ARE YOU PLAYING THE HYPOCRITE PART TWO
Jesus said (paraphrasing of course) “Don’t play the hypocrite/actor, the mask wearing faker, who is outwardly beautiful but full of hypocrisy.” So now! Jesus moves to the second spiritual discipline of prayer that we are to be extremely careful not to play like the hypocrite.
But first! How did Jesus Pray?
He Thanked The Father For His Pleasure In Hiding Truth From Some And Revealing It To Others. “At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Matt 11:25-26
Jesus Publicly Thanked The Father That He Hears His Prayers So That Others Will Believe The Father Sent Him. “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." John 11:41-42
Jesus Openly Acknowledges His Troubled Soul In Light Of His Coming Death On The Cross, But Affirms His Commitment To The Purposes Of God In His Incarnation. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." John 12:27-28
Jesus Prays For Peter That His Faith Will Not Fail So That In Time Peter Will Return To Christ And Strengthen The Faith Of Others. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Luke 22:31-32
While Suffering On The Cross, Jesus Prays To The Father Three Times.
First prayer “And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34. Second prayer “Jesus cried with a loud voice,…."My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mark 15:34. Third prayer “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last.: Luke 23:46
This is only a sample of our Lord
and Savior’s prayer life.
Chapter 17 of John is completely dedicated to His prayer to Father, as He reflects on the finishing task of bringing glory to the Father, though His earthly ministry and sacrificial death. Yet still asking the Father this in His prayer “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:9-17
Jesus knew the importance of prayer as He is our example of what our prayer life should be. Prayer in its simplest form and understanding is a conversation with God. Prayer is a child of God talking to his heavenly Father, and listening to his Father by His Word illumined by the Spirit of God. And here in this portion of His sermon, Jesus says be watchful of your motives when you pray.
To help us to become more like Jesus when
we pray, He gives us some basic guidelines and principles.
1. Pray Sincerely To Your Heavenly Father (v5)
Prayer should be a regular habit of one’s life as a disciple of Christ. (v5) begins, “when you pray.” which gives the idea that you and I, will pray. Prayer is important! Because He follows up with what? “You must not be like the hypocrites….” (v5) Why are we not to treat prayers as some skilled actor does to play a part in a movie or T.V. series? We are never to pretend to be someone you are not. Prayer is not to put on a show for others to see how spiritual you are.
Why would Jesus say this?
He is exposing the hypocrites that are present and future hypocrites in the making. See! Hypocrites are not sincere when they pray; they pray to boast self above others. That was evident in the prayer I read to you last week about the Pharisee and tax-collector who went to the temple to pray in Luke 18:9-14.
The hypocrite prays but isn’t heard, and he/she stands
lacking before a holy God.
The hypocrite used prayer as an opportunity, like a street performer does trying to get people to watch their show. The hypocrite that Jesus exposes would do this daily in the afternoon during temple sacrifices and public fasting.
Why? Because when the trumpet was blown as a sign that is was time to pray. This was the perfect opportunity for everyone see how spiritual you were. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…” Luke 18:11. Remember what Job said about this kind of person? “Let my enemy be as the wicked, and let him who rises up against me be as the unrighteous. For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off, when God takes away his life? Will God hear his cry when distress comes upon him? Will he take delight in the Almighty? Will he call upon God at all times? Job 27:7-10
The hypocrite only prays to show how righteous they think they are. They pray to display how close they are to God. They pray to reveal how rich and blessed they are over others. That’s why they love the best seats in the synagogues and to be seen in the marketplace. That’s why they love to wear clothing that stands out above others and seat at the best tables during the feasts. They want and seek the glory and the limelight to shine for “Self” and not to “glorify our Father” who is in Heaven. Hypocrites love to flaunt their “false spirituality”; this is the reward they seek. And what does Jesus say about this again “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (v5c)
The hypocrite mastered this art of outward spirituality. Synagogue prayer was led by a member of the congregation who stood before the Ark of the Law. They would raise their hands, and hold them there for the duration of the prayer. This was their opportunity to become preachy, using the cliché words, have dramatic pauses, and change emphasis on certain words, or change their voice to make it more dramatic to impress the crowd. It is said that ancient Rabbis maintained that the longer the prayer, the more likely it would be heard and heeded by God. What you pray, and how long you pray, has nothing to do with prayer, but what proceeds from heart is what matters.
And Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of this
vain, empty, babbling, called ‘prayer’.”
Historically pagans have been known to “recite mantras, and repeat nonsensical syllables” in order to achieve some mystical transcendence. Using prayer to change the environment or one’s circumstances. We see this in action when Elijah is with the prophets of Baal. So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, "O Baal, hear us!" But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made. And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened." So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.” 1 Kings 18:26-29
What Jesus says here should cause us to examine our own heart motives when we pray publically. Public and corporate prayer was something the early church did; as seen in the Book of Acts. But unfortunately there were people who would pray as a way to show how spiritual, or self-focused, they truly are. Babbling along to impress others, doesn’t impress anyone….especially a holy God.
Why do I say that?
