Jesus continues to describe the faulty and empty actions that the Pharisees carry out while performing “religious” acts. “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” (verse 5). The Pharisees did every act for other people, and not in a selfless way where others could benefit and learn from their example. It’s really a shame, because our leaders should be instructing us and should have characteristics we want to imitate and put into practice in our own lives. Yet unfortunately, the Pharisees were very poor leaders. Every time the Pharisees prayed or taught, it was in public where they could be seen and heard by everyone. When Jesus talks about them receiving their reward, he is speaking about the attention the Pharisees get from others. It’s hard to be in a position of authority and not let it go to your head. Yet we look to Jesus and we see him setting this example. Jesus was frequently around large groups of people teaching, but look at how he acted around his disciples: his conduct was always as a servant, and he never tried to parade himself in front of others. The next verse is one of my personal favorite verses in the Gospel. “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 you in secret will reward you” (verse 6). This type of prayer is a complete contradiction to the way the Pharisees did everything. And it’s in these prayers that I really struggle the most. Being raised in church, I know how to pray publicly for any type of ceremony. It’s almost rehearsed in my head beforehand. I realize that sounds awful, and it is. It’s hard for me to pray alone in my room to God. What am I supposed to say? There is no one to impress, no one that I receive affirmation from, and no one to hold my hand. Yet I think some of my most intimate moments with the Lord have come from my moments of prayer done alone. It’s awkward for me, and I mumble a lot and feel rather foolish. Yet I find when I’m alone I can really be honest with God. I don’t have to socially frame words based on the people I’m around. I think this is why Jesus prayed so much by himself to God. He recognized that the reward from God was the gift of just being able to be in communication with God. That’s the reward we get when we pray alone. And I’m not saying praying in groups or in front of others means God isn’t there. There are plenty of verses in the Bible which state how we’re to pray together. I’m simply saying that when we pray alone, we can really examine our hearts and worship God without as many distractions or barriers. Jesus’s heart was that we could experience a special kind of relationship with our Father and intimately get to seek Him out through prayer. I would encourage everyone who doesn’t have some sort of quiet prayer time to make time in your day for that activity. It is very rewarding.
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