Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Leviticus 16:1-19, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Other than during a tornado watch, when is the last time any of us prayed in a closet? Most of us would probably answer: “Never.” Yet that is exactly what Christ advised his disciples to do: “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.”
Most translations use the word “room” but the Greek is closer to “inner room” – or closet. Of course Christ’s point was not the architecture, but the privacy. Even in Christ’s time, public prayer was often more a bid for the admiration of people, rather than communion with God.
We’ve all heard prayers that sound like the person praying was being paid by the word. Christ tells to pray privately, and not heap on words as if desperately trying to tip some divine scale. Ideally prayer is not a monologue, so it needs a lot of silent time to leave room for God.
When Christ says those who pray or give alms in a public manner have already received their reward, he is commenting on motive. People who make a show of piety in order to win admiration have their reward when someone notices, but not beyond.
On the other hand, going too far the other way and making a show of hiding our deeds is still missing the point. People seeking a relationship with God pray or fast only as an expression of their love for God, and attention (or its lack) doesn’t matter. God isn’t a trophy wife, so Christ teaches us to behave in ways that don’t sully the relationship by making it about other people’s opinions.
From the time we are assigned our first 200-word essay, we are taught the number of words we use is important. One of the toughest lessons for any professional writer is to cut, and cut again, until only meaningful words remain. Perhaps this is why writer Anne LaMott’s two favorite prayers are: “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Comfort: God knows what we need before we speak.
Challenge: Find an isolated place to pray.
Prayer: Compassionate God: help me. Thank you.
Discussion: What do you feel is the role of public prayer?
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