♫ DOWNLOAD AUDIO ♫
Pray To Your Father Who Is Unseen
Key Verse 6:6
“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.”
After the Lord Jesus called his first disciples, he gave them their first public teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He talked to them about the kingdom of God, about its laws and its life. In that kingdom, God is not only King, but he is a Father. He not only gives us all things, but he is all things to us as well. When we come to know who our God and Father is, we can be blessed beyond measure. And so, Jesus taught his disciples about God, and revealed to us that prayer and the prayer life was very much part of his teaching on the kingdom that Jesus had come to set up. Neither Moses nor the prophets say much about the duty of prayer, but Christ Jesus our Lord does. He teaches us to pray.
“And when you pray”, Jesus says, “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.” What is prayer? It is coming into the presence of God in order to commune with him and honoring him as God. God is not just another person whom we communicate with as we do with other people. He is the Almighty Creator God who fashioned our lives after his image. We are his creation. We are his children. We belong to him. When we come to him in prayer to commune with him, our whole being must be captivated by his presence and consumed with his glory. Coming in the presence of God should make us so completely engrossed in him such that we give glory and honor to him, even forgetting about ourselves. These are things that we should eventually learn in the school of prayer as we mature in our prayers and in our prayer lives. It will take time but we must learn them. When the prophet Isaiah came into the presence of God, this is what he saw round about the throne of God. He saw that above God: “were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. [God is so holy that even angels have to cover their faces in his presence] And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” [They constantly proclaim God as Holy who fills the whole earth with his glory] (Isaiah 6:2-5) And in the presence of God, Isaiah was rapt; only these words came out of his mouth: “Woe to me!” he said: “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” This is our God to whom we pray. Of course, we now enter into God’s presence through the redeeming and cleansing blood of Jesus. But this does not change the truth about God’s holiness and glory. We must come before him to honor and glorify him as the holy God.
So Jesus says: “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.” Hypocrites are those who use prayer which is intended to glorify God to glorify themselves instead. They love to pray in synagogues and at street corners. They do so to be seen by many, since synagogues and street corners are public places where people usually gather. They do not pray to be heard by God but to be seen by men. They do so to show themselves. This kind of prayer is very superficial. It cannot be considered as a prayer to God, nor a communion with him. Since the motive of this kind of prayer is to receive personal glory and recognition of other people, it does not register with God as prayer. Consequently it receives nothing from God either. Listen to what Jesus says about this kind of prayer. “I tell you the truth”, Jesus says: “They have received their reward in full.” He means that they have received the reward they were looking for through the praise and recognition of others. Such people cannot be remembered or recognized in God’s kingdom !
How then should we pray? Jesus continues with these words: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” The phrase “Go into your room” is better translated in the NASB as “Go into your inner room”, and it is as symbolic as “synagogues” and “street corners” are. Just as “synagogues” and “street corners” represent open or exposed places where people gather, so also the “inner room” represents a hidden place where no one can see. What I am saying is that you can find an “inner room” on a street corner, in a synagogue or church, or even on the road or in a car. How is that? Because an “inner room” is that special place where you pray or commune with God in secret. It is that place where you do not display your prayers on purpose so that others may see. When Jesus said: “Go into your [inner] room” and “close the door”, he meant for us to close or ‘shut’ the world out, and shut yourself in. In other words, you should disregard all outside voices and then quietly and separately pray to God.
Jesus continues saying: “Go into your [inner] room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” The NASB Bible says: “Go into your inner room, close your door and pray to you Father who is in secret.” It is so comforting to hear those words from the Lord. “Pray to your Father who is in secret.” They teach us something very important about prayer. They teach us in order to pray to your Father who is unseen, or in secret, really takes faith. Even though you do not sense anything around you, you really believe you are praying to your Father who is in secret, who is unseen by you. He is in secret, beyond the perception or detection of our human eyes. It takes faith to know, to believe, to be sure that he is really there. He is there in secret, where you cannot see him. What is he doing in your inner room in secret? He is there unseen, yet observing, listening, loving. He is not a Father who despises or ignores your prayers no matter how you pray or what you pray for. Instead, his attention is on you and on your prayer, ever listening to you— ever loving you because you are his and you belong to him.
