Praying in Public: Does it Glorify God or the Self?

Just this afternoon, I saw this post by a pastor/apologist, one of the people I have tagged as a friend on Facebook. He was condemning this particular bit of news about a family praying for the success of a family member who was about to take the UPCAT. For the uninitiated, the UPCAT is the annual admission exam to the University of the Philippines. With all good intentions noted, it does look like a really good picture. They all look like they were deep in prayer with sincere intentions. This slice of life was even covered by GMA News as a featured post in their Facebook page. Many people responded well to such a public demonstration of faith.

If you read Matthew 6, however, The Lord doesn’t seem to have a good opinion about such a practice. Matthew 6:5-6 quotes Jesus as saying,

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

This is pretty much self explanatory, an imperative that even a grade schooler would have no difficulty understanding. Pray in secret and perform your good deeds in secret, doing it all for the glory of God. I’m not surprised when my pastor/apologist friend at FB condemned that picture to which I had responded with a comment that it seemed like this family has either never read or have never been taught or have ignored this particular bible verse.

After a few hours, another person, most likely another pastor as well, retorted with the comment that we should have left them alone rather than post a comment. I believe the exact comment was, “Let them pray! They did not do that to impress you.”

Perhaps that the family was praying with all sincerity. The second pastor understood that, hence his condemnation of the comment I posted as well as pastor/apologist’s shouting rant that is so much against such public displays of faith. After all, I do think that many of those who pray in public settings have it in their hearts to communicate with God and surrender themselves to him. However, does sincerity make an act correct? I don’t think so. To be technical about it, I wasn’t really stopping anybody from praying in public, but that doesn’t change my opinion that it is a practice that is contrary to what is proper prayer according to the words of The Lord himself.

The problem with sincerity and intention is that it is mired by our imperfections as human beings. It is possible for me (and everybody else) to be convinced and be so sincere and true about what I believe when in fact what I believe could be wrong. If I base it on postmodern morality, it wouldn’t go anywhere since postmodern thought rests on a relativistic philosophy where my perspective could be right or wrong on a case to case basis. However, such philosophy is fundamentally flawed given the fact that it could not point to a standard of morality. If I base my conclusion on the Blble, I get something that is an absolute standard of morality. It would then go back to the skeptic regress of why believe in the Bible. To be brief about it, I would choose to believe what the Bible says because it has proven what it claims to be for ages, the Word of God (proving why it is so merits another long discussion that many apologists have settled over the years).

So what does that discourse have to do my comments about public prayer and the response to my comment about it? Well, it is true that I should perhaps leave such people alone out of respect for their free will. However. It doesn’t mean that I should change my mind about the fact that it is a practice that is condemned by Jesus himself. I may be mocked for seeming to look like a dilettante in a small theological discourse involving two pastors, both of which have graduated from prestigious seminaries. However, God’s word remains to be true. No matter how much you try to support public prayer as a valid expression of faith, the Bible says the opposite. I remember one led in our church remarking that you should just keep it between you and God rather than perform an outward display of it in a space outside of church (an essential definition of what public js). You may receive your reward of public adulation from man, but God himself said it was such a thing that he would not listen to. Even of you say I should shut it rather than voice out my opinion, it doesn’t change the fact that it is wrong to pray in public because more likely than not, it tends to glorify the self rather than God.