walk in the word
5And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus said, “And when you pray…” (notice it’s when, not if!). Since we’re going to pray, Jesus warned, we “must not be like the hypocrites.” The word translated hypocrites is a theatrical term to describe a person who was good at acting, mimicking, and appearing to be something that they weren’t. Jesus was referring to the emptiness of much that passed for prayer in His time. It was mostly for show. When it came to prayer, Jesus saw a lot of people just going through the motions.
Jesus summarized the motivation of the hypocrites: “For they love to stand and pray…” They love to assume a posture. Now there are two words in Greek for standing. One word is kind of a standing that implies uncertainty or even humility. The other word for stand means to take your place; to mark your spot. Now these hypocrites, they loved to stand—proudly. No attempt to be humble before God. Their prayers were not the conversation between a creature and his Creator—the focus was on them. “Everybody’s listening to me talk to God. I’m going to blow them away with my prayer. Revival will break out! They will take notes because I am so awesome at talking to God!”
They love to stand and pray in the synagogues Oh, and not just in the synagogues, [but] …on the street corners. “I love to get to my office early. I love it when I’ve got my Bible open and people walk by and see me. I can tell they’re convicted!” “I love when my kids come downstairs in the morning and see Mom with her coffee and her Bible open. They’re seeing how godly I am.”
Really?! Because Jesus says if you love that, if that’s the part you like—the impression that you create—He says you have your reward. What you feel is all you get. God’s not responding to you.
“Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” Well, because you love it when people see you being spiritual. If your public prayer exceeds your private prayer, if you prefer it that way, well, as they say, that’s as good as it gets. You may be producing God talk, but you’re not talking with God. —James MacDonald
Journal: When you do pray in public, what is your focus and purpose? Why isn’t the solution to the problem of hypocrisy to just avoid public praying entirely?
Prayer: Dear Father, thank You for the many examples of both public and private prayer in Your Word. Thank You for the gift of prayer and the invitation to talk to You about anything and for anyone. Help me to practice the central truth that prayer is about You, not me. And even if others are listening in, let me keep my attention on You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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