The Pharisees and Prayer

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-8)

The Sermon on the Mount has been a comparison and contrast between true righteousness and the inferior level of righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). It is not about new law versus the Law of Moses. It is about pure righteousness. Pure righteousness was demanded by the Law of Moses and would be expected of those who would live in the kingdom of heaven, the church of Christ.

Empty and Pretentious Prayer

What makes prayer meaningful is the spiritual, heart-to-God's-heart communication. It is not what you say in the hearing of men, but in the fact that you are in tune with talking to God Himself. This requires a relationship with God. Those who would enter the kingdom are seeking a spiritual relationship with God. Therefore, our prayer standards must exceed those of the scribes and Pharisees. They did things for show. Prayer and listening to God's word should be heart-transforming and life-transforming exercises. When it is only in tune with what people will think of us, then it only ministers to human pride.

Righteous praying is not an empty ritual or habit, is not with motives of impressing people, and does not have to be long and eloquent. Repetitious phrases do not impress God. This is not to be critical of men who nervously lead public prayers in the assembly of Christians. Nerves are not easy to control. But, try to practice prayer at home, in private, and with the family, and each time, ask yourself how you would talk to God if you were alone with just you and God, and then make that a mental thing you do even in more public prayers.  There needs to be a mental block-out of people (you are not addressing people). This does not mean that you are not going to address the common desires of the people to God, but that you are tuning in to God and bringing thanksgiving issues, praise issues, and requests before the throne of grace.

Before God, we cannot be boastful or arrogant. We should know that we have nothing before God about which to be boastful and arrogant. He is our Judge and King. Approach God with that in front of your mind.

Seen Praying Versus Praying To Be Seen

Jesus is not against public prayers.  He engaged it Himself.  Daniel was seen praying and God blessed him. So, the issue is not that you should never pray where people might see you, but that your motive for praying is pure, that it is not for the purpose of being seen by men. We are not to be putting on a religious show for the praise of men.  Praying together is not discouraged here. Together prayers are encouraged as long as the motives are pure.  Jesus is against pretentious, insincere praying.

The Closet

Jesus' reference to the closet illustrates the personal and honest nature of heart-to-heart praying. In a closet alone, one talks TO God with no ulterior motives. You are not trying to make a point to the brother or sister across the room. In a closet, we block out everything but us and God. This is what we need to do mentally even in our public prayers. First, block out impure motives, focus on the Holy and Awesome God, get alone with Him in your heart, and then talk honestly with Him. Even in public prayers, we should enter the closet alone with God. When you have shut the door of your heart to selfish motives before men, and you are focused on talking to the Creator of the Universe and the Judge who can see into your heart, then begin your prayer.  We need to learn to do this mentally. There are right and wrong ways to pray to God.

Practice alone time with God!  Learn to talk to Him in private. Public prayer should not be so different. Real, honest praying is a priority. Develop an adoration of God and pray with honesty before God. Real praying is personal and is precious. When the heart is alone with God in prayer, it is powerful.  It is quite empty if the only time we pray is in the presence of people, and it is all about appearing religious and making a point to people.  So, when we look at the prayer of the Pharisee versus the publican in Luke 18:10f, we find that prayer was all about the pride of the Pharisee. It was about congratulating himself before God. The publican was honest and humble before God. It was about addressing a real need he felt before the holy God. It is only right to pray before God and to do so with reverence. Let the way we pray exceed the way the Pharisees prayed to be seen of men.

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