and when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. truly, i say to you, they have received their reward. but when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. and your father who sees in secret will reward you. [matthew 6:5-6]
meeting with God is done in the secret place.
they have received their reward
while Jesus calls those who pray in public to be seen by others hypocrites, he does not say they will not be rewarded, but they have [already] received it. the distinction between prayers here then is not between real and fake prayer, but in the type of fruit that it produces. let us think for a second about apple farming. years ago my old neighbors planted apple and pear trees in their yard, looking forward to free delicious fruit at harvest time. the first year their trees actually bore fruit, the birds came and picked the tree clean before they got to eat a single apple – before the apples were even ripe! that is what praying in public was like for the hypocrites: their “apples” were not meant to be for the birds, but due to their lack of protecting their fruit, it never got delivered to its intended audience (their mouths!)
and your father who sees in secret will reward you.
my old neighbors made the mistake of preparing their fruit in public view of the birds. in future years, they covered their apple and pear trees in nets around harvest time to keep the birds away from their precious fruit. likewise, the hypocrites received their reward in the form of public adoration and self-image building (not too unlike feeding the crows!), but missed out on the spiritual fruit that comes from private prayer. the decision is yours – do you want your treasure to be in heaven, or on this earth?
do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [matthew 6:19-21]
Lord, teach our hearts to long only for treasure in heaven. show us the joy of having our prayer, our service, our submission be “our little secret” with you, and the endurance to live on the knowledge that we are in right standing with you, whether or not others know our commitment to you in the quiet place.
~ stephen hall