Someone once asked me, “Should Christians pray in public?” It was a reasonable question. After all, Jesus said that prayer should be a private and personal experience with God. But as always, context matters. Here’s the quote:
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:5-6
It seems to me that the issue is not solitude or the lack thereof. The issue is motivation. There is an enormous difference between “prayer as performance” and praying to have a sincere dialogue with God.
I can attest to the temptation to pray (and to preach) “to be seen by others.” I wrestle with it every Sunday morning that I serve in worship. Yet, simple avoidance of any public acts of faith and worship is misguided for several reasons.
• We have written records of Jesus praying and doing acts of ministry in the view of others. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.)
• Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Thanks for the reminder, Pastor Shannon!)
• Jesus said that if we pretend not to know him in front of others, he’ll pretend not to know us. (Ouch!)
So it’s not so simple as saying that “faith is a private thing.”
I often say that we cannot lead anonymously. We cannot set an example anonymously. We cannot teach anonymously. To be blunt, we cannot serve Jesus anonymously.
Yes, motivation matters. It is vital that we seek God’s favor first and foremost and care much, much less what people think of us. But it’s important to look at our motivations from all angles. Sometimes, trying to keep things “private” is only a way to keep things “comfortable.”
Tell and show the story of what God has done with the right heart and with good timing. There are people around you who need to hear what God would have you say. You may have an audience of one or two. You may have an audience of dozens or hundreds. But shed the veil of secrecy and the comfort of anonymity. Let your light shine so that others may glorify God – amen!