“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. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).
The help we give to others is a matter between ourselves and God. How much more, then, are the words we speak to God a matter between ourselves and God. When we talk to him, our reason is not to try to impress anyone else. Imagine a man who spoke to his wife in public to send a message to others rather than to communicate with her! If he was only showing off, if he did not really think of her while he spoke to her, what sad things that would tell us about their marriage!
For that reason, I am a little uncomfortable when people ask me to pray at an event. Jesus does not forbid us ever to pray in front of other people—he prayed aloud in the presence of others on several occasions—but he reminds us that every prayer is communication with God, not having the purpose of impressing other people. Prayers said in church services are said to God. Prayers said before a Bible class or a church meeting are said to God. Prayers said at any public occasion, such as a high school graduation or a session of Congress, are said to God. The person asked to pray at these occasions should remember that he or she is talking to God, even though that conversation is happening aloud in the presence of other people. A prayer must not be turned into a sermon, an effort to persuade people about something while they are forced to listen in silence. When a prayer is spoken as an attempt to preach or to persuade, God does not regard those words as prayer at all.
We have a wonderful privilege. We are invited to speak with our Maker, with the One in control of the universe, with the One who loves us so much that he came into this world to live for us and to die for us. How dare we take this opportunity to speak with God and use it instead for worldly purposes? Such manipulation is sinful. Like all sins, this sin is forgiven through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. His forgiveness is one more reason for us to talk with him in prayer. Whether we say our prayers hidden in our rooms or aloud in front of other people, we remember that we are speaking to a God who loves us and who cares—more than anyone else in our lives—about what we have to say. J.