Matthew 6:5-6, Praying in the Secret Place
We are beginning what will be a lengthy period of time in this passage. I haven’t fully fleshed it out in my own mind yet just how long we’ll be here, but today we’re looking at verses 5 and 6. We’re going to be talking about prayer for the next couple of weeks and what it is that Jesus teaches us about prayer. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the literary unit here is verses 1 all the way to verse 18, to the end of fasting, and He talks about three specific things that sharply contrasted with the way that the scribes and the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Christ’s day practiced their faith. When they would give, they would give in such a way that everybody knew that they were giving money so that they could clap and applaud for them. When they would pray, they would pray in such a way that everyone would notice that they were praying and would clap and applaud for them. And the same was true for fasting. And for us, as Baptists, we like to eat and potluck and so that whole passage on fasting is just going to be very conflicting for all of us, because we don’t even make the effort to fast. So…that’ll be interesting when we get there.
But today we’re looking at verses 5 and 6. But as has been our custom the last couple of weeks, the literary unit is tied together by a couple of common themes: hypocrisy verses a genuine reward and what will genuinely make God happy. You find those two elements weaved throughout the text all the way to verse 18. So, as has been our practice the last couple of weeks, we’re going to read Matthew chapter 6, reading the whole unit, verses 1 to 18:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when 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.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Let’s bow for a word of prayer:
God, we love you. We are praying to You now. We are talking to You. You hear us and You see us and You’re watching us. Lord, I just pray that as we look at Your Word, as we see what You have to say about talking to You, that You would show exactly what it is that You’re looking for when we talk to You. I pray, Father, that as we approach the topic of prayer, as we talk about praying, Lord, as we spend the next couple of weeks looking at what it means to talk to You, I pray that we would not turn it into something that it’s not, but that our hearts would just find a way to set themselves totally on You and on what You think of us, that we would just talk to You, and that we would guard ourselves from letting prayer become some sort of a show to be observed. Father, I pray that You would drive that truth home to us today. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
A Lesson from Samson and Delilah
In retrospect, he probably shouldn’t have given his heart to her. She was the beautiful and lovely and ravishing Delilah. He was the strong and unstoppable, unconquerable Samson. Theirs is a story of star-crossed lovers…she hated him, basically, and was just trying to sell him over to the Philistines for a bunch of money. She didn’t really love him, but he thought she did and he loved her. The story concludes from Judges that when he loved her, he went to her and he spent time with her. The Philistines hated this guy and they wanted to stop him, and so they approached her with a scheme and they said, “Listen, here’s what we want you to do for us: we want you to figure out what the secret to his strength is, tell us and then we will each pay you 1,100 pieces of silver.” We don’t know how many Philistine lords there were, but even if there was just one, that’s a lot of coin for this day and age.
So, she was drawn to the payout; she thought the money looked good, and so she began a series of conversations with Samson. The first time around, she said, “What do I need to do to remove this strength from you? What’s the secret to your superhuman abilities?” He said, “Well, if you take seven fresh bowstrings that are still drying, then that will basically rob me of my strength.” And, of course, she tried that and it didn’t work. Then he told her, “Well, if you use seven fresh ropes that have never been used before then that will rob me of my strength.” And so, of course, she tried that and it didn’t work. Then he said, “Ha ha! No, seriously – if you take my hair and you weave it together in some sort of web-type of contraption and you fasten it with a pin, then I will be robbed of my strength.” And of course, that didn’t work either. Then Delilah makes a really interesting statement. She says to Samson, “How can you say that you love me when you do not tell me all your heart?” (Judges 16:15) That’s a pretty convicting statement. She doesn’t care one whit for him, but that’s a statement that got to Samson. So, he eventually confides in her, “I’m under a Nazirite vow, and if you shave my head I will lose my strength.” And the tricky, conniving, deceptive Delilah, who was in it for the payout, that’s exactly what she did. In retrospect, he shouldn’t have given his heart to her.
When we love someone, we share our heart with them. That’s what compels us to do it. That’s the issue that Jesus is talking about here in Matthew chapter 5 and 6. All of us in this room, when it comes to our relationship with God, we are one of two people: we’re like Samson, in which we trust Him; we give our heart over to Him; we share with Him even if it kills us. Then, some of us in this room might treat our prayer life with God more like Delilah – we’re looking for some sort of a payout.
That’s what Jesus talks about here in Matthew chapter 6. He begins in verse 5, if you just look with me, he says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites”. First thing off: “And when you pray” – the “and” in that passage is a conjunction which ties the thought back to what preceded it. Jesus here in Matthew chapter 6 is moving into a real-world sort of, practical, hands-on application of what He’s been teaching about, the fact that true faith and true religion is an act of the heart. In order to explain that, he contrasts what true faith looks like as apposed to the counterfeit, what the hypocrites are doing. So, as He begins this discussion, the first thing He says is that when it comes to the way you spend your money – the way you give, don’t be like the hypocrites. Now, He comes down here, in verse 5, and He’s going to begin to address the subject of praying.
This is critical to who we are as people who say that we have a relationship with Jesus. The reason you know it’s critical is because in the Sermon on the Mount, out of every other topic that Jesus touches on, this gets the most attention. He’s giving an 18 minute sermon – He hits a lot of different topics: He talks about happiness, sin, the law, anger, lust and divorce; He throws out divorce, oaths, murder – all these things. Prayer takes center stage for Jesus; out of all the material in the Sermon on the Mount, this gets the most attention, which means, out of all the sermons that have been preached to date on the Sermon on the Mount, we are going to have more sermons on prayer than on anything else we see, which means this is critical to what it means to say we have a “personal relationship” with God, talking to Him.
So, Jesus says, “And when”, again, contrasting true religion with false religion; contrasting true faith – a true relationship with God, with false relationship – the hypocritical relationship. He says, “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites” – the two-faced people, the people who pretend; they’re not genuinely praying. They just say they’re praying. Why? “for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners that they may be seen by others.” Last week we were looking at the idea of giving as an act of mercy, as an act of showing kindness and consideration and compassion to people who are needy, who are desperate, who are in a bad situation in their life. Last week, we saw that He said that when the hypocrites give to the needy, when they give alms, when they perform their acts of mercy and compassion, they do so in the synagogues (same word here), and then He used the expression, “the synagogues and the plateio̅n”, the Greek word for “street”. Plateio̅n is sort of an ordinary street; it can be anything from a major interstate or freeway to your back ally or a narrow street. Here, in verse 5, He says, “they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the ruˊmeh” – street corners. The word here is different than the word He used before. Before, He used plateio̅n, which is any old street. Here He uses ruˊmeh, which is the major thoroughfare, it’s like the interstate or trans-Canada highway, okay? It’s like the major connections. And they don’t just go out into the thoroughfares or the major highways and pray; they go to the corners where those major thoroughfares and highways intersect, where all the foot traffic is going to be. So, as before, when they would give money, they would do so in a way that people would notice them and clap for them, but there was still a degree of a sort of subtlety to what they were doing. Here, there’s no subtlety; there’s no pretense or modesty – they are flagrantly, blatantly out there where everybody can see them praying. They want to be seen. He says that they go out and they pray where all the world can see them. Why? “in order that they may be seen”, in order that the masses can observe this and clap for them and applaud them.
This raises three questions for us as we begin to pick apart this text, not only today but also in the weeks ahead: 1) What is prayer, 2) Why is it necessary/why should we pray, and 3) Why is it praiseworthy/why is it that people praise prayer. I think we’re going to have to, as a church congregation, balance the need for prayer against the deception of its praise.
What is Prayer?
I want to look at that a little bit today. Flip with me back to Genesis chapter 4. This is where prayer begins. The first question that we’re looking at is “What is prayer?”
In Genesis chapter 4, Cain murders Abel. He kills his brother. It’s the first murder in the Bible and it’s brother killing brother – a close relationship; this is wickedness. It doesn’t take very long for sin to spin out of control – what starts of with rebellion against God in the garden, partaking of forbidden fruit, now turns into extreme violence, people against people; not just people against God, now they’re going after each other. And just going after each other, but going after brothers. God sees this. He sees Cain do this and He basically sends Cain away, and out of Cain comes all this line of decedents, and all these people start living in sin, and the chapter moves pretty quickly to the point to where at the very end it says, in verse, “To Seth [Seth is the son that Adam and Eve had because Abel was murdered, so they had another son] also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” Now, that is the first reference to prayer that we have in the Bible. So, whatever prayer is, it starts here. And to understand what prayer is we just need to look right here. What is prayer? It says that they began to call upon the Name of the Lord. The Name of the Lord is synonymous with the Lord Himself. As He begins to identify Himself within the Bible, when people call on the Name of the Lord, God is saying, “My Name tells you a little bit about who I am.” Now, the Name is in and of itself significant. The Name of the Lord – there is only one Person in the Bible who is given this Name rightfully, and that’s the true Lord. What does the word “lord” mean? It’s the guy that’s in charge, in control of everything; He is the one who can truly alter your circumstances, but on a fundamental, basic level, He is the one who is in control of the circumstances in which you find yourself. So when it comes to calling upon the Name of the Lord, we’re talking about the person who, not only can get you out of the tough situation you’re in, but He’s the One that brought you into the situation you’re in. Both of those aspects are tied up in prayer: a recognition of who He is, not just a recognition of what He is capable of doing. Both of those concepts are tied up in the name “lord”.
He says, “to call upon the name of the Lord.” Upwards and onwards. The preposition is really literal – you are lifting your voice up; you are calling to Someone who is above it all, Someone who is untouched and unfazed by it all. And it is on Him that you call, upon Him. It’s kind of like taking a lasso and hooking it to a rock, latching yourself to something that can give you stability in the midst of turbulence. But the phrase begins with the word “call” – you have to call out for Him, call upon His Name, call upon Him. He’s not apparently there with you, face to face. And this is prayer, talking to the Person who is present but unseen, who is real but unnoticed. Why? Why is He not noticed?
Why is Prayer Necessary?
Why is prayer necessary? Again, the chapter starts off with murder, Cain killing Abel. God comes to Cain and points out his crime to him and judges him. Cain’s response to that is that the punishment is more than he can bear, more than he can take. He makes the statement in verse 13 “Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” What’s the punishment? Look back at verse 12: “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." They’re talking face to face; they’re having this conversation, God and Cain. Then God is saying to Cain, “Because of your sin, you now leave here, you leave Me. You wander the earth, a fugitive.” In other words, “we’re not going to be face to face anymore; we’re not going to be buds anymore; we’re not going to be talking anymore.” And then Cain says, “My punishment is greater than I can bear…[verse 14:] you have driven me today away from the ground [that’s problematic, but look at what he says here:], and from your face I shall be hidden.” The real reason Cain is just distraught is that he doesn’t get to see the Lord’s face anymore. Why is prayer necessary? Because we have always needed God. We have always needed Him. We will always need Him. And the punishment for our sin is that now we, because of our sin, are driven from His presence. He cannot tolerate to be in the company of wicked men. And so prayer is that act in which the unseen, invisible, seemingly far away God can still hear us. All the earth is driven from His presence, and yet at the tail end of Genesis chapter 4, it says they began to call out to the Name of the Lord. What is prayer? It is calling out for God. Why is it necessary? Because even though He is far away from sinful humanity, He is still close enough to hear us, and still willing to help us if we will call out to Him.
Why is Prayer Praiseworthy?
