Day 28: “Motives, Manipulations and Prayer” Part One 09.17.2018
Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV) “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.”
In the television news coverage of Hurricane Florence, off the Carolinas, there was an interesting moment captured on film. A reporter stood in the heavy rains leaning dramatically to one side as if he was about to be blown away. Apparently, this was a bit of theatre on his part. While he was inviting the viewers to fear for his safety, two other people were walking calmly behind him standing straight up and undeterred. Hard to understand how the winds could be so different only a few feet apart. A reasonable conclusion was that our wind-driven friend had a motive beyond reporting. This was his chance to look courageous and determined in spite of grave danger. Consider…how often does “how we look” affect our behaviors and actions? We can even carry such silly and impure desires into our prayer life.
As we look closely at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, we must remember that it is rooted in his teaching about motives. Several times he warned them about people who get their reward not from God but from other people who observe them.
Matthew 6:1 (NIV) “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Prayer can be nothing more than vain nonsense. Everyone who has been in prayer meetings knows of the person who prays extra long and with great pathos. Often using the King James language with a dash of drama, such people are boorish. Or that person prays five times in between the prayers of others. Embarrassing. Yes, there are some who have a “gift” of prayer but somehow that is easily discerned from “performance prayer.” Once again, even in prayer, perhaps especially in prayer, motives matter! Let’s look closely.
In Luke Chapter 11, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Thus, these instructions were obviously given more than once. They were repeated on the mountainside. But in the Luke passage, our Lord says more about what we might call “principles of prayer.” So, as a cross-reference to our study, we will digress at some point and look at the Luke portion. But, for now, we read:
“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.”
We must never pray for the purpose of being seen or heard. This, of course, does not mean that we should never pray with other Christians or attend an open prayer meeting. Not at all. But once again, we must check our motives. Actually, God loves it when we draw near to Him in a secret relationship. The times when I have most dramatically seen the Lord answer an important prayer have been when I told no one of the prayer itself. Only God heard it.
I once asked the Lord for fifty dollars when I was a seminarian invited to a mission’s conference. I had a plane ticket and a place to stay but nothing really in my pocket. Donna would be home with two little boys and one on the way. She needed our last few dollars. OK. At that time, I was paid $ 18.00 every Monday for some work I did for a wealthy woman in her home. The day after I asked the Lord for the $ 50.00 for travel, she left a check for $68.00! It was, in her words, a Christmas gift but she had no idea that the Lord had prompted her to write the larger check. Or … she wrote it before my prayer and He prompted me to ask for it! In any case, the mystery of secret and trusting prayer is a great adventure.
“Go to your room” or your closet and pray privately. It will be a secret between you and God. Too many Christians think the best method is to share their prayer desires with everyone they meet so that God will be petitioned by whole squads of praying disciples. That can be good, but Jesus is saying something different. He is saying that God sees what is done in secret. God hears what is said in secret. God loves a secret relationship with his children.
It’s that same word we looked at earlier. “Krooptos” from which we get the word “crypt.” Deep and hidden like a burial vault. No one knows about it except God Himself. Therefore, we conclude that Jesus is teaching that private prayer should out number open and public prayer by a long shot.
“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.”
Next: “Let us not babble!” Blessings! Pastor Alberta