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January 10, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“‘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 our 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’re 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 told us 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’re forcing ourselves to lay down any hypocritical, self-righteous, or prideful intentions at the feet of Jesus!
Although hypocrites will have their reward in human praise, Christ emphasized the reward and satisfaction we receive from praying in secret will be directly from the God of the universe instead of mere man. Jesus not only preached this concept, He also lived it out Himself!
Although often overlooked, the gospels document Jesus praying over 20 times throughout his ministry. Luke wrote that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NIV, 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 NIV documents yet another instance where Jesus “went up on a mountainside to pray” after feeding 5,000 people and 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 saying 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!
PAUSE: What is the benefit of praying in secret?
PRACTICE: Today, do as Jesus did! Withdraw, seek a few minutes of solitude, and just pray. Spend time alone with God. You can choose to use this time to do your written version of the Lord’s Prayer template we learned about yesterday or simply dialogue with God!
PRAY: Father, thank You that You desire to spend time with me. Thank You for making a way for us to have open dialogue, for opening up a direct line to Your throne room. Thank You that, because of Your Son’s life, I am able to enter into Your presence all the time! Amen.