Praying Through the Bible #118
TEXT: Matthew 6:1-8
Evangelist D.L. Moody once said that he received so many blessings from God that one day he prayed a very short prayer. He simply said, “Stop, God. Amen.” That was it. He felt as though he was drowning in blessings — he had received so much and he was grateful for it. Perhaps the day will come when we might feel the need to tell God to stop blessing us, because He’s done so much for us in answer to prayer. Maybe we will reach that point if we learn and live by the prayer principles of Jesus Christ.
So far in this series, we have looked at two principles that Jesus taught regarding prayer:
1. Prayer should be a regular, everyday activity. In other words, prayer is not optional for the Christian.
2. Prayer ought not to be done for the purpose of being seen by others. Jesus Christ criticized this type of praying as religious hypocrisy because it was done so that they could be seen as very spiritual in the eyes of others. Not only in prayer, but in every part of our spiritual lives, we must ask ourselves if we are doing what we do from the heart for God or just to be seen with approval by others.
Today, we are going to look at the reward of hypocritical praying. Yes, Jesus Christ teaches that hypocritical prayers will be rewarded. He says, “when thou prayest, 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. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”
Now, the Jews were very ritualistic about their prayers. They were not into spontaneous praying at all. All Jews were required to repeat the Shimah each morning and each night. In the Old Testament, the Shimah was simply a sentence from Deuteronomy that went like this: “Hear, oh, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” However, in the New Testament era, the uber-religious rabbis had gathered together other verses from Deuteronomy and Numbers that Jews were to memorize and recite at least twice a day. Many Jews recited this prayer at set times thrice a day. When the time came to pray, you stopped what you were doing and recited this prayer. Now, many of the common Jews were not too excited about this, and they just recited the prayer with no real meaning as a means to get it over with and fulfill their religious duty.
The rabbis and Pharisees, on the other hand, were heavily invested in these prayers. By standing on the street corners in order to be seen praying, they maintained their status among the people. So, they prayed long, elaborate prayers. Scholars state that some rabbis even made up prayers for nearly every occasion — for rain, for fire, for holidays, for harvest time — whatever it was, they made up a prayer for it, and then they would teach these prayers to the people. However, they did this not with the intent to teach the people the power of prayer, but to satisfy their own prideful and fleshly egotism. And, Jesus says, they got what they bargained for — they got their “reward.”
What kind of reward is Jesus talking about? Well, they wanted men to praise them and look up to them, and that is what they got. The word used for “reward” is a business term meaning “wages.” In other words, the religious hypocrites got what they worked for. The tragedy of this, however, is that God owes them nothing. God is under no obligation to answer their prayers because they were not really praying to Him in the first place.
These hypocrites were saying the right words with their mouths, but they were saying them with the intent of impressing others. They were praying in a self-centered manner, and they were rewarded with the human applause that they truly sought. We all must consider in our hearts whether we want to be rewarded by God or by men. Are we praying for God to hear or for men to hear us?
A man named Francois Fenelon was the court preacher for King Louis 14th of France in the 17th century. One Sunday when the king and his attendants arrived at the chapel for the regular service, no one else was there but the preacher. King Louis demanded, “What does this mean? Where is everybody?” The preacher replied, “I announced that you would not be coming to church today, in order that your Majesty might see who serves God in truth and who flatters the king.”
Are you attending church to be seen by men? Are you giving to others to be rewarded by men? Are you praying to be heard by men? If you are, Jesus lets us know that you will get your reward… but it won’t be from God.