Sunday, July 28, 2013

It’s Personal

Prayer is personal.  It’s not business, it’s not superstition or magical, and God is not your servant:

When you pray, you aren't to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 
And when you are praying, don’t use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So don’t be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6.5-7

Continuing with our private “acts of righteousness” (Matthew 6.1), now we come to prayer.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray in secret.  And as with giving, our Lord highlighted his comments by teaching his followers to be different.  Go back and read the passage above again carefully, and you’ll see that Jesus highlighted two groups and said we're supposed to be different. Usually (especially in Matthew) Jesus told his followers to be different than the religious folks of their day, but in this case he adds another group: the Gentiles.  This is important. 

Different than Christians

The first thing Jesus says is for us to be different than regular religious people, who love to pray in public.  Jesus mentions street corners, but today we love to pray and make a show of ourselves in restaurants or school or government buildings or other public settings.  We have lots of rationalizations for this, but it doesn't change the fact that Jesus told us not to do so! 

I won’t argue the point here. 
You can choose to take Jesus’ words as an explicit command or not.  

As for me, I choose to keep my prayer life private.  When I eat at a restaurant, I pray inside my own head.  God hears me, and He is the One to whom – and for whom – I pray.  I don’t care if others at my table think we should make a spectacle.  I pray privately because it’s what Jesus said to do.  I’m no more concerned about what other “Christians” think than I am about the others in the room.  I trust God – He knows my heart.  And I obey Jesus, who is my Lord.  If he told me to pray out loud, I’d do it; but he told me to pray in private, so that’s what I do.

Christians have also made a big deal out of “school prayer,” in direct opposition to Jesus’ teaching here.  Let’s be clear: it’s perfectly legal to pray in school – in any and every school in the United States.  The only thing our laws restrict is praying out loud in some cases.  In other words, our laws encourage us to do exactly what Jesus taught, anyway. 
“They love to stand and pray in public so that they may be seen by men”
The only reason school prayer has become such an issue recently is because people with political agendas want to influence Christians instead of Christians influencing the politicos.  This is just another example of our upside-down world, where we refuse to be different as our Lord commanded, and instead want to conform to the expectations of other “Christians.”  Exactly the opposite of what our Lord taught here.  Don’t be like those hypocrites – pray in private.

Different than the Gentiles

Jesus and his audience were Jewish, and so Jesus here is saying for them not to be like non-Jews, which is called a “Gentile” or a “Pagan.”  Specifically, he says for them not to pray with repetition.  In our culture we see this as well.  Hare Krishnas come to mind (for me) as they repeat the words “Hare Krishna, Hare, Hare” again and again – babbling superstitiously. 

The other group that comes to mind is modern Christians.  Catholics recite a prayer called a “Hail Mary,” and all of us learn the “Lord’s Prayer” (found in the next section).  Is it not amazing that we use Jesus’ own sample prayer to refuse to obey Jesus?!?!?!?  It’s like hearing God say not to make images of Him, and then doing so anyway.  Oh, wait … I guess we do that, too. 

This is true of us because we have stopped becoming disciples at all.  People who recite prayers over and over ARE pagans.  They don’t call themselves that, but their actions speak louder than their words.  What they have done is to twist Christianity into a superstition.  Using Christian words and symbols and even the bible … we have returned to superstition.  We made an idol and named it Yahweh – just as Israel did (Exodus 32.5).  Also like Israel, who obeyed God by making a brass serpent … and later twisted it into an object of worship (Numbers 21.8-9; 2 Kings 18:4). 

Please accept my challenge: examine your prayer life and see … have you become superstitious?  Have you taken ‘prayer’ and turned it into something like magic?  There are some tell-tale signs I’ll offer.  This isn't foolproof, but it should help those who want to be purer in heart. 

