There is a teaching from Jesus in Matthew 6 which goes like this: "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
This line has been used by many to critique any sort of public prayer. Within many of the circles I move in and out of, this teaching is understood not as a prohibition of public prayer but of a critique of the prayer intent. Put another way, many Christians interpret this text as Jesus saying if you are praying to be seen then that is not in the spirit of prayer.
I admit there are times that I pray with the hopes of being seen.
Sometimes I align my prayer time when I know that my kids are home in the hope that they will catch me praying. Because I am convinced that if they do not see me praying they will not come to believe that I think prayer is important. For the same reason, I make sure that there are times my kids see me brush my teeth and watch me clean the kitchen or fold laundry.
Sometimes I align my prayer time to let my community of faith know that I pray. Again, you have to practice what you preach and if you say, "you should pray" but no one ever sees or hears that you pray outside of your "duties as a pastor" then it is easy to see prayer as task for my job not a lifestyle posture.
I know this is not what Jesus is talking about. I understand that there is a difference in modeling prayer and "showy prayer". However, it sometimes is forgotten that when we pray it is more than just shaping my relationship with God. Prayer also shapes the relationship with those around me, prayer shapes our relationship with the world.
So yes, there are times that I align my prayer time in the hopes that those I love and help lead will see me in the hopes that they will join in the prayers of the ages. And so the next time someone prays in public it may be worth asking why are they doing that. Is it to model or be "showy"?
Is it possible to know?
In this spirit a little antidote from Anthony de Mello:
A man got into a bus and found himself sitting next to a youngster who was obviously a hippie. He was wearing only one shoe. “You’ve evidently lost a shoe, son.”
“No, man,” came the reply. “I found one.”
It is evident to me; that does not mean it is true.