When Jesus said: “Go into your [inner] room” and “close the door”, he also meant that we should have a secret place that we can go to in order to pray. It could be anywhere. Yet it should be a place where we can have a quiet time, apart from the world and its noisy affairs, a place where we can commune with God in quietness and solitude. It is in that secret place that we bring ourselves into God’s presence to be with him and to commune with him. If you want to learn to pray then, you will have to find or make an “inner room”, a secret place you can go to regularly to pray. That’s where Jesus our Teacher comes to us to teach us all that we need to know how to pray. It is there that we can spend quality time with the Teacher where we speak to him heart to heart and he fills our hearts with his presence and satisfies our deepest longings. And you can find an “inner room” or a “secret place” to pray even in the most crowded and noisiest of places. Why? Because your communion with God, as Jesus has taught us, is not a matter of location, but a matter of spirit and truth (John 4:24). In other words, there is a place in our spirit where God meets with us, if we designate that place to be for God and for God alone. Then and only then are our deepest longings realized.
Jesus wanted us to know something else about prayer and about satisfying our deepest longings. Listen to how Jesus finishes his words: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Can you believe him? Can you believe his words? When the Lord Jesus says that God “will reward you”, he will surely “reward you”. He is there with you in prayer ensuring that your prayer in secret is not in vain. If you really pray, your prayer will not go unheard. It will surely be heard and surely be rewarded too. Even if there seems to be no reward today or tomorrow, the day will surely come when you will be rewarded. You will surely be satisfied. I cannot tell you what that reward will be. But God knows our hearts and he rewards accordingly.
Here, Jesus does not talk directly about answered prayers. He rather talks about rewards! In the Greek, the word “reward” has a meaning of “giving back” and “restore” or “return” or “fulfill”. Although sometimes rewards come in the form of answered prayers, in this teaching Jesus is talking about the reward of being recognized and praised by God himself. And there can be no greater fulfillment or satisfaction for a human heart and spirit than God’s recognition or respect or commendation. Just as those who pray for show receive the recognition and the praise of others, so also those who pray in secret to their father in heaven receive God’s recognition and recompense. Surely, there is no reward more precious than God and his recognition. All people cry out for recognition, and this does not exclude Christians who genuinely serve God’s purpose. They want to be noticed and admired; they want to be recognized as special and precious. But other people’s recognition is temporal and though momentarily satisfying, it is fading and soon gone. Only God’s recognition is everlasting. Only God’s recognition is fulfilling and satisfying in fullness.
One time Abraham rescued his nephew Lot from enemies who had captured him. Abraham wanted to satisfaction of having given Lot a second chance at a life of faith. But upon being rescued, Lot again abandoned Abraham and all that Abraham stood for and went to live in the city of Sodom. He valued the security and pleasures of the city of Sodom more than the company of old man Abraham whose life seemed too boring for a sophisticated man like Lot. But when Abraham lost heart, God said to Abraham: “Do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1) Abraham may have expected his reward to be in the form of a converted nephew Lot or even a grateful nephew Lot. But God told him that he himself— God Almighty— is his reward. God himself alone could satisfy the deepest longings of Abraham’s heart, and Abraham went on to value God more than anything else in this life. We do not know what rewards God has in store for us when we pray in secret in our “inner rooms”. But we must know that the best reward we can get is God himself, his recognition and his blessing in our lives. Do you believe Jesus’ words, that your Father who is in secret will reward you? In the school of prayer, we learn to believe God’s words, we learn how faith and prayer are inseparable.
