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Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever 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.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NRSV)
Who taught you to pray? Was it a parent kneeling with you at your bedside lining out a rhyming couplet? “Now I lay me down to sleep / I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Was it a Sunday School teacher who taught you the words of the Lord’s Prayer? Was it perhaps a friend, someone who bowed a head with you and whispered some urgent plea in a hospital waiting room?
We must be taught to pray. Jesus spent a significant portion of his signature teaching address here in Matthew’s Gospel on the subject of prayer. The actual prayer he taught his disciples is omitted from the reading above, but you know it. Just as important as what to pray is how. Maybe not “just” as important. Maybe more important.
And how is that? Like the instruction about fasting (who taught you to do that?), Jesus’ guidance in prayer is more how not to do it: not like “the hypocrites.” Simply put, don’t draw attention to what you are doing. God knows and that’s all that matters. The diction and phrasing don’t matter, God knows. The location doesn’t even matter, God knows.
Of course, content and form influence one another. Maybe following Jesus’ instructions in how to pray leads us most naturally to what to pray.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. Amen.
Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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