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Don’t go to church – go home

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But 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: 5-6 [Jesus Christ - circa AD 30]

“I always go to church to pray – well, at Easter, anyway...” Please don’t.

Please don’t – for the reasons given in bold above. When you pray you really must avoid prayer as a one-act play where you’re the principal actor. (The word “hypocrites” in the original Greek in Matthew’s biography of Jesus is hupokrites and could well be translated these days as “celebrities” – those wanting to be seen.) When you pray you must avoid being seen by others. Your intention must be to be heard by God.

To be heard by God you must go into your room and shut the door. Then you can pray. Nothing to be seen by others: no dancing in the aisles; no kneeling on embroidered cushions; no signs of the cross. Just you – and your Father. All of it in secret.
‘Could we be content to meet a loved one only in public?’ (J Hudson Taylor, Christian missionary to China, 1832-1905)

Those of us who are inarticulate will also appreciate Jesus’ next instruction – apart from “don’t go to church to pray”......

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Cut down on words. You don’t need many words when you pray, alone in your room, to your heavenly Father. He already knows what you need...... But do you know what you need?

Jesus had a third piece of advice to his followers – a model prayer for them to pray. It’s very, very short.

“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
• lead us not into temptation, but
• deliver us from evil.”

Have you spotted the contradiction? You are to pray alone. How can you then pray: “Our Father.”? Surely that can only be prayed when with others? Or is it that I must focus on the “our” and the “us” when praying alone?

This instruction of Jesus runs throughout this model prayer even if it’s to be prayed alone in my room with the door shut. “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
‘If God did not sometimes withhold, in mercy, what we ask, we should be ruined at our own request.’ (Hannah More, English writer and philanthropist, 1745-1833)

When you’re alone in your closed room -
• Will you pray for all of us to be given, by our Father, bread for tomorrow?
• Will you pray that our debts – our unfulfilled obligations to others - will be forgiven – including our obligations to you?
• Will you truthfully say to the Father above (as instructed by Jesus) – all of us do now forgive all of those who owe myriad obligations to us?
• Will you, at the same time, ask the Father not to lead any of us into testing God with our behaviour and thoughts?
• Will you finally ask the Father to deliver all of us from evil?

Richard Syvret mustn’t pray in public unless he prays much more behind closed doors.

His prayers for himself must always be about us – about him and others combined – united as we all are in the present mess. He’s very, very unlikely to receive forgiveness or favours other than along with others. Be a friend – tick him off when he gets this wrong.
Richard Syvret

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