In Jesus’ day prayer had come to be quite misunderstood and misused, especially by a group of people known as the Pharisees. Jesus relates how it was common to see supposedly pious men praying long, elaborate, and very visible prayers. The problem with their prayers was not that they were public, but rather that they were self-serving. It would not have been unheard of to hear a prayer like this:
“Oh most high and glorious God, thank you for creating me. Thank you for my great intelligence, my extreme piety, my heroic leadership, and my astonishing appearance. Thank you that I am not like Frank, Harry, Sally and Bob, who do not follow you with nearly the passion I do.”
While that may seem like a far-out example, it’s not far from what was happening in synagogues in Jesus’ day. Jesus actually shared a similar example in Luke 18:9-14. He also shared that many people had made prayer a highly complex affair. The felt that a good prayer necessitated big words, great length, and demonstrated how deeply educated the person praying was. Jesus rejected this thinking.
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. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:5-8
The big point Jesus was making is that prayer is a relational conversation between us and God, the one who created us, sustains us, and saves us. Prayer is a time when we come before our Holy Father and share whatever is on our mind. In doing this we not only connect with God, but we give Him great honor. Rick Warren once said that “the greatest gift we can give somebody is our attention, because to give attention is to give of your life, and you can’t take that back.” Giving our time to someone is a permanent gift, and thus places it is one of the number one ways we can show honor to someone. My question to all of us is: are we truly connecting with God in prayer, and giving Him the honor He deserves? Or, are we making prayer a self-serving practice like many in Jesus’s day? Let us give God the honor He deserves by taking time daily to connect with Him in prayer, sharing our joys, our thanks, our sins, and our needs with Him.