‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. ‘This, then, is how you should pray: ‘“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…
‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ [Matthew 6:5-9, 16-18]
Anyone can do public acts of devotion for attention and respect. Anyone can put on a good show. Fasting, praying, worshipping… all of us can do it if we try hard enough. But Jesus’ rule calls for a different set of standards.
He tells us to go into a room and close the door behind us. There, in secrecy and privacy, we can communicate with God. But note this: it’s not that being a Christian is a solo adventure. Jesus says when you get on your own you pray ‘our Father’. Our faith is shared even when we’re alone.
God is interested in a face to face, eyeball to eyeball relationship with us. The secret life is the one that we need to allow to be cultivated by Jesus. Put our attention there, and what happens in public will take care of itself.
Jesus himself sets the example – going off again and again on his own to spend time with his Father. In public do we assume a different holy character than we actually practice in private?
The God we worship sees through it all. It’s the secret, quiet, non-showy stuff he delights in. Lets delight in it too.