Prayer – Keep it to Yourself

I was raised Presbyterian. More or less. There was a three year and a bit stretch (1960-1963) where I don’t remember going to church at all (Dad was in the Air Force and the family was living in France then), but after that I remember a lot of Presbyterian church-going.

Until I was eleven years old, I just assumed I would grow up to be a Presbyterian minister (I use the term “minister” rather than “preacher” because that’s what I see as most important, ministering to people’s needs, not preaching at them).

I made that assumption because my grandfather, great-grandfather, two 2nd great-grandfathers, and two 3rd great-grandfathers were Presbyterian ministers. My great-grandfather Edward Mack (1868-1951), in 1939 was the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (that’s kinda like the Pope of the Presbyterians, excepted elected to a one-year term). And to top that off, if you go back far enough my family is descended from John Knox (1514-1572), considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church.

That’s some serious Presbyterianism.

I was nine when we came back to the states from France. I was fourteen when my grandfather died. I remember getting to visit with my grandparents fairly often in those five years, whether at our house in Montgomery, Alabama or their house in Knoxville, Tennessee.

In all that time, I can only remember one conversation with my grandfather concerning religion and the Bible. That conversation focused on the first few verses in Matthew Chapter 6:

1: "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."
2: "Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward."
3: "But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4: so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
5: "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 men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward."
6: "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."
7: "And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words."

Think on this – out of all the things that my revered grandfather could have passed on to me (and I think “revered” is a fair word to choose; if any of my cousins disagree, please speak up), the one thing he chose to talk to me about was praying in secret rather than in public. The one thing he felt important enough to pass on to me, his eldest grandson, was that if you “practice your piety before men in order to be seen by them” you are a hypocrite.

The message I got from that conversation with my grandfather was, don’t make a show of piety by praying in front of others, simply do the right thing.

And it should explain, to anyone who cares, why I have such a personal aversion to anyone who turns a simple grace at dinner time into a sermon, why I truly cannot stand people who get up in public (especially on television) and invoke the name of God to bless whatever their petty little human venture is, whether it’s a sporting event or political rally, or whatever.

Whatever you are begging your god to do for you, keep it to yourself; I don’t want to hear about it. If you are serious about your prayer, the only ones who should hear it are you and God. That’s what Jesus said, anyway.