Matthew 6, 5-6
Something to read
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
King James Version
'And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 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.
New Revised Standard Version
Something to think about
We're in the midst of a section of the gospel that has a repeated thought; a beating heart that gives life to this bit of the story of Jesus. That refrain comes at verses 4, 6 and 18. Jesus says that God sees what we do in secret and will reward us for the invisible acts of faithfulness.
Jesus contrasts these hidden things with showy faith; with the grand and public expressions designed to draw admiration from those around us rather than the humble and spontaneous acts of thankful hearts.
This time it's prayer that Jesus is looking at. Prayer, Jesus implies, is all about speaking with God; holy conversation. So prayer goes horribly wrong when we do it not to open ourselves to God but to show off to others, to impress with our beautiful language or our obvious holiness. What of the times when we pray in public, not least in worship? Jesus warns anyone charged with doing so to beware.
Check within your own heart, he might be saying, that you aren't actually turning the privilege and challenge of voicing the prayers of a congregation into a chance to show off. And Jesus seems here to privilege the personal and private above the public and corporate; prayer in the congregation has its place, but it shouldn't replace the ongoing and secret conversation each one of us has with God.
Something to do
Jesus has come up with today's action for us. Why not do as he says? Go into a room on your own and share your deepest longings, joys, fears and hopes with the God who made you and loves you.
Something to pray
creator of all things,
infinite in power and splendour.
You choose life for us and life with us.
In Jesus you enter into our humble reality and transform it,
blessing us with signs of your presence and inviting us into pilgrimage with you.
You gift us with your Spirit as companion, comforter and guide.
Hear now my prayer.
Give me the courage to speak with you honestly;
to unveil my heart and uncover the deepest things within me.
Help me to trust that you will be with me in my praying,
enfolding me in your love,
blessing me with your peace.
But help me also to stop my ceaseless mental wanderings and to be still,
listening for your voice through the silence of my time with you.
Today's contributor is the Rev Neil Thorogood, Director of Pastoral Studies at Westminster College, Cambridge, and author of the Surefish.co.uk monthly prayers