“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 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. Pray then like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.'”
– Matthew 6:5-13ESV
“You can’t beat me!” my niece proudly proclaimed to her mom, immediately taking off, arms and legs pumping. It was a bold statement, really. Ignoring the fact she was five years old and somewhere around three feet tall, my niece had more than just the limits of her leg length to compete against. Her mother was a former NCAA sprinter. Her high school state 400 meter time would have placed her eighth in the Beijing Olympics, and that wasn’t even the height of her running career. In other words, even twenty years later, my sister-in-law is not slow.
The statement is an example of how the limited experience of children makes them poor evaluators of their own skills. What is more, it had been a long time since she’d seen my husband and I. She’d grown a bit and thought we were “so fast”, so she was showing off for attention. It was cute. It was innocent. It made my husband and I laugh.
We laugh, but aren’t we still like that, even as adults? We may not come right out with such a bold “look at me” statement, particularly one so easy to disproved. But how often do we do things or buy things or say things because we want other people to think well of us? Because we want to look good? Because we want some sort of “return on investment” for our efforts? Ultimately, how often are we trying to prove something to everybody watching? Even to God?
In this passage, Jesus condemns public prayer or praying “on and on”. Yet are public prayers or long prayers the real issue He’s highlighting? I don’t think so. He’s trying to highlight a deeper heart issue. What He’s getting at is the Pharisees prayed in public to get the praises of people, to prove they were righteous enough. The “pagans” “babbled on and on” in their prayers to prove they were devoted enough for their gods to grant them their desires. Their prayers were not about being a relationship with God…they were about proving their worthiness.
Prayer isn’t about proving anything to God. God is already our Father; He says so multiple times in this passage. We don’t need to prove our devotion to Him; He already knows us fully (1 Corinthians 13:12). That leaves us free to be totally honest with Him. To hold nothing back as we speak to Him about our lives, our days, our desires, our joys, our fears, our failures…as we bare a soul already known well by our good Father. We are free to be in a relationship grounded in complete trust, knowing nothing inside us repels the God who saved us with eyes wide open.
He’s not going anywhere.
- Why do we often view relationships as a means to an end, rather than the end in themselves?
- We have a society focused on “earning what you get”. What’s the danger when we apply that concept to our relationship with God?
- How does trying to “prove something” to God actually impair your ability to be close to Him?
- Challenge for the Week: Each day, setup a chair across from your favorite spot to sit in your house. Imagine Jesus grabbing a seat in that empty chair and dare to tell Him at least one “ugly truth” out loud, without editing to make it sound better. Then rest in the knowledge He heard it and you are still loved.