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Should you pray in public places?

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Today's Bible Study is Matthew 6:6: 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.

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, with insertions of material also found in Mark 6:14-15 and other verses. This section has no points of contact with the Great Sermon reserved in Luke 6:20-49, 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.

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.

References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock and The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur.

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