Today is the National Day of Prayer. Because of social distancing, this year’s observance will be very different than those in the past. Normally, churches and communities will gather for a worship service, a prayer breakfast, or a prayer service. Oftentimes, local politicians are invited to pray — or to be prayed over — during this time. For the national observance, popular Christian artists will perform for large crowds and popular Christian leaders will be asked to speak.
I’m not sure how much prayer actually happens at these events. In the events I’ve organized, I tried to make our time very prayer-centered rather than preacher-centered or church-centered. We used public forums to avoid the accusation that this was a “Baptist Thing” or even a specific church thing. We invited all churches and individuals to participate, per the National Day of Prayer’s guidelines. We tried to center the event on praying for the seven mountains/spheres of influence in America: Family, Religion, Education, Government, Media/Communication, Celebration (Arts, Entertainment, Sport), and Economics (Business, Science, Technology).
But what about Jesus’ statements where Jesus told His Disciples to not pray in public? (Matthew 6:5–8) A college friend of mine and I have had some heated disagreements on the application of this passage to the National Day of Prayer. He says that Jesus said Believers shouldn’t pray in public. My contention is that Jesus isn’t condemning the public display of prayer, but rather publicly praying for the purpose of being recognized and being applauded for doing so. Jesus’ emphasis is on the heart, the motivation for praying in public. He says the same for publicly giving to the poor and publicly fasting. His point is that if you’re only in it for the public recognition and public applause, that’s all you’ll get. If instead, you’re looking for the recognition and applause from your Father, then pray in secret, give in secret, and fast in secret.
So in the future on the National Day of Prayer — or the next time you go to church for that matter — consider your heart. Are you going to an event to be seen? Are you going to an event to be recognized? Are you going to an event in order that people will know how committed to prayer you are? Then be careful! If you’re wanting the applause of people, that’s all you’ll get. But if you want God to hear your prayers, pray in secret. Sure, pray in public, but don’t let all of your prayers be heard in public.
God’s more interested in your heart, not your public display of your faith.