Lifestyle of Prayer 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. Lifestyle of Prayer 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. Lifestyle of Prayer 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. Lifestyle of Prayer 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. Lifestyle of Prayer 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 Lifestyle of Prayer 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. Lifestyle of Prayer 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? Lifestyle of Prayer 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.