Why is prayer praiseworthy? This culture, first century Jerusalem, they have the appearance of godliness. They’re not really any more or less godly than Canada. You know, a lot of people approach the Bible and they see the Temple and all of these religious observances and all of this stuff that all of these Jews are getting into every year. You come to the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus rips it all to shreds. As you consider the “religion” of their day, it’s not really all that different than, let’s say, hockey. I mean, we all observe hockey; we like to see the teams go at it and play back and forth. For most of us it’s a spectator sport – there are relatively few of us that will actually every play hockey or make it to the amateurs or go to the pros. None of us really have close personal relationships with the players on the ice. None of us really know the coaches. We don’t go up to the coaches after the fact and say, “You know, if you’d really just done this or subbed that player or done this with the team on the ice, they would have won.” None of us have personal relationships or are really friends with these people. We’re not really emotionally invested to that degree. It is a spectator sport. For the most part, so was first century religion. It’s a spectator sport…you can have a relationship with God, and you can talk to God, and it’s all good and everything, but you know, these scribes and these Pharisees over here, they’re really the guys that make sure that everything is okay between our nation and God, and so they’re the ones we’re really hoping on to make sure this all comes out okay at the end of the day. And so, what you have over here is you have a group of people who pretend to be the elite players, the ones who are out on the ice, and then everyone else is kind of just looking at the them saying, “Yeah, those are our guys, those are our prayer people, our religious leaders. And it’s kind of like a spectator sport – they’re the ones that offer the sacrifices; they’re the ones that officiate and lead in the Temple; they’re the ones who do all of this religious mumbo-jumbo. And we kind of watch them and we kind of clap because, man did you hear that guy’s prayer the other day? He prayed for like three hours. I went to work and I came out at lunch time and he was still out there going at it. And I was just like, right on! That guy is praying up a storm and it is doing good for our country.”
Prayer is not a Spectator Sport!
You see how ridiculous this is getting? Jesus is actually going to address this very specifically – we’re going to look at that next week. It’s a spectator sport. Jesus’ statement here is when you pray, don’t be liked two-faced people – don’t pretend! Right off the bat you are faced with the reality that 1) this is not a spectator sport! We’re not watching these guys pray for us. So when you guys come in here on a Sunday and we’re up here and we pray and we lead together in corporate prayer, don’t think that that is a substitute for your own personal prayer life. This is not a spectator sport. Worship of the one true God is not something you observe; it’s something you engage in or you don’t. It’s personal to the individual. “Well, what do you mean by that, Josh?” I want you to just look at a couple of things I want to point out to you. If you go back to verse one: “Beware of practicing your righteousness”. I’m from Texas, and we use a country slang there to denote plurality: “Yall” – more than one of you. In the Greek, chapter 6 verse 1, it says, “Beware of practicing yall’s righteousness” – it’s plural. Then it comes down to verse 2, “but when you give” – the “you” of verse two is individual. The “you” of verse 1 is plural. “When yall practice your righteousness…but when you, the individual, do your giving.” Same thing when you come to the Lord’s Prayer. “But when yall pray” (verse 5), that is all of you out there; He’s not talking to an individual. “when yall pray – all of you pray – don’t be like the hypocrites”, the rebuke; then the correction: “when you pray” – He comes to the individual. You see, faith and the practice of faith is not just corporate. There are two extremes here. You can say, “Well, I practice my faith by faithfully going to church every week and I’m a part of this church family and that’s what it means to be a Christian.” On the other side of the spectrum you have people who say, “Well, I don’t need church. I don’t need that corporate gathering. I don’t need all of those people. Me and God, we have a personal relationship.” And what you find here in Matthew chapter 6 with these three specific examples – giving, praying, and fasting – Jesus, all the way through, says “when you all do this, don’t do it like that – that’s hypocrisy. But when you as an individual do this, this is how it needs to be done individually.” Now, what’s even more significant is that when you come to prayer (and I’ve already said, Jesus focuses a lot of time on prayer, more than anything else that He talks about in the Sermon on the Mount). He makes the statement here, “When you all pray, when all of you pray don’t be like the hypocrites. But then when you – as an individual – pray,” we’re about to look at this, He says, “go into your closet and pray in secret.”
Is Prayer purely Individualistic?
So, then prayer, really, is to be an individual thing? Not so fast. Because then He says in verse 8, “Do not be like them for your Father knows what you all need before you all ask Him (in the plural). Pray then like this,” notice the first word of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father”. So prayer is both private and corporate, both an individual conversation, a personal intimate conversation that you have with God, but it is also something that is to be participated in by all of us together. Which means that when we come in here on a Sunday afternoon to worship, it isn’t just me down front praying and you watching. You all can be talking to God; you all ought to be talking to God. And at the same time, we can all come together and hear each other pray, and echo each other’s prayer requests.
