Playing Hide and Seek with God
“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." (Jesus)
Last week, like so many of you, I spent a fair amount of time watching the wall-to-wall coverage of the Pope's visit to the United States. It was an historic event, and I have much to consider and digest.
When he appeared at the White House, the President made some remarks welcoming him. I have a confession to make: I had the TV muted so I didn't have to listen to the commentators filling time before the main event, and I didn't notice it had started until the President's remarks were already under way. Then, when I un-muted the TV, the President sounded like he was praying. Every phrase began with "Holy Father...". I'm not kidding. I initially thought the President was leading an opening prayer.
There's a fair amount of confusion among Christians about the subject of prayer. Should we pray before meals when we're eating in a restaurant? Should we have prayer in schools? What about before football games? Should the Pope have prayed when he appeared before Congress? Should we ask the candidates running for President about their prayer habits? Would it have been terrible if the President had prayed while introducing the Pope?
Jesus prayed in public. We have records of that. His followers also prayed in public. Sadly, our public prayers don't sound much like theirs did, but that's an article for a different day. Today I want to talk a little more about the time Jesus' friends asked him to teach them how to pray.
Jesus begins by saying that we should focus on praying to our Father “who sees what is done in secret.” A more literal rendering of the phrase Jesus uses might be “pray to your Father who is in secret” (NRSV). The Father sees what is done in secret, because he is in secret.
Now, if you're anything like me, the first question that comes to mind is: “Isn’t God everywhere?”
Yes, in one sense, God is everywhere. But Jesus says that God is in secret – in the secret places – often hidden or obscured from our view. Initially, when confronted with the concept of holiness, the human instinct is to hide from God because of our sin. In those situations, God always takes the initiative and comes looking for us. But at some point in time, God turns the tables on us and hides himself. He wants to know if we will miss him and if we're willing to come looking for him.
Isaiah says, “Truly you are a God who hides himself” (Isaiah 45:15). But the promise of God is, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Neither of these verses was written about people who were outside of a relationship with God. These verses are not about how to establish a relationship with God. They were written to and about God’s covenant people. They are about how to live in your established relationship with God. First God comes to find us; then God hides to see if we will come to find him.
For those who will do the hard work of seeking God in the secret place, there is a promise of reward. Jesus says, “Then, your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” The writer of Hebrews assures us, “Anyone who comes to [God] must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6b).
But notice it does not say, “Your Father will give you whatever you want.” It says he “will reward you.”
So, what’s the difference? What's the reward?
For the answer, ask the people you know who make a practice of going to their rooms and closing their doors to be with the Father who is in secret. Better yet, look at their lives for a while. It will become clear.
People who make a habit of spending time alone with their heavenly Father live with an inner sense of peace that comes from knowing that God is with them. They make requests, but whatever the answer is – “yes,” “no” “maybe,” “wait,” “never” – it doesn’t matter if God is really with us.
Perhaps one reason why we wrestle so much with fear and anxiety, why we play it safe and fail to live the bold, brave, courageous lives God calls us to, is because we don’t have that inner sense of peace that comes from true intimacy with the Father.
But we could if we would go into our rooms, close the door, and spend time with him there in secret.
Photo Credit: Chris Sardegna