Matthew 6:5 – 8 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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Good morning, class. Today, I’d like you to pull out your dictionaries and look up the word “hypocrite”. You there. Yes, you. The one looking at this computer screen. Would you please read the definition for us? And read the origin of the word, too. Speak up, so we can all hear:
1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principals, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.
Origin: Greek; hypocritus – a stage actor, hence one who pretends to be what he is not.
Very nice. Thank you for doing that for us. In the above passage, Jesus wasn’t speaking against public prayer, necessarily. Jesus prayed publicly, as we will learn in tomorrow’s passage. Rather, Jesus was speaking against hypocrisy in prayer.
In Jesus’ time, many people prayed very loudly. And very publicly. They wanted other people to think they were good and holy and righteous, and it was common to see people standing on the street corners, crying out to God with passion. You would also hear them repeating the same memorized words, over and over. And you, the passerby, would think, “Oh, what a holy and religious person that is. I wish I were that holy and religious.”
But God sees through our public displays of religion. He sees right to the heart of every person. God doesn’t care one bit about what our prayers sound like to other people. He wants us to talk to Him.
Let me say that again. God wants us – me and you . . . to talk – just regular, plain old conversation . . . to Him.
You see, prayer – real prayer, is a conversation. If it’s not an actual conversation, then we might as well be standing up on a stage, putting on a show for others. If our prayers aren’t actual conversations with God, then they are nothing more than monologues, delivered for the benefit of an audience. Notice where we get the word hypocrite: a stage actor; one who pretends to be what he is not.
I must confess. I have been guilty of sitting down to a meal with my family and praying a standard “blessing” over the food without really thinking about what I was saying. And I’ve also been guilty, when praying in public, of worrying about what others might think of my praying skills. Shame on me!
But the truth is, many of us have fallen into that trap at one time or another. But God wants – expects – more from our prayers than mindless rote memory, or pretty words spoken to impress others. He created us. He knows how we talk. And He wants us to just plain talk to Him.
Remember, He created us for a relationship with Him. And how do we build any relationship? By talking. Talking in person. Talking on the phone. Talking through e-mail or letters. But without real, honest communication, no relationship can be built. No relationship can grow.
I am absolutely amazed that God – God! – wants to spend time with me. But I’m so glad He does. And you know what? I really want to spend good, quality time with Him, too.
Dear Father, Thank You for wanting to spend time with me. Please teach me to pray in a way that honors You.