Prayer: The Sincere and Authentic Heart

Even though religion is slowly being dismantled, the acceptance of spirituality is at an all-time high.  Prayer and faith, for example, are both rising in popularity and accepted by many, for numerous reasons.  While people are not “religious,” they are highly “spiritual.”  I simply celebrate the very notion that unbelievers are open to a “spiritual realm.”

prayer

Unfortunately, in this conversation of spiritual piety, the Church may be in threat of diluting our special fellowship with God.  We may mean well, but I believe our piety has become more about the right “activity” and “vocabulary,” than about “sincerity” and “authenticity.”

It’s a struggle today, and it was a struggle in Jesus’ day.  Jesus calls us to have a prayer life that is sincere and authentic so we can completely focus on God.

Jesus’ Message (Matthew 6:5-8)

In an effort to explain what authentic piety looks like, Jesus gave us three examples.  The first, was giving money (Giving Money: The Quiet Generous Heart), and the second is prayer:

“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. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.1

At first glance, it appears that “private prayer” is the only authentic form of prayer.  It doesn’t take long, however, before we understand that Jesus is clearly trying to make a point – our prayer life should be sincere and authentic.

Prayer in the New Testament

Prayer for the devote Jew occurred three times every day (Daniel 6:10).2  Prayer was also encouraged in both private and public life in an effort to break down religious segregation and to live out private faith in public spaces.3  What’s interesting, however, is that prayer itself wasn’t unique to the Jews.  The pagans thought if they spoke more words, mentioned more gods, and repeated themselves enough, they would have a better chance of their prayers being answered.4  Jesus clearly witnessed the Jews acting in their spirituality, but also adopting a hypocritical view of prayer.

“Hypocritical” Prayer

When Jesus spoke of being a “hypocrite” in this context, he pointed to a “self-deceit” – when we fool ourselves to thinking our prayer life is directed towards God, when in reality, we are looking for the praise of those around us, and using “empty phrases.”5  Jews during this time, were praying so that others could see and hear their piety.

If we desire for others to view us as “spiritual,” we will receive their praise and forfeit God’s fellowship.  As a result, our prayer becomes hypocritical because it doesn’t draw us into fellowship with God, rather ourselves.  John Stott called it “a mean kind of self-service.”6  In the end, hypocritical prayer only hurts our spirituality and pushes us away from our relationship with God.

This also extends to the words we use when we pray.  The pagans believed “that they [would] be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).  In reality, there is no need to repeat ourselves with empty phrases, unnecessary repetition, or filling silence with religious quotes because God already knows what we need (6:8).

This might be a difficult one to swallow.  I grew up in the Church and I learned all of the proper prayer lingo.  Everything from phrases like “we pray a hedge of protection,” to bible verses, songs, and repeating “Oh, God…” between every thought.  It has become our way of prayer, and in and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with it.  But there is a point to be made here. The ESV translated the Greek word battaloge as “heap up empty phrases,” but the rare word is understood to mean “babbling” or “speaking without thinking.”7

The question is, do we, as believers, use words and phrases just for the sake of using them or to show others our spirituality, or do we sincerely speak and authentically think about what we are praying?  Our intentions may be good, but we may not be as sincere and as authentic as we may think.  After all, these verses serve as a “warning” for us so that we aren’t naively practicing our righteousness (6:1).

I guess the best question to ask ourselves is this: when I pray, does God hear my words and knowledge, or does God hear the sincerity and authenticity of my heart?

“Righteous” Prayer

We rightfully connect our prayer lives with our faith and spirituality and often take this topic personally.  So before I attempt to define righteous prayer, it might be helpful to state what righteous prayer is not.

  • It’s not avoiding pubic prayer. We can’t be quick to make Jesus’ words here an absolute. The issue is about the heart, not about the place of prayer. The early church devoted themselves to the unity of prayer, and so should we (Acts 2:42).
  • It’s not avoiding quoting scripture and other spiritual phrases. For centuries, the Church has used scripture and traditional sayings in prayer. Again, the issue is not what is said, but the authenticity behind what is said.  In fact, I believe the Church would do well in praying more Psalms.
  • It’s not assuming short prayers are best. Jesus used examples to illustrate a principle. As a result, His examples are often specific to the time and place.  For example, in Luke 18, Jesus actually acknowledged the purpose of persistent prayer.

Righteous prayer is all about the HEART.  Prayer is about putting away the selfish appeal of our old-self, and putting on the selfless withdrawal of new life.  Our prayer life should cause us to withdraw ourselves and sincerely connect with God by using thoughtful and meaningful words.8

Prayer for today

Prayer has to be the guiding force in every believer.  In order to do that, our prayer life has to start in the “private prayer room.”  That space doesn’t have to be a physical room, rather a space where you can withdraw and connect with God.  From that sincere and authentic place of prayer, our “public prayer space” will naturally bring glory to God and not to ourselves or others because our attention is already pointed in the right direction.  I believe we fall into the trap of hypocritical prayer because our “private prayer room” is often lacking.  Martin Luther challenged believers to live out a continuous authentic prayer life:

“In the morning and in the evening, at table and whenever he [or she] has time, every individual should speak a benediction or the Our Father or the Creed or a psalm.”9

To help, Jesus gave us a model of prayer (6:9-13).  We call it The Lord’s Prayer.  How do we pray?  In daily fellowship (“daily bread”), we direct our attention to the Father, pray for His glory, the establishment of His kingdom and His will, and have a spirit of forgiveness because He forgave us.  It’s a selfless prayer focused on God the Father.

