Don’t Pray Like Hypocrites [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“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.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Thursdays with Murray [Humility, week 10]

Andrew Murray 2This week I continue “Thursdays with Murray” by concluding my study of Andrew Murray’s short book Humility. Last week, I jumped ahead and talked about the final chapter in relationship with chapter ten. So this week I return to chapter eleven, “Humility and Happiness,” as the last part of the book about which I will write.

Beginning with similar themes seen throughout this book, in this chapter Murray says “the highest lesson a believer has to learn is humility.” However, lest we begin to think that Murray is set on a bleak picture of the life of faith crowded with dark shadows, he also writes: “the place of humiliation is the place of blessing, of power, of joy.”

How can this be true? Murray helps us to understand that if humility is the expulsion of the self, it can only truly be expelled with the presence and glory of God. And if our souls are filled not with ourselves but with the fullness of the presence and glory of God, this can in no way be anything else but the experience of the greatest joy in God.

In trial and weakness and trouble He seeks to bring us low, until we so learn that His grace is all, as to take pleasure in the very thing that brings us and keeps us low. His strength made perfect in our weakness, His presence filling and satisfying our emptiness, becomes the secret of humility that need never fail….

I feel as if I must once again gather up all in the two lessons: the danger of pride is greater and nearer than we think, and the grace for humility too.

These two realities underly the entire breadth of Murray’s book. He wants us as believers to experience both the depths of humility in the Cross of Christ and the heights of exaltation in the resurrection of Christ so that we might enter into the abundant life through Christ. It is his conviction that there is no other way to this great reality than to walk the pathway of humility upon which Jesus walked. That is truly the way of the disciple.

Christ humbled Himself, therefore God exalted Him. Christ will humble us, and keep us humble; let us heartily consent, let us trustfully and joyfully accept all that humbles; and the power of Christ will rest upon us. We shall find that the deepest humility is the secret of the truest happiness, of a joy that nothing can destroy.

[Read the entire series of posts on Andrew Murray’s book Humility here.]

Thursdays with Murray [Humility, week 9]

Andrew Murray 2Continuing my series of posts on Andrew Murray‘s brief book Humility, today I look at both chapter ten, “Humility and Death to Self,” and chapter twelve, “Humility and Exaltation.” While I admit I’m pulling these two chapters slightly out of order, I believe they fit together as two book-ends around chapter eleven (which we’ll look at next week) on “Humility and Happiness.”

“Death to self” is a phrase that we don’t hear too often any longer but derives from Paul’s description of Jesus in Philippians 2:8 (“he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death”) and Jesus’ teaching on discipleship in Luke 9:23 (“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”). On this theme and its connection with humility, Andrew Murray writes:

The first and chief of the marks of the dying of the Lord Jesus, of the death-marks that show the true follower of Jesus, is humility. For these two reasons: Only humility leads to perfect death; Only death perfects humility.

This chapter comes into strong conflict with the prevailing approach to Christianity in our day as strongly as any other aspect of Murray’s book. In a time when we are focused so much on self-actualization, finding our gifts, understanding our personality, living out our uniqueness, the call toward death to self and its defining mark of humility seems like a message from another age. Read More »

Thursdays with Murray [Humility, week 8]

Andrew Murray 2In chapter nine of his book HumilityAndrew Murray explores the connection between “Humility and Faith.” The benefits of the Christian life, according to Murray, are something we can see but not access until the gift of faith comes into our lives. Faith is not only trust in God or the ability to perceive the heavenly blessings of God, but at its root that deep sense that we need God. For, as Murray writes, faith is “the confession of nothingness and helplessness, the surrender and the waiting to let God work.”

This is where the connection between faith and humility becomes evident. Faith cannot develop until we have the humility of right perception of who we are and who we are not before God. Faith cannot take root in our lives until we fundamentally turn from ourselves and from others to God. Pride and faith are inimical to one another and, therefore, “we never can have more of true faith than we have of true humility.”

This touches upon the outlook we have in our lives. The outlook of faith is truly a looking outward from the self to God beyond the opinions of other people or our society.

