Have you ever prayed out loud in a room full of people? Do you remember the first time you ever did? Maybe you never have because you were too embarrassed or too shy. Maybe you were worried about what you were going to say, or whether or not your prayers would be “good enough”—not for God but for the other people in the room.
And then there are those people who are “really good” at praying out loud. They’re the ones who always have the really eloquent phrasing and pray just the right thing that gets all the people in the room going “mmhmmm” and “yes, Lord.” Some people just have a way with words.
But have you ever seen those people who pray specifically so that other people will notice them? Maybe you’ve even been that person. I know that I have. You pray not so much because of God but because of you. You want to look good in front of others. You want to demonstrate just how spiritual you really are. I’m afraid Jesus has really harsh words for the likes of us.
But he also has some instruction about the whole thing that will help us. You probably remember his teaching. “Go into a closet,” he says, “and pray your prayers in private.” And he says to do that so that no one can see. That way you can’t be doing it for other people, and you can really just focus on God.
But there’s more to it than just being a corrective to self-aggrandizing prayer. It also shows that there is a private element to prayer, that prayer is private. And what’s really amazing about that is that it shows that you can and should have a personal relationship with God. That God is interested, not just in the people around you or the people as a people. But he’s interested in you, as an individual, as a person. God wants to hear from you—your thoughts, your dreams, your hopes, your worries and fears. He wants you to participate in his work, and he wants to personally shape you into the likeness of his Son.
What that means is that, in one sense at least, prayer is about you and God. And no one else.
Pray with me. Lord, thank you that you take an interest in us as individuals—that you know our names and have a plan for our lives. Help us to savor our relationship with you as our Father. And break down the barriers that we put up between us so that we would really believe that we are free to come to you when we’ve messed things up—rather than waiting to be found out. And Lord, we pray that you would uphold us—you know our stories, our hardships, our struggles, our pains. Help us to face the difficulties of today and renew our strength in you. And grant us opportunities today—in the quiet times—to pray as in our prayer closets. Have mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.