Published October 11, 2011

Paul's Epistle...
"Putting On Airs"

Do you ever get around people who "put on airs" around you? They're trying so hard to be at the "peak of their game." They want to impress you somehow. And they certainly don't want to make a mistake. They want you to think of them and remember them the way that they want you to remember them. And that's usually better, somehow, than they actually are.

In our line of work, we frequently encounter such people. We have learned to realize that they might be nervous for some reason and are simply "trying too hard" to make a good first impression. We try not to hold that against them. We realize that if they actually knew us, none of that would be necessary.

Are you sometimes that way around strangers? Do you "try too hard?" Most likely you are, to some extent. That's just human nature. We all want to be at our best. We want our clothing just right. We want our hair combed just right. We just want to look our best. We want to say the right things — witty, intelligent, etc.

Compare that with the way you are around your best friends — the people who know you best, people who have known you for years and know what you're really like. There's no fooling them. They can "see right through" what you say and do. And you can just "kick back" and get comfortable with them.

"Paul, where are you going with this?"

OK, here's the point:

How do you act when you pray? Do you try to convince God of how good you are? Do you try to "put on airs" before Him? Do you try to pretend you're really a pretty good person?

The Pharisees did that — trying to impress God and, especially, other people. They made lengthy public prayers so folks would think they were great and holy. Jesus condemned those who "for a pretense make long prayer..." (Matthew 23:14.) He said such people have already received their reward from man (Matthew 6:5), which falls far short of what God wants to give those who trust Him.

Or, instead of all that, when you go before God in prayer, do you do so as if you were talking with your best friend? Are you uptight when you pray? Or can you relax in His presence?

Listen — God already knows everything about you. Nothing is hidden from Him. He knows what you like, what you've done. He knows your heart. He knows your desires. He knows — well, everything! In fact, if you can imagine this, He knows you better than you know yourself! There's no point in even trying to impress Him. He can "see right through" any pretense you attempt to exhibit.

I read of someone who, in a vision, was taken to heaven for an audience with God. Nervous and awestruck at what was apparently happening, the individual was immediately told by God to relax: "You can't prove anything to me, because I already know you." And when God says "know," that means totally, thoroughly, one hundred percent, through-and-through. He knows your thoughts. He knows your motivations. He knows everything you might try to hide from Him (whether you like it or not).

Now, if that's the case (and it is), what's the point of any pretense in His presence? He doesn't want it. And you gain nothing from it. You simply cannot fool God.

When you go to God in prayer, simply and humbly pour out your heart. You're no stranger to Him. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." (2 Timothy 2:19.) He already knows your concerns, but, like any good friend or parent, He wants to hear it in your own words. He loves nothing more than having His children seek His help. Why? Because He loves nothing more than the opportunity to bless them — if they'll ask.

Why do we have to ask? He's God, after all. Couldn't He just give it to us?

God wants us to ask because the act of asking is our humble acknowledgment that He can do what we ask of Him, and is the only One who can. We are weak, He is strong. "And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it." (James 4:1, LB.)

Saint Augustine, the fourth century church father, put it this way: "It was your Lord who put an end to longwindedness, so that you would not pray as if you wanted to teach God by your many words. Piety, not verbosity, is in order when you pray, since He knows your needs. Now someone perhaps will say, ‘But if He knows our needs, why should we sate our requests even in a few words? Why should we pray at all? Since He knows, let Him give what He deems necessary for us.' Even so, He wants you to pray so that He may confer His gifts on one who really desires them and will not regard them lightly."

When you pray, you are, of course, talking to your Creator. Praise, worship and thankfulness are always in order. You certainly don't want to be flippant or take anything for granted. Ecclesiastes 5:2 reminds us, "Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few."

But, in all things, talk to God honestly, candidly, frankly, from your heart — as you would to the "best friend" that He really wants to be in your life. In the words of the old hymn,

"Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus,
He is a Friend that's well known.
You've no other such a friend or brother,
Tell it to Jesus alone."*

- Paul

*"Tell It To Jesus," Edmund Lorenz, 1876.
Note: This particular column first ran here October 18, 2005.
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