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Should Christians Pray in Public? (podcast)

Greg explores quality prayer in light of Matthew 6:5-8. Dan fails at humor.

Episode 1101

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Dan: So Matthew asks about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6, verses 5-8. Jesus teaches that we shouldn’t pray in synagogues or street corners so as to be seen by others, but doesn’t this mean that Christians should decline to participate in things like National Day of Prayer Breakfasts, or praying outside of abortion clinics (which happens to literally be on street corners). And second, Jesus says to not keep on babbling like pagans, because they think they will be heard because of their many words. So at what point is a prayer too long? Of course I don’t expect or want a literal answer, like a certain number of minutes or anything like that, assuming that Jesus said this for a reason, there must be some characteristic of a prayer that makes it too wordy. How do we know if ours are?

Greg: All right. Thank you Matthew for that question. It’s always really important to ask, “What’s the underlying principle of something? What’s the real issue that’s being got at here?” So on the one hand you could say, don’t be praying these long prayers like the pagans. So he asks, “How long is too long? How many words is too many words?” He says, “Don’t be praying on the street corners or the synagogues.” Then, okay, can we pray publicly in the subways? How about in office spaces? So you’re missing the mark if you’re looking for those kinds of applications of it. What’s the underlying principle? And the underlying principle behind the teaching is that Jesus is saying, “Don’t pray in a way where you’re getting your reward now.” That’s a phrase he uses all the time: “They have their reward.” So the reason they’re praying out in public, praying in the synagogue, is because they’re getting kudos for it. They’re doing it because—“Oh, look how holy those people are. They pray,” blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, if your motive for praying these long babbling prayers, or whatever, if your motive is to get attention and to be regarded as holy and that’s your social status, well, it worked, there you go, you got your reward! But it’s got zero to do with your reward in heaven. You’ve got it now. So that’s what Jesus has against ostentatious praying. Praying to be known and it’s virtue signaling. That’s the word we use today. So don’t use your prayer to virtue signal. But if it’s appropriate and you’re asked to pray in public at some kind of public event or what have you, no one’s going to think, “Oh, you’re righteous for doing that.” And so there’s no problem doing that. Conversations with God should be conversations with God, and not about trying to virtue signal or whatever. And so, you know, I’ve been in contexts where people do pray in ways where they’re kind of virtue signaling. There’s certain religious language that goes with it. You know, “Oh God—-comest thou hither … and beseech Thee and Thy bounty and Thy goodness, and blah blah blah blah blah.” Come on, when you’re talking to God, talk the way you talk to each other. God’s a person. Talk to him like he’s a person, not a Santa Claus in the sky and we’re trying to impress. Don’t get your reward now. Don’t get kudos now. Do it in secret.
Dan: Yeah, that’s good.
Greg: Of all the people I know that pray in secret, I pray in secret more than anyone. I go before the Lord for hours on end. I don’t want anyone to know about it because I don’t want to have my reward now. (sarcasm)
Dan: I’m just grateful that you took time away from prayer to answer questions.
Greg: It’s a labor for me to even come out of the closet (laughter).


Send Questions To:

Dan: @thatdankent
Email: askgregboyd@gmail.com
Twitter: @reKnewOrg

Greg’s new book: Inspired Imperfection
Dan’s new book: Confident Humility




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