Jesus begins to give correct teaching on what prayer is: so when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. Don’t turn it into a spectator sport. Don’t let it be something that becomes like professional hockey: “Wow, look at that guy go. Look at that guy pray.” It is praiseworthy. We like to praise prayer, but we all know instinctively what prayer is. When you pray to God you are signaling to Him that you need Him. And when any of us does that, when any of us actually humbles ourselves and draws near to the Lord and anybody else sees that, there is a natural need to approve of that and to affirm that. I think this is true because all of us know, deep down, that we all need God.
In the NFL, there is a player drafted out of Florida by the name of Tim Tebow. He’s a devout Christian; he won the Heisman trophy. He makes it his practice before and after every game to pray and throughout the game, as a professional sport, he can be seen on national TV praying. And everybody loves this. Everybody claps for this, Christian and non-Christian alike. There are literally thousands of media articles addressing the truth, the reality that there is something good in what Tim Tebow does when he prays. What’s the overflow of that? Now you have in public high schools all across the United States this thing called “Tebowing” where now you have kids going into classrooms, getting down on one knee, making the same sort of prayer gesture that Tim Tebow makes when he’s on the sidelines, and then making what should be a personal, intimate conversation with God into a sort of “thrust religion in your face” type of gesture. You see that prayer can quickly become abused and distorted from its true meaning.
Jesus begins introduce what true prayer is, what true prayer ought to look like. He says, “When you pray,” verse 6, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” All corporate prayer starts with individual conversation with God. All corporate dialogue must start with you, as an individual, having individual relationship with the Father. Jesus says, “When you pray, go into a private place.” So, when we pray here, even though it is perfectly good to come together and pray together and to attend prayer on Fridays at the offices, even though those are all things that are commendable that we should all do, none of it matters if we don’t personally, individually draw near to the Lord and have prayer with Him.
Christ begins to teach on what true prayer is. True prayer is not done for the observation of anyone else. It’s not done to be applauded, it’s not done to be clapped for, it’s not done to be seen by anyone except God. “When you pray,” – He’s assuming that if we love the Father, we’re going to want to give our heart to Him. “When you pray, go somewhere private and pray to your Father, who is in secret.” That’s significant – pray to your Father who is in secret. The irony of this passage, as we’re looking at prayer, is that we all crave relationships with people. We all want to talk to people, we all want to be able to confide in them, we want to trust in them. Just like Samson, we’re all looking for someone that will love us whom we can love. And the irony of it is, is that we chase after those relationships, trusting in people who, more or less, are not always trustworthy. We give our heart to people because we need to, because we want to, when what we should be doing is giving our heart to God, the one who is completely and totally trustworthy.
Prayer in the Secret Place
As I look at this passage and as we begin this whole study on prayer, it says here in verse 6, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret”. If you want to find God, you have to look for Him in the quiet place, in the secret place, where no one else can see you. As I was meditating on that text this week, it seems quite obvious that what Christ is saying here is that you need to get one-on-one with Him; you need to get alone with Him because the truth is that things happen on one-on-one alone time with God that do not happen when you’re with other people. It’s that simple. We can all pray in public places, and I encourage prayer everywhere and anywhere that you go. The Bible says that you are to pray without ceasing, which means that we are to be living lives of prayer. But the truth is, when we’re in a public space, to some extent, we are always aware and conscious of the fact that people are watching us, which means that our focus and our attention is divided. We’ve got half of our mind always focused on God, and half of our mind subconsciously is always thinking about other people watching us, which means we’re not totally focused in on the conversation that we’re trying to have with God.
How many of you have ever been in a conversation with someone in which you were trying to confide something in them, you were trying to share something with them, and they were kind of listening to you and kind of half texting or whatever. Then you say something really significant and they’re like, “I’m sorry – what?” and it was clear that they weren’t giving you their whole attention. How does that make you feel? Not that great, right? “Why am I wasting my time pouring out my breath, my words to you, when you’re not even listening to me?” Why do we do that to God, then? Because you know that when we pray to God who is in secret, it is clear that He wants it to be a two-way dialogue.
