February 11

Text: Matthew 6:5, 6

 "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  (NASB)

The prayer practices of the first century Jewish individual and most 21st century Christians are quite different.  Some of those differences are evident in Matthew 6:5-7.  Most Christians of today do not think that personal prayers are made more effective by praying them publicly, or that prayer becomes more effective through thoughtless repetition merely to increase the number of words.

Prayer is meaningful communication offered by a human individual to a divine individual.  Prayer is not a ritual that the human just “does” in order to satisfy some desire of the divine individual.  Thus the human yields to this “mysterious practice” because the divine individual wants it.  In this ritual practice, prayer has nothing to do with human understanding and everything to do with divine desire.

The first understanding that produces meaningful prayer is that God sees in secret.  Human witnesses are unnecessary for God (1) to know that prayer occurred or (2) to be informed about what is said.  Prayer is meaningful communication between the human and God.  This communication exists because of the confident dependence of the human and the compassionate caring of God.   Prayer’s foundation is not about the human declaring his/her shopping list of desires to God, but about the human individual praising God as the human acknowledges confident dependence.  Prayer is not about informing God of human needs—God knows the needs before the praying begins.

This is Jesus’ second illustration of this fact: motives matter.  If one prayed to gain people’s praise, the human attention sought is 100% of the prayer’s reward.

Prayer is about your relationship with God, not about your desires for an improved lifestyle.

Suggestion for reflection: When does prayer become selfish rather than dependent?  (Read Acts 6: 3, 4.)

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