Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding.
"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure—'playactors' I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well.
I have often wondered what it was about the prayer closet, the secluded place, that was so important. I understood what Jesus means here about “playacting” or “hypocrisy” in our more literal translations. That all made sense. But, I have often wondered if there wasn’t more to it.
Peterson expands what we read in the NIV when he writes, “Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
Here’s how the NIV handles that verse, “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.”
As I have been pondering this, this morning I think what Peterson is tapping into here is the “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret,” part of the verse.
There are a few people in my life who really know me. These are people that I feel “seen” by. There’s a depth of knowing by them that allows me to let my guard down and simply be.
This idea of the Father “seeing” is something that I have glossed over too many times. I have focused so much on the “reward” aspect. Too often in my young Christian life I had the belief that if I prayed rightly that I would be rewarded by getting what I asked for.
I don’t think that’s what is being said here.
No, I think the reward is knowing that the Father sees me.
The Creator God of the universe…
is present with you…
cares about you…
None of this is dependent on whether or not you pray in a secluded space. It’s all true regardless of you or your actions because that is the beauty of who God is. God’s actions are rooted in God’s personhood, God’s being, God’s identity, God’s nature. God is faithful regardless of us.
What is dependent is our experience of this seeing by God. This is our reward! The intimate, experiential, awareness that the Father sees me.
Every kid I know (and I am well acquainted with being a child as well) wants to be seen by their parents. I was moved by images of an NFL rookie after playing in his first NFL game running into the stands to his parents and family. It doesn’t matter how old we get, there is something about being seen by our parents.
How much more so the Creator God?
The more I practice the simplicity of secluded, private, prayer the more I am growing in my awareness of the presence of the Divine. More and more I am feeling seen by God. More and more I am feeling secure in my relationship with God. More and more I am feeling loved by God.