When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6: 6

 

The way that we approach prayer can be a very interesting and highly variable subject. There are a great many ways to engage in prayer. Most people pray in ways that cover a wide range of styles and intensity. Some people express themselves in very formal and proper ways and some are highly emotive or truly casual in their attitudes and words. This is how it should be, for God made each of us as an individual and He relates to each of us individually. However, there is one thing that I believe is universal. That is the simple fact that God is neither impressed nor is His attention gained by the cleverness or by the form of our words. The point of engaging in prayer is not so that God would be aware of us. We are instructed by God to engage in prayer in order for us to become more deeply attentive to God.

 

In this verse from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not teaching against public or group prayer, for there are other instances when He engages in very public prayer. He is teaching us to approach prayer in a manner that runs against our culture. Christ wants us to understand that God is infinitely more interested in the relationship with us than He is in the form of our engagement in that relationship. The Father is fully aware of who we are, of what is happening in our lives, and of what it is that we truly need. He is also completely secure in who He is; thus, God does not need for us to express words of praise and adoration to Him. It is us who do need to recognize the character of God and to acknowledge His nature so that we can enter more fully into a life that reflects the love and righteousness that the Lord is pouring out upon us.

 

So, why does Jesus tell us to go into a private place and pray words that only we might be aware of? This is an issue of intimacy and of trust. The Father desires for us to drop our guards and to become utterly vulnerable before Him. He wants us to stop being wise, all-knowing and competent in the ways that our world teaches us to be in order for us to be able to recognize the sort of absolute dependence upon God that leads us to the surrender of our hearts and our minds completely to His will. When we pray to God in our own words with no other audience in mind than the Father, what we say may come out in unstoppable torrents or it might be uttered in only the sounds of the silence of inexpressible emotion. Form carries no weight with the God who already knows everything that is on our minds and whose intent is to bless us with the abundance of His grace, love and provision. Jesus is sharing with us what He already knows to be true. Prayer is an unending and unrelenting dialogue with God the Father, and it is a fundamental aspect of living in a very real state of present-time, deeply intimate relationship with our Lord and King.

 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

 

Jesus is speaking specifically about deep feelings of mourning; that is, knowing profound sadness and regret at the losses that are experienced in life. These are powerful feelings, and the sin that devastates the lives of everyone in this world is one of the things that brings them to God’s heart, and He says that we should feel them, too. Jesus is talking about our own personal sin, forgiven through Him; also, this is a comment on the sin of others that we meet, and about the sin that exists universally in the world.

 

The destructiveness and the pain that sin brings into our lives and into the lives of others is something that Christ knows well. It is an affront to Him and to His purpose for surrendering His place in heaven in order to live with us in the same form of being that we humans know. Still, it was this same sin that caused the Father to give us His Son so that it could be defeated, and we could be restored to the full relationship with God that was His desire and intention from Creation. The sin that is in ourselves, in others, and in this world is something that should cause a deep sadness and a great anger to rise up in each of us. We should not be comfortable with its existence or with its continued presence.

 

Christ tells us to face into the sin. First He wants us to look closely and critically at our own lives and allow His Spirit to direct us in turning the damaged and the broken places that we find there over to Him. The Lord also wants us to keep the eyes of our hearts open to the sin that is infecting our community, and He wants us to enter into the lives of those who are sinning. As we engage in relationship with others, Christ wants to lead us into loving them so deeply that we must take on the hard task of speaking righteousness and truth to them. As we do this, there is a promise that comes from God, Himself; for, like crocus that emerge from the winter snow, Christ brings restorative peace out of the sadness and the mourning.