Monday, May 05, 2014

Your Father Who Is In Secret

It takes courage to stand up and pray in public if you’re shy by nature, but only a little more than must be mustered to spill your guts on Facebook or Twitter. And judging by the number of people doing that, it must feel pretty good. If you’re the type of person who by nature loves to be the centre of attention, it doesn’t take any courage at all to pray in public. It’s like swimming to a duck.

It certainly doesn’t require faith.

It doesn’t take faith to attend church meetings or to put money in an offering box. These things may be done for right reasons or wrong reasons. Church, or even giving, can be a habit, a social event, a way of feeling good about oneself, a duty or an obligation imposed by family. Such acts are done visibly and because of that, there are other possible benefits than rewards of a spiritual kind.

They don’t require faith

Matthew uses the Greek equivalent of “unseen” or “secret” six times in chapter 6 as he records what the Lord said about giving, prayer and fasting. The most common translation is “secret”, and it renders the word kruptos, from which we get “cryptic” in English.

We are to “encrypt” our acts of spiritual devotion, if you like. They are not for public display.
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
I’m not sure it takes genuine faith to pray in a panic either. People often pray when confronted with stress and life-threatening circumstances. War, cancer, sick kids — praying in panic can be like buying a lottery ticket; a Hail Mary nod to the divine in the hope that, who knows, it just might work.

But the Lord is not talking about panic situations here. He’s talking about what people do characteristically: “when you pray, go into your inner room, close the door”. He’s talking about what we do when there are no special circumstances to drive us to prayer — when we could be watching the football game, getting ready for work, hanging out with friends, planning dinner, making a few extra bucks of overtime.

That actually does take faith, doesn’t it? Because if you don’t believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him, why would you bother? There are no accolades for sneaking off to a quiet place in the house and mumbling to yourself for half an hour.

Other than the accolades of heaven, of course.

Same thing applies to giving and sacrifices of other kinds that are done in secret. If we don’t get a tax refund, a pat on the back or at least the sense that we’re keeping up with the Spiritual Joneses, what’s the point? 

The point is that your Father sees “in secret”.

More than that, your Father is in secret with you when you do it. Twice the Lord refers to “your Father who is in secret”*.

You are not merely in secret when you are praying; the Father is in secret with you. Yes, he sees and rewards what is done privately, away from the potential commendation of men or the attention of others, but in addition he is personally in there with us.

Do we believe it? How regularly do I pray in secret to my “Father who is in secret”? That’s probably a fairly accurate indicator of what I really believe.

* A couple of modern translations ditch the “who is”, rendering it “pray to your Father in secret” — as if it’s all about you. But the four translations I trust the most to be as literal as possible retain it (NASB, ESV, Darby and Wuest), as do the King James and NKJV.

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