And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you pray, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.” Matthew 6: 5-8 nasb
Just as there is a difference between hypocritical and godly giving, there is also a difference between acceptable and unacceptable prayer. Jesus gives two examples of unacceptable prayer and both come with a false understanding of who God is.
The first is that of the hypocrite who loves to stand (rather than kneel) in the center of the synagogue or on street corners so they can be see. They make a show of godliness with fancy words but love the showiness of prayer rather than prayer itself. The regard of men is all the reward they will receive.
The second form of unacceptable prayer is that of the Gentile who repeats meaningless phrases and babbles. They expect God to respond because of the length of their prayers, but prolonged prayer does not increase piety nor does it increase reward.
Both expect God to hear their prayers and to gain from their efforts but they talk at God rather than with Him.
As with godly giving, it is not the place, position or words of the prayer that makes it ungodly. It is the motive and the heart of the one praying, both of which God knows. I love Jesus’ words in verse 8. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” It is not necessary to give God a news update. He is both omniscient and all-knowing. He sees and knows everything.
Prayer is a two-way conversation with the Most High God in which we do more listening than talking.
In Luke 18: 9-14 Jesus paints a word picture of the difference between hypocritical prayer and godly prayer. First, he makes it clear He’s talking to those who trust in themselves and their own presumed righteousness and looked down on others.
Here’s the Leanna Paraphrase: “You’re not as godly as you think you are, so listen up. I’ll tell you how you look to God, and it’s not good.”
Two men went to the temple to pray, both with different motives. The first, a Pharisee, prayed to himself rather than God. His words were praise for himself for his above-and-beyond faithfulness. He was filled with pious words in a public place but his heart was filled with pride. Since not even one need is mentioned, it appears he considers himself self-sufficient and is self-reliant.
The second man was a publican (or tax-collector). They were considered traitors by the Jews as well as extortionists and thieves because of their habit of over-collecting tax. He saw himself as the chief sinner and asked God for mercy. His prayer was filled with humility and repentance. The publican was in the temple because it was the house of prayer, not in hopes of public recognition. His seven-word prayer was packed with power and highly regarded by Christ Himself.
“God be merciful to me, the sinner” was likely the most powerful prayer prayed that day.
Principles of prayer:
- Seek a quiet or “secret” place for prayer.
- Private prayer will be rewarded with public answers.
- The focus of prayer is God and not ourselves.
- Short prayers from the heart are better than long prayers filled with meaningless words. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- Prayers of humility and repentance are powerful and highly valued by God.
1. What is the difference between talking at God and talking with God?
2. What differences do you see between the Pharisee’s prayer and that of the publican?
3. Why was the publican justified but the Pharisee was not?
Find a quiet place today and spend time with God. Open your Bible and let God speak to you. Listen more than you talk.
Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash