Jesus’ intent was not to entertain: he had important information to pass on and he wanted his listeners to be alert and attentive to what he said. But even the serious discussion was often accompanied by wry remarks and comical illustrations. It was as if Jesus was incapable of being dull!
Listen, for example, to his instructions about prayer. You would be sure that this was an area where he would be solemn, but he is far from it.
First he begins with a memorable picture of what prayer is not.
Matt 6: 5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
You can picture the scene. The rabbi calls upon Brother So-and-so to pray in the synagogue. He stands, clears his throat, adopts a pose and beseeches the ceiling at great length. Everyone is blown away: such oratory! Such verve! Such execution! He sits, rather smugly, basking in the invisible ovation. A job well done.
And Jesus says: He got what he wanted –the approval of men. But did he receive the approval of God?
Do you see the rich absurdity of the picture?
Prayer is not, that is to say, a subject for celebrity. You don’t draw attention to yourself at all. “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
This is not really an instruction about where you pray, of course, but about how you pray. There is something to be gained from prayer, but you have to decide what it is you want: you may either receive the “Well done” of people or the “Well done” of God – but not both!
In Jesus’ day, pious Jews would pray publicly at set times in the morning, afternoon, and evening (Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10; Acts 3:1). Josephus points out that sacrifices, including prayers, were offered “twice a day, in the early morning and at the ninth hour.” But Jesus himself does not refer to correct times: only to the correct attitude. Here he firmly shakes his head at any showmanship or display. The theatrical term
“hypocrite” denoted a “play-actor” who wore a mask to pretend to be a person other than himself. Here it describes an insincere person who pretends to be pious or virtuous when he is not. People see what’s on the outside and we may call this reputation. God sees what’s really present on the inside. We call this character. God is interested in our character, not our reputation.
The real question is this: Who do we seek to please in our “religious activities” after all? Are we “playing the part” like an actor or are we seeking to please our “Father Who art in heaven”? Do we pray for applause? Do we pray to fool ourselves about our own spiritual standing? Are we trying to get God’s favour by our extraordinary acts of piety?
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Many ancient religions had the idea that someone could persuade the gods to act if they just said the magic words over and over again. The word “babbling” means “to say ‘batta, batta, batta”. Batta is –as I hope you realise- a meaningless phrase. Don’t you dare treat prayer like some kind of rain dance, some magic formula that you just have to repeat to get the desired result.
Of course, it’s not too different today.Sometimes people today treat prayer exactly the same way. Even in Christian circles, prayer can become rote and meaningless, just a bunch of magic words we say to try to get God’s attention, to get our desires answered.
“But when you pray”: find somewhere secret…Jesus wanted to create a whole new way of thinking about what was going on in prayer.
Tameion describes any place of privacy. Jesus is referring to an inner room with no windows, without distraction and without audience. This is in direct contrast to the show-offs who want to be noticed. The focus is rather on the intimacy of fellowship with God, which is at the centre of all prayer, ( be it public or private, of course) This relationship is the real barometer of your life with God, and not all that public stuff because in the secret place for there is no one (or only One!) present to be impressed by your words.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Sometimes people wonder, “If God already knows what I need, then why should I tell him about it in prayer?” I think the answer is that even though God doesn’t need us to tell him, we need us to tell him. When we talk to God, it reminds us that we depend on God and it demonstrates that we trust him. And we need that. All we need to do is talk to him, honestly and sincerely. No fuss, no mess.
The point is that prayer is filled with meaning and significance. That’s the kind of prayer that God appreciates (and that God answers).
How do you pray like a Boss? Stop thinking so much of yourself
- Praying Like a Child (graceindallas.wordpress.com)
- Daniel 6:10 NKJV – Matter of habit (pagprayer.wordpress.com)
- Don’t Be a Hypocrite (aneaglesnest.wordpress.com)
- Prayer. (holymystery.wordpress.com)
- In the Garden (nineyearbible.wordpress.com)
- On Secret Prayer by John Stock (ilyston.wordpress.com)