When Ye Pray, Be Not As The Hypocrites Are
Our Lord first teaches how we should not pray, then he also tells us how we should pray. To the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well He said: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24).
Paul teaches in I Timothy 2:8: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling and or doubting.” He said in verse 1 “First of all, then, I exhort that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all people.” The essence of this is that all children of God shall be praying people. If we have a period of devotion in the morning before starting the day's work, and again in the evening before we retire for the night we can kneel for prayer, and giving thanks, as the Apostle exhorted, then our devotions are “first of all.” The true Christian also has many occasions during the day to thank and praise the Lord without formally kneeling down.
Now for our text: 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 openly. (Matthew 6:5-6).
The Lord said: “And when you pray.” The word “you” refers to a single individual, it means me, and it means you. At that time people lived in towns and villages: then there were those who stepped out of their houses on the street corners where the large crowds passing by could see them pray. The Lord denounced this practice as hypocrisy, which indeed it was.
This, however, does not forbid all preaching and praying on the open streets. When one is called of God to do evangelistic and mission work such services are in order when circumstances call for it: but as soon as any preaching or praying is done to be seen of men, and to gain per-eminence among them, it becomes hypocrisy, whether it is done on street corners, or in our home, or at our parishes.
Oh, fellow priest, let us be in earnest in preaching the doctrine of Jesus Christ; seeking the salvation of all mankind with our sermons and not the honor of men.
We are too imperfect and undeserving of any honors, and at the best we are only unworthy servants in ourselves. As soon as we seek honors among men with our prayers, then the blessings of God are cut off. Jesus makes this plain in His parable of the Pharisee and the publican who went into the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14).
Jesus said: “go into your room and shut the door.” Some theologians spiritualize this to mean “the closet or chamber room of the heart” which is also right and good, since it is very essential that we lock the door of our heart against all worldly, idle thought, yes, against envy, hate, and seeking the praise of men to receive the promised blessings of God. But in this case He speaks of a natural room, because he was discussing the literal act of praying on natural street corners, and the act of entering a natural secret, private room to pray is the opposite of the other act.
When you-personally-feel your weakness and shortcomings, and your heart is heavy laden with sin, then go into your secret closet and lock both doors; the one to seclude you from the presence of your fellow men (who may confuse your thoughts), and the other with the key of faith, that you may commune with your Father who sees into the secrets of your heart, and will reward you openly. That is to say, He will answer your requests and bless you with strength and grace to walk in the light as a follower of Jesus Christ, here in this world, as well as in the world to come.
In verse seven the Lord says: “And when you are praying, use not vain or empty repetitions , as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard.” “When you are praying.” We said the word “you” relates to a private individual. The word “you” applies to any number, from the “two or three” of Matthew 18:19-20 to an infinite multitude. The larger the assembly the greater the temptation to indulge in vain, empty, repetition. Hence, this urgent warning, for which I am also very grateful. Here we can see that the blessing is not promised for the many words.
“Here, in Matthew 6: 7, Long prayer is not forbidden; for Christ himself spent whole nights in prayer: and he said, we must pray always; and Paul said, that we must pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; and the Church has had from the beginning her canonical hours for prayer. It is rhetorical and elaborate prayer, as if we thought to persuade God by our eloquence, is forbidden.” - George Leo Haydock
St. John of Damascas gave a classic definition of prayer: "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God".
Its does not mean to hire someone for wages. If we wish to do something which we cannot do by ourselves, then we request...we ask our neighbors to help us: they come willingly, and with our united effort we can accomplish what we by no means could have done by ourselves. Then we offer a hearty “thank-you,” without many aimless words. We should have a purpose in view, and feel our need for divine inspiration each time we kneel to pray, and when we receive the anointing we should also return thanks from the depth of our heart, and not only with our lips, with many charming phrases to be seen and heard of men, lest “we have our reward.”
In verse eight the Lord tells us why we should not make many unnecessary words as the heathen do: “Be not you therefore like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask him.” Yes, He knows our needs better than we do ourselves. He knows about our distress and afflictions, and what storms of temptation at times best us. Yes, my wish is that by the grace of God we may all be protected from seeking the honor of man with such pagan repitions.