Don’t Pray Like a Hypocrite

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When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. What does don’t pray like a hypocrite mean?

Well, ouch. Based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5, the big no-no here is praying to be seen. Jesus told His disciples not to “stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners… to be seen by men.” These days we’d also need to add “small group” and perhaps even “workplace” to “synagogue” or “street corner,” right?

I’m going to take a couple of things from that. First, it’s not so much the praying in public as it is the praying in public to be seen. In other words, if there’s even a tiny corner of your mind that’s engaged in how the people around you are reacting, then you’re most likely praying like a hypocrite.

Second, I’m not so sure the position (standing) is really the issue, unless, again, you’re standing so you can be seen above the crowd—maximum exposure! I could probably even argue this could be referring to the “position of your heart.” Not good.

And it goes without saying that if your goal is to gain recognition for yourself or your spiritual “maturity,” then you have failed at prayer, no matter how eloquent you may feel.

So how should you pray? Verse 6 says, “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Here again, the position of your body—standing, kneeling, prone—is not the issue. The position of your heart is what matters. Is your heart bowed before the Father? Is the Father your sole audience? 

Is it possible to pray in a public venue and not be hypocritical? Sure. As long as your heart and your mind are focused on your Father, and not on whoever may be around you. But it’s far more difficult, because all of us like to have our ego stroked, don’t we? But here’s what you have to gain if you pull it off: “Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

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