Why the Problem with Over-Confidence and Under-Confidence Are the Same Problem

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July 13, 2018

Matthew 6:5-8

5 “And 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. 6 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.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

CONSIDER THIS

Having covered the Prayer of Great Reversal, which serves as a kind of welcome mat in front of the great house of prayer, we now make a turn to the prayer we commonly know as “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Before proceeding into the prayer itself, we should consider two preliminary matters, the first of which we addressed earlier—the matter of prayer and place. Just as we need to take care not to assume our thoughts are our prayers, we should also be mindful that to say we can pray everywhere can also come to mean that we actually pray nowhere. Place and specific place matters. This is part of the rationale for Jesus telling us to “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Note, though the rest of the rationale for this practice:

5 “And 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.

This ties back in with yesterday’s text about God hiding his ways from the “wise and learned” and revealing them to little children. Remember, pride, is all about the projection and management of one’s image, which is a way of covering up what   is underneath it. Hypocrisy happens when the outer image tells a different story than the inner reality. And the worst kind of pride is religious pride. Real prayer is not for show. “Take it inside,” Jesus seems to say.

The second preliminary concern has to do with the form of our praying, and specifically the words. Jesus says the measure of our prayers are not our words.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

On the one hand, Jesus tells us not to take our cues from the super-pious professionally religious people, and on the other hand he doesn’t want us to be misguided by the super-intense uber-wordy methods of the “pagans.” By “pagans” he doesn’t necessarily mean the irreligious, but the non-Jewish or Gentile crowd. Insecurity underlies both approaches. The Pharisee turns their lack of intimacy with God to the streets in an effort to prove it to others by keeping up appearances. The pagan turns a lack of intimacy with God into a show of intensity before God as an effort to overcome their insecurity. The Pharisee prays to be “seen.” The pagan prays to be “heard.” The Pharisee is plagued by over-confidence in their relationship with God and the pagan by under confidence.

Here’s why this still matters. Within the church, among the followers of Jesus, there still remain both pharisees and pagans. Am I saying they are not Christians? No, I am not the judge of that. I am saying these “ways” are alive and well and are traps and pitfalls into which a well-intentioned follower of Jesus can easily fall victim.

This makes Jesus’ guidance so critical and helpful to us in what we call, “The Lord’s Prayer.” He does not give us a form as much as he shows us a format. As we stand on the porch of the house of prayer the big take away from these preliminary teachings have to do with the nature of God and the nature of our relationship with God. Jesus wants us to know the measure of prayer is a secure and intimate relationship with God as Father. It’s why over-confidence and under-confidence in our relationship with God turn out to be the same thing. He wants to reassure us before we step into the house of just who we are going to see.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” v.6. 

“for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” v.8. 

Is it any wonder how he will begin to teach us to pray, saying, “Our Father.” To this we will turn next.

THE PRAYER

Almighty Ascended Lord Jesus Christ. You are high and lifted up and nearer than our breath. Thank you for not only teaching us to pray but for bringing us into your praying. And thank you for not only bringing us into your praying, but for bringing us into your very relationship with your Father, who you want us to know is our Father too. Right here, Jesus. Right now, Jesus. Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. Have you been around Christians who want you to know about their prayer practices; like how early they get up to pray and how long they pray and so forth? Why do we do this?
  2. Have you been around Christians who seem overly concerned with showing a super-intensity in prayer with words on words on words? Why do we do this?
  3. Where do you tend to err; on the side of over-confidence in your relationship with God or under-confidence? Why do you think that is?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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