Pray Like No One is Looking
Pitfalls of Public Prayers
I don’t know why men in particular care so much about this. Not that ladies don’t, but it seems men are more prone to it. If data could be had that I could cite for you, I would have put it right about here. What I’m referring to is the tendency of people to do things differently depending on whether or not others are looking.
We make ourselves a little more busy when the boss walks in. At the martial arts school I train at, I find myself minding my technique a little more when the coach turns his attention to me. Those come to mind for me. You can probably think of your own examples for this too.
In one sense, I suppose we don’t want others to think negatively of us, and perhaps there’s some merit to that since testimony is important. However, are there other times in which we go out of our way to not only not be seen negatively, but instead be seen so positively that for a moment we go beyond the habits of our normal character so others will presume we’re always that good? I think we all do that or have done that.
In Matthew 6:5 Jesus said, “And 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.”
One whose public praying is for the praise and admiration of men may get just that. But it will only be that and nothing else. Nothing of real value.
In the parable Jesus gave of the Pharisee and the Publican, Jesus even gives an example of how some of these hypocrites pray- “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11-12).
“I” this, “I” that, and so on. Not to mention his propensity to only compare himself with those he saw as worse than himself. Since the man was so consumed with his inflated view of himself, it informed his choice of where and how he would pray. Unsurprisingly, in that parable, it was that man’s prayer that gets ignored by God. His prayer was ultimately just to himself. Meanwhile, the Publican, who could hardly stand the sight of himself as a sinner, went down to his house justified by God. His heart posture informed how he approached God in prayer.
Such an interesting passage as that one, teaches us how God thinks about our praying, particularly the posture with which one comes to God for salvation. But why would we think God thinks differently regarding the prayers of His saints? Is He any more likely to give two wits about a self-aggrandizing prayer just because it’s a saved person who prays it? I think not.
I wonder if we do things like this in church today. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with corporate or public praying. Jesus prayed together with His disciples (Luke 11:1). When Jesus fed the five-thousand, He prayed publicly in front of them all to give thanks (Matthew 14:19). The members of the early church prayed with “one accord” together (Acts 4:24).
I have no problem with people who are asked to pray publicly in church using “thee” and “thou”, though I struggle to see the point. Those words don’t really exalt Christ any more than using “you”. Do they make you sound more wise? More theological? More righteous? Use what you want. Why you use them is a more important question.
I also have no problem with things like, “Dear gracious and most holy, exalted and benevolent, merciful and righteous heavenly Father….” All those things are certainly true about God, so why not? I just have to give the benefit of the doubt to whoever is praying that they are saying such things genuinely directed toward God and not in an effort to be “seen of men”. If I immediately presume they’re just being showy, I’m probably not extending 1 Corinthians 13:5 charity to them- “thinketh no evil”. I would be presuming their motives. I wouldn’t want anyone doing that to me, so I should offer the same Christian courtesy (Matthew 7:12).
“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)
This passage is a relief to me. I can pray specifically, but simply. I don’t have to have memorized prayers, or prayers from a book. I don’t have to worry about getting the words right. “Praying” simply means “asking”. I can literally just talk to the Lord. I can just express my needs, desires, cares, and thoughts to the Lord, reverently of course, but just like I would talk to anyone else who can hear. This passage really just demystifies praying.
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
The simplicity of prayer is that of a child to his father. Because of Christ, saved sinners have unprecedented access to the attention of God, their Creator. The same access that a King’s son would have to their own father. The high office remains, but the little child can approach him because he’s related. He can come boldly (Hebrews 4:16).
There is really no reason this access should exist for us, but through Christ it does because God really is a “gracious and most holy, exalted and benevolent, merciful and righteous heavenly Father”.
When called on to pray publicly, sometimes people will inevitably feel pressure to “knock it out of the park”. Sure, this is often a fleshly, self-imposed pressure. But it should never be a peer pressure. People asked to pray in church should not feel any social obligation to impress with their praying, but rather just pray in humility and sincerity with “clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4). And those being led in the public prayer ought to have enough brotherly charity to not care how it came out.
If my public praying is at all consumed with my own image and validation, then perhaps I don’t know enough about what prayer is to appreciate the value, privilege, uniqueness of it. God hears me when I speak to Him! That glorious thought can stand on its own.