“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 men. I tell you the truth, 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 in heaven. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (verses 5-8)
Whose eyes are we hoping will be on us when we pray? Is it our Father in heaven or the admiring people around us?
Whose ears are we hoping will hear us? Do we craft words eager to glean human approval, or do we simply focus on communicating our heart’s cry to the Father?
Jesus sets the scene by spotlighting a solitary individual engaged in personal prayer, but the principles apply equally when we pray as part of a gathered community. The Father sees. The Father hears. That’s all that matters. Focus on him.
The religious hypocrites of the day turned prayer into a show, standing prominently in the synagogue so all could see. Or they would take a prime spot on a public street in full view of the passing masses. Israel, of course, was a society permeated by religion, so such displays would not be out of place and might well garner the admiring respect, even star-struck adulation, of those who felt less skilled at the discipline of prayer.
Street-corner preening might not appeal so much today, but it is possible to seek the same admiration in other ways. Ultimately, it all has to do with whose attention we’re pursuing. Which is why Jesus says to “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father.” Not that all prayer needs to be in private, but it does need to be directed solely to the Lord himself. The crucial question has to do with focus. The very things we might do to falsely gain the attention of others are, in fact, the very things that are part of real devotion. Do we close our eyes, concentrate our brow, raise our hands, murmur amens, pray with passion, allow emotion to sway us? It could all be a show, or it could come straight from the heart. Focus on the Father.
And remember this amazing truth: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” I wonder how much of my praying would be reshaped if I could truly grasp this one simple, profound insight. It reminds me of the Apostle John’s editorial comment as he records Jesus’ question to the disciples, asking where they will find enough bread to feed the five thousand men (and others) – John says, “he already had in mind what he was going to do” (John 6:6). Our Lord knows our hearts, he knows our requests, he knows our needs. Our prayers, therefore, fall on sympathetic ears – indeed, they fall on ears that are eager to hear our petitions, longing to draw us into the very purposes he already has in mind.
So pray. Not focused on those around – how distracting. But rather focused intently – confidently – on the Father who loves us.
Father, thank you that you see and hear and know. You know my needs. You hear my voice. You see my heart. Shape my prayers with this knowledge. And focus my sights solely on you. Amen.
Pray: Take time right now to pray, knowing that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” So, ask. What do you need? Ask.