“…and for a pretence make long prayers…” (Mark 12:40)
I can remember as a child of eight or nine singing a little chorus in Sunday School based on Revelation 3:20 that said, “One door and only one, and yet its sides are two/ Inside and outside; on which side are you?/One door and only one, and yet its sides are two/ I’m on the inside; on which side are you?” Until I asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me at the age of nine I would instinctively bow my head and refuse to sing the words, “I’m on the inside.” Even then, I somehow felt uncomfortable singing what I knew was not true. I understand that we sometimes sing secular songs that are not necessarily true of us (fun songs, ballads, etc.); but in that case, one is role-playing, hardly a good activity to describe our Christian lives.
To speak of a personal intimacy with God that is unreal is to pretend—to play a role. To pray long is fine; but to “make long prayers” is a pretense. To dress modestly and appropriately is a good thing; but to “go in long clothing” in order to appear godlier to others (v.38) is a pretense. Likewise, to give generously to the work of God is admirable; but to try to match the devotion of others (especially deceitfully) is a pretense (Acts 4:36-5:10).
Perhaps singing does not fall within the scope of these examples since often it reflects aspiration and not actualization. Still, when I offer my life to God or utter my intent to follow Him wherever He leads and do whatever He asks me to do, I should be telling the truth, whether I say it or whether I sing it to a lovely melody.
God can use our service, even if it’s done “in pretense” (Philip. 1:18), but the fact still remains, pretense is a distinctly pharisaical quality, and to its practitioners Jesus says, “Woe unto you.” If that’s the case, the greatest question we can ask ourselves as servants of God is not, “Is my service effective?” but, rather, “Is my service real…or just a pretense?”