And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father Who is in the secret place; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
Re-reading Jesus' Words on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount brought revelation to me. Although I've considered Them before, this time was different. They bypassed my head and went to my heart--piercing it. I found myself guilty of praying in public to please men, which was surely not pleasing to God.
But I find comfort in His Word: 'Whom the Lord loves He corrects' (Proverbs 3:12), and I received a correction. So I repented, He forgives, and I learn--which is a goal of our Teacher.
But are some church leaders trying one-up the Teacher? Praying in a way Jesus never taught? God says: 'The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters' (Matthew 10:24-25). Surely, the Holy Spirit is our Teacher, and we are His students. Surely, Jesus is our Master, and we are His servants.
So when did Jesus pray long or flamboyant prayers in public? Upon diligent search, I find none like I hear today on television and hardly any that were public at all. But consider two: 1) At the cross. It was short, but of eternal impact. 2) At the tomb of Lazarus:
'Jesus lifted up His Eyes and said, 'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.' Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth!' ' (John 11:41-43).
Judging by His Own explanation of why He was praying in public, surely public prayer was unusual for Him.
But not for us. Many church leaders are great orators. Their sermons arouse us--and well they should. Their prayers arouse us, too. But do they arouse God? Do they reach up to Heaven like sweet incense? 'And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God' (Revelation 8:4).
Surely Jesus the Man knew it was harder to focus on God in a place of busyness, so 'He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed' (Luke 5:16)--alone. But was it also to fulfill this Commandment? 'Be still and know that I am God' (Psalm 46:10).
Because the Lord speaks to us intimately. To hear His 'Still, small Voice' (1 Kings 19:12), we must become still and small ourselves.
To Be Continued...
P.S. To read the other devotions in this series, please see the Sermon On The Mount series.