“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.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
(Matthew 6:5-15 NIV)
In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives practical examples of righteous living. How do we conduct our lives in this new hyper-righteousness that he described in Chapter 5? Jesus first addressed giving to the poor; now He turns to the subject of prayer.
Before addressing these specific topics, however, Jesus reminds us of the most important aspect of righteous living:
In every observed practice, beware of hypocrisy.
The best way to avoid hypocrisy? perform our core practices (giving to the poor, prayer, fasting) in private.
Prayer, like giving to the poor, is a good thing. However, we must ask ourselves why we pray. Do we simply want others to see or hear us, or is it an intimate conversation with our Maker?
In verses 5 – 8, Jesus reminds us that like our giving to the poor, our prayer should be done in private. Jesus gives His disciples (and us) an important understanding of God’s character in these verses – that of His omniscience. God knows everything and sees everything, everywhere, all the time. In Psalm 139, King David considers God’s omniscience and concludes that it is both universal (He knows everything) and infinite (He is aware of and understands everything, everywhere). Therefore, we don’t need to make a public showing or use lots of words to get God’s attention.
Instead, Jesus instructs us to pray in private, in our “inner room” (i.e., closet, pantry, store room) and shut the door. it’s a private conversation between us and God.
Jewish spiritual practice in Jesus’ day had many rituals, including prayers. The Amidah, the Qaddish, and other such ritual prayers were examples that Jesus likely learned as a child and young man. In verses 9-13, after Jesus has taught His disciples about the practice of prayer, He then offered a practical example of how to pray. His example is brief, simple, and displays a child-like faith and confidence in God’s interest in hearing and in answering our prayers.
Jesus then concludes His teaching on prayer with our greatest need of all, and our greatest practice of righteous living:
Jesus knew that being forgiven is what we need most. And likewise, forgiving others (and ourselves) is God’s greatest measure of our righteousness. This is God’s “field test”, His practical exam to see if we not only understand prayer, but can apply it directly to our daily living. Similar to Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:23-24, forgiveness and reconciliation with others is a prerequisite to God hearing our prayers.
Ouch. Check-up time again… Do I pray regularly? Why do I pray? How am I doing in forgiving others?
How about you? How is your check-up on prayer, and your practical exam on forgiveness?