“‘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. 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.’”—Matthew 6:5-6 (NIV)
No one likes a show off, but let’s face it, we have all tried to appear better than we really are. Whether it be in your job, with certain friends, or at school reunions, the human condition easily resorts to half-truths and exaggerations because we desire to look better than other people. We must regularly practice deep introspective analysis and real soul-searching in order to combat such hypocrisy. If we are not careful, though, this sin can creep into our spiritual lives as well and make us self-righteous.
Jesus, who can clearly see the minds and hearts of all people, saw this sinful pattern in the Pharisee lifestyle and called them out on it. He exposed their true intentions behind their actions which solely included bringing themselves glory and recognition instead of the Lord. As a result, Jesus preaches that we should pray in the exact opposite way: alone, in our room, with no one watching. In this way, not only are we truly alone with the Lord, but we are forcing ourselves to lay down any hypocritical, self-righteous, or prideful intentions at the feet of Jesus! Although the hypocrites will still have their reward in human praise, Christ emphasizes that the reward and satisfaction we receive from praying in secret will be directly from the God of the universe instead of mere man.
Not only do we see Jesus preach this concept though, but he lived it out himself! Although often overlooked, the gospels document Jesus praying over 20 times throughout his ministry. Luke even wrote that “Jesus oftenwithdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 - emphasis added). He always made time to be alone with God and pray—even in the midst of his busy schedule and increasing fame. For example, Mark 6:46 documents yet another instance where Jesus “went up on a mountainside to pray” after feeding the 5,000 but before walking on the water.
In view of this, we should also aim to spend time alone with our Father in prayer. I think we often forget that prayer is more than a quick “grace” before our meals or before going to bed. Prayer is our opportunity to speak with our Father, to spend time with him as friends spend time together, to enjoy his presence and love like a spouse enjoys spending time with their beloved. When we begin to think of prayer in this way, we can truly abide in his presence, soak in his goodness, surrender our anxieties, repent of sinful habits, shower him with thanksgiving, and present him our requests.
May we better value and practice the life-giving and faith-forming habit of praying in secret!
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