Summary: Anything authentic has a counterfeit. Prayer is no exception. There is authentic prayer and there is a knock-off version of prayer.
Many products are designed to imitate the real thing. There is plastic decking that looks like real wood. Vinyl flooring that appears to be ceramic tile. You can purchase fake fur or jewelry, You can buy knock-offs of name brand shoes, purses, and clothing. The purpose behind all of these items is fairly obvious, but what about a can of Spray-on Mud?
Spray-on Mud is designed for use on the outside of your SUV. It makes it appear that you use your SUV for more than just driving around town or touring down the interstate. Spray it on and friends might think you've just returned from a wilderness adventure. The mud is even filtered to remove stones and debris that might scratch the paint. Apparently, $15 a can seems a reasonable price for the appearance of authenticity.
Anything authentic has a counterfeit. Prayer is no exception. There is authentic prayer and there is a knock-off version of prayer.
This morning, we’re going to look at a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. The main theme throughout the Sermon on the Mount is authenticity. How do we live authentic Christian lives? How do we live when we’re part of the kingdom of God – children of God? Jesus gives some extensive teaching on that very subject. This morning we’re going to focus on the section about authentic prayer.
Authentic Prayer is Practiced in Private
Not Performed in Public
Mt. 6:5-6 – “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 men. I tell you the truth, 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.”
Jesus says, “WHEN you pray…” not “IF you pray…” Jesus expects that those who claim to be Christ-followers will practice an authentic prayer life. But He gives a warning concerning prayer. Jesus warns against prayer motivated by public recognition and a desire to impress others.
Don’t misunderstand what Jesus is saying here. The problem is not praying in public. Jesus prayed in public. He did it at varying times: when He was healing, when He gave thanks for the 5 loaves and 2 fish, when he raised Lazarus from the dead. The problem is not praying in public. It’s praying in public to be seen and noticed by other people.
The basic principle is that if I’m not making time to talk to Him privately, then I shouldn’t be praying to him publicly. If I pray in pubic when I don’t pray privately, people might think I have a great prayer life. But it wouldn’t be true.
Jesus says that this particular practice is hypocritical. Our word hypocrite comes from a Greek term that referred to an actor who changed roles by changing masks. In its biblical application, it’s pretending to be someone in public that you are not in private.
I recently ran across a letter written by a father who wanted to apologize to a certain young man for not allowing him to marry his daughter:
I have been unable to sleep since I broke off your engagement to my daughter. Will you please forgive and forget?
I was much too sensitive about your Mohawk haircut, tattoos and pierced nose. I now realize motorcycles aren’t really that dangerous, and I really should not have reacted that way to the fact that you have never held a job.
I am also very sure that some other very nice people live under the bridge in the park, too. Sure my daughter is only 18 and wants to marry you instead of going to Harvard on full
scholarship. After all, you can’t learn everything about life from books.
I sometimes forget how backward I can be. I was wrong. I was a fool. I have now come to my senses and you have my full blessing to marry my daughter.
Your future father-in-law.
P.S. Congratulations on winning the lottery! (Can you say “ulterior motive”?)
This section of the Sermon on the Mount has to do with authenticity. Jesus starts the section with this statement in Mt. 6:1 – “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Jesus raises the question: Who is your audience? Are you motivated by the applause of people or the applause of God? We need to be careful that our acts of righteousness do not become just a show. Prayer can become a performance.