Who Are You Praying To?
5“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.
6But 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.
7“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.
8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
One of the spiritual practices that will strike fear into the hearts of God’s people is that of praying aloud with others. It must have something to do with the fear of public speaking (glossophobia). The good news about this fear is that praying aloud with others is not on the list of things you need to do today to have a viable, healthy, uplifting faith life. In fact, Jesus espouses just the opposite in our reading for today. Don't get me wrong; praying with others is vital and important. As Christians we are part of a community not islands unto ourselves so corporate prayer is a part of the deal. But we’ve all been there – the group prayer where some refuse to speak aloud and others just go on and on and on . . . Where is the balance? Jesus addresses this during His Sermon on the Mount.
Clearly, the prayer closet is held up in high esteem; that time when you just get alone with God and talk to Him. There’s no need for lots of words or great eloquence. You are just having a conversation with your Father. When praying in public, the attitude remains the same. No need to say anything you wouldn’t say in private. As soon as you start adding information or “getting fancy” with your vernacular, you’ve changed objects in your prayer. You are now speaking to the people around you rather than to God. It’s okay to speak to the people around you, but not for the purposes of prayer. They can’t help you a bit! Share your heart with God when you are alone. Share your heart with God when you are with others. In such case, your prayers are directed exactly where they belong. Let’s place the shoe on the other foot for a moment. When you are sharing a time of corporate prayer, if you are in any way sitting in judgment of the person who is praying aloud, you too are in the wrong camp. If you are impressed with the way that they pray or the words that they choose you are not focused on kneeling before God and it is time to take captive those thoughts and return them to the Lord.
It is probably important to think about verse 8 for a moment. “…for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” So if God knows what I need, why bother talking to Him about it?! The answer for that is fairly straightforward. Prayer is all about relationship. I talk with my husband all the time simply for the purposes of sharing what I’m thinking about and how I feel about it. It grows our relationship. If the only times I spoke to him were for the purposes of trying to motivate him to do something for me, we would have split decades ago. Prayer is conversation and conversation is relationship. There is nothing like a private conversation between intimate friends. I don’t need the praise of others when it comes to my prayer life. I need relationship with Jesus – pure and simple.