5 “When you pray, do not be like those who only pretend to be holy. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners. They want to be seen by others. What I’m about to tell you is true. They have received their complete reward. 6 “When you pray, go into your room. Close the door and pray to your Father, who can’t be seen. He will reward you. Your Father sees what is done secretly. 7 “When you pray, do not keep talking on and on the way ungodly people do. They think they will be heard because they talk a lot. 8 Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need even before you ask him. 9 “This is how you should pray. “‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. 10 May your kingdom come. May what you want to happen be done on earth as it is done in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our sins, just as we also have forgiven those who sin against us. 13 Keep us from falling into sin when we are tempted. Save us from the evil one.’ 14 “Forgive people when they sin against you. If you do, your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive people their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 16 “When you go without eating, do not look gloomy like those who only pretend to be holy. They make their faces very sad. They want to show people they are fasting. What I’m about to tell you is true. They have received their complete reward. 17 “But when you go without eating, put olive oil on your head. Wash your face. 18 Then others will not know that you are fasting. Only your Father, who can’t be seen, will know it. He will reward you. Your Father sees what is done secretly.
“Who I am” is such a complex thing! There’s who I think I am, and who others think I am, and who I think they think I am, and who I would like them to think I am.
I’m told it’s important to have a good self-image. It feels good when others think good things of me, and especially bad when they think bad things of me. It’s so easy to do or say things so that people will think those good things of me, or even to support my own image (or illusion) of who I am.
And then there is who I really am, which is inevitably different to all of these. It doesn’t matter how convincingly I look like a good person: God sees though it all and sees who I really am. That’s both an “Oh no! I’m naked!” moment, and enormously liberating: He loves me as I really am; He accepts me as I really am. And Jesus did everything necessary to make me acceptable: I don’t need to strive to become someone who is acceptable.
It’s not that praying in public is bad (Jesus often did it) but if the audience for my prayer is anyone but God, I need to take myself away from that audience, and from pretending to be someone I’m not.
It’s not that a good reputation is bad (for example, Proverbs 22:1 says “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.”), but it’s better to pray in secret than to pray to feed my reputation.
Father, its infinitely better that I’m honest with you; that you are my focus; to be in your place of freedom. Please remove every distraction; and deflate every illusion that would take me anywhere but to you.
Written by David Cornell