Journal Matt 6 (all references are from the ESV; changes in punctuation are mine)
Scripture: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you (as the hypocrites do) in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others…
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…
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words…(excerpts from Matt 6:1-8)
Observation: Are these comments about “performance art” as practiced by “Christians?”
How much do I want to be seen as a “strong Christian?” How much do I want my ego to be “stroked?”
Application: There are four issues that are easily seen, but perhaps have some difficulty to be addressed:
- Practicing righteousness before men. If the goal is to be conformed to the image of the Son (c. Ro 8:29), then practicing righteousness is going to be a desired outcome.
However, if all I want is to be seen and applauded, then my motivation is not godly or the pursuit of holiness, but the opposite—I am pursuing myself and demonstrating Sin (c. Gen 3:5).
- Giving. If I want to be known as a giver, even if I want to be considered a tither (as an example), then the road is narrow.
The implication is clear: Give in secret. Be an example of both pieces of this equation: Give and be as secret as you can. (c. Mark 12:40-43 The widows’ mite not shouting her piety about and Luke 10:33-35 the good Samaritan keeping the arrangements between him and the innkeeper).
- Praying in public. For a lot of people I know, this isn’t an issue; it is praying out loud anywhere for any reason. I wonder if this is the impetus for the “silent prayer” (pray in your mind) encouraged, or is it the permissive alternative for not stretching out of my comfort zone?
Example to consider: Jesus sent out disciples (the Twelve and so many more) to 1) Preach the Kingdom (which for us is another way of referring to the Gospel), 2) Heal the sick, and 3) Cast out demons. Now, not too many demons are identified in our local Aldi’s, Walmart, or Publix (although Walmart after hours have a lot of questions) and standing on a soap box preaching the Gospel might be a little too forward for most people.
But, praying for the sick? Quietly, and unobtrusively? This is a call to stretch out in faith.
- Praying with many words, just to add words. How many folks do I know that start praying with a pat phrase, just to have a pat phrase? Does God sit up and pay attention more when He hears “Dear heavenly Father?”: “Whoops, sorry angels, and cherubim, I got a call coming in—got to go…”
Clarification: It isn’t that these phrases don’t have meaning, it is that they can be reflexive or automatic words that are just filling space but without personal significance—they can be found in the “shoot from the hip” prayers. What to do? What I did was to change up my personal prayers to eliminate any “non-value added” phrases to focus on content and purpose…and practice these privately.
The Bible has many instances of personal prayer, an intermediate level, and public prayer. Psalms has good examples to gain experience with. When assigned to pray publicly, I was instructed (once upon a time) to prepare by writing the prayer out. What a great thing that was!! I have a wedding reception to pray for next year and I will be preparing by writing notes and then writing. Objective: Tongues of Fire on the audience’s heads. Not really, but hopefully close to the same kind of impact.
Prayer: Lord God. After putting myself on the spot about prayer, now I write to You. I bow my heart to You not very well. You see me, through and through, and know what I am like (You know my frame…Ps 103:14).
Thank you for bringing scraps of Scripture to my memory and for ESV.org. It makes me look smarter than I am.
Ricky Two Shoes