Praying in public can be really intimidating. I think part of the reason it’s so intimidating is that you might feel like you don’t pray really well, like some people in church. You know the guys I’m talking about, right? They pray for 5 minutes, and they pepper their prayers with lots of fancy theological words. I’ve known people to do this, and it gave me a false sense of what prayer should be like. I felt like I had to go through this whole routine every time I prayed, especially when I prayed out loud in front of other Christians. I didn’t want to seem like a lightweight.
And then I read Matthew 6:5-8. I’ve heard some say that this passage means that one should never pray in public. I think that’s a bit of stretch. But I certainly believe that this passage puts to shame the idea that one should get up and impress people with their lengthy prayres. I think it means that it’s a joke to write out an eloquent prayer and read it in church. I also think it means that God’s really not as impressed with you as you are when you try to wow people with the depth of your theological knowledge when you were simply asked to pray for the offering. Not only do I think these things are wrong and displeasing to God, I think it intimidates the crap out of young people who might otherwise pray in church. It can be like pulling teeth to get young people to pray in children’s and youth ministry, and I think it’s because they don’t think they know how to.
Right after this passage in Matthew, Jesus demonstrates what prayer should look like: it wasn’t fancy; it wasn’t elaborate; it was a simple prayer asking for the basics. He had a conversation with His Dad. And He expects us to approach prayer the same way, even in public. He doesn’t want us to repeat the Lord’s prayer all the time, either. That would probably be the same repetition He warned against in the earlier passage. He just wants us to talk to Him. He wants us to pray in public like we would in private. To quote Dan, in his depiction of fat, fat Jehoshaphat as a young man: “Simple words is all we have to say…”
And that’s all we talked about at youth group last night.