This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts on life and faith, that was triggered by a recent segment I did on WMOX radio about Tim Tebow . . .
Let me lay my cards on the table from the beginning. I really like Tim Tebow. I like him for a number of reasons. Some of them are related to his faith, some of them are related to his football skills, and some of them are related to the how entertaining he has made this year’s NFL season, on and off the field. But generally speaking, I really like the guy, from what I have seen. He seems to be a guy who is doing his best to glorify God through his life as an NFL quarterback. I’m guessing he would be the same way if he was a dentist. But this season, and the way Tebow so publicly lives out his faith, have given us plenty to think about and talk about, when it comes to issues of the Christian life. Over the next several posts, I’m going to try to flesh out some of what I think about those issues. These posts won’t be mainly about Tebow. They’ll be mainly about the questions that I think arise from this apparently sincere Christian with a huge personality and an even bigger fan base, living out his faith in such a public way.
Let me explain. This passage in Matthew 6, in Jesus Sermon on the Mount, is not really a prohibition on public prayer. It’s a prohibition against hypocritical prayer. Notice the progression of what Jesus says. 1 – Don’t pray like the hypocrites. 2 – They love to pray on street corners, where they can be seen by others. So the question is not so much about where the hypocrites prayed, but what their motivation for that kind of praying was. They prayed on street corners because they loved to be seen by others. They loved what other people thought about them when they publicly prayed. They did it so people would think highly of them. And Jesus called them hypocrites. Why did he call them that? Because their public prayers were not a reflection of what their heart was really like. He called them “whitewashed tombs,” another time. Clean on the outside, rotten on the inside. Their public personas did not reflect their private realities. That’s the heart of hypocrisy, and that’s why their prayers were so disgusting to Jesus.
So what’s the takeaway here? I think it’s this: in comparison to your private prayer time, your public prayers ought to be limited and careful. You should check your motivations before you pray publicly. If you have prayed publicly very often, then you probably understand the temptation to pray as an exhibition for the people around you, rather than pray as an act of worship to God. So public prayer can be wrong, but it can also be “salt and light.” How do you know the difference? Maybe this: if you are tempted to pray in public because you want everyone to see how pious you are, then maybe you should avoid doing it altogether, to avoid breaking Jesus’ commands. But if you’re tempted not to pray in public, because you are afraid of what other people would think, then maybe you should do it, to practice being salt and light.
So what about Tebow? Which one is he doing? Is he praying like the Pharisees, or he being salt and light? It all goes back to his motivations for doing so. And I don’t know his motivations. Neither do you. Probably, it’s like all of us. We are a mix of motivations. Sometimes they are pure, and sometimes they are less than pure. Thankfully, because of the very Jesus who sets the rules, we are also given grace when our motivations aren’t exactly what they ought to be. I get that grace. So I’m going to give it to Tim Tebow.