But you, when you pray, enter into thy closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which seeth in secret shall reward you openly (Matt. 6:6)
We can deduce the obvious meaning here, and have heard that repeated over the decades—don’t be showy in prayer, but rather make it a private conversation with your Creator.
That is valid, and you won’t find me in disagreement. But is there an important message here that we’re missing?
I’m not one to arbitrarily find “deeper meaning” in everything or try to be the smartest person in the room. But I do think that we maybe need to look below the surface a little more here.
…enter your closet
If you were to spend any time at all looking at archaeological findings in that era of time (1st century CE), you would realize that the concept of a closet, or a separate private room in a multi-room dwelling, was foreign except to the wealthy. And I don’t think that Jesus Christ spent a lot of time instructing the wealthy, rather His time was spent with the common people. So how could this teaching connect to their lives? More importantly, what can we do with this teaching?
The best way I can illustrate this is with a phrase from the last several decades: “…coming out of the closet…” In today’s age that has a very specific meaning to us, but the phrase also has a more general meaning that should be important to us as we consider the passage in Matthew 6. This colloquial phrase means exposing a personal character trait that you or I have been keeping secret. So how should this affect the way we pray?
It is my view that we all have a closet that we keep closed and don’t really want anyone else to get a peek into, including God. Some of us have a closed door to an inner room and know it, and others have managed to fool themselves into thinking that they don’t—but we all do. To be honest, we don’t even want to look in there ourselves! It’s much easier to keep the door closed than to try to clean out the closet.
A conversation with a friend
Again, how should this affect the way we pray? I’m going to get even more basic here: what is prayer?
I think we tend to shroud certain “religious” issues with mystique. Issues like bible study, meditation, worship, and yes, prayer. The reality is, differences in personalities and experiences make each of us people that learn, muse, demonstrate passion, and talk or communicate in different ways.
Let’s take prayer. What is it? I suggest that it is simply engaging in conversation. Obviously, this is a talk with someone who is far greater than us. So anything I say here is not to mitigate intercessory prayer, thanksgiving, asking for favors or help, and so on. But those things don’t facilitate a relationship. Rather, they take advantage of a relationship.