May 12 – Prayer’s Real Audience: God

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.—Matt. 6:6

Jesus’ primary instruction about prayer here is not about the location, but about our attitude in realizing that God constitutes our audience. If you go to a quiet, private place and shut everything else out as you pray, you’ll turn your focus from yourself and others and over to God exclusively. Jesus regularly got away to pray alone so He could have effective communion with His Father, the most important, singular member of His prayer audience.

Praying to God “who is in secret” doesn’t mean He is not our main audience for public prayers. He is definitely there wherever and whenever we call on Him. Genuine prayer is thus in a sense always intimate. If offered rightly, even public prayer will shut us into a private moment with God, enclosed in His presence.

Our “Father who sees what is done in secret” never betrays one of our prayer confidences. Unlike the occasional breached confidence we suffer at the hands of even our closest family or friends, private prayers and secret concerns shared with God will forever remain known just to Him, unless we later want others to know. The important thing for God is not the precise words we utter in private prayer, but rather the private thoughts we express in our hearts. Only He can know these with certainty and truly care about them (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3–5).

When God is genuinely the audience of our prayers, He will faithfully and unfailingly bless and reward us.

What have you discovered to be the greatest blessings of prayer? If none immediately spring to mind, try imagining a life without access to God’s ear and His Spirit. What would you miss most about being out of contact with Him?[1]

The True Audience: God

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (6:6)

The basic definition of prayer is “communion with God,” and if He is not involved there is only the pretense of prayer. Not only must He be involved, but centrally involved. Prayer is God’s provision; it is God’s idea, not man’s. There could be no prayer if God did not condescend to speak with us, and we could not know how to pray had He not chosen to instruct us.

Jesus’ teaching here is simple, in contrast to the complicated and difficult traditions. The phrase when you pray implies great latitude. No prescribed time or occasion is given by the Lord. The tameion (inner room) could be any sort of small room or chamber, even a storage closet. Such rooms were often secret and used to store valued possessions for protection. The idea is that of going to the most private place available.

As already mentioned, Jesus does not forbid or condemn public prayer as such (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1–4). His purpose here seems to have been to make as great a contrast as possible to the practices of the scribes, Pharisees, and other hypocritical religionists. The primary point Jesus makes does not have to do with location but with attitude. If necessary, Jesus says, go to the most secluded, private place you can find so you will not be tempted to show off. Go there and shut the door. Shut out everything else so that you can concentrate on God and pray to your Father. Do whatever you have to do to get your attention away from yourself and others and on Him and Him alone.

Much of our prayer life should be literally in secret. Jesus regularly went away from His disciples to pray entirely alone. Our family members or friends may know that we are praying, but what we say is not meant for them to hear. Chrysostom commented that in his day (the fourth century a.d.) many Christians prayed so loud in their rooms that everyone down the hall heard what they said. If people sometimes happen to overhear our private prayers, it should not be by our intention. (Cf. John A. Broadus, Matthew [Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1886], p. 140.)

But the Father being in secret does not mean He is not present when we pray in public, or with our families or other small groups of believers. He is very much present whenever and wherever His children call on Him. Jesus’ point has to do with the singleness of intention. True prayer is always intimate. Even prayer in public, if the heart is right and concentrated on God, will in a real and profound way shut one up alone in the presence of God.

In the pattern of prayer Jesus taught His disciples, He begins with “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9), indicating that other believers may be present and that the prayer is corporate. But even when prayer represents the feelings and needs of others who are present, the supreme attention is to be on God. In that sense, even the most public prayer is in secret. Even if the whole world hears what we say, there is an intimacy and focus on God in that communion that is unaffected.

God also sees in secret in the sense that He never betrays a confidence. Many things we share with God in our private prayers are for Him alone to know. Confidences we share even with our dearest loved ones or closest friends may sometimes be betrayed. But we can be sure our secrets with God will forever be just that, and that one believer praying in secret with a pure heart has the full attention of the Father.