If we’re in a public space, we are tempted, always, not to be brutally honest with God in terms of what we’re struggling with, in terms of what we’re going through, because half of our mind is always thinking about what the guy next to us is thinking. At the same time, as we’re thinking about what the guy next to us is thinking, we’re not truly able to pour ourselves out to God. Jesus says, “go into the secret place, and pray to your Father, who is in secret,” which means that if you want to get close to God, you have got to let God get close to you. If you want to find Him, if you really want to draw near to Him, you have got to be away from the whole world so that He can hear you pour it all out to Him. What we realize from this is that God is saying, “If you love me, you’ll give me your whole heart. If you’re coming to Me looking for Me and not the applause and the approval of others then you’ll come to Me and you’ll give Me your whole heart.” That’s the significance of going to the secret place, where nobody else can see you.
A Few Tips on Praying
I just want to give you a couple of things that have helped me over the years:
When you pray, pray out loud. I know some of you are going to raise your eyebrows when you hear that. Pray out loud. It helps. It does. As a self-confessed poor-prayer, my mind wanders. I’ve probably got ADD – nobody has actually diagnosed me with it, but I’m pretty sure I do; I tend to jump topics really quickly. In my own brain, if I just pray in my head, it has got to sound like the most convoluted mess of just crazy stuff coming out: “Yeah, God, I love you…I wonder what time the football game is coming on…God, thank you for football…that’s good stuff…I praise you, Father…I see power and strength in that sport and it’s all to your…your…awe, man, I wonder what I have to today…I really have to go to the bathroom about now.” Who talks like that to each other? It’s the most convoluted mess! If we pray in our heads, our brains tend to wander. I don’t know why that is, but it’s true. And I think based on the laughter I’m hearing you guys know that I’m hitting a nail on the head. Pray out loud.
I know that sounds crazy, but I started doing this about three years ago, and I just want to offer this to you as a piece of advice. You don’t have to do it. There’s nowhere in the Bible that says you actually have to pray out loud, but as I ponder this passage, there’s a reason why Jesus says to get alone and shut the door. It ought to be that we are able to find a place where we can talk, either in our heads or out loud, and people won’t be able to hear us because we’ll be truly alone with the Lord. So, find a place where you can get alone, and talk out loud. And here’s why: I’m not a medical doctor, but there is something connected to brain thoughts and brain processes and the way that you form words when you actually have to talk, in forming sentences, forming actual words, stringing these things together – it actually helps your mind to focus on what you’re saying. Which means that if your mind is more focused, you’re also going to be able to focus more carefully on your Father, and that’s what prayer is.
Why prayer is hard: Focus
I think that, out of all the things in Christian life, the hardest is not necessarily reading your Bible, although that can be difficult at times – there’s interesting stuff in the Bible, there’s a lot of great stories – it can grab your attention if you let it. The most difficult thing is not money, giving your money to the church or giving money to the people who need it, being sacrificial. A lot of us can find the ability to do that, although it can be difficult at times. I think the hardest thing in the Christian life, and I think that if we’re all willing to be brutally honest with ourselves, the hardest thing is to talk to God. Why? Because we focus on it. We focus on it and other people are focusing on us while we’re trying to do it. And our attention is all over the place.
It’s kind of like driving a car and rather than looking through the windshield to where we’re going, we get obsessed with looking at the windshield. This is how a lot of us treat our prayer life – I’m in my car. Step number one: hands at ten and 2? Okay, check. Step number two: make sure you’re looking at the windshield…but you’re not supposed to look at the windshield; you’re supposed to look through the windshield. If you focus on the windshield you’re going to be mowing stuff over all the time. You’re going to be mowing poor pedestrians over, running into mailboxes, knocking over fire hydrants – it would be crazy! Because you’re not looking at the windshield when you drive. You’re looking through it. It’s the same with prayer. We think, “Okay, I’ve got to get together with these guys and I’ve got to come up with some really super awesome sort of prayer or thing that I’m going to say which is going to be good,” and we get all tense and stressed over the whole thing. Listen, we’re not focusing on the act, because the act is all about having a relationship with a person, okay? In other words, we’d be focusing on prayer like we’d be focusing on the windshield, when really when we step into prayer, we should just go through that activity, straight to the Father. That’s the whole point of it, to call upon the Name of the Lord. So don’t spend your whole time stressing about looking at the windshield or looking at the prayer itself and whether it’s a good prayer. Forget all of that nonsense. When you drive, you’re going somewhere, and as you are looking through the windshield you’re looking at the destination. It’s the exact same with prayer. Look through the activity to the person you’re talking to.