You may be a superstitious Christian if:

  • Most of your prayers are for what you want instead of what God wants…

You pray mostly for God’s will to be done, or for your own will?  Many of us pray for stuff we want, or safety in travel, or for healing or hundreds of other things.  If your prayer life is
  • You think there’s “power in prayer”

God is all-powerful.  When you speak to God you are praying.  If you have bought the line that your words to God are powerful, you are superstitious.  There’s no power, no magic, no mysterious spirituality here … prayer is you talking to God.  God is powerful, not your words to Him. 
  • You think you must say certain words

Do you think you have to say “In Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end of your prayers?  If so, you may be a superstitious Christian.  To be sure, we are supposed to pray in Jesus’ name (Ephesians 5.20), but that doesn't mean we must say it!  God knows your heart.  If you’re just saying words because you’re ‘supposed to’ … then is it really true?  Words without action make us hypocrites.  Besides, we’re supposed to do everything – in word or deed – in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3.17).  
  • Your prayers are mostly for earthly, physical things

Most groups and churches pray for their sick, safe travel, comfort for our troops, the poor and other physical things.  This is good and appropriate.  But consider the implications of the fact that most of our prayers have to do with things in the physical world instead of focusing on God’s Kingdom.  Solomon prayed for wisdom to benefit the kingdom.  His father (David) prayed amazing prayers (see the Psalms) that centered completely on God and God’s will being done.  Even our Lord’s prayer (next section) only asks for basics in the physical world – the rest is all spiritually focused. 

There are certainly more challenges I can offer, but now it’s up to you.  Examine yourself and see if you have maybe turned prayer into something God didn't intend.  It is difficult, but it’s an important way to become purer in heart.  We all have superstitious tendencies.  Let’s crush them and replace them with complete trust in God – and God only.

One more thing … If you find yourself challenged by this, don’t rationalize - or beat yourself up.  Men make tons of money selling Christians nonsense like The Prayer of Jabez, or preaching sermons about the “power of prayer.”  In fact, almost no one teaches the truth about prayer.  So if you've fallen for that gibberish, don’t feel too badly – just repent and become better. 


When Yeshua told his disciples to talk to God in private, he was teaching something he himself practiced.  Examine the gospels for yourself and see … how often did Jesus pray in public, how often did he pray only in the presence of his disciples, and how often did he go away to the wilderness alone?  You will find that he overwhelmingly kept his prayers private.  Jesus’ prayers were intimate affairs, for Jesus didn't see his prayers as ‘powerful,’ or as some kind of magic wishing.  When Jesus prayed, he was a son speaking to his Father.  He lived as an obedient son, being about his Father’s business, and doing everything to glorify his Father.  And … he prayed with respect, knowing his Father was also the King. 

Like Jesus, David’s prayers are respectful, constant, mostly private and always intimate.  You will find the same thing with Moses, the Patriarchs who went before him, and the prophets who followed.  Their prayers were reflections of a personal relationship with the Creator, Lord of Hosts, and King of kings. 

What does your prayer life reveal about your relationship with Yahweh? 

Do you trust in your own praying, or do you trust in God’s power and love? 

Do you talk to Him respectfully as you would a King, or are you familiar as if God were nothing more than one of your pals? 

Do you use fancy language (as if you can impress God – what a laugh), or do you just reveal your heart to Him? 

Are your prayers honest?  If so, your prayers and your actions will be in harmony; so much so that your actions can actually become prayers to God.  When service and prayer merge, they you are truly worshiping Him as if He were truly the Lord of your life. 

