“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.”
Prayer is an essential aspect of Christian living, and Jesus taught us how to pray. Often, we do the very thing Jesus has taught us “not” to do. When we examine Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6, Jesus asks us not to pray like two groups of people. The first group, Jesus called ‘hypocrites’. They love to stand and pray in synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Jesus is not condemning prayer itself, rather the hypocritical reason for why someone prays. Do you pray only to be seen by others, just like those who give alms who make it known and do it to be seen by others? Or do you pray like the second group of people Jesus mentioned in verse 7, referring to the Gentiles, who heap up empty phrases thinking that they will be heard for their many words?
Matthew 6:1 says “Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
You see, it is not the act of praying or giving that is the issue, but it is the heart condition through which you do it. The purity of motive is essential for acceptable worship. Are you only giving in public and not giving in private? Are you only praying in public and never praying alone in your room and spending time with Jesus Christ? Are you only praying to look holy and righteous before others?
Instead of praying with inspiring words and human wisdom, portraying a level of holiness or righteousness, come before God with a pure and contrite heart not to please man but only to please God. Matthew 5:8 says “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Do not do anything to please man, but do everything to please God. This is when prayer will be effective. Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (v6).
Psalm 51:6a says “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,” Do not desire to be seen as righteous because of your prayers, and how you do it, instead seek to be approved by God, rather than man. When you desire the approval of man, then it leads you to sin. This is why James 1:15 says “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Through the gospels, we never see Jesus doing such a prayer of the hypocrites in the synagogues; instead, he would go and pray to the Father in private. Mark 1:35 says “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
At the same time, it is essential to note that Jesus is not forbidding all public prayer, or the location or positing of the one praying; instead, it is to do with the motive through which you pray.
Now if we look at the second group whom Jesus labelled as praying repetitiously (the Gentiles), again, He is not saying that you should not pray long prayers, but the point He is making to the disciples is that they should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers offered under the misconception that the length or words that are repeated will make prayers effective. Such thoughts and actions are thoroughly pagan, for pagan worship and prayer thrive on recitation, chanting, etc.
When we pray to our personal Father in heaven to whom all believers in Jesus Christ pray, it does not require such acts because He already knows it, and He hears our every prayer. Again, Jesus is not condemning long prayers because we see Jesus sometimes prayed long prayers. We read in Luke 6:12 says “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Instead do not be like the gentiles who pray religiously, instead pray because you have a relationship with God.
So I urge you today to come before the Lord with a simple and humble heart. Pray to God, not as a religious act like the Gentiles do nor as the hypocrites do, but as one who fears the Lord and one who has a relationship, only seeking to please your Father in heaven.
In conclusion, pray to God with the right heart and come to Him in simplicity. This is when prayer is powerful and effective. Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.”