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Be Sincere in Prayer

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          Be Sincere in Prayer
  ―Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart...‖
                                 -Hebrews 10:22a, NIV

One quality of character that connects us with God in
prayer is sincerity. Any prayer that seeks another
audience, other than God, is insincere and will go
unnoticed and unanswered by him. In teaching on prayer
Jesus states this principle in Matthew 6:5 by saying

  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 men. I tell you
  the truth, they have received their reward in full.

The hypocrites Jesus referred to were the Pharisees, a
popular religious group in Jesus’ day that sought public
recognition for their piety. In order to appear pious they
often prayed in public places, like the synagogue or
street corner, where people could see and believe their
act.

Where are the places you go or what are the things you
do to appear ―religious‖ before others? It might not be
praying in a synagogue or on a street corner, but it could
include attending church to look pious, taking on a
leadership position to appear spiritual, or praying in a
gathering to look godly. It is not that God objects to a
person doing these things, but he does object when a
person’s focus is on spiritual self-promotion.
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The prayers of the synagogue became a great place for
spiritual self-promotion. Any member that was asked to
lead in prayer was invited to the front of the synagogue.
As such, this pious pedestal enticed the Pharisee to seek
out opportunities to lead in these synagogue prayers. It
signalled to people that he was very religious and closer
to God than most other members of the congregation.

The street corner was another public area in which the
Pharisee loved to pray. On market days the streets were
crowded and the intersections busy. If timed right, the
Pharisee could appear quite religious as he avoided the
lure of the market to spend time in prayer. As he stood
on the corner praying out loud, people passing by would
be amazed at the devotion this man had toward God.

Jesus does not condemn the place of prayer, but rather
prayer used as a method of spiritual self-promotion that
seeks the audience and accolades of people. Prayer is to
be an honest, heartfelt expression of our thoughts that
seeks out the audience and approval of God himself.

A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be outwardly
what they are not inwardly. In Greek the word hypocrite
means ―play actor.‖ The Pharisees became hypocritical
when they prayed to be noticed by people. Outwardly
they appeared God-centred, but inwardly they were
people-centred. Their disguised profile of a God-centred
person reminds me of a story about a man who was hired
at a local zoo.
                  Lifestyle of Prayer


  Finding himself desperately in need of money, a
  man went to the city zoo, hoping to get a job
  feeding the animals. Although no such opportunity
  was available, the manager, seeing the size and the
  strength of the applicant, suddenly got an idea.
  ―You know,‖ he said, ―there are few creatures who
  attract attention like a gorilla. Unfortunately, ours
  died yesterday. If we got you a special fur suit,
  would you be willing to imitate him for a few
  days?‖

  The hungry man agreed to try. He was quite
  successful as he beat his chest, bellowed, and
  shook the bars of his cage—much to the
  amusement of visitors who said they had never
  seen a gorilla with such intelligence. One day,
  while swinging on his trapeze, he accidentally lost
  his grip and landed in the lion's den. The huge
  beast gave a ferocious roar. Backing away, the
  impostor realized he couldn't cry for assistance
  without revealing that he was a fake. He retreated,
  hoping to crawl back over the fence into his own
  cage. The lion, however, followed him. Finally in
  desperation he yelled, ―HELP!‖

  Immediately the lion said in an undertone, ―Shut
  up, stupid! You'll get us both fired!‖

The person who simply play-acts in prayer, when their
life is far removed from a God-centred lifestyle, may
receive public recognition, but the true rewards of God
answering their prayer will go unheeded.
                  Lifestyle of Prayer


In essence the Pharisee used prayer as a tool for an
ulterior purpose. His concern was not to develop in
relationship with God, but to develop in popularity with
people. It is only natural that God would not encourage
his being used for ulterior motives by rewarding such
individuals. Hunter W. Bingham in The God Who Hears
says:

  Jesus' words are primarily a statement that God,
  like all personal beings, dislikes being used by
  others in pursuit of objectives which are personally
  offensive to him. God is not merely a Something to
  be exploited while passing on to some other goal;
  rather he is Somebody, a person who reacts against
  having his name used in self-aggrandizement.i

   Evaluate Your Sincerity in Public Prayer
In Jesus' statement he addresses people who use public
places of prayer in ways that are not sincere, honest, or
genuine. Some types of prayers that we must check our
motives are:

   Table Prayers - Many times table prayers become
   rushed, rote, and lose their quality of sincerity. I
   know it happens in our household from time to time
   because of our hectic schedule. We pray without
   feeling or thinking, because the real action of eating
   is our main focus! Or we pray quickly because we
   must get on with our busy day.
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My wife and I have taught our kids to say grace at
the table and they often pray in very creative ways!
About a year ago, however, my eight-year daughter,
Jennica, caught my attention when she prayed. She
prayed very slowly, but it was great because it gave
me a chance to focus on each phrase of the prayer.

I was taught a lesson that day. In table prayers we
often need to slow down our prayer and use various
expressions. We need to remind ourselves of the gift
of food, and how it betters our health.

Repeated Prayers - Prayers that are repeated in a
public setting, such as the Lord's model prayer, have
a tendency to lose conviction. The words are said,
but the meaning is lost, and no real transformation
happens in our lives. We must reflect on the meaning
of each phrase in relation to our lives and situations.

Emulating Others – I love to listen to my kids pray
or listen to people pray who are new to the faith.
They pray from the heart, and do not try to emulate
the style or tone of older Christians. It is not style or
tone that reveals maturity, but rather the heartfelt,
sincere prayer of an individual. We need to rekindle
our own language of prayer to God.

