Prayer and forgiveness: authentic or hypocritical?

Posted Jan 13, 2021

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Daily Scripture

Matthew 6:5-15

5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

7 “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. 9 Pray like this:

Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
10 Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
11 Give us the bread we need for today.
12 Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,
just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
13 And don’t lead us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

14 “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.”

Reflection Questions

Jesus didn’t just address giving. He said that even in the act of praying a person can be hypocritical. That happened in his day (as it still does) in public prayers (though Jesus himself at times prayed for his followers to hear). But he said it could also happen in private prayers if the aim was to impress God rather than to communicate authentically. So the prayer Jesus taught was simple and concise. True prayer is not a matter of saying impressive words, but of having the right attitude before God.

  • As with giving, so with praying. Jesus said that doing it mainly to impress others or God of our personal holiness robs the act of its spiritual value. What in Jesus' teaching can help you discern the difference between praying for show (in public or private) and honest, worshipful prayer whose aim is to connect you with the heart of God?
  • In verse 12, Jesus included a key antidote to hypocrisy: realizing that we need God’s forgiveness. We can’t truly accept forgiveness if we’re unwilling to offer it to others. Jesus pointed to our readiness to forgive others as one key sign that our prayer for forgiveness is honest (verse 14). Is there anyone you are struggling to forgive? Are you willing to enter the process of forgiveness, and to ask God to help you with it, no matter how long it takes?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I can write an obvious, abstract definition: “Prayer is honestly talking to God.” The reality is tougher. Help me keep growing so that I highly value talking to you and do it often and honestly. Amen.

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Jennifer Creagar

Jennifer Creagar

Jennifer Creagar is the Financial Care Program Director in Congregational Care at Resurrection Leawood. She is married and loves spending time with her family, and she enjoys writing and photography.

Lately, I’ve heard and seen a lot of essays and personal speeches that were presented as prayer. I have come to think of these public prayers as “weaponized prayer,” and I know that I need to be careful not to use prayer as a weapon in these difficult times. I think it is likely that we’ve all done this at one time or another, and not just in public prayer.

Weaponized prayer happens when we enter into prayer for reasons other than a conversation with “Our Father in Heaven,” and when, instead of asking for God’s will to be done, we proceed to tell God what his will is, and then describe it for other listeners. It happens when, instead of talking directly to God, or listening intently as God talks to us, we begin to talk to someone else in the room. Sometimes, instead of another person, we begin talking to ourselves, making a speech we think we need to hear, or repeating words we hope are true, but know are not. Those prayers are what Jesus calls a “flood of empty words.”

Like any weapon, weaponized prayer can hurt anyone who comes near it. It can make others believe that God only wants “right thinkers” to come to him in prayer. It can make a seeker believe that God doesn’t welcome those who seek answers. When aimed at ourselves, those empty words can convince us that God’s love isn’t real, and that we have to “get everything right” to deserve God’s love.

God wants our conversations with him to be deep and meaningful. Jesus said that God knows what we need before we ask. He knows us. He knows the situation before us. We don’t have to describe it as if we were making an argument. He loves us, even when we don’t love ourselves. Empty words, chosen for reasons other than connecting our own hearts with God’s own heart, aren’t what Jesus describes in Matthew 6:5-15. The prayer Jesus taught has no agenda other than acknowledging God’s holiness, faithfulness, forgiveness, and desire to be a part of our lives. It is prayer that comes straight from our hearts, and never seeks to hurt anyone. It simply seeks to connect to God and listen.

God, thank you for giving us a guide to follow in prayer.
Help us to always follow your guide without any agenda
other than loving you and sharing your love.
Amen

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