The drought in Georgia and other parts of the Southeast has gotten to the point some are going to God with the issue. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Baptist layman, hosted a pray-for-rain event on the steps of the state Capitol on November 13.
Three ministers — Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian — in the Atlanta suburb of Snellville (“where everybody is somebody”) hosted a community-wide call to pray for rain yesterday (Monday) on a rare rainy day in Georgia.
The drought, and these public calls on the Divine, have also led to several casual theological discussions around the question: “Should we pray for rain?”
For the record, I believe we need a lot more prayer and a lot more rain in the Southeast. But there is something about these highly publicized prayer events that bothers me.
It would not be a problem if unacquainted with Jesus’ words: “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1a NIV).
Jesus even specifically addresses prayer in this passage (v.5-6): “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Advocates of such public faith expressions can counter with Jesus’ words in the previous chapter: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16 NIV).
The difference, of course, is about who is in the spotlight. But I find it extremely hard to see how God gets the higher visibility when the cameras are pointed at those kneeling or lifting their hands toward heaven.
Such public events (beyond church-state concerns in some cases)warrant our caution for two reasons, both related to self focus.
First: When was the last time we faithful gathered to pray for rain in the drought-stricken parts of Africa? Do we only pray for rain when our yards turn brown or we can’t wash our cars at will? Are those suffering from natural disasters in other parts of the nation or world at peril, therefore, because they are not as favored by God?
Second: As noted in Matthew’s Gospel above, Jesus warned about public displays of religious superiority. Media events are a long way from the prayer rooms to which Jesus called us.
It is hard to escape Jesus’ words about spiritual showmen who love to pray on the street corners. Fervent, private prayers for ourselves and others in need just seem more appropriate to me.