There is now a group of atheists who are calling out Tim Tebow for praying in public. The American Atheists — a New Jersey based group that promotes the separation of church and state, is led by President David Silverman. Silverman calls Tebow out for his public prayer stating, “It’s not that Tebow prays, it’s that he waits for the cameras to be on him to do it,” Silverman says.
Silverman goes onto say that Tebow ignores Jesus’ admonition in the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 6:5, Jesus says, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” In the next verse, verse 6 Jesus says, “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Was Jesus saying that there should be no public prayer? Should we not pray at a restaurant, giving thanks to God for our food? Should we not pray at graduations, sporting events and Presidential inaugurations? To obey Jesus teaching in these verses should Christians abandon public prayer altogether or was Jesus driving at a deeper issue?
If you look at the context of Matthew 6, Jesus is dealing with a few issues not just prayer. He talks about prayer, giving and fasting among other things. When you look at Jesus’ teaching on these things there is a principle that Jesus is driving at. Jesus says, “When you do these things...” It is key to understand that Jesus assumes that the believer in God does these things, namely praying to God, giving to God and fasting. But the main principle that Jesus is driving at is the motivation of the person doing them. Jesus looks past the outward appearance. Jesus looks to the heart. He looks at what is motivating your actions. Are you praying to receive attention or are you really praying to God? Are you giving to receive attention and pats on the back or are you really giving to the Lord or those around you. Are you fasting to be seen by others as religious or that you go through religious motions? Or do you do these things with the right heart and for the right reasons?
God doesn’t just look at our actions. He looks at our motives as well. The bottom line is that if we are really praying, giving or fasting, we should be doing those things to please God. We should really be doing them to glorify God. In fact, we should do everything we do with that motivation, to glorify God. The Apostle Paul states in I Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Was Jesus outlawing public prayer? Certainly not! Jesus prayed publicly. Jesus prayed at His public baptism at the Jordan River in Luke 3:21. He gave thanks to the Father for the fish and loaves when He miraculously fed the multitude in John 6. Jesus prayed on the cross, his public execution. For what is prayer? It is communicating with the Father in heaven. Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
So was Jesus outlawing public prayer for the Christian and for the church? Certainly not! What Jesus is driving at in Matthew 6 is the proper motivation for prayer and other spiritual disciplines. And this motivation should be to honor and glorify God in all things.
By: Charles Nestor II