Your turn…

  1. How can you guard yourself against hypocritical prayer?
  2. How is God calling you to PRAY today?

God wants to connect with us.  He doesn’t want us to draw attention to ourselves or fill our prayers with thoughtless words.  God wants to hear the sincere and authentic prayers of our hearts, and sometimes that means we have to stop and wait before God.

Our sincere and authentic prayer is the kind of faithful prayer that God rewards.

References   [ + ]

People Who Pray – The Early Church (Part 1)

A devoted church, is a praying church.  In this series, we’ll explore what Jesus said, what the early church did, and how we, the church, can become more devoted

What JESUS said about prayer…

Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.  Before giving them a prayer model, he made two comments.  First, there is no need to pray in public places to be heard by those around them.  God hears our prayers in the secret of our hearts.  Second, make sure you don’t use “empty phrases”.  In other words, simple and short is always better than wordy and long.  After all, the “Father knows what you need before you ask him.”[i]  Jesus continued His teaching by giving his disciples a prayer model.  The model we all know well:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”[ii]

This model is all about praying for God’s will to be accomplished while his followers are taken care of.  The key here is “[God’s] will be done.”  Something else to note is that there are no singular pronouns in the prayer.  The prayer doesn’t start with “My Father” or “His Father”, it starts with “Our Father”.  The model includes God’s will for all of us together as one Church body.  Jesus was teaching how the Church needs to be devoted to prayer.

What the EARLY CHURCH did…

The early Church was devoted to prayer.[iii]  This is not only seen in scripture, but also in other early documents like The Didache – a document referring to the teaching of the twelve Apostles.  This first/second century document states that a Christian should say the Lord’s prayer three times daily.[iv]

By the fourth century, tradition called for a Christian to pray seven times daily.  This seemed to differ based on whether a Christian was home or not.  Without question, however, a Christian should pray at rising, during the lighting of the evening candle, at bed time, and midnight.[v]

As Christianity developed, scripted prayers became a common way to help a Christians engage in prayer.  Many main-line denominations continue to use prayer books and scripted prayers today.

What EARLY PENTECOSTALS did…

For early Pentecostals, prayer was one of the most significant activities.  To pray, meant to open themselves to what the Spirit is doing among them.  Being a denomination that was built on the activity of the Spirit, prayer became a major aspect of Pentecostal spirituality.

As a part of their spiritual life, early Pentecostals prayed in the Spirit.  Steven Jack Land[vi] suggests that there are three ways early Pentecostals did this:

1) With words known to others – letting the Spirit guide their words as they prayed

2) With no words – groaning, crying and laughing in response to what the Spirit was doing.

3) With words unknown to others – praying in tongues.  Using a prayer language to speak to God.

Praying in the Spirit was also a part of the believer’s daily walk with God.  Alice Garrigus[vii], the Pentecostal pioneer of Newfoundland, was praying when she read The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.[viii]  She wrote,  “…often on my knees, eyes blinded with tears praying fervently, ‘O God, if there be such an experience, won’t you bring me into it?'”[ix]

It’s safe to say early Pentecostals relied on prayer.  It wasn’t only a significant part of the church service, but also the heart of the believer.  They were devoted to it!

What the CHURCH TODAY needs to do…

As we explore what those before us did, it’s important for us to ask: “are we devoted to prayer in this generation? Do we use the Lord’s prayer as our prayer model? Is prayer the center of our lives?”  If we want to see God move, then we must first pray for God’s will to be accomplished; and second, pray for God to supply our needs and the needs of others along the way.

Let’s commit to a private prayer life and to a praying Church – a Church who prioritizes prayer, meets regularly to pray, and realizes that prayer always precedes something beautiful.  If your church holds weekly prayer meetings or pre-service prayer times, attending these, might be a great way to start placing prayer as a priority.

Will we be devoted people who pray?

 


[i] Matthew 6:5-8, ESV.

[ii] Matthew 6:9-13, ESV.

[iii] Acts 2:42, ESV.

[iv] Maxwell Standiforth, trans., Early Christian Writings: the Apostolic Fathers (penguin Classics) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1968), 231.

[v] Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967), 272.

[vi] Steven Jack Land, Pentecostal Spirituality (Cleveland: CPT Press, 2010), 166-172.

[vii] About Garrigus (http://www.heritage.nf.ca/society/pentecostal.html), Writings by Garrigus (http://www.mun.ca/rels/pent/).

[viii] Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2010)

[ix]Alice B. Garrigus, “Walking In The King’s Highway” Chapter 4, Memorial University, http://www.mun.ca/rels/pent/texts/king/king4.html (accessed January 4, 2013).