In the school of prayer, our Lord not only teaches us not to parade ourselves, but he also teaches us this in verse 7. “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” The ESV for the words “do not keep on babbling” are “Do not heap up empty phrases”, and in the NASB are “do not use meaningless repetition.” But they all say the same thing about the way pagans pray. He warns us against prayers that are by nature repetitious and monotonous, like the droning of insects. The pagans who did not know God, repeated the same words and phrases in their prayers over and over. Their prayer was more sounds of mouth than actual payer. And their prayers had practically no meaning. As you stand near them to listen to their babbling prayer, you will hear a monotonous sound as though you were standing by a babbling brook. As Jesus tells us, they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Yet Jesus implies, their prayers are vain and ineffective, and they will certainly not be heard. This kind of prayer is not the prayer that God would have us commune with him. For this reason we must carefully listen to what Jesus is telling us and not fall into the error of praying in this manner. Clearly God is not deaf that we should repeat the same words and phrases over and over. Nor is our Father God swayed to listen better if words and phrases are repeated time and again. We might wonder why Jesus would teach us this, since we are neither pagans, nor do we presume to babble in our prayers repeating words and phrases? I believe that Jesus was teaching everybody, those who know God and those who do not know him. He was teaching those who do not know God to commune with God intelligently, with proper respect to God who is intelligent and who is not a vain God who must be coerced or bribed into listening. And Jesus was also teaching those who know God, such as his disciple, to commune with God who knows what we need, and would have us ask for it.
Look at what Jesus says about this: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (8) What do these words teach us in the school of prayer? They teach us that whether or not our prayer is heard depends on our attitude in prayer. They also teach us that whether or not our prayer is heard depends also on our real or genuine need. As far as attitude is concerned, what I am saying here is that we can have the right or wrong attitude in coming before God to pray. Our attitude before God should be quite different than the hypocrites who pray in the open to be heard by others and consequently to be honored by them. It should be that of a child who prays honoring only God their Father in secret, and knowing that God the Father is there, listening, and ready to reward his child. Our attitude before God should also be different than the pagans who repeat words and phrases over and over thinking that God is constrained to hear them and comply with their wishes. It should be an attitude of reverence and trust, that God knows what I need and He wants me to just ask for it in prayer. Prayer does not rest upon whether we speak many words or few, whether we repeat the words and phrases many times or a few times. Prayer is heard or unheard depending on whether we pray for what we need or not. If we pray for what we do not need, no matter how often we repeat it, it is likely that we will not be heard. Yet if we know what we need, and pray for what we need, we will most certainly be heard. God our Father will gladly supply all our needs. But he is unwilling to gratify any desire that arises from a selfish and greedy heart. Asking God without a real need, reveals greed, and greed has no room in a child of God’s heart, nor on their lips. So we must learn to pray according to our needs.
Of course, we have daily needs, which God is more than willing to supply us with if we pray for them. That is an absolute truth which many Christians fail to take seriously. But there are needs we do not know about. Spiritual needs, and other needs that we may not be mature enough to realize or to recognize as needs. For that we must allow God himself to reveal those needs to us so that we may pray for them. We must pray that God would reveal our unknown needs to him, so that we may bring them to him in prayer. That too is a matter of prayer! If God should reveal to me through Bible study and prayer that I am in desperate need of a shepherd’s heart, or of a compassionate listening ear, or to a piece of spiritual wisdom that is lacking in me, or even a need for a sanctified attitude towards my brothers and sisters, then I should immediately pray about it in my “inner room” where my Father who is “in secret” is listening. If God should reveal to me that my church has financial needs, or need for a spiritual shake-up, or even in need of a renewed passion for the gospel or for love for Christ to be reborn in hearts, or a need in God’s different areas of ministry, then I should pray about it. And Jesus tells us that our confidence is that whatever we pray for we will receive, (1 John 5:14) because we have prayed for a real need and God is ever our listening Father. (Matthew 6:8) The apostle Paul assured the Philippian Christians when he wrote them saying: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
It is also foolish to say that we need not pray since God knows all our needs. Why? Because the purpose of prayer is not to inform God of what we need, but to express it in loving prayer; it is to express our trust in him, our faith in his grace and mercy to overflow in our lives, it is to express our expectation of him. And most of all prayer is to reveal to God our hearts’ desires. Therefore, it is not foolish to pray! But prayer is one of the greatest wisdoms any human being or child of God might attain to. Therefore we must learn to pray. We must continue learning prayer in our Lord Jesus’ school of prayer. God bless you to grow into a praying man or woman of God. May our teenagers grow into praying young servants. May our ministry grow to become truly a praying ministry, and a ministry of praying people. Amen.