Prayer: Public vs. Private

Image result for man on his knees praying

In my teaching career, I have had many experiences with students who like the “limelight.” From a speech teacher’s point of view, this makes life easier. These students do not have stage fright and they can concentrate on other aspects of making a public presentation.

Since I am writing about a book on prayer, let’s view public prayer as a “speech event.”   Some may not want to think of prayer that way, but in reality, a public prayer has several things in common with a speech.

I want to focus on the person who prays and likes to be seen praying; they like the “limelight.”

The Bible has something to say about the person who likes to put on a show as they pray. Matthew 6: 1, 5 states “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. . . . 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.”

This is pretty harsh criticism but it is based on seeing into a person’s heart.   I don’t have the power to see into a person’s heart, but Jesus suspected that some public prayer by the Pharisees and Sadducees was designed to make them appear righteous and they didn’t have the right motives for what they were doing.

A public speaker who really enjoys making presentations can be a good thing, and in my opinion the lack of stage fright frees the speaker to concentrate on crafting a message that can benefit the audience.   However, I have seen that go wrong too.   Some people love being up in front of others so much that they will do anything to call attention to themselves.   Content can suffer, audience understanding can be scuttled in favor of attention getting material and the whole speech event is just a way to get the audience to respond to the speaker.

This is manipulation whether it is a Pharisee or an attention-loving speaker. The Pharisees were manipulating the audience in order to look more righteous than others.   The speaker manipulates the audience in order to get a positive response [ie. adoration].

Here is where we have to draw the line. It is one thing to manipulate an audience; it is something else to manipulate God.   W. Bingham Hunter states “God, like all personal beings, dislikes being used by others in pursuit of objectives which are personally offensive to Him.   What Jesus is really saying in Matthew is that if the reward of public prayer is flattery, the idea that we should commune with God and grow our faith is lost.

Where is a better place to pray if your public prayers have incorrect motives?   Matthew 6:6 says that “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.”

In today’s world, the big challenge is to find time alone to be with God.   Many say they just don’t have the time; some just don’t have the discipline, and others don’t put prayer high up on their priority list. Yet the practice of daily personal devotions has been a characteristic of sincere Christians for centuries. In the book of Daniel it says “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God.”

What is the outcome of daily devotional prayer in private? Over time, one can build a relationship with God. This relationship leads to a stable life with God in times of joy and in times of trouble.

Let me repeat, I cannot see into the hearts of men. When I see someone pray and they want to be seen as righteous, I can only suspect that. I don’t know.   When I hear a speaker make a presentation and they want to be adored by their audience, I can only suspect that. I don’t know.

As Christians, we should be about doing anything which “allows us to come in times of crisis and triumph and find the strength to keep life in perspective . . .His perspective.”

The safest alternative for prayer: private prayer.

Just you and your Lord…


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