Christian Prayer

Home Church Devotional 11/7/2020

These devotionals were written during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic when area churches were not allowed to meet for fear of spreading the coronavirus. They were used in place of a full sermon as my family and I gathered for worship and communion.

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.                                   Matthew 6:5-8 (NASB)

Matthew’s account is written primarily to Jewish people who already know how to pray correctly, with the simplicity and directness Jesus wants and longs to see in His disciples. This same simplicity and directness should be used in our prayers. We will not be heard because we stood among people to pray nor will we be heard because of the amount of words we have used. Instead, we are to “go into your inner room” where we can be locked away in secret and pray to God the Father who sees what is done in secret.

This passage, found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, deals with prayer, personal prayer, but also has application to the church as well. As we progress through the text we know as The Lord’s Prayer, we will see the obvious application to our personal prayer life and I will share how God is showing me how this applies to the church and how it ties in with the vision He has laid on my heart.

Christian prayer is to be real and personal while being thoughtful and engaging.

1). Christian prayer is genuine.

Jesus warns His disciples not to be like the hypocrites who like to pray where they can be seen and heard by those around them. In so doing, Jesus says they have already received their reward. It was a well-known practice of the Pharisees to make their way to the marketplace or synagogue as the time for daily prayer approached. Many time’s these same Pharisees would suddenly be “caught” outside among people when the time to pray came.

     Being “caught” outside among the people it was their duty to stop and pray even if they were outside or among others. So, they would turn, face the temple, lift their hands and begin to pray, loudly, so as to be heard by others. In so doing, these hypocrites are showing that they do not truly love prayer or the God they are supposed to be praying to – instead they love themselves and the opportunity to be seen and heard by others. These are the hypocrites Jesus is speaking about in this passage.

There are many who do the same thing in the church today. Oh, they may not be at the store and start to pray out loud, no not that. But they come to church for worship, not for God, but rather to be seen and heard by others. They are seeking to gain a reputation as a godly person, but the fruit of their lives does not match the display seen during worship. Some even go so far as to boast about their private devotional practices.

     This person might lift their hands in worship or give a well-timed Amen! during the pastor’s sermon. You might see them nodding their head often in agreement with a Scripture reference, but things do not add up with these actions and the life of such a person. Their actions seem mechanical or well-planned out like the Pharisee in the marketplace. They are truly receiving their reward in the performance among others.

     Now, understand, that just because a person lifts their hands in worship or nods in agreement with the Scriptures or gives a heartfelt Amen! does mean they are being hypocritical. Always, always test the spirit and look for the fruits of a person’s life. There are many who genuinely lift their hands in worship as an expression of genuine love and worship before God.

Instead, Jesus tells us we are to shut ourselves away with God – away from the prying eyes of others – apart from the noise and distractions of the world. In this way we are able to pray to our Father. This is the essence of our prayer time – to seek God the Father. We seek God to acknowledge Him as Creator, Lord, Judge and Heavenly Father. This is where we bow down before God in humble worship, love and trust.

     All of this applies to our personal prayer life. Secrecy or being closed in with God, is only emphasized to purify our motives in prayer. In secret, performances for other people is taken out of the equation and we are left alone with God and our real and personal needs, desires and yes, even our sins.

So too the church must be genuine before God. The church must set the example and standard of prayer. A church without true prayer is hypocritical indeed and faces the possibility of becoming an empty wasteland, unable to sustain and feed its members, unable to attain the true power God has ordained for His church. The church must be genuine before God before it can be genuine before people.

     The church must be a place where those who are hurting, suffering and lost can come and find rest for their souls. In being real and personal before God the church becomes a hospital for those in need of the Great Physician. The church becomes a safe place, the inner room, for those who need to separate themselves from the noise and distractions of the world. The church is to become a place where purity in motives is exemplified, worship is to the glory of God and prayer is first and foremost in all the church does.  

Christian prayer is to be real and personal while being thoughtful and engaging.

2). Christian prayer is meaningful.

Jesus provides a second warning to His disciples, not to use meaningless repetition. Some translations use the word babble or babbling for repetition, regardless, the point is clear, do not keep repeating yourself with empty phrases in the hopes of being heard. So, meaningless repetition is a second pitfall we must avoid in our prayer life. Hypocrisy is a misuse of the PURPOSE of prayer – diverting from the glory of God to the glory of self; repetition then, is a misuse of the NATURE of prayer – degrading it from a real and personal approach to God into a mere reciting of words.

Jesus is contrasting the pagan way of meaningless repetition with the Christian way of meaningful communication with God. Jesus is emphasizing that Christian righteousness is greater – because it is inward; Christian love is broader – because it includes your enemies; and Christian prayer is deeper – because it is sincere and thoughtful – than anything that can be found in the non-Christian community. Christian prayer sets the standard!    

Jesus has shown us that the Pharisees were hypocritical in their praying and now He shows us the Gentile way of praying is mechanical, so, by contrast, the Christian way of praying  must be real – sincere as opposed to hypocritical, thoughtful as opposed to mechanical. Jesus wants our hearts and minds to be involved in what we are saying. Our prayer life is to be seen in its true light – as a true communion with our heavenly Father.

In applying this to the church, we must be careful when using memorized or written prayers. There is nothing wrong with them unless we elevate them to a status that takes away from the God we are praying to and have come to worship. It is only when they replace real, personal, thoughtful and engaging prayer that the potential lies for serious consequences and the eventual falling away from deeper times of prayer. Including them in corporate worship or personal worship is fine as long as you continue praying with a time of personal, thoughtful prayer with the Father.

Christian prayer is to be real and personal while being thoughtful and engaging.

Where do you see yourself in this passage? Are you like the Pharisee who prays to be seen and heard by others? Are you the one who lifts your hands only to be noticed by those around you? Or perhaps you are like the Gentiles who pray without thinking, babbling on and on? Do you fill your prayer time with endless request for the same things in the same way time after time? It is time for those in the church to examine their motives in prayer. We are living in a time when the church needs to be and set the standard and example of purity in prayer. I challenge you to take a hard look at your personal prayer time. Then take a hard look at how your church prays. Where do you see the need for improvement? Are your motives in prayer pure? Does your church seek the will of God in prayer and is His name lifted above all things? Wake up O, sleeper! We need to become the praying body of Christ!

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