When Private Prayer Condemns Us

“Edwards challenges the idea that we can be true Christians apart from a growing life of private prayer. If we lack that, we may as well face up to the fact that we are hypocrites.”

Today, a dear friend and prayer warrior pointed me to T. M. Moore’s, Give Him No Rest: Readings, Meditations, and Prayers, Jonathan Edwards on Prayer. The book is a 28 day devotional with morning and evening readings with selections from Jonathan Edwards. There, I found this gem on day 1.

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”   

Matthew 6:5

“It is the manner of hypocrites, after a while, in a great measure to leave off the practice of [private prayer]…They can omit this duty, and their omission of it not be taken notice of by others, who know what profession they have made. So that a regard to their own reputation doth not oblige them still to practise it…Therefore they may omit this duty and still have credit of being converted persons.”1

None of us wants to be thought of as a hypocrite. Hypocrisy comes in various forms. We generally associate it with people who put on a good show of piety and goodness when they’re around other believers. But out in the world, they can be calculating, cold, self-serving, and even downright mean. In Jonathan Edwards’ mind, hypocrisy took the form of going through the motions of religious life – attending church, being part of a Bible study, perhaps leading in some capacity in the ministry of the church – but all the while ignoring or giving short shrift to the work of prayer. After all, people can see our faith when we’re participating in the life of the church. They can’t see whether we practice prayer with any degree of consistency, or at all. But Edwards challenges the idea that we can be true Christians apart from a growing life of private prayer. If we lack that, we may as well face up to the fact that we are hypocrites.

What would you consider to be a vibrant and necessary life of prayer? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the highest rating, how do you stack up against that standard?

Heavenly Father, let no hypocrisy be found in me, especially with respect to this matter of prayer. Instead, be at work in me to [make my private prayer life powerful and full of integrity.]

1All quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Prayer” in Edward Hickman, ed., The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995), Volume Two, pp. 71 ff.

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