“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do no let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“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.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time or trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
I think these two passages are important for us to hear and understand in our society. The basic message is this: Be careful that you are praying, doing good works, and giving to the church for the right reasons. When you pray etc. in public, it is easy to accidentally be doing it so people will see you and know how awesome you are. And when your motives are un-pure your prayers becomes disingenuous and no longer has any good purpose. But if you pray etc. only in secret you can only be doing it for the right reasons.
It is so easy to start with the right intentions, but then begin to do things for the wrong reason. In America, especially upper-middle class America, we feel the need to show off what a good Christian we are by boasting. But that’s not what God wants you to do!
Often in Protestant churches the Lord’s Prayer is overlooked and not taught, probably as a simple reaction against Catholicism. Many people tell me they don’t “get anything” from a prayer that is always the same. But it is SO IMPORTANT. Jesus tells you how to pray! Now, I don’t think that means your prayer has to always contain these exact words. Although it is never bad to pray that way! Instead, I see the Lord’s Prayer as guidelines to what should be in every prayer. If I’m not praying for God’s will to be done every time I pray, I put myself over Him, for example. And, as Jesus says, God knows that prayers in your heart, so it doesn’t really matter how you express them. The most important thing is spending personal time with God and letting it be personal, not public.