"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.”
(Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)
Our natural desire is to be seen. Our natural desire is to be recognized. And this desire expresses itself in many ways.
When we serve, we want to be noticed. When we give, we want to be seen. We want others to give us the pat on the back of which we feel deserving.
The desire to be appreciated is perfectly normal. No one wants to be taken for granted. But the attitude I’m discussing goes beyond this. It’s the need to be well thought of. It’s the desire to stand out from the crowd. It’s the longing to be applauded for our efforts.
This desire even finds its way into our prayer life. When we pray, our concern is not so much what we’re saying to God. Our concern is that we be heard. Our concern is how our prayer sounds to others. Our desire is that others come away believing that we are super-spiritual and a person of great faith.
Jesus, in the above passage, warns us against this. In fact, he refers to this attitude as hypocritical. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s a performance being delivered. It’s a mask being worn to present something other than the truth.
If we desire to be seen, that will be our reward. If we desire to be seen, people will see us. They will see us and, perhaps, give us an at-a-boy. But this is all we’ll receive.
Our focus, as we pray, is to be upon the Lord. We should long only to be heard by him. This is why Jesus encourages us to pray in secret. We’re to do so knowing that God, who hears in secret, will reward us.
This statement of Jesus does not forbid public prayer or group prayer. This practice is both demonstrated and encouraged throughout Scripture. It’s an attitude of the heart that’s being addressed. We must not waste our time seeking the applause of men. We must, instead, use it to seek God.