Matthew 6: 5-8
Imagine someone you had never met before, coming to you and radically changing everything you knew and had practiced your whole life, a tradition that you have participated in countless of times. This repetition became a way of life, a means of boasting, and a reality in which a culture and religion used to establish social standings. Who were you if you did not distinguish yourself outwardly for others to witness?
Jesus in Matthew 6:5 does exactly that:
“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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
In Judaic culture, prayer was an important aspect to the life of the Jew. Twice a day they would say the Shema, a prayer recited once in the morning and once in the evening as commanded by the Torah. This was known as the first form of prayer for the Jewish man. The second form of prayer was the Shiminoph, which are 18-19 separate prayers that the Jew would memorize as a child. All 18 prayers were recited three times a day: once at 9:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 3:00 PM. By Jewish culture and standards, the devout Jew would pray roughly 59 times a day, every single day– if not more.
As you can imagine, repetition became habit; habit became custom; custom became tedious. Prayer time was a race to get through as fast as possible.
You can see how a man could perfectly plan out his day to be at a market or a busy street corner and just the right hours of the day. He could whip out his prayer uniform and start wailing prayers at the top of his lungs. People walking by would see this spectacle and think, “What a spiritual man he is!”
“What a spiritual man he is!”
The man would continue on with his tedious habits, his ego inflamed and his reputation of holiness growing. But his prayer uniform just masked what he really lacked: a personal relationship with the One he was praying to. His prayers no longer brought glory to God. He stole it from Him.
Time and time again, Jesus Christ challenged the Judaic tradition. Through every act of teaching, personal revelation, prophecy, word, and promise, Jesus was trying to communicate what really mattered: a relationship.
Jesus knew that repeating the same prayer over and over again became meaningless, and frankly, is the exact opposite of establishing a true connection with our Father which runs so much deeper.. Prayer is not intended to impress people; it is intended to impress God. We go into our secret place not because it is better than praying in public or at church. We go there because we need to seek our creator at an individual and intimate level. We go in secret place because that is how we grow.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
I cannot count the many times that I simply run out of things to say, or have already exhausted my train of thought, but because people are still praying, I would simply repeat my words to fill up time. It’s as if the notion of a short prayer is sinful. But Jesus himself reassures us that a prayer should not be drawn out meaninglessly, because it isn’t the length of the prayer nor the time spent in prayer that makes it valid; it is the heart behind the prayer. When we pray to God, we don’t punch in our time cards, and compare who prayed the most, or determine who was the loudest; we come before God and declare our heart to him.
Just. Be. Honest.
God already knows our every need and want before even asking him. He doesn’t need it polished with eloquent words and flowing repetition. Just. Be. Honest. Call out your needs, wants, fears, pains, anxieties, joys, passions, doubts, and struggles by name and God, in all is love and wisdom, will tune His ear to you the way a Father runs to his child when they cry out.
Matthew 7:11 states:
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.”
Maybe you’ve been comparing your prayer life to those who cry loudly on a street corner, or if you try a little harder, you can keep up with those who pray for hours. Jesus hears the prayers that last for hours and the deepest, most sincere prayers that last for a few minutes. Jesus hears even the simple act of speaking His name and believing all the truth it holds. We as the body of Christ ought to assess the state of our inward relationship with the Father.
And a connection with our God represents an open dialogue, an open discussion between yourself, and your creator in an intimate fashion.
If our prayer life reflects the hypocrites in the synagogues or on the streets, then we only do ourselves a disservice. We rob ourselves of knowing God intimately. It is okay to say a short prayer. It is fine to be open and honest with God. Pour out your heart to the God who not only knows what’s on your heart, and still desires your attention, but craves your honesty and love. Rely on everything God is and run to his promises. Trust that by opening to Him and praying, He will answer in His ways.