Occasionally when I’m with a group of Christians, I see or hear something that is off kilter, either a false doctrine, or a rebellious attitude, or even something like gossip or critical judgment of others. When that happens, my own heart often reacts in the wrong way. I become condemning and critical too, and want to tell other people about the ‘dreadful thing so-and-so did,’ thereby doing the same thing myself. Or I might bring the thing to prayer meeting as a request, but it really is gossip thinly disguised, or I’m using prayer to make myself look good compared to that terrible sinner.
When Jesus gave instruction about prayer, He included this: “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. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Praying to be seen as pious happens far too often. Planning what I say, making sure my prayers sound right to impress others is hypocrisy. Using prayer to put down someone who falls into sin is hypocrisy too. I’m a sinner just as they, and both of us need forgiveness and mercy.
Jesus’ solution is simply; keep it to myself. When I see someone slip into sin, the first thing I must do is head for my secret place and pray. While some interpret this as a “prayer closet” or a “walk in the woods,” the place is not the issue. Instead, the important thing is being alone and talking to God without anyone else present. It is praying about the things that burden my heart instead of spilling them out in public to make myself look ‘religious’ and ‘holier than thou.’
If I need proof that sin permeates every part of a human life, this might be it. The very fact that I would use prayer, which is supposed to be a humble, needy person reaching out to an omniscient, powerful God, as a means to glorify myself shows the depth of sin.
The very fact that God still invites me to come and talk to Him in private, where He is, shows the depth of His mercy. That He hears my prayers at all is amazing, but even more amazing is His promise concerning those secret prayers. I might rant about what I’ve seen, condemn the sin and even think I am better than that other person, but God says when I bring all that gunk to Him in secret, He will reward me openly.
What about that reward? Is it a change in that other person? Sometimes. More often than not, though, the reward of meeting God in secret is that I see Him there, and in seeing Him, He somehow changes my attitude, gives me a greater compassion and more patience, and changes me to be less like me and more like Jesus.