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How to Pray Like a Pharisee

  • Joe McKeever
How to Pray Like a Pharisee

“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites… Therefore, do not be like them…” (Matthew 6:8).

All right, class, listen up. If you expect to be the next generation of hypocrites, you need to give me your full attention. The old Pharisees will be passing off the scene before long, and we’ll need a new class of the double-minded–you know, the play-actors–ready to step up and fill their ranks.

Tongue firmly planted in cheek now, everyone? All right. Let us proceed…

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It's not easy being a hypocrite.

It's not easy being a hypocrite.

You’re always working on two levels, keeping things to yourself while presenting another image to the world. And that’s hard. It takes a pretty smart person to pull this off. Shallow lazy people can be a lot of things, but not a successful Pharisee.

Scripture says “a double-minded person is unstable in all his ways; he should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” That’s James 1:7-8. We cite it here for two reasons. First, to say how tough our calling is, and second, to remind ourselves that being hypocrites we’re not expecting to receive anything from the Lord for our prayers. That’s not the point.

Okay? Got that? For a hypocritical Pharisee, prayer is about a lot of things, but touching the Heavenly Father with our actual needs is not one of them.

Now, that being said…

Your assignment as a hypocrite will cover a lot of areas–your home life where you say one thing and do another, your church life where you pretend to love the Lord while secretly maneuvering and conniving, your stewardship where you claim to give more than you do and look for ways to profit from your spirituality, and of course, your prayer life which will be groomed for public consumption but devoid of anything vital and sincere. But today, let’s zoom in.

For the moment, let’s focus on prayer. Praying like a hypocrite–the Pharisaical model–is not for the weak of heart. Only the top 10 percent of the class will be able to meet the stringent requirements. Consider, for example…

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1. A Pharisee must be able to pray effectively in public (Matthew 6:5).

1. A Pharisee must be able to pray effectively in public (Matthew 6:5).

He does it in public because that’s the whole point: to impress people.

Those with stage fright who dread speaking in public will not be able to pull this off. A Pharisee can always be counted on to pray at public gatherings, in church settings, and at civic events. A Pharisee will have worked up a set of great phrases and voice patterns which sound impressive to the public at large, and which, with a little practice, you will be able to whip off at a moment’s notice.

The end result–and this is always the point–is that people will come away impressed by your spirituality and ready to trust you with the crown jewels.

The fun part of this is that you will encounter people who do all their praying in secret–in the closet, as they say, if you can imagine that!–and they have an amazing prayer life. And the funny thing is, some of them will have a hard time putting two words together in public. Even though they can pray rings around you in private, you should not worry your little head about this. You two are playing different games. You are a public pray-er, Pharisee!

You are a performer!

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2. A Pharisee piles up flowery words and pet phrases which mean little but sound mighty impressive (Matthew 6:7).

2. A Pharisee piles up flowery words and pet phrases which mean little but sound mighty impressive (Matthew 6:7).

Now, we’re not sure if God is impressed by high-sounding rhetoric. But one thing we know for sure: most people are. They swoon at the sound of long, convoluted theological phrases. You know this because some of the famous preachers you’ve heard on television use them, and people adore them. So this is clearly the right way to go. So, you jot down the impressive prayer phrases and learn them, then practice inserting them into your prayers. Soon saying them will sound normal and natural, with no one having a clue that you are playing a role and giving a little memorized speech.

You could win an academy award, you’re such a good actor.

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3. A Pharisee measure the effectiveness of his prayers in several ways, but mostly by the length.

3. A Pharisee measure the effectiveness of his prayers in several ways, but mostly by the length.

Pharisees think they will be heard “for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)

Once you have mastered the art of impressive prayer language, you will soon be able to string together massive amounts of this filler. Eventually, you will be able to boast about all the time you spend in prayer.

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4. A Pharisee calls attention to his achievements and faithfulness in prayer.

4. A Pharisee calls attention to his achievements and faithfulness in prayer.

The Lord gave a perfect example of this in Luke 18:11-12.

