“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full!
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. …
16 “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full!
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Prayer – Just between you and God
Jesus takes for granted the reality of the unseen, spiritual world, and teaches his disciples, and us, by word and example how to communicate with God.
Jesus exhorts his hearers; “Do not consider prayer as a public performance, an opportunity to impress others. Rather, find a private place where you can talk to God, who is your Father. He is the one who sees your actions, who hears your words, and knows your heart. He will reward you.”
In the same way that helping others, and praying should be a private activity between you and God, Jesus addresses the practice of fasting. At that time, fasting was a regular religious habit. Today it has become a neglected spiritual discipline. Again Jesus emphasizes that it is not to be performed to impress others, but as a private matter, “between you and your Father.”
(Richard Foster’s classic book, “Celebration of Discipline, the path to spiritual growth” – [Hodder and Stoughton, 1980] – has an excellent chapter on fasting as a spiritual discipline.)
Geoff Francis is a retired General Practitioner, and the author and editor of this website.
(For more on prayer, see “Teach us to pray.”)