Justin, you got me thinking.
Jesus speaks about doing what is right and godly. He has (at least) three good aims for the doer of righteousness. They’re all true!
To be seen by people
Matthew 5:16 esv
… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Not to be seen by people, but by God our father
Matthew 6:1, 4 esv
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
… And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
To act naturally and without plan, let alone an aim to be seen
Matthew 25:37 esv
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?’
- It’s worth aiming for people to see righteousness.
Because it will glorify God that his people do well.
- It’s important that we aim to please God, not people.
Because it’s easy, superficial and hypocritical to impress others. Only God’s ‘well done’ is worth hearing.
- We shouldn’t have any aims at all.
Because righteousness is not a show.
By which I means to ask, ‘For how long should we pray?’
With the title of this post, I’ve taken a powerful biblical question (see the powerful prayer for justice and comfort in Psalm 13) and twisted it to be about something different. Because that’s what I feel we do with Jesus’ words on prayer.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6 (esv)
I confess: I know he speaks the truth, but I am forever tempted not to believe him.
I have a tendency – shared with all Christians, I think – to judge that more must be better. More impressive. More effective. This turns prayer away from relationship and into pragmatics. Here are some things I have heard:
~ ‘You should be praying for at least half an hour a day’
~ ‘You really find out what prayer is when you spend all night in prayer’
~ ‘What a great hero of faith was NN. S/he spent three hours every morning in prayer’
What’s wrong here? They forget Jesus’ warning. They measure godliness by word count. It’s not that using words in prayer is bad – words are essential. It’s just that this is not the way to make an assessment of faithfulness.
So, for me, when I seek to improve in prayerfulness I always seek to avoid simply judging how I’m going by how many phrases I manage to pile up.