Friday, September 10, 2010

Pray You, Be Private

We are still moving through the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew. We have studied how Jesus wants people to obey God's laws, but then Jesus goes on to say that the laws should be expanded in a way which completely disowns His own involvement (as God) in establishing the original laws. Later, Jesus overturns God's position on God-sanctioned vows. Then Jesus turned God's justice on its head; saying essentially that you should willingly let yourself be wronged and oppressed by anyone instead of seeking the justice defined in the Law.

Now we come to one of the greatest contradictions of faith ever, but Jesus is not the one responsible for this mix up. This one belongs to His followers.

Pray You, Be Private
Within the United States, there has been a contentious battle for at least the last few decades between Christians and secularists over the prayer in government owned buildings and at government run programs, such as public school football games. The funny thing is that if Christians actually followed the words of Jesus, they would quickly find themselves on the secularists' side of the battle.

Matthew 6:1 sets the tone for this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says not to publicly do acts of righteousness to be seen by others; the implication being that such a person seeks the approval or applause of men from such public actions. Yet it is not the entire meaning, as we see in the proceeding examples.

In Matthew 6:2-4, Jesus explains how you should give to the needy. Public givers have already received their reward from men, but private givers will be rewarded by God. In the language of hyperbole, Matthew 6:3 says that you should be so secretive in giving that your left hand does not know what your right hand is doing. This passage implies going through extraordinary means to be discreet and private in your charity, likely to the point that your own family does not even know about it.

Jesus instructs a step beyond simply not doing righteous acts in front of men to garner praise. Jesus goes beyond saying to give charitably only with the right frame of mind; seeking only God's reward. Jesus actually commands that your actions be so covert that only God would know what you did. (This looks pretty bad for churches with plaques indicating who donated the money for this pew or that altar.)

In Matthew 6:5-6, Jesus explains that prayer should be done the same way. Go into a room alone. Close the door. Pray. Be rewarded. Public prayers will not be answered. So, for God's sake, in Jesus' name, and (debatably) based on His own words, can we please put an end to public prayer? :-)

While Jesus' command is related to having the right frame of mind and purpose when praying, He goes a huge step beyond that by saying that praying should be done privately and in secret.

Rounding it out, Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 6:7-8 that your prayers should not babble on about what you need or want, because God already knows what you what you need before you ask. All you need to do is page God on His beeper, not leave Him a voicemail. So stop with your prayer requests too! (Yet that is not what Jesus later recommended [Matthew 24:20] , nor what He Himself later did [John 17], thereby making Him a self-contradicting hypocrite according to the Bible.)

Jesus ends the prayer instruction with the prayer (known as the Lord's Prayer) which activates God's pager in Matthew 6:9-13. Luke 11:1-4 records a similar teaching on how to pray. Let us compare prayer notes in the NIV text:
    6:9 … Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your Name, 11:2 … Father, hallowed be your Name, …
    6:10 your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. 11:2 … your Kingdom come.
    6:11 Give us today our daily bread. 11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.
    6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 11:4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. …
    6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. 11:4 … And lead us not into temptation.'

There are no explicit requests, just a general “please take care of me, forgive me, and help me” sentiment. That, and a request that for God's Kingdom to come...

If they are to pray for the Kingdom to come, then it was obviously not there. That means that Jesus did not already bring the Kingdom. This is important, because it means that the Kingdom did not start when people started believing in and following Jesus. Instead, the Kingdom refers to what Most Christians would call the Second Coming. This ties into how Jesus is recorded as saying that the Kingdom of God is near.

On a side note, somewhat interesting are the omissions in Luke's version. Luke does not mention anything about Heaven. Also, Luke does not mention anything about Satan (“the evil one”). Curious, no?

So now we know how to pray according to Jesus; privately and generally. No prayer circles. No specifics. Let God handle it, just like He has handled the soon-coming Kingdom.


