Pull up a chair and read this one as you sip your Sunday morning tea or coffee. The Message Translation really opened up some thought about Jesus’ words to go into your closet to pray, avoiding public prayers.
Richard Rohr wrote some insightful words on this passage as well:
“Many Christians seem to have little experience of prayer of quiet, and tend to actually be afraid of it or even condemn it. They have not been taught what to do with their overactive minds, and so they are afraid of silence.”
– Richard Rohr
“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? (6) “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.
7-13 “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.
Matthew 6:5-13 (MSG)
We try to not interject (or inflict, whichever way you wish to look at it ) ourselves into the relationship circles of our adult sons. For that reason, we have had a young man who is here most days after work. He practically lived here the last few years. His computers are installed in our basement, and we refer to him as our adopted son. We call him by the nickname “Sam”. I will use that name to tell the story.
Sam and his family moved to Prince Edward Island from Ontario a few years ago and Sam began working at a fish processing plant with my youngest son. They became friends, which is how Sam came to be at our house.
Two of my adult sons and Sam all ordered the components and eventually built “Super Computers” and the whole bottom floor of my house is turned over to their computer, video, and gaming pursuits. The sheer volume of monitors and flashing LED’s and lights from equipment that does who knows what, renders our lower floor into a perceptual Christmas with all the flashing Christmas tree lights.
Well, Sam moved to Ontario this week to live with his grandfather and look for another job (Yes he worked here too). After spending time here for years, and not really probing him for information about his family, I only just found out yesterday that both our families had much in common, and I never knew. He too was home schooled, like my kids were, as were his brother and two sisters. I have only met his brother a few times, very talented musician, and have never met his parents, nor his sisters.
Sam’s parents came by to pick up a few things he had forgotten at the house before leaving for Ontario.They too are moving to the other end of Prince Edward Island, so we will not see them much again, which is unfortunate now.
We invited them to sit for a coffee. They graciously did so. We chatted, knowing nothing about each other, and after a while little pieces of the story began to emerge. I realized for the first time they home-schooled their kids. It all made sense once I knew (my sons knew). We asked a few questions, they asked a few as we chatted and shared a few details of who we are, etc. It was a delightful time. Nothing earth shattering, as we just met them for the first time.
My wife and I rarely speak about our spiritual journey; from our theological degrees, to ministry positions, to missionary work in Africa starting new churches, then out of local church ministry, and then into humanitarian work in the Sahel of West Africa. We are especially elusive if we think people might be church folks, as they often have a local church lens or a traditional church structure lens in which to see spiritual ways of living, learning, developing and growing faith in Jesus Christ. Many cannot envision a church life much beyond this structure.
Eventually Sam’s parents made a comment that made me wonder, and we too said something, that made them wonder. Then out it came on the table. and they stayed for three hours. We were fellow tribesmen and never knew it.
They too stepped outside the traditional box of church structure many years ago and began living a simple faith, learning from the word. They focused on growing a real faith within themselves and their family. One that was not limited to the depth handed to them, not dependent on the speed or depth of their preacher, but a faith and growth they sought out and pursued for themselves, in their own home, every day.
I gathered that they were from a church tradition where the minister/pastor/priest was the de facto liaison for God. They grew weary of needing these spiritual power brokers’ permission, to grow, to be told how and where they could serve. They were ready to move past the Sunday and church-building-centric approach to faith. I sensed no bitterness in them at all (which is what church folks immediate label people like us with – or selfish, arrogant, bitter, backsliders). They just quietly, and humbly went out and began living the Kingdom life with Jesus as their Lord, and they don’t stop to tell anyone else what to do, nor do they criticize churches and those blessed by that. However, they have also clearly not asked any man for permission, nor approval, to be on this journey. They exude spiritual vitality, life, graciousness, and freedom. A life that presumes on no one else.
They are what institutional church leaders say (write about) no one can become, certainly not without being up to your eyeballs in the institutional church programs. They are living proof that church can be be lived out simply and in small ways, with small numbers of people associating together, informally. We could see the love and unity they have between them as a couple, as a family, and with the Lord’s purposes.
Life, vitality, and freedom leaked out of every pore in their bodies.
We liked them. We instantly liked them a lot. We wish we had met them sooner. They are on a similar journey as my wife and I, and we never knew. I think it is because people like us do not assume others would understand our choices. Also, we often assume we are the only ones thinking, feeling, or living this way, as fellow travelers seem rare. We fully understand that we agitate ordinary church folks, very much so, by our mere existence, the mere gall of going our own way from them. Folks like us have learned to play our Jesus journey cards very close to our chest because we really have no desire to criticize others on that other path, nor do we wish to subject ourselves to their criticism either. We have no intentions of giving criticism, nor receiving it in return.
Sam’s parents are our tribesmen and we never knew it. But I take heart in this, as a decade ago we thought we were alone in this. We have encountered so many folks thriving outside the box in the last five years. They are loving, living, and exuding freedom in Christ.
And they are “In Christ”. Make no mistake about their spiritual depth or vitality.
Couples like them have gone into their closet to pray, and so have we.
“Social and public prayers hold groups and religions together, but they do not necessarily transform people at any deep level. In fact, group certitude and solidarity often become a substitute for any real journey of their own. Hear this clearly. I am not saying there is no place for public prayer, but we do need to heed Jesus’ very clear warnings about it. In my own church, I am afraid I have met many priests who have recited the Divine Office and perform Mass most days of their lives, yet who show little evidence of any inner life or depth. It is perhaps not a personal failure as much as a structural sin. We all live inside of a common domain, which largely determines energy, depth, and how much we can hear or even imagine. As Renee Girard so well Illustrated, we are imitative beings at the core. Our holiness is always the group’s holiness first; our sin is invariably a social sin before it is our own.
Prayer conducted primarily in public becomes a matter of making announcements to God or to the group or to your own self-image. Jesus specifically says this is unnecessary since “…your father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:9”
-Richard Rohr. The Naked Now