One thing I like a lot about our church family is that religious pretension isn’t much of a thing in our community. So when I read this part of the Sermon on the Mount, I initially feel less convicted than I do reading other sections.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Matt. 6:5-6 (NIV)
I don’t think most of us are in any danger or praying in order to be seen praying. But one thing this passage does make me think about is whether I am, in fact, praying in private. My prayer life has gone up and down dramatically throughout the course of my walk with Jesus. 2022 has been a strong season as I’ve continued the habit of daily prayer for friends and family Jesus would like to know better as well as daily meditation on scripture since the start of our 40 Days of Faith back in March. But there have been seasons in my life where, though I didn’t pray in public for the purpose of impressing others, I mostly prayed in group situations where prayer was expected out of a general sense of obligation or appropriateness rather than on my own out of the desire to grow in relationship with Jesus and out of the belief that my prayers would be transformative for myself and others. What has typically brought me back out of these seasons was a renewed sense of purpose with regard to prayer.
In contrast to having a renewed sense of purpose, what has usually not been helpful has been feeling guilty about not praying enough and telling myself I should pray more. Like a lot of people, I find “shoulding” myself pretty unmotivating. But knowing what I’m praying for and why I’m praying is highly motivating. I found over the Lent season that God was changing my heart toward my friends and neighbors and that praying for them did in fact result in me spending time with them, talking with them, and inviting them to church. And I was really happy to see that some of them came on Easter. I also found that meditating daily on scripture was causing me to grow in faith and character in ways I really valued. And, it has been out of the desire to continue to grow in these ways that I currently wake up most mornings excited to pray and read scripture by myself.
This week, I’d like to encourage all of us to be actively engaged in private prayer. If, like me, you go up and down in your motivation to pray alone, I’d suggest going back to some of the things we prayed for during Lent. What do you most want for your own life right now? What do you think Jesus most wants for your life? How do you desire to grow in faith and character? Whom do you spend regular time with that Jesus would like to have more of a relationship with? Whom do you love whom Jesus might like to speak to you about loving better? If you don’t already, find a time you can spend even as little as ten or fifteen minutes most days dialoguing - that is listening as well as speaking - with the Spirit about these things.
Love in Christ,