“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. 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.
“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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:5-8 ESVUK
Praying in public. What is Jesus talking about here? He mentions praying on Street corners, but also in the synagogues. So was Jesus saying that prayer in public worship is wrong? Of course he isn’t.
What he does is offer two sets of contrasts: And when you pray contrasted with But when you pray in the ESV translation.
The first contrast is between those who make a show of praying. It could be in a worship service or on the street, but it is for show. The contrast is with praying privately. As before it is the motivation that matters here, God examines our hearts. If we set out to be respected by people then the respect of people is all the reward we will get. There is no more. Being religious, doing all the things that we are supposed to do, as Jews back then but as Christians now, means nothing to God if it is for show.
The second contrasts the shoe of eloquence, and it is the showing off that is the problem, with a simple pattern Jesus sets for prayer, what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. A pattern of start with giving God the glory, praying for needs, asking for forgiveness and praying for protection. It is that simple. Liturgical forms end with reminding us the glory is God’s, which is never a bad thing.
I blogged on the Lord’s prayer back in November last year, starting with this one, so I am not repeating that here.
This applies to not just our praying in church, but to all we do in the name of our spirituality, our music, our sermons, our lifestyle. Are they honouring to God or are we doing it to impress people? God deserves the best we can do, and we should give our best, but the motivation is always to bring glory to God, not ourselves — that would be selfishness.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.