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.
At the very core, what kind of a conversation should prayer be? Well, I guess it depends on the relationship you want. You don’t talk to a stranger the same way you talk to a member of your family (hopefully). In the same way, your speech and syntax are different when talking to a law enforcement or government official than when talking to a friend.
Here’s a wager I would make: I’ll bet that when you and I talk with a government official, our speech is more formalized and careful. More cryptic, and somewhat inhibited. Whether we think we have anything to hide or not, we just want to cover the bullet points that are necessary at the time, and make the dialogue as efficient as possible.
That is not how you or I would talk to a friend, or someone with whom we wanted a good relationship. The talk would be more personal, more vulnerable, less careful. Inhibitions would be lowered. And the closer the relationship, the more these things would organically happen. So what relationship do you or I want with the One to whom we pray? It’s very possible that we (and I will raise my hand on this one) have been talking to God like we would talk to a cop when stopped for a traffic infraction. Just the necessary stuff, get it over with as quickly as possible.
But doesn’t God want something different? We sometimes forget—Abraham was called a friend of God. In John 15, I read something that to me is a game-changer. John relays that Jesus Christ tells us, “I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). I can well imagine that the conversations of master and servant versus those of friends are VERY different. I have come to the conclusion that I have to pursue a friendship with my Creator and, for the most part, my conversation and conduct has to reflect that.
How those conversations between friends will sound and feel will depend on personality, background, and so forth. I can’t tell you what to say, but frankly most of us should intuitively be able to figure out what it takes to build a friendship. So instead of going into the “how to” details of talking to a true friend, let me state what I think that God wants from us…
God wants our heart!
He wants us to be honest with Him, and this now is coming full circle back to the concept of our inner closet. God wants us as His family, and a true and honest friendship is part of that. He wants us to be able to open the door, let His light shine on the junk in that inner room, and help us to deal with it. The irony is that He already knows what is in there—He simply wants us to honestly acknowledge it. Only then can the cleaning-out process begin. And remember what the scripture says: “…pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret…” (Matt. 6:6)
If you are able, and you are comfortable with God, you can deal with it on this level. God is so merciful to us, and wants so badly for us just to deal honestly with Him. He can handle it. Religion in general tends to “humanize” God, to make Him more like us—for example, being punitive, easily offended, traits that humans have. We can be guilty of doing that. He’s so much bigger than that. If He can handle what’s in my closet, He can handle yours.
When you pray, open the door to your closet to God, “…and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly”.