Summary: An outline of a short talk plus video link given at our Come Together informal worship service on Sunday 10 March 2013

Bishop Tom Wright’s translation of Matthew 6 verses 5 to 8 goes like this: Jesus said, “When you pray, you mustn’t be like the play actors. They love to pray standing on street corners so that people will notice them. I tell you the truth: they have received their reward in full. No: when you pray, go into your own room, shut the door, and pray to your father who is there in secret. And your father, who sees in secret, will repay you. When you pray don’t pile up a jumbled heap of words! That’s what the Gentiles do. They reckon that the more they say, the more likely they are to be heard. So don’t be like them. You see, your father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Let’s watch this short video featuring the Bishop of Chelmsford - Stephen Cottrell:

Jesus often retreated to a quiet place to pray. Often it was early in the morning, and it was usually alone.

Do you have a place where you can be still in God’s presence, to be alone with him, to listen to him?

Once whilst he was living in the Middle East Tom Wright went out for an afternoon walk. On his way home, feeling slightly hungry, he bought a bar of chocolate at a wayside stall. He got home, went to his room, made a cup of tea, unwrapped the chocolate, and broke off a piece to eat it. Fortunately Tom glanced down at the chocolate before he put it in his mouth, because as he glanced down he dropped it with a loud shout. It was alive! Inside what looked like a perfectly ordinary bar of chocolate were hundreds of tiny wriggling worms. He goes on to say that Jesus didn’t know about chocolate, but he did know about things that looked fine on the outside but were rotten on the inside; and as Jesus taught about prayer we find shrewd comments on what it means to live a life that is solid chocolate all the way through. Let’s be clear, the outside does matter! But so does the inside!

Whether it’s giving money, fasting, or praying, or leading worship, or preaching, or witnessing about Jesus, or living out our faith – Jesus wants it all done to please God, not to please or impress other people, and specifically some things are for God’s eyes only.

Certain up front Sunday ministries come with huge temptations attached. Preaching, leading worship, leading intercessions or playing an instrument are up front ministries where I’ve been aware of the temptation to be something or be someone I am not.

In this teaching on prayer Jesus refers to the temptation to perform or play-act; and the reality is that what we are in private is what we really are – and that does not just apply to prayer, it applies to everything that we are. What we are in private is what we really are – so each one of us needs to go to our inner room and speak to our Heavenly father. We’re invited to a life where outside and inside match up.

Right now does my inside match up 100% with my outside? No; but I’m responding to God’s invitation to come aside, to pray, to listen, to be changed and transformed, to pray more in accordance with his will.

Is Jesus saying don’t pray in public? No. He is not; and the early church didn’t believe that because there was plenty of prayer done together, in public, in groups; but I believe Jesus calls us back to the engine room of prayer – the quiet place, the secret place, alone with God. If we only ever pray in public, if we only ever pray with other people there is a problem. When we do pray in public with others, it should come out of our private prayers, because then the outside will be the same as the inside. Prayer is not about the words I use. It is about the Word at work in me.

Bishop Stephen said, “Prayer is allowing ourselves to be changed by God, to conform to his will and purpose for our lives and for the world.”

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