Our Father Who Sees in Secret: Prayer
Moving on to the second part of the three-part section about humility and our Father “who sees in secret”, we are focusing on the subject of prayer. As in my last article about this part of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:1-18), Jesus is focused on his followers living for their Father in heaven, not the recognition and approval of the world around them. This time, Jesus is highlighting two groups of people: the ones who are boisterous for the sake of attention and the ones who pray a long time, thinking that the length of their prayer is what gains God’s approval.
In the first part of this passage on prayer (6:5-6), Jesus is highlighting the hypocrisy of praying just to be heard by others. Though he does not mention them by name, I assume that he is again speaking of the scribes and Pharisees. In all of their pomp and frills, they would go to the temple or synagogues or street corners to show the world how “righteous” they were. They got what they came for, also. Just as with those who give to the needy for recognition, these hypocrites who pray vainly “have received their reward.” They have received the attention they desire; they got that for which they came. But their reward will fade just as all that is done for vanity does. However, there is a reward that never fades that comes from the kindest and most gracious Person in existence, and it comes through humility.
Jesus teaches us that our Father is in the secret place of prayer, a place into which no one else can see. Rather than praying with vain ambition to be seen by others, we are told to go into our rooms and pray in secret, confident in the knowledge that our Father sees and will reward us. While there are cultural aspects to take into account regarding what is meant by going into our rooms, I believe that what Jesus is communicating is that we pray in a place where we are alone with our Father, away from the eyes and ears of others. Maybe your “room” is the park where you walk, your car, your bedroom, or somewhere else you enjoy alone time. Wherever it is, your Father is there with you. He sees your desires and the depths of your love for him. You don’t need to pray loudly, with certain words and grammar, or for a certain length of time. As his child, you have his attention now.
The most well-known part of this passage and the sermon on the mount is what we have come to know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” While I will not get into breaking it down line-by-line, I do want to point out its foundation: Our Father in heaven. It is noticeable that the prayer does not begin in verse 11 with, “Give us this day our daily bread” and the subsequent requests of forgiveness (vs. 12) and protection (vs. 13). Rather, Jesus intentionally places our focus on the Father. We can often approach God and prayer as if he were a vending machine and our prayers the quarters, coming to him as someone to get things from without taking the time to look at, adore, and speak to him. He is worthy of our adoration, worth more than being treated as a means to the end. Jesus fixes our gaze upon him at the beginning of this model of prayer, and I believe we should take note. He is the reason we pray and worship, not what we gain from them.