This is the third in a series of blogs which define behaviours which are unacceptable amongst followers of Jesus.
At first sight today’s assertion seems to be the opposite of the truth since, for example, St Paul urged people to “pray constantly.” My own guess is that in his very busy life, Paul didn’t spend a lot of time on his knees. But in any case, the definitive teaching comes from Jesus:
“In your prayers, don’t go babbling on like the heathen who imagine that the more they say the more likely they are to be heard. Do not imitate them, for your heavenly father knows what your needs are before you ask him. This is how you should pray, ‘Our Father etc’”
Jesus was a practicing Jew, attending synagogue and temple, but he was completely opposed to those who made religious duty into a means of asserting their own piety; he called them, “play actors”. For Jesus, God was an active presence in the lives of people, giving them confidence to act boldly, sharing his goodness with each other and with those who needed it most, the sick, the impoverished, the outcasts. Evil in the form of oppressive transcultural powers, which he called “evil spirits” had to be recognised, named and opposed. Acting in the strength of what he called “the finger of God”, Jesus needed to pray, but he did this secretly, as if such a holy thing could not be shared with others. The first communities of Jesus continued to attend Temple and synagogue worship, while holding their own gatherings for the Jesus meal. Predominantly Gentile communities, on the other hand developed their own worship based on the synagogue model, while incorporating the Jesus meal. Simple prayer could be offered by any believer, but Paul warns against “speaking in tongues” and other super- religious manifestations. His emphasis was on his convert communities becoming “bodies of Messiah”, living the life of Jesus.
Theologically one may say that because the early church believed in the gracious presence of God, it needed no elaborate or lengthy language to persuade him to draw near. Such language has nevertheless been used in various times and places, drawing attention to the religious expertise of a person or group, with the aim of gaining status.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and martyr, wrote of the “secret discipline” of prayer and meditation in which a believer could cherish the mystery of God as the Beyond In The Midst, while living boldly and faithfully in the ordinary world. I think he understood Jesus.