Prayer: Not As The Hypocrites…

I’ve been enjoying Christopher Hall’s study of the early church’s worship.  Though I don’t agree with every point, and though I think sometimes Hall’s comments seem to get in the way of his explanations, this book is an insightful glimpse into the early Christian church and her worship of the triune God.  Here’s one section worth noting.

“The church fathers took Jesus’ instructions to retire to one’s room to pray alone very seriously (Mt 6:5-15).  They seem reluctant to have individuals pray publicly, at least in terms of public, spontaneous prayer, because of the danger of using prayer as a method of self-promotion.  The fathers viewed with wariness exaggerated posturing, speaking loudly in prayer as though we needed to catch God’s notice, and any attempt to draw attention to oneself rather than God in prayer.”

“Tertullian, I think with a hint of humor, advises us to use a ‘subdued’ voice in prayer, rather than a loud one.  ‘For, if we are to be heard for our noise, what large windpipes we would need!  But God is the hearer – not of the voice – but of the heart.’  ‘It is characteristic of the shameless man to be noisy with his cries’ (Cyprian).

[Cyprian:] “‘He does not need to be clamorously reminded, for he sees peoples’ thoughts…Hannah prayed to God, not with clamorous petition, but silently and modestly – within the very recesses of her heart.  She spoke with hidden prayer, but with open faith.  She spoke with her heart, not her voice.’”

“We don’t need to shout to wake a sleepy deity.  God is always listening and watching.  To be truthful, it is we who possess the hardened eardrums and have blinders on our eyes.  ‘Be constant in both prayer and reading,’ Cyprian exhorts, ‘First, speak with God; then let God speak with you.  Let him instruct you in his teachings, let him direct you.’”

“The fathers wisely understood that God is the audience of our prayers, not our family, the members of our small group, the larger congregation or TV spectators.  This is not to say that the fathers forbade public prayer – Tertullian acknowledges that Paul and Silas sang in prison, with wonderful results (Acts 16:25-34).  It is to say that the fathers understood that pride often undetectably infects even the most holy actions.  Human beings adore center stage and the spotlight.  We can deceive ourselves too easily, imagining that we are talking to God when we are only talking to ourselves, sometimes about ourselves” (p. 87-8).

Christopher A. Hall, Worshiping with The Church Fathers (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009).

shane lems

1 thought on “Prayer: Not As The Hypocrites…”

  1. Reminds me of the old chestnut regarding “the most eloquent prayer ever addressed to the people of Boston”.

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