“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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
For us to properly understand these verses, and the ones to follow, we need to be reminded of what Jesus was talking about in this entire section; He set the context in 6:1:
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
If we remember this context, and that prayer is His second illustration for this point (after giving to the needy) then the significance of these verses becomes quite stark, even convicting for many of us.
Prayer, talking with God, the very core of our relationship with God, is not intended to be a public spectacle. It is not something you do to impress your family and friends with how righteousness you are; it is never to be a “look at me” kind of thing in whatever form the “look at me” might take. In fact, there really is no part of our relationship with God that is “public” except that others will see the results of our closeness as He works through us to accomplish His purpose.
I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh; but to be fair, I’m being more diplomatic than Jesus was!
With all of that said, there is of course an important role to be played by corporate prayer and worship, but clearly that isn’t what Jesus is referring to here.
Let’s be honest, when these verses are considered in context, they really don’t need much explanation, but I would like to add a note on prayer and relationship with God. God created each one of us, He knows each of us better than we know ourselves, and He comes to us where we are, relating to us in the way that He knows is most likely to be meaningful and significant. As a consequence, He relates to each one of us a little differently; there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to our relationships with Him, and anyone who tries to tell you that your relationship with Him must be like such and such is making a mistake, for our God is much bigger than that. In hearing people describe their relational experiences with God, I am often amazed by what I hear, they are so different from my own rather matter-of-fact “conversations” with Him, yet they are precious to the one describing them, just as mine are to me… and this is perfectly fine, perfectly normal, right and proper.
Yet God’s relational method is never just to make us look impressive to other people; that is the point Jesus is making here.
Next time we will continue in this passage, and in doing so, we will arrive at what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer”. I hope we will all keep this context in mind as we look at it, for in context, it is even more amazing than we might have thought… see you then!