Seeking Approval - Like the Pharisee, when we want
other people to notice how articulate, passionate, or
spiritual we are in our prayers, we lose all sincerity
of heart. We must renew our focus on God and forget
what other people think of us.
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   Information Line – Another area in which public
   prayer can lack sincerity is when group prayer turns
   into an information line about others. What we want
   more is the latest news on a person than on the
   prayer for that person. A while back God spoke to
   me on this issue. Although my prayers for people
   were good, my focus was to ―fill in‖ and let others in
   the group know what was happening. I confessed my
   impure motives before God and vowed not to use
   prayer as a gossip line.

  Examine Your Sincerity in Private Prayer
Jesus goes on to say that if you want to avoid the lure of
publicity and build sincerity into your prayer life, then
you need to learn how to pray in private. In Matthew
6:6a Jesus says ―But when you pray, close the door and
pray to your Father, who is unseen.‖ Yet even in private
we may pray to another audience—the air! The tendency
is to pray out of rote or habit, and we fail to stop and
think through the reasons why we pray. Some traps we
must watch for in private prayer are:

   To Get on With Our Day - Some people pray to
   simply get on with their day, rather than praying in
   anticipation at how God will speak to them and lead
   them in their day. Prayer becomes an interruption in
   the schedule, before the ―real‖ day begins. In Psalm
   5:3 David prays and says ―In the morning, O Lord,
   you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests
   before you and wait in expectation.‖ We need to see
   prayer as vitally important to the rest of our day.
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   To Finish Our List - Prayer to God can become
   insincere when we pray simply to get through our
   prayer list or prayer calendar for that day. Our end
   goal is not the prayer itself, but to finish the list.
   When we have done that we feel smug and satisfied,
   that we have really prayed. Romans 12:15 says
   ―Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those
   who mourn.‖ We must enter into the life situations of
   others, to pray as they would pray.

   To Fill the Prayer Slot - Some people out of
   tradition pray simply to fill their prayer slot. It
   becomes a ritual to maintain, rather than a
   relationship to enjoy. If it is 15, 30, or 60 minutes,
   then what matters is that we pray to fill our prayer
   schedule. Galatians 5:25 says, ―Since we live by the
   Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.‖ In prayer
   we must be ready to allow God’s Spirit to guide us,
   and not the time slot itself. If you sense the Spirit
   calling you to pray longer, then keep in step with
   God. If the Spirit calls you to a shorter prayer time,
   then follow that leading. Pray in desired freedom, not
   out of forced duty.

       Enhance Your Sincerity in Prayer
In order for a person to connect with the heart of God
through prayer, Jesus in essence says ―and when you
pray be sincere, be real, be genuine.‖ The word sincere
means ―free from pretence or deceit; genuine in feeling;
honest and straightforward.‖ii Being real in prayer means
                  Lifestyle of Prayer


that we are to come to God, as we are, not in who we
want to be or think we should be.

Ask yourself some questions when you pray. Do you
come to God as you are? Do you pray with your own
language and emotions or do you pray as you think a
Christian should pray? There are three things you can do
in order to enhance your prayer times, whether they be
public or private.

   Check Your Motives – Are your motives right? Why
   are you praying in this place? Why are you saying
   this prayer? Is your prayer directed toward God or
   toward the people around you? James 4:3 says,
   ―When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask
   with wrong motives, that you may spend what you
   get on your pleasures.‖

   Check Your Style – Is the style you? Are you trying
   to pray like someone else, or are you praying from
   your heart, with your own language and feelings?
   When praying to God, be natural. Do not use clichés
   that hide your real feelings. Be honest with God. Do
   not try to impress God or others by sanctified jargon.
   God is not interested in a correct formula, or in how
   big of words you know, but in the thoughts you have.
   Bill Hybels writes

     God doesn't want us to pile up impressive
     phrases. He doesn't want us to use words
     without thinking about their meaning. He wants
     us simply to talk to him as to a friend or
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  father—authentically, reverently, personally,
  earnestly...God isn't interested in stock phrases.
  Psalm 62:8 says, ―Pour out your hearts to him.‖
  Talk to him. Say, ―Lord, this is how I feel
  today. I've been thinking about this recently. I'm
  worried about this. I'm depressed about that. I'm
  happy about this.‖iii

Check Your Emotions – Are your emotions free?
Are you trying to suppress your emotions, or do you
let them come unbridled before God? Learn to come
to the whole of God with the whole of you. David
shows how to pray sincerely with emotions through
the book of Psalms. At times he is delighted,
overjoyed, and happy. In other prayers he is
downcast, depressed, and guilt laden. Sometimes he
explodes out of anger and frustration, and in other
moments he prays from a heart of gentleness and
love.
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                Going Deeper
                   “Be Sincere”
1. Why does God react so strongly against those who use
prayer as a tool for self-promotion?




2. What are the rewards for a person who prays from a
sincere and genuine heart?




3. What do you find the hardest part to do when praying
in public? How can you overcome this?
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4. List the areas of public prayer in which you need to
pray with more meaning and sincerity.




5. What is the greatest aspect of your personal prayer
time with God? What energizes you?




6. If you could make your personal prayer time even
more sincere what part of it would you focus on?




7. What area do you struggle with the most in prayer—
motives, style, or emotions? How can you make this area
more natural and sincere when you pray?



Be Sincere in Prayer
i Hunter, W. Bingham. The God Who Hears. InterVarsity Press,
Downers Grove, Ill., 1986. p. 71-72.
ii
    Neufeldt, Victoria (editor). Gage Canadian Dictionary. Gage
Publishing Ltd, Toronto, ON, 1983. p. 1047.
iii
    Hybels, Bill. Too Busy Not To Pray. InterVarsity Press, Downers
Grove, ILL, 1988. p. 44-45.

				
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