Monday, September 21, 2009

Private prayer

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when 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” (6:5-6).

I’m sometimes asked who I pray for. Did I pray for Ted Kennedy? Do I pray for my opponents?

The raises a larger question. As a rule, I think it’s a mistake to publicize who we’re praying for.

i) To begin with, I think that savors too much of Mt 6:5. Spiritual pride under the chasuble of spiritual humility.

ii) On a related note, to say you’re praying for someone, especially someone everyone knows you disapprove of, can easily be, and frequently is, a backhanded slap.

And it’s a particularly insidious putdown since the putdown is cloaked in a show of pious concern. “See what a good person I am! When you-know-who mistreats me, I turn the other cheek by praying for his wayward soul!”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with praying for someone who mistreats you (Mt 5:44). But to make a public show of praying for someone who (really or allegedly) mistreats you converts the act of prayer into a sanctimonious weapon.


  1. It can also become awkward if you let someone know that you are praying, say, Psalm 58 on their behalf.

  2. Steve, While you’re discussing prayer, would you mind providing your explanation / exegesis of the following passage?:

    Mark 11:22-24 (ESV) 22 And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

  3. Layman,

    It's a hyperbolic way of encouraging Christians to be bold in prayer. The point is not that we get whatever we ask for. The point, rather, is that we should feel free to pray for whatever is permissible. The fear that God won't answer our prayer shouldn't be an impediment to praying boldly.

    That the prayer has implicit conditions is already clear from the next verse (25).