When I discovered that I lacked integrity in prayer, it was shocking. In fact, I’m still coming to terms with it. It seems that the more I discover about myself, the more I see a lack of integrity in my prayer. But while this has been an eye-opening discovery, there is one other discovery that was even more frightening: Others can tell that I lack integrity in prayer. Here are the signs to look for to identify fake prayer.
The purpose of prayer is to respond directly to God. Integrity in prayer maintains this focus. A failure to maintain integrity in prayer diverts us from this purpose. God sees our prayer and rewards us based on how we pray privately (Matt 6:6). So how we pray is an important reflection of our heart to God.
I don’t want to provide these signs so you can identify shortcomings in other people (though you probably won’t be able to help it) but to question your own heart and determine whether your prayer life has integrity or if you fake your spirituality. These signs are drawn directly from the words of Christ. As I go through them, I’ll give you a couple of questions I ask myself to test the quality of my prayer life, and I hope these will be helpful to you too.
Praying to be seen
In Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus exposes the false spirituality of one of the most powerful religious groups of his time, calling them hypocrites. He called them hypocrites because they prayed standing in synagogues and on street corners. It wasn’t that praying in these places was inherently wrong, it was why they prayed in these public locations. Their motive was to “be seen by men.”
This doesn’t mean that it is wrong to be seen praying. The point is not any of the circumstances, but the purpose of their heart. For these men, the only reason they talk in public was to be seen by others. Jesus calls them hypocrites. A hypocrite is someone who plays a role, who pretends to be something they are not. These men prayed in public because they wanted to be known as something that they were not in real life.
In the modern west, we have a high view of authenticity, so we are often conscious of when we’re faking our spirituality. In fact, this is probably why prayer meetings are poorly attended. Most Christians don’t pray in private, and therefore they don’t want to pretend to pray in public.Most Christians don’t pray in private, and therefore they don’t want to pretend to pray in public Click To Tweet
There are at least two ways that our public prayer is fake. I use the following two questions to identify whether my public prayer life is fake or not.
1. Do I pray in private?
If we don’t have a private prayer life, our public prayer is a sham. The main issue Jesus had with the Pharisees in Matthew 6:5-6 was that they prayed to be seen, and not in private. Their public prayer was not a natural extension of their personal relationship with the Lord but was a public expression of what they wanted people to think. They simply pretended to be spiritual by praying publicly.
I want to encourage you to pray in public. Please, pray in public! We all need your prayer! But let your public prayer stimulate you to pray in private more than in public.
2. Do I pray this way in private?
I first asked myself this because I caught myself praying in a different way in public to the way I prayed in private. If you pray short quick prayers in private, don’t pray long slow prayers in public. Don’t just watch the pace of your prayer, but also the words you use (we’ll talk about this more below) and the things for which you pray. Sometimes in public prayer, we pray for things for which we don’t pray in private. If something is important enough to pray for publicly, isn’t it important enough to pray for privately too? Add it to your prayer list. If not, don’t pray for it. Integrity in prayer is to have your public prayer reflect your private prayer as closely as possible.Integrity in prayer is to have your public prayer reflect your private prayer as closely as possible Click To Tweet
Jesus concludes his concern regarding public prayer saying, “Go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father…” Prayer is communication between the believer and the Lord. When public prayer is the overflow of our relationship with the Lord, it is a joy and encouragement to others.
Jesus also spoke about meaningless words. He said, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt 6:7-8). I often catch myself using words that simply fill in the space. The classic example is repeating the word “just” and “Lord” (or “Father”), etc. when we pray(see this parody for example). It isn’t that using these words in prayer is wrong. The problem is that we can fall into the trap of meaningless repetition so easily. We often hear others praying this way, and it is easy to follow their example rather than be intentional about developing a healthy prayer life.
In addition to these “filler” words, sometimes we use different words in prayer than we do in real life. If God is a person, why would we use different words with Him than with other people? It sometimes seems that we use different language when praying as if it sanctifies the prayer or makes our speech more holy. Using this sort of language doesn’t make us more or less holy, and neither does God require us to use different words than we would use with other people.
Words reveal motives
A change in our language in prayer suggests we have other motives rather than just a response to the Lord. It could be that we want to impress those hearing with our words, so we sound more reverent or holy, or even more intelligent. It could also be that we’re trying to tell ourselves that we’re holy people. But a change in language doesn’t make us more anything, except perhaps long-winded or hard to understand.
This doesn’t mean it is wrong to use “thee” and “thou” in prayer if you do this in order to help your heart have the right attitude before the Lord. Sometimes we need this sort of technique to help our hearts bow before the Lord. The point is that language doesn’t make us more holy in the eyes of God, and it can be a form of deception to others.
Jesus compares wasting words to the prayers offered to idols. God is a person who hears and responds. He knows our needs before we ask, so the purpose of prayer is not to impress others or even ourselves, but to respond honestly to God.The purpose of prayer is not to impress others or even ourselves, but to respond honestly to God Click To Tweet
I find myself falling into this trap often, so I ask myself the following question.
3. Do I speak to others this way?
A sign of fake prayer according to this passage is that we speak to God differently to how we speak to other people, suggesting that we don’t see prayer as inter-personal communication, or communication from us to the Lord. It may be that prayer has become a routine, and it is no longer a personal response to the Lord.
Not only this but even if you pray regularly, it is easy to use pat phrases and repeat key ideas. Sometimes it is almost like I have a smaller set of vocabulary when I pray than when I talk to other people. For this reason, I have to continually challenge myself and keep working to improve the communication of my heart to the Lord.
Prayer is difficult. Prayer requires constant vigilance because we fall into bad habits quickly, and we readily exchange God for an idol. We must watch over our motives and ensure that what others see in us is the overflow of a careful and intentional prayer life. We need to watch our words so that we don’t waste words or talk to God like He is something other than the person He is. If we watch for these signs of fake prayer, we can grow our integrity in prayer, and this will significantly improve the quality of our prayer life.