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. (Mathew 6:6)
This is one of the most familiar and beloved of all bible passages. It is one that many of us learned when we were children and have been reminded of ever since. We are told to go to our rooms and to pray in secret. When we were young, many of us actually thought that we would be rewarded and given thing that we prayed for, much like writing a list to Santa Claus. Later, we found this not to be the case and that God would answer our prayers in His time and in His way, which may be unknown to us. But to truly understand this favorite verse, let us look to the gospel for some context and deeper understanding.
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is the second major section of the Instruction, referring to the structure of the Sermon on the Mount. The tradition in this chapter is derived from Matthew’s collection of materials peculiar to his own tradition. This section has no points of contact with the Great Sermon reserved in Luke, which Matthew had abandoned and will not resume until chapter seven.
Our verse begins: Whenever you pray, go into your room. The room is the closet or storeroom. With another provocative metaphorical picture Matthew rejects ostentatious praying aimed at applause from a human audience and commands that prayer be directed to God alone. This shows that, for Matthew, prayer was not understood psychologically, as though its value is the effect on the one praying and those who hear it, but like all worship is God-centered and understood as an objectively real event in which God hears the worshiper.
Jesus does not here legislate against public community prayer, in which he expects the church to engage in.
The point is that prayer be addressed to God alone. Prayer does not require a holy place, but is sanctified when addressed to God in a storeroom. As elsewhere in this section, the direction is not intended literally – one can also ostentatiously call attention to going to the inner room to pray.
So, we may all have our different forms of prayer, but they are all valid if they are addressed to God alone. They may be asked through Jesus Christ, yet our hearts and minds are centered on God. It is not important where we are or who we are with. We simply pray without notice, alone and worshipfully, whether we are in a cathedral or a closet.
Lord, let our prayers always be directed toward God, our father in heaven, and may we know in our hearts that He will answer them in his own way and in His own time. Let us not be selfish or ostentatious when we pray, whether alone or with a larger group. Let us simply turn our hearts and our minds toward God and pray with the simplicity of Matthew in a storeroom.
References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur and Concise Bible Commentary, David S. Dockery, General Editor.
Columbia Prayer Chain: Friday, January 18
In our prayers: Claudia Strattman, Jennifer Williams, Betty Jo Carson, Gary Davis, Eddie Bolton, Myrna, Esther, Pam James, Doug and Sharon, John Kelchner, Elizabeth Matthews, Nedrick Griffin, Jennifer Handy, Nancy Stuckey, Annemarie Sullivan, Rachel and Randy Wurtzbaugh, Patty Peckham, Denise Byrd, Greg and Lisa Steele, Dean Timothy Jones, Linda Langford, Marty Fritz, Harriet Hancock, Tommy and Robby Palmer, Patty and Ted Mac Laughlin, Janet Long, Bobby Wilson, Debbie and Pat Barry, Betty Jo Sullivan, Mary Francis Harris, Patrick and Patricia Barry, Jordan Hill, Doris Clevenger, Charles Sigel, Bob Davis, John Whatley, Nancy Zuckerman, Charles Davis Sr., Bill Carter, Betty Peavy Frick, Joye Cantrell, Fred and Gail, Dale and Norma Sessions, Padge Arrington, Jerry Callahan, Norman Masters
In memoriam: Elaine M. Robertson, Richard Ieuan Garth “RIG” Hughes, Sims Aikens, Richard Shute Austin, Raymond D. “Ray” DeShazo, Joy J. Kelley, Julia Rhodes Fulmer, John English Goodwin, Martha Ernest Dean Hankinson, Judy B. Patterson, Mary Ricard Steele
Our prayers are with: the elderly, the homeless, all currently fighting illness, all beloved pets, our president and congress, our police officers and firefighters, all who serve in the armed forces
Columbia Prayer Chain is open to all residents of greater Columbia who would like to share prayers and receive the prayers of others. Please leave your name in the comment box below or email me to join our Prayer Chain. It is updated daily.