I heard from someone a long time ago that “prayer is as simple as two people embracing”. It could be going overboard in this description but I think it hits much of the mark. If prayer to God is understood like that, then the understanding that prayer for the individual needs to begin at the individual level. Also in a simplicity context of prayer, there is not the pressure to speak what I call “Christian-ese”.
This is a term I use is for a type of religious talk that goes on between people of different Christian faith communities that an outside may not follow or indeed be in awe of. Praying like that is asking to be recognized as “holier than thou”. Someone projecting themselves as the center of a s spiritual show will either draw people to the latest religious flavor of the month or too often repel people from the gospel.
So along came Jesus of Nazareth to bring redemption through the cross but also in frank clarity to the fancy-shmantzy assumptions of the religious figures of the day. On the time, place and motivation of prayer they had lost their way particular on what their needs were and it not including a show about them.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8).
When you pray— Jesus is assuming of the hearers that it is a given his listeners were praying. Or maybe he is using the term “when” to be about urging the hearers to start making it a lifestyle.
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues….. so that others may see them.—- The custom of the synagogue includes all eyes being on someone but during their teaching that is tied to the reading of Sacred Scriptures. Even a rabbi is not the main place of focus in a way but if they are it is in a way that represents the glory of God and thus points to Him.. What is more, they operate the most rabbinically when they sit down to prevent spiritual stardom.
and on street corners so that others may see them— I can only speculate more about the motivation. Suffice it to say they are getting recognized for their spiritual initiative. And that is what their reward is which they have in full. They put themselves in a place of recognition doing a faith act for the flesh context. Jesus says, “Congrats”. Sort of.
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.— One of these hypocrites that does not like what Jesus said in the first part may hope to apply some of what he said but in the living room with windows and a loophole that someone will notice them. Jesus makes it clear that they are to make the context for God’s reward to not be observable. The embrace of God is best a secret one.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.—But how does this Father repay? Well, if you get a measurable reward of “Oo, ah” when you intentionally want to make a spectacle of yourself, which is measurable, I can only say that God will do the rewarding in a way that is immeasurable. However He does it will be awesome. If I could say that there is a hint in specifics, I would say it is from Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him in love”. Could holiness in according to these heavenly blessings be its own reward? Absolutely not!….according to the flesh.
do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. —This is important to notice in part because the next passage, which I will write about in my next blog is the Our Father prayer. Many well meaning Christians will look at that and say it is a classic way to do vain repetitions. But are repetitions in our communication with God necessarily vain? How about, “I love you God”? If such words are used in a formulaic way that is not relational and submissive to God’s will for your life then it will not be rightly spiritual and therefore not hit the mark of faith which credits your true righteousness.
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.— One does not have to pray like a Shakespeare on spiritual steroids. The gift of simplicity in prayer is that you reduce in your mind and heart everything to what your needs are and not how highly your philosophy is formed about them or any other complex spin. This gives us all the more picture why Jesus says so many times that are capacity to receive the kingdom is found in the temperament of a child. So much simplicity, so much more room for God to get through and embrace us in His love by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him—- So why ask? Isn’t the Christian life all in God’s hands anyway? The place one can get to in light of how faith and reason are worked out in salvation history is that our petitions and His grace is not a matter of an ultimatum but a mystery of both His grace and our response to it that is humble and centered on Him. In other words, a beautiful “both/and”.
So if prayer is as simple as two people embracing, what is stopping us? Who do we feel we need to impress? What role do we assume for ourselves in our spiritual communities that is not centered on that “secret reward” I referred to? And if I do not like the answers, am I willing to ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to drawn me into that “inner room” for the right reasons?