Today we continue our series of exhortations on the practical routines of a follower of Jesus, otherwise known as the habits of grace. We’ve looked at Bible study & memorization, praying the Lord’s prayer, and now this morning, we’ll talk about prayer in secret.
I learned this week during my preparation for this talk that the English word for hypocrite comes from a Greek term for stage actor, someone who was highly skilled in wearing a physical mask and interpreting a certain character to others. They would hone their craft in front of crowds of people, to the oohs and ahhs of the adoring public who were completely taken by their portrayals. These people were generally admired initially, but in the centuries that followed, the term has taken on a more malicious tone. Today’s exhortation is about prayer, specifically prayer alone with God, and as we shall see shortly, prayer and hypocrisy are not a good mix. During the famous sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives some strong exhortations about this type of prayer…
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.
First off, Jesus says, don’t do it like this! Don’t be like those stage actors. He says, in essence… when you pray, don't be like those Greek performers who wear different masks in order to play a role. That might work with the crowd, wearing a disguise, putting on a show, and getting some likes and retweets. But that won't work with the One who sees all things, straight to your soul. You can't fool him. So don't even try! If you treat prayer like a play, that weak applause from the crowd is all you will receive.
Secondly, Jesus tells us how to pray… he says “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.” So, to paraphrase, Jesus says: when you pray, get away from the crowds, get to a quiet, secluded place, turn off your phone, put away your computer, and talk with your Father. Take off your mask and let his grace and wisdom flood your soul. Reap the reward of relational peace and transformative power. Ask for help from the only One who can really give it, the One who loves to give. Relish the opportunity to gain from this King. Tim Keller has said, “The only person who dares to wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water must be his child. We have that kind of access.”
There’s one last thing I’d like to draw our attention to with this concept of secret prayer with our Father - not faking it, but coming to Him as our true selves. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul says,
when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Cor 3:16-18)
When we become children of God, for the first time we enter into a house where we have true freedom. The kind of freedom where we can take off the masks that we put on to impress other people, to try to win the reward of their affection, approval, or friendship. Rather, in this place, we have entered into a new family with a Father that loves us exactly the way that he made us, with all our warts and quirks, and he promises to remake us, to transform us from the weak, sinful, applause-seeking orphans that we were to the strong, humble, confident, beloved children that we are & will be.
Prayer of Confession
So church, this morning let’s take off the stage mask with our Father who loves us and let’s go to Him in prayer, allowing his transforming work to take hold on our true selves, and bring the kind of peace and strength that we so desperately need. Let’s go to Him now in a moment of silent confession…
Father, we confess that we have been the hypocrite. We have engaged in showy prayer before you or others in an attempt to curry their favor, or Yours. We confess that our hearts crave attention and approval, and we often seek it from the wrong places. God, you know every secret of our hearts. Please forgive us and grant us the grace to remove the masks that we wear with one another and with you, and give us fresh eyes to behold the glory of your Son as you transform us into His image from glory to glory. Amen.