Etiquette has all but gone out of style. In a world focused on selfies, pot-stirring posts, road rage, and entitlement, the “niceties” of our grandparents’ era have flown out the proverbial window. When I was first married, my mother-in-law gave me her copy of the Military Wives’ Etiquette Handbook. I scoffed when I read passages that referred to gloves and the girdle-wearing directives that were common in her generation of Navy wifing, but some of the foundational instructions were spot on. Courtesy, manners, proper small talk at large events, the appropriate use of forks and elbows at the table … there was a code, and we all lived by it.
Now people wear pajamas in church, fight (sometimes with their fists) with flight attendants over FAA regulations, drive as though they are the only ones on the highway, and think nothing of cutting you off at the gas station or the grocery check-out line.
Where are our manners?
In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus gave us instruction on prayer and giving to the poor etiquette. In short, he advises that we approach these things with sincerity and avoid attention:
Matthew 6 (Common English Bible)
6 “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
I once heard a wonderful speaker named Terry Tykle liken prayer to playing the lottery. He said that just as people buy more tickets to increase their chance of winning, some of us use more words when we pray to try to increase our chance of getting God’s attention. Jesus agrees that this is not a good or necessary practice:
7 “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard.8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask.
I love that last sentence. Your Father knows what you need before you ask. A plethora of words isn’t necessary … just a sincere word that comes from a genuine heart.
God loves when we approach our religious life with humility. After all, his son approached the cross that way. So when you have the opportunity to give, share, lead, and pray, remember Jesus’ example and do it quietly. That is the best way to shine a light on your relationship with God.
After all, he knows.