In Matthew 6:5-14, Jesus shares a teaching that has become the most widely recognized Biblical passage on prayer.
As I was reading, the context and positioning of Jesus’ example of prayer caught my interest, anew. Jesus’ teaching is inserted between Matthew 6:1-4, regarding giving to the needy, and Matthew 6:16-18, sharing the heart attitude during times of personal fasting.
There is a repetition of sentiment and heart’s desire in all three. Jesus introduces this section of Scripture by warning in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them…” (NASB)
This statement is appropriate for each of the different topics that follow: beware of practicing your giving that you may be honored by men…beware of practicing your praying that you may be honored by men…beware of practicing your fasting that you may be honored by men. While these are all familiar, well-taught principles, considering the three admonitions as they are sequenced together made me see them with a slightly different perspective. And I found myself encouraged and my understanding enhanced by reading The Messagetranslation of the same passages.
On the first point, regarding prayer, “When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it-quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” (Matt. 6:3-4)
Multiple translations use a phrase similar to the one used in the New American Standard Bible, that “your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Reward. That is sometimes a “mixed bag of tricks” in Western culture. I have heard the reward aspect of these verses taught as an iron-clad, God-never-backs-out-on-His-
Word guarantee of a transaction with God in which we meet the standard and He consequently doles out the goods…and, I suspect, so have you.
However, I like the relational interaction that is represented in viewing God’s sense of “reward” as a partnership in which he works “behind the scenes” to help orchestrate the good works for which we were created, formed, destined.
The Message translates Matthew 6:6-13 regarding prayer with these words: “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, reveal who You are. Set the world right; Do what’s best-as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.'”
Just a private confession: I really prefer “God, reveal who You are,” to the more traditional, “Hallowed be Your name.”
Why? Do I think His name is less than “hallowed,” which is defined as “holy, consecrated, sacred, revered”?* Absolutely not. His name is all of those things (and more!), as is He.
But it sounds so distant. It seems to me that as He reveals Himself, our natural reaction will be to share in that sense, that attribute of His holiness, consecration, to step into reverence as a tangible connection, not the hand-slap of affixing a label to a commodity, a thing. The Message translates v. 14 as “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do.”
The rest of that thought is carried out in the example of forgiveness: “You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (Matt. 6:15)
Let me return to the three connections that originally caught my attention, with each admonishing not to substitute a heart after God for a heart after man.
Proverbs 4:23 warns, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (NASB)
Jesus wants the “spring of life” flowing from us to be His life, not a counterfeit fashioned by man that can lead us deceptively, away and astray from the true fountain of Living Water.
Proverbs 27:19 states, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.” (NASB)
A heart set on God will be reflected as His handiwork, to others. When we give from His abundance – whether in the natural or the spiritual – His life in us is made attractive and invites others to reach towards Him. Fasting is an active dedication to Him. And He is altogether eager to answer that cry, “Reveal who You are”!
There is no reward on earth that is comparable.