We must also never lose that time alone when it is just us and God.  There is nothing more important to fostering your relationship with God then spending that alone time with God.  Those public prayers should be the exception rather than the rule.  Our desire should always be to put the world away from us and give ourselves entirely to Him who loves us most.  If you do not have those times, you have no idea what you are missing. 
Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.  Mark 1:35 NKJV

1 comment:

  1. LOL @ "prayer voice" I can hear it now..."We BESEECH THEE..." :)