The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us

A Simple Study of Prayer #1a

4 Comments

NOTE: This is a very simple prayer study I’m writing for Court and me to use together. It’s not very polished nor is it deep, but hopefully some of you might find it helpful.

“The Lord’s Prayer” (From Matthew 6 ESV)

5 “And 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. 6 But 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.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. [or “Let your name be kept holy” or “Let your name be treated with reverence”] 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, [or “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done”] on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, [or “our bread for tomorrow”] 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [or “from the evil one”; some mss. add “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”]

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

A. Prayer Is Not for Show
or Prayer as Private Communion with God (v. 5-6)
5 “And 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. 6 But 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.

In these two verses, Jesus sets up the first comparison between a bad example and a good example. He condemns the “hypocrite” who prays in public for the praise of men. He is called a hypocrite not because he prays in public, but because he prays for the express purpose of being seen by others. The hypocrite doesn’t pray to God. He essentially prays to men. At best, what he is doing is lying to himself and to others. At worst, he is using God for his own glory, setting himself up as an idol worthy of praise. The hypocrite is condemned because his prayer “to God” is aimed at other people, not God.

Jesus sets up for us the opposite of this hypocrite. This person doesn’t pray in public (to be heard by others). The righteous man not only goes indoors, he goes into a particular room and shuts the door. In this room, there is no one to see him or hear him. I don’t think Jesus’ point is that we should only pray when others can’t see us or hear us, thereby excluding any type of public prayer (I’m thinking of examples in Acts where the church prayed together, implying a type of public prayer). But I do think he is pointing to the fact that a mixed motive in prayer negates entirely what the prayer should be. Essentially, when we pray for any other reason than to pray directly to God alone, we are not actually praying anymore. Therefore, Jesus is not addressing the circumstance of prayer (out in public or in a closed room), but instead is addressing the heart of the disciple. Our hearts are called to pray to God alone, not to worry about or focus on what other people will think or hear.

I see many pitfalls to avoid if we follow this principle. First, praying privately is probably the best option (or at least, the best starting place) for the Christian because we are so tempted to seek glory. If we pray in private, we can be sure that at least we’re not doing it for the benefit of others. Second, if/when we pray publicly, we shouldn’t really care what the hearers are thinking about our prayer. Any thought like this is a form of idolatry and should be cast out. Third, if/when we pray publicly, we only pray aloud so that others may join into our prayer. Therefore, an “out-loud” prayer is not to get people to think better of oneself. Instead, we pray aloud to invite fellowship in raising prayers to God collectively instead of privately. But public prayer is really outside the scope of the passage. Fourth, even when we pray privately, we can do one of two things. We can either let people know that we are praying (or that we pray often) so that they’ll think better of us, or we can so evaluate the “greatness” of our praying that we praise ourselves instead of focusing on God. While both are far subtler than the “hypocrite’s” method, the same sin of idolatry and self-worship is still present.

Therefore, we pray to God and to God alone. We pray with no thought of other people’s opinions or even our opinions of the greatness of our prayer or our own righteousness. To put it positively, this is a great time to “lose oneself” by focusing directly on God and His singular worthiness to be the recipient of prayer (no one else has that right or honor).

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4 thoughts on “A Simple Study of Prayer #1a

  1. I have been struggling with praying in front of others & have never really looked at it this way. I guess Courtney hit it the other day when she said It’s pride. When I stop & think about the reasons I don’t pray out loud, they are all selfish reasons…I’m worried about what others will think of my prayers. I’m worried that my prayers won’t be eloquent enough. I’m scared I’ll mess up. All of these reasons are very self centered & not God centered. Thank you for pointing that out & from now on I will do my best to “pray with no thought of other people’s opinions or even our opinions of the greatness of our prayer”

  2. Thank you so much for that scripture and sharing your heart. I had been struggling praying in front of others as well like Laura mentioned. Yes I am sure I had some selfish motives as well. We have been praying for over a week now every night we meet together and those thoughts have crossed my mind but I know God knows our hearts and again thank you for sharing.

  3. It has always been apparent to me that whenever people pray out loud, they have one eye open slightly to see who is noticing their devoutness!! I’s quite hilarious, really. Then, they ‘like’ each other’s bible quotes, selected for the sole purpose of acquiring even more approval and pats on the back. All one big, smug family enjoying membership in an exclusive club of sorts!
    Growing up means questioning everything before swallowing an untested idea whole just because it’s easier, more convenient and avoids any self examination.
    And, of course, one never quite reaches completion..it’s a lifelong journey. Is that why it’s so much easier to just say “Jesus died for me, I’m saved and that’s the end of that!” than to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind”? The latter takes more effort and humility to achieve than the former, so let’s just settle for no accountability, just a free-ride mass salvation.

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