A few years ago, I attended a prayer vigil for a missing child. After the pastor gave a homily, we were invited to form groups of ten people to pray. The pastor gave very explicit directions and said that if people felt uncomfortable praying aloud, they were welcome to remain silent. I was in a group of folks from different faith systems, including a man who described himself as an atheist. I was surprised that each person elected to pray when it was his or her turn. I think my favorite prayer came from the atheist. He simply said, “God, I don’t know what to say. But hear every else’s prayer.”
That might have been the best prayer of the night.
Matthew 6:5-6 (Contemporary English Version)
5 When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward.
6 When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. PRAY TO YOUR FATHER in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you.
Our focus on prayer during this season of Lent brings us to this passage in Matthew. Jesus is warning against the hypocrisy of praying loudly for the sake of praying loudly. I think we can stretch this a bit and consider that it warns against all kinds of hypocrisy in the church. If our intentions grow beyond serving the Lord with humble gladness, we have lost our way. You and I have seen preachers who parade around the stage calling attention to themselves. We have sat beside the matriarch dripping in jewels who seeks to bar “others” from participation in the church. We have watched the soloist sing a song for the sake of performance and adulation, not worship. We’ve watched the fog machines that defined “contemporary worship” go in and out of style. Pretense is not worship. Pretense is not worthy of our Lord.
Prayer is a calling to “get naked” with God. This certainly is an activity that should be done in a room alone. God invites us to strip off all pretense of faux righteousness and come clean. I have a friend who invites God to do “heart surgery” on him when he prays, and the analogy is good. Lying under a hospital sheet and exposing our hearts to the great Physician’s scapel is a Lent-worthy endeavor.
As we continue to move through this Lenten journey, I challenge you to set aside all your facades and just be real with God. Ask him to reveal any unconfessed sin that remains hidden deep, and be willing to be searched and known by him. I promise you that God will hear this prayer and heal you of everything that stands between you and him.
Use this beautiful verse from Psalm 139 as you pray:
Psalm 139 (New Revised Standard Version)
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!