“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.Matthew 6:5-6
Jesus warns against public prayer, because of its tendency to direct our attention to an earthly audience for the prayer. Such prayer is, too often, shaped by context, intention, content, and other distractions.
Prayer is unique in its purpose which is to be a communion between the individual and the Father. This is not to say that we should never pray in the presence of other people. On the other hand, we should realize the dangers in doing so.
In physics there is a phenomenon called the observer effect which notes that the state of a thing changes when it is just observed by another thing. Which is interesting to think about. How much do I change when the audience for my life and my prayer becomes public and people contexted? I think Jesus is saying that our prayer is changed greatly.
In public, one has to think about the words used, posture, dress, and voice. In the closet, everything goes away in the darkness of that space. The only thing that matters is communicating with God. You will never be embarrassed by a mispronounced word or a wardrobe that doesn’t match, or bumbling words; God doesn’t care about such things.
Paul told the Roman Christians that God has even provided for our lack of the right words by giving us his Spirit because Paul knew that there are moments when we stumble and bumble our way through our prayers but no matter. God doesn’t care. He’s not keeping a record of our verbal mistakes. God is just happy when we show up in the closet calling God’s name.
You could say that God’s observance also changes a thing. Except in this case of change, it is to free us from the thoughts and concerns we might have in the presence of others. It frees us from worrying about form to concentration on substance. On the true self. On the self stripped of things that distort and pollute it. God and the supplicant.
Jesus says to go into your closet alone. The closet is a good time to remember that God is the audience.
Prayer: Our Father, in the beginning of time there was only silence. When the first humans walked in your presence, their first communications with you were pure and undistracted. That, of course, is prayer at its best. Nothing and no one competing for our attention. So remind us that in the closet it is easier to think only about you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.