Humble Pie

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”—Matthew 23:14 (NKJV)

A young woman joined her first prayer group. She was nervous, her palms damp. She had been raised in an environment where group prayer meant saying “grace” at meal time, and in her experience, people prayed for one another, not with one another. 

She took her seat at a table filled with three women, all veterans of group prayer meetings. Suddenly, like a racehorse set free from the gate, one woman charged forth. Minutes ticked by and by and by. The young woman sat stone-faced as she listened to the flowery phrases and archaic language of the prayer veteran. Once the dust settled, the newcomer offered her own prayer, which to her sounded terribly stiff and awkward compared to the one before. When the meeting ended, she was escorted to her car by the older woman. The young lady confided about her uneasiness with praying aloud. The woman smiled back at her and said, “Don’t worry. One day, your prayers will be as strong as mine. See you next time.”

Sadly, there wasn’t a next time. The young woman did not return.

While the older woman’s prayer language was impressive, her conversation later was much less so. Her patronizing comments lacked love and encouragement. Rather than follow God’s command to “be holy as I am holy,” she imparted more of a “holier than thou” demeanor. 

Jesus warned against this sanctimonious attitude in today’s verse and in His Sermon on the Mount. There He cautioned, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:5 NLT). 

In other words, our prayers should not aim for earthly rewards (impressing people), but heavenly ones (pleasing God). Not only does “showboating” prayer invite a greater judgment from God, but we potentially damage our witness by alienating others. However, God wants us to pray together and encourage one another, because group prayer welcomes the Holy Spirit in amazing ways, such as healings and revival. 

So, rather than use your prayers to show what you know, allow the Spirit room to help you grow. Join or create a prayer group. As you speak, pray the promises of God and pray your heart. It will be to God a joyful sound, and His house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7).

DIG: What did the veteran woman in the prayer group do that Jesus warned us to avoid? What was the impact of her motive?

DISCOVER: Read Matthew 6:8-13. What type of prayer does Jesus suggest we use?

DISPLAY: How comfortable are you praying in a group? If you balk at the idea, consider asking a close friend to pray with you. It might give you the confidence you need to join or create a group. 

About the Author

Lisa Supp

Lisa Supp lives in Utah and has served within the CCFL Web and Prayer Ministry since 2011. She also volunteers as an editor on the CCFL Prayer Wall and is a writer on the Communications Team. Retired from teaching, Lisa and her husband Ron volunteer at their local Calvary Chapel and share a passion for Scripture, apologetics, and education.