Furthermore, when our prayer is as it should be, our Father who sees in secret will repay us. The most important secret He sees is not the words we say in the privacy of our room, but the thoughts we have in the privacy of our heart. Those are the secrets about which He is supremely concerned, and about which only He can know with certainty (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3–5). Those secrets sometimes are hidden even from ourselves, because it is so easy to be deceived about our own motives.

When God is genuinely the audience of our prayer, we will have the reward only He can give. Jesus gives no idea in this passage as to what God’s reward, or repayment, will be. The important truth is that God will faithfully and unfailingly bless those who come to Him in sincerity. Without question, the Lord will repay. Those who pray insincerely and hypocritically will receive the world’s reward, and those who pray sincerely and humbly will receive God’s.[2]

  1. But whenever you pray, enter into your most private room, and having shut the door, pray to your Father who is in secret. The idea is not that there must be a separate prayer room. As was pointed out earlier, the houses of many in the audience had only one room. The sense is this: if there be a private room then use that for your private prayer; otherwise choose the most hidden corner. Do not try to make yourself conspicuous. The main emphasis, however, is not even on the place of prayer but on the attitude of mind and heart. Not the secrecy is the real underlying thought but the sincerity. The reason for mentioning the secret place is that the sincere and humble worshiper, one who is not interested in making a public display for the sake of enhancing his prestige, will find the secluded nook or den to be most appropriate for his devotions. It is there that he can shut out the world and be alone with his God.

The shutting of the door (cf. 2 Kings 4:33; Isa. 26:20) makes the secret place even more secret. As to the Object of the prayer, namely, the Father, he not only sees in secret (verse 4), but also is in secret: he fills every secret (as well as public) place with his presence, yet transcends all spatial limitations (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7–10; Isa. 66:1; Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 7:48, 49; 17:27, 28).

Here again it is necessary to add that the purpose of entering the secret place and shutting the door can be defeated if one begins to advertise this practice, as some ministers are in the habit of doing, when at the beginning of the worship service—sometimes even in the pastoral prayer—they assure the congregation that before they sat down to prepare the sermon they had locked the door of their study and spent so many minutes in earnest prayer!

The one who prays with the proper disposition of heart and mind is blessed, as in verse 4: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. The man who so prays will have peace of heart and mind. He will know that the Father, in his infinite love, will give the supplicant whatever is best both for himself and for all concerned. He will also know that this same Father “is able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine” (see N.T.C. on Eph. 3:20, 21).[3]

6 If Jesus were forbidding all public prayer, then clearly the early church did not understand him (e.g., 18:19–20; Ac 1:24; 3:1; 4:24–30). The public versus private antithesis is a good test of one’s motives. The person who prays more in public than in private reveals that he is less interested in God’s approval than in human praise. Not piety but a reputation for piety is his concern. Far better to deal radically with this hypocrisy (cf. 5:29–30) and pray in a private “room”; the word tameion (GK 5421) can refer to a storeroom (Lk 12:24), some other inner room (Mt 12:26; 24:26; Lk 12:3, 24), or even a bedroom (Isa 26:20 LXX, with which this verse has several common elements; see also 2 Ki 4:33). The Father, who sees in secret, will reward the disciple who prays in secret (see comments at v. 4).[4]

6:6 In verses 5 and 7, the Greek pronoun translated you is plural. But in verse 6, in order to emphasize private communion with God, you switches to singular. The key to answered prayer is to do it in secret (i.e., go into your room and shut your door). If our real motive is to get through to God, He will hear and answer.

It is reading too much into the passage to use it to prohibit public prayer. The early church met together for collective prayer (Acts 2:42; 12:12; 13:3; 14:23; 20:36). The point is not where we pray. At issue here is, why we pray—to be seen by people or to be heard by God.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 141). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 366–367). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 322–323). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 199). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1224). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


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