As we saw with the beatitudes, all through chapter 5 of Matthew Jesus uses a similar format in each series of teachings. Having warned us about hypocritical giving, He now teaches us about hypocritical prayer, “And 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.”
God is not a hypocrite. God says what He means, and means what He says. He always does what He says He will do, and never does what He says He will not do. God has integrity. Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy as good is the opposite of evil.
The hypocrite claims to speak to God by the prompting of God, but really speaks only to men by the prompting of him/herself. So the power of a hypocrite’s prayer is limited to the words of a sinner. Such may prompt mankind’s momentary attention and approval, especially if what they are saying speaks to what you are already thinking. It can even result in moving your hands to applause. But it will not move God’s hand at all.
In reality, what the hypocrite practices is a distortion of the idea of prayer. It does not warrant God’s answer, for it is a call to their fellow man and not a call to God at all – it does nothing to bring Him glory. It is therefore empty, devoid of power and a tragic waste of time for the pray-er as well as the listener. Jesus specifically tells us to avoid this, “do not be like the hypocrites.” It is a warning against being powerless, against wasting time, against missing the point of who our Father is.
God is a rewarder of those that seek Him. If you seek Him less than half-heartedly, you can know that He will reward you accordingly. This is irony, that those who put their faith on display more for the sake of men than for God get exactly what that display earned; The most temporary applause of created beings who will soon forget what happened. That is because the power in prayer comes not from the being that speaks to God, but from God, who both prompts the being to pray according to His will, and then answers the prayer to accomplish His will. This is to His glory, and we were created expressly for the purpose of reflecting and magnifying God’s glory. So powerful prayer is prayer that calls forth and results in God’s magnified glory.
It is folly to think that we can only do that within earshot of others. God is glorified right now, entirely out of earshot. In fact, all of heaven worships Him day and night, completely beyond our field of view. The four living beings around His throne speak His praise, the angels sing to His praise, the heavenly temple shakes with His glory. We hear none of this with our ears and we see none of that with our eyes, yet it happens every day. God does not need a human audience to be glorified, least of all by pretending.
What glorifies God is the fulfillment of His will and the realization of creation’s purpose. That happens when we do what we made to do. When we worship Him in the beauty of holiness – in thanksgiving and praise and adoration. When we call forth His creative power in supplications, petitions and intercession. Such things do not need other people to witness them anymore than we need to watch grass for it to grow. They only need us to come before Him, and pray.
But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.King David (from Psalm 55:16-17)
What time to you regularly set apart for prayer?