My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.
The Word of God clearly states the outward actions God expects (live lovingly, be kind, work, give, serve others, etc.). However, robotic obedience to these commandments, without the inward heart directed towards God, is vain. Others can see the outward actions, but the directing of the heart is done in the secrecy of the mind. We may fool others, and even ourselves, but never God. He sees the heart, and His vision is not impaired by the outward activities. To observe His ways without giving Him your heart is hypocrisy and thus is not acceptable to God. Christians are constantly tempted with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is feigning or pretending to be what one is not. A hypocrite is a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion. Jesus exposed some of the subtle ways we may be tricked in this area.
Take heed that ye do not your alms [mercy deeds or compassionate actions] before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee [openly] omitted in the Greek].
Loving service to others is required of those who love God. His Word tells us who love Him to love our brother also. Therefore, men are often the recipients of the mercy deeds we do because of our loving service to God. We must guard our minds not to slip into doing what we do for the acceptance or recognition of men. If we do what we do for man’s reward, that is all we will get. Man’s reward is shallow and oh, so fleeting. If our hearts are directed toward God when we serve, He promises to reward us. Which reward sounds more appealing – God’s or man’s?
To serve the right way takes deliberate, disciplined action. We must continually ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? Is this what God wants? Is this directed towards God? Does God get the glory or do I? Why am I doing what I am doing?” We are to take inventory and, when necessary, redirect our hearts so God is receiving the real person, not a hypocrite.
The very first thing that Jesus taught about prayer was not to be a hypocrite. He emphasized prayer as an act of worship or devotion to God which must be presented with a genuine, pure heart. Prayer is never to be used for the attention or adoration of men.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Fatherwhich seeth in secret shall reward thee [openly [omitted].
I was brought up in a Church that taught formalized prayers which were to be memorized and repeated over and over. As a young adult, I was introduced to a concern for the accuracy and integrity of God’s Word. With this exposure, for the first time, I took inventory of my religious practices including prayer. This brought me to the shameful realization that I had maintained certain beliefs, which I unthinkingly accepted as true, without ever checking them against the truth of God’s Word.
My prayer life had been conducted in a mechanical, mindless fashion. Although I had memorized the prayers and repeated them thousands of times over years of my life, I had never considered deeply the words I was speaking. Nor did I consider that this manner of praying was exactly what Jesus called vain repetition.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
The concern is not the repetition itself because we are encouraged elsewhere in God’s Word to persist until we receive the answer. The problem is VAIN repetition which is much talking without concern or thought for that which is being said. The unbelievers thought if they prayed the same prayer over and over their gods would respond.
Every time we pray, we have the responsibility NOT TO ALLOW our hearts to be dormant. Today, I have moved away from memorizing formal prayers but still must control my mind each time I pray, or my words will once again be vain repetition.
When someone prays, the tendency for others present is to bow their heads and close their eyes. At that very moment we must decide whether we will control our minds and participate with the heart or just go through the regular motions, which again is hypocrisy.