Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Jesus on Prayer 2

Jesus prayed in public, as John 17 and other passages demonstrate. There will always be a need for prayer in public. But as we will see in Jesus' teaching on the subject of prayer, the public must be built on the private.    

Putting Prayer in its Place

Jesus' instruction on prayer in Matthew begins this way:

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6, The Net Bible)

Jesus develops two basic kinds of prayer. There is "showcase prayer" by which the person praying actually draws attention to himself. He wants to be known as spiritual and holy. His religion gives him status, and by public prayer, he maintains and feeds it. The second kind of prayer is "relational prayer." This is prayer that seeks time with the Father. Jesus, for teaching purposes, draws a distinct line between the two, but we must acknowledge that most people will fall somewhere between the two extremes. It is also important to understand no one can read the mind and intentions of another heart. What might seem to be the height of arrogance may only reflect upbringing. Or gentle quiet prayers may come from one who has no private prayer life at all. Jesus' instruction is for us to know and personally apply His words and let the Holy Spirit guide and train our hearts in these matters.

Having said that, there are some warning signs that we might want to pay attention to.

  • Do I have an "I am speaking to God" voice. This may be a matter of upbringing. Nevertheless, none is needed and such a change in voice can draw attention to the one praying--unless one is in an environment that does this, in which case not changing the voice can draw attention to yourself.
  • Elegant words and lots of them. This may be a matter of gifting and natural oratory, but again none are needed.
  • Personal agenda. It's hard to excuse this one. You pray according to what you want done and what others need to do to help it along.
  • Gossip. "Please God. Help Jane resist the temptation to keep seeing that guy." Such public prayers are only fruitful if Jane is there and has asked for intercession on that subject. 
  • Public prayer of any kind without a private prayer life. It is a given that if you are not speaking to the Father when you are alone, there is no good speaking to Him publicly.

Instead Jesus advises us to go into our rooms and shut the door. This is the "normal" opposite of standing on a street corner. If He had used a phrase like "pray in private" or "pray alone" all kinds of extreme ideas may have developed. How private do you need to be? Must we become hermits or monks to have a prayer life? Jesus simply meant that there are places and ways to pray that are between us and the Father. By entering such places we demonstrate that we "believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) In such a place:

  • We can have an "I am speaking to God" voice if that helps us connect with Him and give Him honor.
  • We can use elegant words as a way of offering Him our best.
  • We can have a personal agenda, because it is now between us and the Father and He can open and close doors as He sees fit.
  • We can pray for Jane. Since it is just between us and the Father, we are more likely to be showing genuine concern for her welfare.
  • And, of course, we now have a basis for praying in public.

We can be in our own rooms or in public and still pray privately. As Paul wrote, "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17) 

The private life is one measure of who we are. Too many times I have seen good public families suddenly come apart from within. It became apparent that the life behind the closed doors of the home was far different from the public family persona. If we believe that God exists and rewards those who seek Him, that will affect our most private of lives, because we will know that He is there. We then know that there is no private life. Lest this cause you great fear, guilt, and concern, remember that Jesus says that, "your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you." Showcase prayer has the single reward of public acclaim. The rewards of relational prayer is that it can:

  • Direct the heart.
  • Receive answers and close or open doors
  • Strengthen the character and spirit
  • Increase faith and spiritual gifting
  • Bring a deeper sense of the Father's presence and care.

These are good things and worth having.

Having put prayer in its place, Jesus then goes on to put prayer in perspective.

Thursday: Putting Prayer in Perspective

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><> 


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