“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites,” Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 6:5. “For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.” Jesus was referring to the Pharisees, who made it their life’s work for others to see them praying. It made them appear extra spiritual.
Jesus continues, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” These two parts—praying for people to see and praying fancily—reveal a lot about the state of our hearts. Again, we’ve all done this. We want people to see us praying, as it makes us look super spiritual. It puffs up our egos, increases our pride, and makes us feel superior. But does this mean there is something wrong with praying in public? Of course not. We should pray in public—pray before your meal at a restaurant, pray with others in evangelism, pray at sporting events when the moment is right. Those things are great witnesses to a surrounding world that has neglected, ignored, and forgotten the sacred and holy.
It’s when we do these things to appear a certain way that we need to be careful. Prayer becomes more of a theatrical performance rather than sincere communion with God.
To make matters worse, we not only try to look super spiritual, but sound it too. We use theological jargon and try to sound eloquent instead of praying from the heart. All of this to make ourselves feel superior to others.
Friends, let’s be genuine when we pray. God wants our hearts, not our performances.
This devotional was taken from a small excerpt of my new book Taking No for an Answer: How to When God Says No to Our Prayers.