2. Pray Secretly To Your Heavenly Father (v6)
Disclaimer: neither the Bible nor Jesus condemns public prayer. What Jesus is exposing was the desire to be seen praying publically. This is a vital part to our worship and a component to our worship. What Jesus is warning here is using prayer as a “mere formal or ritualistic way”. Understand our public and corporate prayer cannot substitute for private and individual prayer.
Jesus says this is vital for
the child of God.
So Jesus says find somewhere quiet and private so that there is no distractions or interruptions. Close the door because prayer is the avenue that God has blessed us with to see the Father, who is Heaven. Prayer isn’t about a show we put on for others to see how spiritual we are This is why we see the word “secret” repeated.
What Jesus is trying to reveal to us is;
“What we are in private is who we truly are.”
And our Father, who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-seeing, knows who you really are in secret. The basic definition of prayer is “Communion with God” and if God is not there, then your prayer is “Communion with self”
Think about this….
Who are you when only God is watching?
What are you like when only God is watching?
These are searching questions for the soul. Because we are all before the One who is invisible; not to be seen with the eyes of the body. But to be approached with a true heart, in faith and fear, through His Son Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man. And its knowing this truth that Paul boldly said “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,” Eph 3:14. Our prayers are to intimate, singleness in mind, focused, towards one person, and that one person being God, Himself. See! The hypocrite prays for the approval of others. Where the true child of God, seeks the approval of our Heavenly Father who sees you for who you truly are.
The “secret place” is the where we know we will never be betrayed because many things we share are for Him to hear alone. The most important thing we need to understand here is that the Father “sees”. God, who “sees” the secret places of our hearts, and only He has access to you day and night. A great example of this is found in the Gospel of John. “Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!" Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe? You will see greater things than these." John 1:44-50 When God is the audience of our heart in prayer, we will have the reward only He can give. What that reward is? We do not know here in this passage; but whatever it is, we know that God is Faithful to do as He promises.
3. Pray Specifically To Your Heavenly Father
Don’t pray with mindless, rote, chants and recitals; this is what the hypocrites do and the how pagans pray. As one theologian said “Although Jesus was devoted to prayer, His prayers were not memorized recitals given at the whim of the clock. His prayers were intensely personal, often spontaneous, and an expression of His deep communion with the Father.” So when you pray don’t “heap up empty phrases” or use “vain repetition” this is only speaking nonsense over and over. As one writer put it “Many words do not equal either sincere prayer or a guarantee you will be heard. God cannot be manipulated by hounding him with silly and empty repetitions. “Don’t be like them” because your heavenly Father is not like these pagan idols who are no gods at all. He is an omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient Father who “knows the things you need before you ask him.”
As Isaiah wrote “It shall come to pass That before they call, I will answer; And while they are still speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24
Even before you pray God will answer even while we are still speaking. We are to talk to God as a child loves to talk to their parents. We are to talk to Him as He is. Perfect and Lord over everything and there is nothing I need to bring to impress a God like Him. We simple come to the throne of His grace, seeking Him for grace over our lives. We cry, we call out to Him in prayer; who loves you perfectly because of His Son. We cry, we call out to Him, because He is in Heaven and He is ready, willing and able.
Again we are never to jump to conclusions that Jesus is forbidding repetition of genuine requests. We know that’s not true by what Jesus said about the persistent neighbor at midnight, (Luke 11:5-10) or the widow before the ungodly judge. (Luke 18:2-7) Paul prayed persistently and repeated his request three times. “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Cor 12:7-9
These are specific requests and not some empty, mindless babbling. Its sincere prayer requests that God desires of our heart, not empty vain repletion.
This is why Jesus is warning us not be pray like the hypocrites do; because our prayers, public or private will never rise beyond self. The purpose of prayer is not to inform or persuade God but to come before Him with a sincere and purposeful heart. The Father “knows what we need” before we ask Him.
God the Father wants to hear us, He wants to
commune with us, more than you realize.
This is a warning to us CBC Family as well. When we pray publically and in privately, we shut door to all distractions and focus completely on God. God is never impressed by our words, only what comes out from the heart. James Boice said this to his church one Sunday in light of this passage. “I believe that not one prayer in a hundred of those that fill our churches on a Sunday morning is actually made to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are made to men or to the praying one himself, and that includes the prayers of the preachers as well as those of the members of the congregation.” What James Boice says here has a lot of truth to it, because if you looked back at all the times you prayed is there any evidence of this in your life?
I think to some degree we are all
guilty of this from time to time.
Do I pray frequently or more fervently when I am alone with God than when I am in public?
Is my public praying an overflow of my private prayer?
What do I think of when I’m praying publically?
Do I look for the right words and thinking what others
will think of me…over what God thinks?
Am I a spectator to my own prayer performance?
What Jesus means here is for us to examine our own heart motives. And what Jesus exposes here is that we are never to do that …because that’s what the hypocrites do. Be careful not to do acts of righteousness before men, because if you do…”You already have your reward.” Prayer is one of those spiritual blessing that we need more help with understand why and who we are praying to. We are never to stop praying… but we are to be praying from a genuine heart towards a holy God who is sovereign over all.
Remind yourself of that truth as Jesus said “When you pray”. “O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139:1-10