“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.” ~ Matthew 6:5
We’ve all witnessed them. They are in every church, regardless of the church’s level of faithfulness. These prayers are at the Wednesday night prayer meeting, Sunday morning service, church staff meeting, Christian conference and home group gathering. And its purpose is to rile a crowd. Its aim is not to commune publicly with a living God, but to inspire a group to a certain action.
Whether its said while the band begins to play a rousing rendition of Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord, or a lone piano playing something a little more pious like Before The Throne Of God Above, or its said to complete silence and a few amen’s, it is meant – to be blunt – to manipulate and impress.
These kinds of prayers are said not to God, but to people.
They are usually wordy and long. They start off quiet but passionate, then arch in bravado and intensity, with a little yelling and maybe some arm gestures. These prayers desire to teach its hearers something believed to be important, so they will leave invigorated with purpose.
But performance prayers are not prayers.
“Let the Lord alone be the object of your prayers, beware of having an eye to the auditors; beware of becoming rhetorical to please the listeners. Prayers must not be transformed into “an oblique sermon.” It is little short of blasphemy to make devotion an occasion for display...Remember the people in your prayers, but do not mold your supplications to win their esteem: look up, look with both eyes.” ~ Charles Spurgeon
Now let me switch the tone a minute and express that I am well aware that praying in public is no easy task. Some say it is a matter of maturity that will make you able to do it. However it might be better said that its a matter of vulnerability that makes you able. Even the greenest and most uneducated Christian can commune with the Lord in the presence of others with a genuine heart. As long as they remain humble and have both eyes on Christ.
I remember when my grandpa used to pray. It felt like he was just picking up where he left off with God. Like he had been chatting with God all day, and now we were glimpsing in on their relationship. He didn’t perform. He just talked. Humbly and with love. And if none of us were there, it would have sounded the exact same.
I long to have that kind of rapport with Christ. And I pray that the performance prayers of our time would get left behind in history. However I know that is impossible as it is an age old problem.
But I hope we will learn to be truthful and vulnerable with God and aim to make much of Him and less of ourselves both alone and in public.
Less of our own glory and more of His.