“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
If you haven’t heard it, recently – or if you’ve never heard it before – here it is: There is no need to make a name for yourself. In fact, we should seek to live simply – and even, dare I say it, secretly – trusting God to use our lives in the way that he sees fit.
One of the most powerful prayers we can offer, is to pray as Paul teaches, for kings and others in power, that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God. (1 Timothy 2:2)
That’s very different from what the culture around us encourages: Find out who you are and publish it to the world! Christ, instead, tells us to take up three secret disciplines – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-18) – and so hide our lives in him (Colossians 3:3).
We see why our lives are meant to have a secret feel to them, when we understand what Christ means when he denounces hypocrisy: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites.” (Matthew 6:5)
The word Jesus uses, which we translate as “hypocrites”, is the ancient word for “stage actors”. The thing Jesus is saying about prayer (and fasting and almsgiving), is simply that when we press into these disciplines, we must remove ourselves from the stage as much as possible. Jesus really does not like people who perform their religion, so that they can be held in high regard.
Let’s just take prayer: What is one of the key signs of stage acting when we pray? Christ says, too many words (Matthew 6:7), or formulas, because – on some level – the person praying in that way, believes that by a lot of words, or by the correct set of words, that they can get God’s attention or can force God’s hand.
Against these kind of practices, we need to hear this:
- Christ knows our needs before we go to him in prayer. (Matthew 6:8)
- His Spirit, dwelling within us, often intercedes for us when we cannot find the words to pray. (Romans 8:26-27)
- Our prayers should be simple and direct.
The model for simple, direct prayer, is the Lord’s Prayer. There are several parts to the Lord’s prayer, but its focus is always: “Thy Kingdom come.” Not: “Let me give you a list so that I can deck out my kingdom.” Not: a lot of words about me and what I want.
The focus of the Lord’s Prayer is on God and His future, and away from us and many of our present concerns. To find and consolidate this focus, Jesus says, we must go and pray, fast, and give in secret.
The Psalms are also a model for simple, direct prayer. They are the prayers of Israel, and they are the prayers of the Church. When we pray them, without performing them, God does mighty things in and through us; he does mighty things in the world, among the nations.
Go, today, to the secret place that Jesus counsels; the place that we hear about in Psalm 81:
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;…
In distress you called, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder….”
The secret place of thunder is Mount Sinai, where Moses goes to receive the Ten Commandments. You don’t have to go up a mountain. In fact, when we obey him, God in Jesus Christ comes down to us, and lives within us.
When we pray, fast, and serve our neighbors in need – and when we do all of these things in secret – Our Father, who sees in secret, rewards us with his presence.