16 February 2019

Matthew 6:5-8

'But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.' (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 74:13-23


From rallying calls at the offering to equally ostentatious prayers on street corners and outside of the synagogue, Jesus continues to challenge his hearers to a higher standard of faithfulness.

Again, the use of the word ‘hypocrites’ demonstrates the sense of performance that lies behind the actions of those who are praying in public. In Greek, repeated words are important – so this is significant. By repeating the criticism of hypocrites, Jesus is jabbing at those listening. This isn’t a hypothetical illustration, Jesus is prodding at his hearers hoping that they realise that he is talking as much about them as the celebrity god-botherers on the street corners.

For Jesus, this isn’t about performance nor even about prayer. God is not interested in religious showmanship or one-upmanship. God doesn’t want babbling or too many words. Prayer should not be like an audition on the spiritual version of ‘The Voice'.

Instead, God already knows the motive of the heart. Prayer is about posture, purpose and place; as well as the overall performance.

Our house is currently full of the glorious cacophony which comes from inquisitive pre-schoolers. There is something sacramentally special about a closed door in a quiet space! There is something of this reality in this passage. God isn’t impressed by long words or eloquent language or even volume. Spirituality is much more about creating a pocket of space and mumble a few broken sentences, as long as it is an authentic expression of the one praying it.

The thing about secret places is that they are still places to connect with God. In early verses, there is a suggestion that secret places are the hidden locations of illicit behaviour; the purview of the seedy, the seductive and the abusive. Just as in that context, God is still present and aware of what goes on ‘behind closed doors'.


To Ponder:

  • Where and when do you find it easiest to pray?
  • What part of your Jesus-following are you most proud of? Are you a great preacher, or a brilliant intercessor, for example? What warning is there is this text for you?
  • Find out about a way of praying that you are unfamiliar with – perhaps the song-based prayers of Taize, the deep challenge of silence, or the charismatic healing ministry of Bethel.

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Joanne Cox-Darling

Joanne Cox-Darling is a minister in South Staffordshire; a county proud of its creativity and regeneration opportunities. Joanne is chair of the Christian Enquiries Agency – a charity of Churches Together which seeks to enable people to discover faith and faithfulness through the website Joanne is the author of the forthcoming book 'Finding God in a Culture of Fear' due for publication in late Spring this year.

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