“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. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray” –Matthew 6:5-6
Recently, I heard a story that has left me undecided. I confess, I like stories that dare you discover the meaning. I like the sifting process, the mulling things over, and even sometimes the debate about the true purpose of the story.
The story I heard was about prayer and it was told by a rabbi. He said,
“Two people do their daily prayers while at work. One spends twenty minutes in the office behind a closed door and afterward feels refreshed and uplifted, like he just had a therapy session. The other is so busy, he can squeeze in only a five-minute prayer session between phone calls. He recites his prayers superfast in a supply closet.”
The rabbi then asks, “Who has done the better thing?”
My first instinct is to say that the first one has done the better thing. He prayed for a longer amount of time. It seems as though his prayer “worked” because of how he feels afterwards. He clearly opened his heart to God and is now ready to face the day.
But the rabbi sees it differently.
The rabbi says that the second person had done it better. The rabbi explains, “The second person was praying only for God. This person sacrificed his time without any benefit for himself.”
While I am not sure if I agree with the rabbi, I do see the point the rabbi is making. Prayer is not a self-help tool. Prayer is for God’s glory, as is our whole life.
It is easy to see our faith through the lens of self-help or personal empowerment. And it is good to be encouraged. It is good to find the internal strength to rise and face the day. It is good to feel refreshed and uplifted. These goods are gifts from God which need to be enjoyed and celebrated. And, like all gifts from God, they are to be put into the service of our highest goal which is godliness (aka a life of love).