As long as we take glory from one another, as long as ever we seek and love and jealously guard the glory of this life, the honor and reputation that comes from men we do not seek, and cannot receive the glory that comes from God.

Faith removes the misdirected fears of our lives into a holy fear of the Lord that shapes our living with humility.

It is humility that brings a soul to be nothing before God, that also removes every hindrance to faith, and makes it only fear lest it should dishonor Him by not trusting Him wholly.

Faith is the characteristic that enables us to truly draw near to God. This very act of drawing near aright demands a humility for entrance and an ongoing humility of dependence upon God to bear fruit.

We might as well attempt to see without eyes, or live without breath, as believe or draw night to Go or dwell in His love without an all-pervading humility and lowliness of heart.

Murray concludes this chapter with an emphasis on humility being a channel of a deeper experience of God and the Holy Spirit in our lives. There is a difference, in a sense, of having the Spirit of God move through us and the Spirit of God having ongoing residence in us.

The Holy Spirit not only working in them as a Spirit of power, but dwelling in them in the fullness of His grace, and specially that of humility, would through them communicate Himself to these convert for a life of power and holiness and steadfastness now all too little seen.

I am reminded of F. B. Meyer’s quotation:

There are three kinds of Christians out there. Christ’s Spirit is present in everybody who’s born again. Christ’s Spirit is prominent in some people. And Christ’s Spirit is preeminent in, alas, only a few.

May we be the humble in whom Christ’s Spirit is not only present, not only prominent, but preeminent.

[Read the entire series of posts on Andrew Murray’s book Humility here.]

Thursdays with Murray [Humility, week 7]

Andrew Murray 2As I continue with my series of posts on Andrew Murray‘s brief book Humility, today I look at both chapter seven, “Humility and Holiness,” and chapter eight, “Humility and Sin.” These two chapters augment one another as counterpoints on similar themes.

In addressing the relationship between humility and holiness, Murray writes: “Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.” As he has done before with other aspects of our walk with Christ, Murray returns to the theme of humility being the proof of our holiness.

The great test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it be manifest in the increasing humility it produces.

This flows from Murray’s conviction that humility is a direct reflection of the character of God revealed in Jesus’ life and teaching. Thus, he can say at one point in this chapter: “the holiest will ever be the humblest.” This is so, he writes, because:

humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all….And where the creature becomes nothing before God; it cannot be anything but humble towards the fellow-creature.

This leads directly into the central theme of chapter eight, “Humility and Sin,” where he describes humility as “the displacement of self by the enthronement of God.” Similar to his comments in the preface to the book, Murray is intent on differentiating between what he see as an unhelpful over-emphasis on and fixation with our sinfulness and the appropriately needful sense of our need for grace that leads us to fixation on the glory of God in Christ.

The point which I wish to emphasize is this: that the very fact of the absence of such confession of sinning [in the writings of the Apostle Paul] only gives more force to the truth that it is not in daily sinning that the secret of the deeper humility will be found, but in the habitual, never for a moment to be forgotten position, which just the more abundant grace will keep more distinctly alive, that our only place, the only place of blessing, our one abiding position before God, must be that of those whose highest joy it is to confess that they are sinners saved by grace.

Although the flow of language could use some editing, the flow of thought is overall clear. If we want greater humility, we must not become fixated upon our daily struggle with sin but with the greater grace of God that overcomes our sin. The way toward this is what has sometimes been called the expulsive power of Christ’s presence in our lives:

As health expels disease, and light swallows up darkness, and life conquers death, the indwelling of Christ through the Spirit is the health and light and life of the soul.

Putting it even more clearly, Murray writes:

Being occupied with self, even amid the deepest self-abhorrence, can never free us from self. It is the revelation of God, not only by the law condemning sin but by His grace delivering from it, that will make us humble. The law may break the heart with fear; it is only grace that works that sweet humility which becomes a joy to the souls as its second nature.

Both in terms of holiness and sin, Andrew Murray emphasizes the grace of God and His presence in our lives through Christ as more valuable than anguish over sin as the key.

Do you agree with Murray’s emphasis? 

What have you found to be most helpful in your own growth in humility?

[Read the entire series of posts on Andrew Murray’s book Humility here.]