Thursday, March 19, 2009

Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus on Prayer Part I

One of my favorite cartoon’s in the 1980’s had a tag line that they would add at the end of every “educational segment” (all cartoons got to where they had to have educational segments during the 80’s) where someone would say “Now we know” and another character would add “And knowing is half the battle”. This always, to me, begged the question “Ok, what’s the other half?” Anyway, there is tremendous power in knowledge. Knowing how not to do something is almost just as important as knowing how to do something. In these verses and the two that follow them, Jesus gives both positive and negative examples of prayer and more specifically the attitudes behind those examples.

First of all, notice that Jesus assumes that the people He is preaching to will be praying. He doesn’t say “If you pray” but rather “When you pray”. “Pray” translates a Greek word “proseuchomai” (4336) which means “to supplicate, to worship, to pray”. The idea is that the person making petition is earnestly seeking favor with God. I read somewhere this week that a life marked by a lack of prayer is rooted in a feeling of self sufficiency. I have to admit that when I read that, it stung. I don’t pray as often or as earnestly as I ought to from day to day. As I’ve studied this passage, I have also felt convicted. We should go to God with our needs because He loves us. We are His children. We are His sheep and He wants to take care of us.

As Jesus assumes that we will pray, He exhorts us to not follow the example of the “hypocrites” or those who just play a game with religion. While you or I might not be able to tell it by just looking at them, they may have activity but they can’t fool God. Jesus points out that their religious activity of praying is only external. First of all, notice how they pray”. They “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners.” Now, this wasn’t just a case of public prayer but rather these guys had certain times of the day they were expected to pray. So, let’s say Mathais was a devout Jew and he was on the street walking from the market in the most crowded part of the day and the time came to pray, he would stop right there in the middle of everybody, strike a pose, and pray. People would look at him and think “Wow, that dude is hard core about his faith in God”. However, as Jesus points out, his sincerity is not genuine. In fact, the reaction our hypothetical Mathais got from the by-standers is exactly what he was going for and in reality is the only thing he’s going to get out of it. As we saw in chapter 5, God knows the heart of man and He knows that Mathais is just playing a part—a hypocrite through and through. He pretense of piety impresses other people, maybe, but not God.

Now, in contrast to this put-on display of religiousity (Is that a real word?), Jesus commands true followers of Christ to have a different atmosphere about their prayer life. Matthew records in verse 7 that Jesus says that we should “go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret”. Now, I don’t think that Jesus literally means that we should never pray in public because He Himself prayed in public on several occasions and acknowledged that He knew people were listening. Certainly we should not pray in public with the attitude of the hypocrites, but it is not forbidden from the passage to pray in public. I believe Jesus is contrasting the attitude of true faith with the attitude of the hypocrite. Even if we can’t isolate ourselves so that our focus is only on God we should have the attitude and intent in our heart to focus only on God when we pray. God knows the difference, too. He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts and because of that when we pray with a proper, humble attitude with our focus on God He will know that and “will reward [us]”.

We should pray to God because we love God and recognize that He loves us. We wouldn’t think of not communicating in any earthly relationship and have expectations for that relationship to grow and develop. In like manner, if we’re not talking (praying) to God and listening to Him (studying His word), we can’t expect to grow in our relationship with God. Let us be humble to seek His face in prayer every day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You say Jesus prayed in public but I'm curious - when? There are times he blesses food or thanks God but are there passages indicating he actually prays in public? Most often we see him seeking solitude away from the disciples to pray privately.