In today's Gospel reading from Matthew 6 (the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus tells us, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
With these words, Jesus is reminding us that prayer is not a show. Apparently, in Jesus' day there were people who liked to pray in the most public of places, and they probably spent more time looking around to make sure everyone else noticed them than they did actually praying. For those people, “hypocrites” Jesus calls them, “prayer” was an opportunity to announce how wonderful and holy they were and how they were following God's law. They were not talking to God and deepening their relationship with Him. Filled with spiritual pride, they were putting on a performance, and their reward was exactly what they were seeking, attention from other people.
“But,” Jesus continues, “when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” While there are certainly many benefits to finding a quiet, private prayer space, Jesus isn't telling us that we must always pray hidden away in a closet some place. After all, as devout Jews, Jesus and His disciples all prayed publicly in synagogues and the Jerusalem Temple. What Jesus is getting at here is that prayer should be an intimate, personal encounter that comes from the heart, from that secret, inner room inside each one of us where we meet our God. When we pray, we must close our doors by focusing on God, not on other people. We must strive to give Him our full attention and devotion. Then, Jesus assures us, our Father will repay us. He will hear and answer our prayers, and even more, He pour His grace into our hearts and shower us with His love.