Know this for certain:
Your prayer life is a reflection of your true heart

“Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 
‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
Matthew 15:7-9
  • People who cry out to God mostly in times of trouble, but rarely ever otherwise - reveal their heart.  They see God as nothing more than their last-resort, go-to for rescue.  "When all else fails" is an attitude that reveals a heart that doesn't put God first. 
  • People who love to pray “cool” prayers impressing others, not God; reveal their heart is more interested in pleasing people than in pleasing God.
    Is this your God?  Is He your servant?
  • People who pray for stuff (material things, earthly relationships and/or comfort) reveal a heart that sees God as a Genie, in which He is a powerful servant.  Is your God someone who is supposed to jump and serve you every time you holler? Your prayers reveal the truth.
  • People who pray certain prayers over and over reveal their superstitious heart. 
  • People who insist on hand-holding or a special posture, reveal hearts not fully focused on God
  • People who think praying is a “spiritual discipline” reveal hearts that put more trust in human education & wisdom than for God’s word and Jesus’ example.
    Cute when a kid does it - creepy if she were older
  • People whose prayer life doesn't mature over time reveal their heart.  When we are children, we think, speak and behave as children.  But as we mature spiritually, our relationship with our Father should also change.  Our silly crayon-art prayer life is cool when we’re young.  But eventually we should learn to be more and do more than play with toys and let Father serve us.  What does your prayer life reveal about your spiritual maturity?

Example: Harry Potter

Consider the characters in Harry Potter’s world for a moment.  It’s easy to see that their relationships are reflected in their communications.  Harry & Ron are friends, and the frequency and content of their communications reflect that.  The changing communications between Ron and Hermione reflects their personal maturation, the different rates at which they mature, and finally evolves into romance.  The same thing is true of the way Harry speaks with Snape, Sirius or Dumbledore.  If you take a moment and consider all the relationships, you will understand: communication is always a reflection of relationship.  Harry loves Dumbledore, but he would never speak to him in familiar terms as he does with Ron.  He dislikes Snape, but still speaks with respect.

In the same way, your prayer live reveals your relationship.  People say they love Yahweh, that He is their only God, their Father, King and Lord.  But if they rarely talk to Him, how can that be true?  Do you always schedule time to talk to those you love?  Do you speak in familiar tones with a King?  Do you have to reach out to a Father who is close to your side?  Do you end each conversation with your friends with magic words?  

In it's simplest terms, prayer is nothing more than talking to God.  We talk, God listens, then responds.  In this part of the SOM, God is talking to us ... through Jesus & Matthew.  The question is: are you listening?  God is telling you how to talk to Him.  Obey man, your own intuition, or God - it's your choice. 

Just Obey  

Make it simple.  Just do as you’re told. 
If Jesus said go to a private place, then do that.  Not something else, not more, not other … just do that. 
If he said don’t repeat the same words again and again, then do that.  Not something else, not more, not different and not less … just do as you have been told by your Master.

Talk to God in private.  Be intimate, personal and honest with God.  Always be respectful!  Remember He is God, and not you.  Seek His will above your own.  Want Him to look good more than wanting yourself to look good.  Pray for spiritual things more than physical ones.  Be happy with where you are today, but don’t be content to stay there … strive to mature.

And above all … ceaselessly express gratitude.  By far the greatest common factor in biblical prayers is thankfulness, for those with pure hearts know they have already received way more than they deserve.  God is absurdly generous – how can we not thank Him in all our words and deeds?  How dare we pretend that He hasn't already done enough for us?  

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus  

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

…always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father 

Ephesians 5:20


  1. Wow, thank you for this entry. I was always worried about saying a prayer that "sounded good" in front of others, now I see from scripture that doing that is silly and not at all honoring God, but instead, making ourselves look good to people. It's really all about speaking from your heart with God and making sure you're not asking Him to grant you wishes like a genie. This also makes me think twice about holding hands and praying in public, are we doing that out of robotic reptition and so that others see that we are praying or because we love God and want to talk to Him?

    1. I'm pleased this makes you stop and think about your prayer life. The single most important thing about prayer is knowing the One to whom you are speaking. Yahweh is the one and only true, eternal God. He is Creator, Judge and Savior. And even though He is that powerful, He loves you so much He sent His Son to die for you.
      So ... when you talk to Him, it's really a matter of what is in your own heart. Maybe some people are robotic or show-offs, but we can't know their hearts. What we can know is our own heart ... and we can simply obey Jesus, no matter what.
      I know for certain that God blesses people who respect Him - and obey His Son.