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Hypocritical Prayers

Journal Entry // May 29, 2023

“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. (ESV)

Matthew 6:5

We must not be like the hypocrites. This is the continued theme of Jesus in this section of the sermon. Jesus is following up his instruction about humble giving by moving us into the inner motivation of prayer. You would think that prayer in and of itself would easily be something that is done with humility as we are prostrating ourselves before God to seek him and converse with him. Yet, Jesus warns us that our prayers, much like our giving, can be done with sinful self-focused motivations that are hypocritical by nature. These prayers are given to be seen by others and are not focused on worshipping and conversing with our God.  These hypocritical prayers are the opposite of humbleness as they are meant to be seen by others and to receive their praise.

This is a difficult passage in that I can easily slip into a mode of hypocritical praying without really realizing that my heart’s motivation is wrong. When I am in group situations where prayers are being offered and often expected, it is easy to fall into the trap of being hypocritical. How is this? Well, typically I become overly concerned with what I am going to say in my prayer. I become too focused on the words and lose sight of bringing my praise and worship to the Lord. As others are praying and sharing their heart before God, I become inward and mull over the words that I want to say. I rehearse them. I critique them. I wonder if they will sound spiritual enough. I wonder if I will be seen as intelligent and wise in spiritual matters. I end up wanting to impress those in the prayer circle more than I want to converse with the Lord.

Last weekend I was in a morning prayer group and can see some of my hypocritical tendencies upon reflection. The paragraph above was what first came to mind, but I can also see that I was judging each and every prayer to a degree. Not out of malice or to look down on them, but judging the content of their words nonetheless. I was impressed by some and unimpressed by others. I was intrigued by well-reasoned and timely prayers but allowed my mind to wander at points that seemed boring or redundant. All of this falls into this hypocritical category because I was inwardly focused on the ability of the person giving the prayer instead of the God we were praying to.

It is a bit scary to realize that I can so easily make the act of praying more about me than about Jesus. I must not be like the hypocrites. I must stand against this waywardness in my heart to seek praise from others. The humble act of prayer should be an area where my battle with hypocrisy should be easiest, yet I find this the most difficult at times. I find myself wanting to impress others and display my own understanding and spiritualness. I need this reminder from Jesus to shake me. I need to be shaken out of my stupor of hypocrisy. Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop here but goes on to explain what true humble prayers look like as he guides and directs us to better communicate and worship him.

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