  1. Hello dear friend…
    I send you a message, to think about this for a minute…
    Thank you !!!!
    Liberal democracy is the utmost of aim of species that the U.S claims to have and claims that it has a wholly liberal democratic government. Does the end of the world and history conclude in the U.S? Is everything entirely for the U.S and what kind of Liberal democracy is this that doesn’t even allow anyone to reopen and research about the Holocaust case?! And according to this case and religious lie, every year hundreds of Muslims are sentenced to death. But this so-called liberal government allows any kind of insult to the holy book of Quran. And under the names of liberalism and freedom of speech, and with the aid of its police, offends more than one billion Muslims around the world.
    The insult to the holy book of Quran and violating the law of respecting other’s beliefs and rights which was carried out by the same people who claim to have created this law, brought a great grief and sorrow to the liberals of the world. Isn’t this the same government that argues for omanism and all its moral and cultural theories are base on the human being?! So with this claim what happens to the freedom of right of more than one billion Muslims around the world and respecting their beliefs and religion?! Don’t these Muslims have the right to live?!
    This is the Book(the Quran), about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah -

    Read more in:

  2. Hello Anonymous! I assume you are thanking me for posting a critique critical of Christianity. Well, no thanks are necessary, and you may not want to thank me if come back to read this comment.

    I noticed that you were from Iran. I am sorry for that. It seems that you are being fed wrong information. There is no place in the world that I know of in which Muslims are sentenced to death for questioning the Holocaust; and certainly not in the United States.

    The Holocaust did happen. I've seen the photos, the movies, and even the tattoos in the arms of former captives. I am not really sure why this matters to you, unless you are simply trying to look for more evidence to discredit a Jewish claim on Israel. On the separate matter of Israel, I would agree that the Jews do not legitimately have a claim on Israel, no more than any conquering power, but the fact is that they are securely there now and have been for over 50 years. Accept this, and you will probably become a much happier person.

    It appears that you do not understand our laws of Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech, so let me help you out.

    Freedom of religion means that you are free to believe in any imaginary god you want to believe in, and to worship that god in a manner which does not harm other people. (The last part has been a little problematic throughout our U.S. history, but it is what we strive for.) You, Anonymous, would be free to worship Islam in America, like the hundreds of thousands already practicing here. However, you could not discriminate people who you think have false beliefs, such as Christians or Jews. You would not be allowed to treat them as second class citizens because they do not believe in your myth.

    Most importantly, the Freedom of Religion does not protect the religion itself from being criticized. Nor does the Freedom of Religion protect you from getting your feelings hurt.

    That brings us to the Freedom of Speech. You see, the Freedom of Speech allows me to criticize anything and anyone, as well as to verbally support anything and anyone. That means that I have the right to criticize Islam just as much as I have the right to criticize Christianity. I also have the right to claim that only cow worshipers have the true religion, although I would never do that. You do not have to agree with what I say. You do not even have to like what I say. However, that does not prevent me from saying it, and you would not have the right to retaliate to me (other than verbally) for anything that I say.

    Freedom of Speech does not contradict Freedom of Religion. I understand that Islam forbids criticizing Islam. (Such restrictions to critique are usually a sign that something is wrong.) However, if you try to restrict someone from criticizing it, you are then stepping outside the boundaries of simply worshiping your religion. You are then trying to impose the limitations of your religion on everyone else. There is a huge difference between respecting someone's religious practices (that is, letting someone worship their god or gods freely) and imposing someone's religion on everyone else in the name of respect.

    You do not appear to realize the irony of your comment, in that from the perspective you suggest about respecting different religions, you have not respected mine (or rather my view on all religions). Should I be upset that you are pushing the Shia brand of Islam to me, an atheist?

    No. You have the Freedom of Speech too. (At least you do on this blog, even if it is more restricted in Iran.) The Freedom of speech essentially guarantees that you will face viewpoints which are different than your own.

    Finally, may I suggest that you actually study the Quran in detail? You may be quite surprised by what you find. Below is a great site to get you started.