Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been highly publicized for his constant references to faith and to his active prayer life. As has also been highly noted, people have even gone as far as naming the way in which he positions himself during prayer, calling it “Tebowing.”
I read an article on the Daily Beast by Andrew Sullivan, criticizing Tebow for his displays of faith.
Sullivan argues that the fact that Tebow prays so publicly is a direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus. He says “for Christians, it should be a problem.” Later in the piece he refers to public prayer as “the reverse of Jesus’ teachings.
Sullvan even uses the Bible in his arguments against Tebow, although I believe that his scriptural interpretations ignore the context of the passage which he is quoting and that his conclusions are forced.
The impetus of Sullivan’s point comes from a teaching gave in his Sermon on the Mount
Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven…
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.
Sullivan is taking this passage out of context.
Jesus never said “No one can publicly pray ever.”
Jesus was speaking to moralistic teachers who desired the reverance from men, and who would make great public spectacles of their own prayer lives in order that people would think highly of them.
If we care about being seen by people in the context of our practice of religion, then we are giving greater consideration to the way in which man perceives us than we are to worshipping God. Desiring admiration from men because of their perceptions of our faith is idolatry.
It’s not the action of public prayer in itself which Jesus criticizes. As with so many of His teachings, His focus is about the moral condition of our hearts. A believer can be justified to pray in public when it is out of a sincere desire to worship God.
In the Bible, Jesus clearly wasn’t against all forms of public prayer. There are multiple instances recorded in the gospels in which he prays in public!
If Tim Tebow prays in public for show, then Sullivan is right. It’s a sin. But if the faith of Tim Tebow moves him in such a way that he feels compelled to pray, then not praying would be a sin. So where is Tebow’s heart really? That’s not up for any of us to judge.