Praying Through the Bible #117
TEXT: Matthew 6:5-8
The great Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee said, “Prayer is the greatest neglected resource that we have; it’s a power that we simply are not using today.” Part of the reason why we are not using prayer as we should is because some of us are going about the business of prayer the wrong way. Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to pray.
In our last message, as we look at these prayer principles of the Lord Jesus Christ, we looked at one of the right ways to pray, and that is that prayer should be a regular, everyday activity. In other words, the disciples of Christ are expected to pray. Prayer is not optional for the Christian, nor does prayer depend on the circumstances of time or feelings. Frankly, if we are always waiting for the perfect time to pray or waiting until we feel like praying, we will probably never pray. So, the first principle that we learn from Jesus Christ is that we ought to pray regularly, every day.
Today, we are going to look at one of the wrong ways to pray that is rebuked by Jesus Christ, and that is: we are not to pray to be seen. Jesus says, “Thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” The Greek word used for hypocrite is defined as “an actor or a stage player.” In the Hellenistic culture of Jesus’ day, when actors put on a play, they would wear masks. These masks were designed to show the audience the face of the person being portrayed as well as their emotions.
Therefore, a hypocrite is one who wears a mask in order to have some kind of effect on others. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day would make sure that when they gave to the poor, they would do it flamboyantly and in public in order that they might be applauded by men and regarded as holy or good. When they fasted, they would not put oil on their faces and they would go about with a sad countenance so that people would know that they were fasting and think very highly of them. In the same way, with prayer, these religious hypocrites would stand on the street corners when they prayed for the exclusive purpose of having others see and hear them pray. They wanted to be seen as very spiritual in the eyes of the public.
Jesus says that these hypocrites “loved” to pray in the streets. It is not that they love prayer, but that they love being seen praying. These people think very highly of themselves, and knowing that others think highly of them only serves to feed their pride and ego.Jesus Christ tells us not to be like them.
Unfortunately, we have people like this in the church — folks who are eager to accept the invitation from the pastor to pray before the sermon or to give the benediction. When they get up in front of the church, they pray loud and long, but they never pray at home. They are not really interested in prayer; they are just interested in making people think they are real prayer warriors.
The story is told that during one of the political campaigns of Theodore Roosevelt, a delegation came to visit him. The President met them with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up. He greeted the men and said, “Come down to the barn and we will talk while I do some work.”
At the barn, Roosevelt picked up a pitchfork and looked around for the hay. Then he called out, “John, where’s all the hay?”
John, who was in the hayloft, called down and said, “Sorry, sir. I ain’t had time to toss it back down again after you pitched it up while the Iowa folks were here.”
The President was not interested in pitching hay; he was interested in impressing people with his work ethic. As you think about that example, think about your own prayer life or any other aspect of your walk with Christ. When you carry out your spiritual duties, what are you really concerned about? Are you concerned about pleasing God or impressing men? Do you care only what God thinks or do you desire to be seen with approval by others in the church or others in your community? Take heed to Jesus’ command, and don’t pray as the hypocrites do. Make sure that you are praying with the right motives.