‘When you pray, you mustn’t be like the play-actors. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners, so that people will notice them.’ v5
Tom Wright has translated the word ‘hypocrite’ well – its literal meaning is ‘mask-wearer’ and was the name given to actors. I was thinking about what Jesus might compare these ‘hypocrites’ to in our culture and for some reason my mind turned to reality TV shows like the X Factor!
Those of you who know me know that I like a bit of cheesy TV and that the X Factor is one of my favourite programmes (a perhaps slightly embarrassing admission but never mind!)
When you’ve watched a few programmes like this you begin to notice patterns and hidden rules – I love watching out for these. As the years have gone by these patterns are getting more and more obvious. In order to hope that they will ‘get to the next round’, there are certain things contestants know they can say that might help them. Some examples are:
‘It’s my dream, it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do’
‘I’m 110% committed to this’
‘If you let me through, I’ll work really hard for you’
‘I’m singing this for my grandma who always wanted me to be a singer’
I’ll leave it there before I get really cynical, but you get the picture! The play-actors to whom Jesus is referring are those who approach prayer on a formulaic basis – these are people who think ‘if I look right, and say the right things, I’ll get what I want’. It struck me that the way in which contestants on shows like the X factor come out with these (now hackneyed) phrases is not all that different from the way we often pray.
Sometimes we might try and copy the way someone else prays because we’ve seen it work for them, sometimes we might be praying in a group out loud and say things purely to impress those around us rather than to speak to God, often we think if we pray a certain combination of words that God is more likely to answer our prayers somehow.
Jesus knew that we all do this. We all find it hard to pray and none of us really ‘gets’ it – well I don’t! In Luke’s gospel, Jesus shares the Lord’s Prayer after the disciples ask Him how to pray (Luke 11:1). Jesus graciously gave us some words to say that we can use whenever we’re tempted to approach God as if he were some kind of Simon Cowell figure (heaven forbid!) instead of our loving father who desires to give us good things:
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)
Jesus gave us the words of what we now call the Lord’s prayer. These are the only words we need. I always return to it when I’m lost for what to pray. Recently, with all these horrendous disasters in Japan and the troubles in Libya it’s been really difficult to know how to pray. The words Jesus taught us can be used to lift up our own and other situations, here is how I think this can work:
Our Father in heaven,
– Here we are saying God is real, He is there and He is interested in us and loves us
hallowed be your name,
– This means that God is holy, His name is holy and powerful and when we pray in His name we are invoking his power
your kingdom come,
– This means to let God be in charge of our world, let God’s rules reign, not ours
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
– Again, this is saying ‘God’s way, not our way’
Give us today our daily bread.
– We recognise that God knows our physical needs and will supply them
And forgive us our debts,
– We acknowledge that we have let God down and those around us and we’re sorry
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
– We accept that others are just as flawed as us and we forgive them
And lead us not into temptation,
– We ask God to help us not to turn to things that can’t satisfy but instead to focus on Him
but deliver us from the evil one.
– We pray for protection knowing that Jesus has defeated evil