The Hidden Righteousness of the Kingdom
Prayer: Part 1 (Matt. 6:6-15)


"And when you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and street corners
so that they may be seen by men.
Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
But you, when YOU pray, enter into your closet
and after shutting the door, pray to your Father in secret
And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you are praying, do not babble like the Gentiles/heathen
for they think that in their many words they will be heard.
Do not be like them
for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."

"Again Jesus tells the disciples to avoid being like the hypocrites who do their utmost to attract attention to themselves when they pray. They 'love' to position themselves where they can be most noticed as they pray"(WBC:142). According to Jesus, where did the hypocrites like to stand whenever they were praying?

"These were the usual places of prayer and the [place] where crowds stopped for business or talk. If the hour of prayer overtook a Pharisee here, he would strike his attitude of prayer that men might see that he was pious" (RWP 1:51). Not just the corner of any road but rather 'the corners of the main roads'. The phrase refers literally to 'the corners of the wide (streets)'" (WBC:142).

It is worth nothing that the verb "standing" in the Greek is in what is called the perfect tense. By using this tense, Jesus means that the hypocrites have taken a position on the street corners of the main streets and continue to stand in them. They weren't about to budge because of all the attention they would have received from the passers-by. Instead of standing in the public places to pray, where does Jesus command His disciples to pray?

By "closet" Jesus means "one's private chamber, closet, or 'den' where he can withdraw from the world and shut the world out and commune with God" (RWP 1:51); "an inner room of a house . . ., sometimes secret or hidden . . . and often used as a storeroom . . . It would be a room that allowed privacy; the reference to shutting the door adds emphasis to this aspect" (WBC:142). Only 2 people are to be in that prayer room—you and Jesus. And only 2 people are to know you are in that prayer room--you and Jesus.

Jesus shifts from the hypocrites to the Gentiles, the non-Jew in verses 7-8. In verse 7 how are we to differ from the Gentiles, the pagans, whenever we pray?

What did the Gentiles think would happen if they prayed wordy prayers?

The words translated "do not use meaningless repetition" (v. 7) actually mean "babble, speak without thinking (A/G:147): "mere babbling or chattering, empty repetition. The worshippers of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 8:26) and of Diana in the amphitheatre at Ephesus who yelled for two hours (Acts 19:34) are examples. The Mohammedans may also be cited who seem to think that they 'will be heard for their much speaking' (en tei polulogiai). Vincent adds 'and the Romanists with their paternosters and aves.' The Syriac Sinaitic (one of the first translations of the Greek NT into another language) has it: 'Do not be saying idle things.' Certainly Jesus does not mean to condemn all repetition in prayer since he himself prayed three times in Gethsemane 'saying the same words again' (Matt. 26:44). 'As the Gentiles do,' says Jesus. 'The Pagans thought that by endless repetitions and many words they would inform their gods as to their needs and weary them ('fatigare deos') into granting their requests' (Bruce)" (RWP 1:51-52).

What is in view here "is the attempt to manipulate God through repetitive, perhaps even magical, phrases, as the verb battalogein is probably derived from the cognate noun meaning 'stammerer' or 'stutterer.' The verb here, however, refers not to a speech impediment but to the repetition of meaningless syllables" (WBC:147).

Ancient Judaism apart from the Bible warned against much speaking; instead it began to emphasize more and more silence in prayer "As distinct from the other sayings it is directed against pagan rather than Jewish piety. The 'much speaking' of the Gentiles refers either to the enumeration of all the deities to be invoked, of which not one must be left out, or to the long list of epithets ascribed to the individual deity, or more likely to the attempt, satirised even by pagan authors, to wear down the gods by endless prayers and promises. Materially there is probably a side-glance at Judaism too. For in Judaism the question of shorter or longer prayer gives evidence of a shift of emphasis from the personal relation with God to the number of words uttered, which is an approximation to the Gentiles. polulogia is closely related to battalogeo –> I, 597. Quantity to the point of verbosity corresponds to an absence of quality; the petitioner attempts hereby to get through to God. The en expresses the basis of the hope that the prayer will be heard: longae orationis causa. Jesus bases the assurance of being heard, not on the petitioner or his mechanical words, but on the readiness of the Father to hear. The Father takes seriously even the brusquest cry, vv. 8 ff. This is also apparent in the Lord's Prayer, which teaches us to pray great things in few words" (TDNT 6:545-546 by Maurer).

Milton Cunningham used to relate the story of Mother Teresa in prayer. When someone asked her what she said whenever she prayed to God, she said: "I don't say anything; I just listen." When she was asked what God said to her in her prayers, she responded: "Nothing; He just listens." I do not know what she means by that. I have not experienced that kind of prayer; however, I am not as close to God as Mother Teresa was.

Probably one of the best examples of limited but effective prayer is found in 2 Kings 18:26 where Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a contest to see which god/God would answer the prayers of his/His people. There we read about the priests of Baal: "Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, "O Baal, answer us."

On the other hand, look at how much Elijah prayed after he built his offer to God (1 Kings 18:37): ""Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again." That is all he said. Immediately, fire shot down from heaven with such a fiery force that it not only consumed the animal, but also the rocks of the altar, and licked up the water which Elijah had poured all over the animal and the altar.

Jesus bases the assurance of being heard, not on the petitioner or his mechanical words, but on the readiness of the Father to hear. The Father takes seriously even the brusquest cry, vv. 8 ff. This is also apparent in the Lord's Prayer, which teaches us to pray great things in few words" (TDNT 6:545-546 by Maurer).

AND NOW FROM BONHOEFFER: From the Chapter Entitled The Hiddenness of Prayer

In light of the fact that Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, is prayer an obvious or natural activity?

Will prayer that has been cultivated with discipline and perseverance always be profitable?

All Christian prayer is directed to God through whom?

What does Christian faith presuppose?

What gives Christian prayer its boundless confidence and joyous certainty?

Since it does not matter what form of prayer or how many words we use, what does matter?

Genuine prayer is never "good works." What is prayer according to DB?

Faith which is the mainspring of Christian prayer excludes what?

Bonhoeffer seems to follow in Luther's footsteps whenever he claims that prayer does not aim to have any direct effect upon the world and is the perfect example of undemonstrative action. Instead, prayer is directed to whom alone?

DB now turns his attention to making prayer hidden. I can make prayer ostentatious out in public in full view of everybody. But what is even more pernicious?

In the privacy of my own room, I can still lay on a very nice show for whom?

Most of us want recognition/publicity/fame. When I listen to my own prayers, who is the one who answers them?

"We have our reward. Since we have heard ourselves, ___________ will not hear us. Having contrived our own reward or publicity, we cannot expect God to reward us any further."

The truth is that we are going to get the reward we seek: either the praise of men (myself being a man) or of God. We can settle for so very little, or else we can hold out for praise from God.

What is the only way we can make sure that we are not seeking publicity from others, even from ourselves?

"The right way to approach God is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a ___________________."

True prayer does not rule out the fellowship of prayer. True prayer depends upon what?