MATTHEW 6:5-18: DO YOU PRAY IN SECRET?
In a church where I used to preach long ago, the "discipline of secrecy" somehow took hold; members of this church right and left were giving money away, praying and fasting and doing good works for others, and they did it in such secret ways that none of us could figure out who was doing what. And it became contagious. You just had this outbreak of secret goodness going on. And nobody was impressed with anybody else. We just said, “Praise God.” And God who sees in secret rewards openly.
Jesus has this way of catching us. He goes right to the heart of our vulnerability here—this wanting to impress other people with our piety. He says be careful; do it in secret, you have to cut out at the roots this desire to impress other people. Remember that you’re working with an audience of one, and when you do things to impress other people this One is not impressed.
Jesus says secrecy is crucial to our prayer lives as well, because who we are when people aren’t watching is who we really are. So as long as I’m doing my religious acts in front of people there’s always this little part of me that hopes they’re impressed, that hopes they’re watching; so Jesus says, pray in the dark, pray in the closet, pray in secrecy because this is not about impressing other people.
Living the Jesus life is about loving God and being loved by God. We have to work hard at killing that desire to be seen, to be noticed, to impress people. God sees, but sometimes I’m more preoccupied with whether you see.
Righteous acts are not about being seen by people but about establishing a close relationship with God, and spiritual disciplines are the counterweight to the desire to do deeds to be seen by people.
Can you see me? Are you watching? Are you impressed?
Lord, we are tempted to do good things for the wrong reasons, seeking a affirmation from other human beings instead of from God. Would you please remind us again that you are the audience of One?
Learn a new discipline of secrecy. Please the One not the many. Look to do good deeds for people without them knowing it. Ask yourself when you do something good, “Am I doing this because it pleases God or others or myself?”
Randy Harris teaches theology, ethics, and preaching at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He has authored several books and co-authored books with Greg Taylor, including Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount.