“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites.” (Matthew 6:5)
When we come to the topic of prayer, there is nothing worse than starting in the wrong place. In Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, He graciously highlights two errors that we easily slip into with prayer. We will look at the first error today and the second error tomorrow.
After criticizing those who give offerings in public in order to receive accolades from others and not God, Jesus brings a similar lesson within the realm of prayer. While our attention should be upon God in prayer, Jesus says it is also worth paying a certain amount of attention to ourselves in prayer. Specifically, He says we should be thoughtful about how we approach prayer so that we do not lose our way before we begin.
“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.” (Matthew 6:5)
This first error that Jesus highlights is a wrong love within our prayers. The hypocrites love to pray standing in public places to be seen by others. They love others’ attention more than God’s attention.
It is often pointed out that the Greek word behind our word ‘hypocrite’ derives from the theatre and acting. A hypocrite at one time was literally a person who was a stage actor, putting on and taking off different masks depending upon the scenes acted out on the stage.
Returning to the subject of prayer, the hypocrite is one who is ‘performing’ his prayers for the audience that is around him or her. The hypocrite loves to pray, not in order to draw near to God, but in order to receive praise from people around them. The reward we receive in praying like this comes from that audience. If we are approaching prayer with hopes of being recognized as a great man or woman of prayer, someone who people beg to pray at special events or who will receive a bouquet of roses for our prayer performance…well, then, we have received the reward we desire in the form of human praise.
Of course, that’s not the point of prayer at all. It highlights that we love the wrong thing: the praise of people instead of the presence of the Father. As we continue learning prayer, we need to assess the direction or aim of our love in prayer. Do we love the accolades of people or the love of the Father more?
Lord, I confess that many times
my prayers are misdirected.
I pray loudly to sound good in others’ ears
or I hold back in prayer for fear I won’t sound good.
Lord, help me to love You
more than others’ opinions
in my life of prayer.
Teach me to approach You
with a humble heart of love in prayer.