“Teach Us to Pray”

This is not only the title of one of our booklets, but it was a genuine request by the apostles to Christ, which can be found in Luke 11:1. It expressed a sincere desire on their part to learn how to pray. In Matthew 6:7-14, we can find the outline as to how and for what to pray. This outline is not something we are to repeat routinely, word for word, but rather, it is a guide as to what to pray about, while we are to fill in the gaps, as it were.

I was once asked if I was embarrassed or ashamed to pray in public. The individual told me Christ prayed in public. He thus felt justified to pray publicly anytime and everywhere he wanted.

On the surface this might seem quite plausible until we peel back some of the layers and have a good look at it from a deeper perspective.

It has been a long-time practice of the Church of God not to generally pray in public, and we should look at the reasons why. It is true that Christ prayed at times in public, but one must look at the circumstances surrounding these events. Here is one example, in Mark 6:40-41:

“So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.”

Here is another example, in Mark 8:6:

“So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude.”

The people were there to listen to the message of Christ. This was similar to a public lecture or to a wedding, where people are there by invitation and a prayer is given to open the session or to ask God’s blessing on the food. Christ also prayed publicly just before He resurrected Lazarus from the dead. He did so to prove to those who were present and mourned over Lazarus’ death that God was hearing Him (John 11:41-44). He also uttered “public” prayers when He was being crucified  (compare Matthew 27:46). He was mostly concerned about speaking to God during the final minutes of His life, and He did not care too much as to who might have been present at that time to overhear His prayers.

However, those who insist on praying in public everywhere and anytime they please, especially with a desire to show those who may happen to be there how “righteous” and “religious” they are, are ignoring the clear and explicit instructions of Christ whom they supposedly worship. He tells us in Matthew 6:5-6:

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Nothing could be clearer. Those who do not comply with this simple instruction are in disobedience, and they have their reward, being seen by men. The Pharisees loved to put on a big show, but it was all in vain. That is the reason why we do not generally pray in public. Our focus is not on a reward or temporary recognition which we might now receive from man, but we look to a future enduring reward that shall not perish.

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