“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever 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. “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
One morning a few weeks ago I was driving somewhere and listening to the Glenn Beck program on the radio. (Why was I doing that?) I did not listen for long, but I heard him do an ad for gold coins. He said very earnestly that he was not an investment advisor and told his listeners not to rely on him for investment advice, but he wanted to be clear that gold was going up in value and many advisors were recommending it. “But don’t take my advice,” he cautioned, “I will say to you what I would say to my own family, ‘pray on it.’” And then he repeated the advice, “Pray on it.”
I went back to country music. But I was haunted by the commercial. The program is nationally syndicated. I wondered how many people heard that message and ended up thinking this is how Christians pray. This is what they pray about. This is what they believe. Christians, one might conclude, are people who use prayer to sell gold coins. Those are scary thoughts.
It is not easy to be a Christian today in the United States. We are not persecuted, and we should never confuse our frustrations with real oppression. But it is hard to live out a real faith in a time when there is so much posturing.
In the verses preceding the passage above, Jesus said to “beware of practicing your piety before others, to be seen by them.” His concern was pride. And rightly so.
But in our time, the piety that is practiced in public is often a caricature of real faith. I’m guessing there are many people whose understanding of Christianity is shaped only by those caricatures. That’s not a happy thought.