In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus’ sermon on the mount is recorded. In this pivotal teaching Jesus resets the disciples’ world view. He shows them how to replace a rule-based, performance-centric attitude with a love-based, God-centric perspective. He teaches them a new way to live.
As part of this instruction, he describes how to pray.
5 “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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
Jesus draws a clear distinction between the “hypocrites”, or those who conceal their true character with a false appearance of goodness, and his intention for us. Notice how he divides these two lifestyles. In the hypocrisy case, the focus is on the approval of man (“to be seen by others”). In the new way, the focus is all God: his holy name, his kingdom, his will, his provision, his forgiveness, his protection.
This is the way of freedom. When you shift your focus from people-pleasing to God-worshiping, you will be released from the shackles of approval-seeking. The approval offered by the fickle, messed up, imperfect, inconsistent people around you is temporary and fleeting. There is a hole in that bucket and you will never get it filled.
Your loving father, on the other hand, loves you unconditionally and will work all things together for your good (Romans 8:28). That bucket is already filled to overflowing. Fix your focus by praying the way Jesus taught!