Praying in Secret
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6:6
suggested further reading: Luke 18:1–14
We are commanded in many passages to pray to God or to praise him in the public assembly, amid a crowd and before all the people. We are to do that not only to testify of our faith or gratitude before others, but also to excite them by our example to do likewise. Christ does not discourage us from such an exercise, but he does warn us to always have God before our eyes when we engage in prayer.
We must not literally interpret the words enter into thy closet, as if Christ asks us to avoid the presence of other people, or declares that we do not pray rightly unless there are no witnesses. He speaks in a comparative sense, saying that we should seek privacy in praying rather than before a crowd of witnesses.
It is advantageous, indeed, to believers and contributes to their pouring out prayers and groans with greater freedom before God for them to withdraw from the gaze of others. Retiring from the public is also useful for another reason: that our minds may be more free and disengaged from all distracting thoughts. Accordingly, Christ frequently chooses to hide himself from others by going to an isolated spot to pray.
But the main purpose of this verse is to correct the desire of self-glorification. Whether a person prays alone or in the presence of others, he ought to have the same feelings as if he were shut up in his closet and had no other witness but God. Furthermore, when Christ says, thy Father shall reward thee, he plainly declares that the reward that is promised to us in any part of Scripture is not paid as a debt, but is a free gift.
for meditation: To spend adequate time in private prayer with God is not easy. In a world driven by productivity and bound by the clock, it can even seem like an unproductive use of time. Nothing is further from the truth, however. Then, too, praying before others can earn us praise and puff us up. That distracts us from the true aim of prayer, which is to focus on God. In light of our many failures in prayer, the reward Jesus speaks of is paid not as a debt, but as a free gift. Let us emulate our Savior in how he prayed, whether before others or in private; in both, he sought only the will and honor of his Father in heaven.