Here’s how it’s done: “O Lord, how we thank Thee that I was able to finish my doctoral work last semester. Thank you, Lord, for my new book which is being published next week, and for the acclaim it’s already receiving from critics. And how we praise Thee, Father, for the lovely new car we were able to purchase since I received the raise in salary. How great Thou art, O Lord. It’s such a joy, therefore, to tithe our income to Thee and give beyond the tithe…”

A cynic would say the Lord already knows these things, and he’d be right. But as a hypocrite, you’re not talking to God but to the audience.

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5. Likewise, a good Pharisee will find occasion to belittle other people in his prayer (Luke 18:11-12).

5. Likewise, a good Pharisee will find occasion to belittle other people in his prayer (Luke 18:11-12).

“Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other people. They’re swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector…” 

You’ll come up with your own version of this…

“Lord, there are so many theological liberals today, spreading their heresies. I thank Thee that I have held the standard, that the faith I have preached is the same one proclaimed by Paul and Barnabas, Silas and Timothy…”

“Lord, this country is being ruined by politicians. They’re increasing taxes just so they can build more schools, passing laws to stop good people from owning bazookas, and forbidding sweet little children to pray to Thee. Lord, curse them with a mighty curse…”

“Dear Lord, smite the drug pusher, the harlot, and the child abuser. Send Thy judgment upon the adulterer and the pornographer and the lily-livered preachers who will not tell the unvarnished truth from the pulpit.”

You get the idea.

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Here's the way it works out in a public setting...

Here's the way it works out in a public setting...

Let’s say you’re at a family gathering. Relatives have driven in from every direction, and a feast is on the table. This being a momentous occasion, it will require a prayer of blessing of some significance. So, naturally, they call on you to pray. And even though all they’re asking for is a blessing of the meal, you being the person you are (hypocrite, Pharisee, public performer), you give them their money’s worth.

“O Lord, Thou who hast made the heavens and the earth…” (You go on like that for a while.  This isn’t bad, but it quickly becomes filler.)

“Father in Heaven, we stand in awe at Thy blessings upon our land…” (And now you talk to the Lord about the history of America and try to work in something Ben Franklin said if possible. Or you quote from the God Bless America.)

“And now we come to enjoy this repast which has been set before us…” (Don’t call it a meal or food or groceries. Repast is a good theological word. No one is quite sure what it means, but that doesn’t matter. At this point, you thank the Lord for the hands that prepared it. Mention Granny’s fried apple pies if you really want to score points.)

“We would be amiss if we did not give thanks for the memories of Grandpa George and Grandma Bessie, without whom none of us would be here today…” (And you’ll probably want to work in a few things about Grandpa’s work ethic and Grandma’s faith.)

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When we do this, a number of things happen...

When we do this, a number of things happen...

Now, pray like that, and we can promise you several things…

-The family members will be talking about you all the way home. No one will forget your prayer.

-The food will be cold, but that’ll soon be forgotten.

-You will acquire a reputation in the family as the keeper of the faith, the one who can be counted on to anchor this clan to the Rock.

-And, you would think no one would ever call on you for a prayer again, but that would be wrong. By the next gathering–a year or so up the road–most will have forgotten that yours was the prayer that ran over into the second quarter of the football game and caused Aunt Clara to fall from standing too long. They’ll look around for someone to pray and there being no other likely candidates, all eyes will go to you.

And because they remember nothing specific about what you prayed last time, you can use the same basic prayer you did a year ago. Just remember to insert the new President’s name and a few markings to keep it current.

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How We Should Really Pray

How We Should Really Pray

This is just so much foolishness, of course. No one should want to pray meaningless prayers. It’s the faithful prayer of the righteous which goes straight into Heaven and is welcomed at the Throne by the Father. Let us pray with faith to a loving Father through His Son our Savior the Lord Jesus.

Let us get serious about prayer. After all, a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways and should expect nothing in prayer. Perhaps we should begin by praying, “Unite my heart to fear Thy name,” from Psalm 86:11

Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.

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