More and more, I’m learning what it takes to be a teacher. Teaching is a slow process sometimes. It requires us to step back and gently walk our students through a process time and time again when we feel like shaking them by the shoulders and yelling, “Why don’t you get it?!” And when we think they’ve finally got it, we move on only to see them make the same mistakes again.
Then we must ask ourselves – Is it just that they don’t get it, or are they even trying?
I’ve been a Christian for nearly thirty years now, and I have learned and lived many things during that time. Despite my physical age, that means I’m approaching the time when I will become an elder, a sage of the Faith. As such, I know that the days are numbered when I can simply give in to my frustration by trying to shake sense into people. I must be someone to whom they can come for instruction.
There is an erroneous trend among Christians today that is growing to the point that it needs to be addressed. It stems from either pride or a need for acceptance. But in either case, it is in direct violation of Christ’s instructions. It is prayer. Not the act of prayer, but the manner of prayer.
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. (Matthew 6:5, 6 ESV)
This should have been one of the first things a newly born Christian should have learned about prayer. Prayer isn’t for show. It isn’t about sounding spiritual to others. It’s about communicating with God.
That sounds simple enough. So what’s the problem? We don’t shout our prayers in the churches or from the street corners today. Or do we?
What were the synagogues and corners in Christ’s time? They were meeting places where communities could not only meet for worship but also to make announcements, share news, or communicate anything they wished to their friends and community. They were places where a person could proclaim, “This is what’s happening in my life, and I want you all to hear it.” They were places where a person could address the people, and that was perfectly fine.
Why then did Christ call them hypocrites? For one simple fact – prayer is communication with God rather than with people. To hold a private conversation while proclaiming it to the public is nothing but showmanship. It is indirectly saying to the audience, “See? Look at me! Look at who I’m talking to! Hear how great I am!” For anyone who has ever tried to converse with someone like a politician while on camera, they know exactly the feeling. There is no real communication. It’s all about how it looks on the screen. It’s all about how it appears to others. That’s how God feels when prayer is used for a public show. To Him, it’s meaningless and void. They have their reward, which is the glorification from men.
So do we have these synagogues and street corners today? Absolutely. It’s called social media. Everything from blogs, Twitter, and FaceBook to books and articles, we have a thousand street corners at our fingertips every moment of every day. I’m seeing more and more that Christians are posting personal prayers as status updates, as comments, as blogs, and wherever else they can post them. We should know better. It’s one thing to write a prayer in a pamphlet showing someone and leading them in how to receive Christ. But personal prayers on display to the world is shameful. Christ Himself said so. We wouldn’t post a personal conversation with our spouse or best friend for everyone to read. Why do so with our prayers?
I encourage my brothers and sisters to realize this. I encourage them to keep their relationship with their Heavenly Father pure and holy, free of hypocrisy. I encourage them to enter into their rooms when they pray, sending their words to the ears of the One they’re meant to reach.