And it is Day 5 in my challenge by Nancy Krehbiel to share a meaningful verse for seven days.
In general, I’m not a fan of public prayer. Oh, there are times I feel it is lovely and appropriate, but most of the time I think it is watered down and meaningless, done for show and not for good purpose. It’s not about communicating with God in any real way, but instead to show off, show our piety, or placate immature Christians.
Yes, that’s kind of a strong statement, and I’m OK if you don’t agree with me (I’m always OK if you don’t agree with me)….but do you normally feel in such times that you have actually shared hearts with those around you, focused on something important, and petitioned God together? Is it just me who feels a bit yuck afterward? A bit like Charlie Brown’s teacher was talking and I can’t decide whether I agree or not?
Matthew gave us some direction for prayer, where he actually cautions us against these kinds of prayers.
“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 (NIV)
Or in another translation
” When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward.” Matthew 6:5 (CEV)
My friend John was asked to pray at a corporate function years ago. Well, sort of. He was asked to pray, then cautioned against being “too Christian.” Oh, those weren’t the words used, but he was essentially told to be inoffensive to those of other beliefs. We had a bit of fun with it…..coming up with prayers that would be inclusive to all beliefs and would be inoffensive to as many as possible. Or maybe offensive to everyone. They made us laugh…well, in a very dark way. In the end, he decided he just couldn’t do it. He had to take a stand against the spirit of the request and say no. It made us wonder why we even had prayer at such an event if we weren’t even sure what God we were praying to.
The very next verses in Matthew say…
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:6-7 (NIV)
Or in another translation
“When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you.When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers.” Matthew 6:6-7
God doesn’t need big and pretty words that go on interminably. He wants hearts turning to him.
Yes, we are supposed to pray together, but that is supposed to bond us in heart and mind and spirit as we plead with God specifically. It isn’t supposed to be a big display of how holy we are.
I admittedly roll my eyes when people start talking about how our government has taken prayers out of schools. I personally think God is probably pleased that a lot of anemic prayers are not being offered up that have absolutely nothing to do with him. Prayer still happens at schools when Christians take time to do it. My guess is that some of the most meaningful prayers of all time are taking place today.
No one can take your right to pray away….but you don’t have to be a public spectacle. How about praying for the students and teachers and administration as you sit in carpool lane? How about getting into a habit of praying as you drive by that specific school every day? How about praying for your company as you go to work every day, or as you all come together for a big seminar? How about praying for the police department as you pass it, or our justice system as you drive by the courthouse? Hear a siren and pray for those involved in whatever crisis may be going on or as you are driving by the hospital praying for those experiencing pain and hopelessness? What if you pray for our leaders as they do their jobs, if they are of your chosen political party or not? Walk around town, see the people who make up our community, and lift up a prayer on their behalf. Don’t you think that perhaps God honors these times more than when you stand in the middle of the assembly?
Prayer is not a spectator sport….but it can help us all get to the finish line. God doesn’t just work in answer to our prayers, but they can be powerful instigators to get him to act specifically. Probably because he wants our attention on him….he wants us to see him do great and amazing things. It’s not about your many beautifully crafted words, not about how many see you do it….it’s about the state of your heart. Empty yourself, and let God fill you up with his words. Talk to him….and listen for his answers. Prayer changes things….but mostly it changes you.
“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 6:5-7 (NIV)