“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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.” Daniel 6:10-11
These two passages give words to two different responses that I get when I lead, promote, and teach about Prayer Walks, Prayer Gatherings, and other prayer events. They also point out the problem of pulling a verse or two about a specific subject out of the Bible and using them to prove a point without looking at all the Bible says about the topic in question.
I’ve had people object to the whole idea of doing prayer events and they often use the teaching of Jesus in Matthew regarding praying in secret rather than “to be seen by men”. Unfortunately, they not only miss the point of what Impact is doing in promoting prayer-based ministry, they also miss the point Jesus is making. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus is addressing motive and motivation in prayer.
The comparison is between “hypocrites”, who’s only purpose is to be noticed, and “you”, who prays out of a motivation to know and be known by God. Daniel is a good example of this. He prays and is noticed. The key is in determining why he prayed. The passage above tells us that he did this “just as he had done before.” Daniel wasn’t praying “to be seen by men”, men happened to see him because he was praying as usual. The trap was set because Daniel’s prayer life was consistent and obvious to all. His devotion and pursuit of God was consistent and unstoppable. A law banning prayer to God did not stop him from praying, nor send him into hiding. He wasn’t showing off, he was actively practicing his faith in God.
I pray. I pray at home. I pray in private. I pray in public. My desire is to live a lifestyle of prayer. Sometimes that is seen, sometimes not. The problem that Jesus talked about is if I begin looking for people to notice my praying and I hope to impress them by it. The problem isn’t being noticed, it is wanting to be noticed. Last night I was eating dinner at Red Robin in Seattle, Washington and prayed before the meal. Our waiter noticed and commented on how he didn’t see that much any more. It became an opportunity that may have been missed had I not prayed with our group.
So, is prayer to be done in secret or visibly? Paul writes to the Thessalonians and tells them to “pray continually.” This would be always! The question isn’t, “do I pray when I am in secret or do I pray when I am in public?” Rather, we need to ask, “why am I praying?” Prayer that has God as our only audience is always appropriate.
May you and I be people of prayer – not to be noticed by others, but to know and be known by God.