Jesus makes the statement here, “when you prayer, go into your room, shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” The goal is to talk to God, the Person, which He clearly indicates that we ought to be doing. Then a consideration that we ought to have when we have that conversation with Him is where is He? How many of us say, “Yes, I would like to talk to pastor Josh, so I’m going to go sit on my couch at home even though he’s not there.” Can you have a conversation with someone when he’s not in the room? That’s ridiculous – of course none of us would ever talk like that. And yet, Jesus says, “You want to know where your Father is? He’s not out in the grand highways and byways. If you want to find Him, go into the closet.” But because we focus on the activity, we sometimes forget about the Person who’s supposed to be on the back side of that activity.
It’s all about knowing a Person. It’s all about talking to a Person. When you love Him and you want to talk to Him and you draw near to Him where He can see you and know you and hear your whole heart and you are able to pour your whole heart out to Him and give yourself to Him in conversation, Christ says, verse 6, “your Father, who sees in secret,” the only One who can see you in your closet, the only One who can see you in that private place, He sees you there, talking to Him, He will reward you.
Holidays are fun times in my house. We do a lot of work around the holidays. Most of you probably don’t realize this but to actually cook a meal and have family over and to have a wonderful time of fellowship around Christmas or Easter, that actually takes a lot of effort; it really does. You have to go buy the groceries, you have to cook the food and prepare it. You have this wonderful meal, everyone is happy, you’ve eaten all this food, and then afterwards, you’re not just looking to go to the next activity. You linger. You talk. We enjoy each other. We spend time together and we like it. There’s no agenda. There’s no “Let’s talk about A, B and C and let’s cross that off my check list.” We’re just being friends with each other, loving each other and enjoying each other. If you’ve ever had an experience like that, where you’ve sat down after a meal around the holidays and you’ve just talked late into the night, caught up with old friends and shared your heart and heard their heart and just laughed and loved and had a good time. If you’ve ever had an experience like that, you know it’s a taste of heaven. There’s no money involved. There’s no exchange of dollars. We’re not getting any kind of a prize. The joy of it is that we get to know each other and love each other. And there is so much joy in that. When we come to this passage and He says that your Father will reward you, the whole point of it is that He doesn’t reward the hypocrites. What is it that they think that they’re getting? Some sort of special favor from His presence in their life. Well, guess what – they don’t have any of that, which means that when we come for the reward, we’ve got to be coming for Him. How trivial is it that when we come to Him we would come looking for money or that we would come to Him looking for a new car or any of the other garbage that the health and wealth prosperity gospel markets? What is there better than Him, just a conversation with Him, listening to Him talk to you. I pray that when you come to the Lord in prayer, you would find all kinds of happiness and joy and delight and satisfaction. I pray you would be fully pleased and happy with nothing more than an intimate, personal relationship with your heavenly Father.
You know, Samson was looking for that friendship and that fellowship in a relationship with a woman who didn’t care two flips about him, and she betrayed him. If you study the story of Samson a little bit more carefully, you realize a lot of that heartache could have been avoided if he had have made a personal relationship with God first and foremost in his life. It’s tragic that what could have been one of the greatest judges of Israel should end his life in such a pathetic final scene, eyes gouged out, totally weak, no strength, bound up, put on display for all the Philistines to see and mock and laugh at. And yet, what was the last thing Samson did with his life? He prayed. He asked God for deliverance. He asked God for just a little bit more strength.
No matter where you are, no matter what decisions you’ve made, no matter how much you have botched up prayer, even now you can still always go back and begin a real conversation with the Father. That’s my prayer for you, Bridge Baptist Church, that today and every day from this day forward, you would make it your daily practice to enjoy the pleasure of His company.
The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.