"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the 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, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."
–-Matthew 6:5-6 NASB
Jesus is describing the practice of the religious leaders of the day to pray very openly and loudly in public places. Jesus calls these people hypocrites. The Greek word is transliterated as "hupokrités," meaning one who acts, or who performs a role. These people are not being themselves, but are playing a character. Jesus knows that they are not sincere in their prayers. Their public display might be better described as a form of religious street entertainment, only rather than receiving payment in money, they receive the admiration and respect of those who watch them. The Greek word is "misthos," meaning a reward or payment for services rendered. That is all they truly want from their spectacle, and Jesus tells us that is all they receive.
This is not to say that public prayer is bad. But whether done publicly or privately, our prayer should be genuine and without ulterior motives. When praying on the public stage, it is tempting to forget our intent and to take for ourselves the glory that is intended for God. One way to ensure that our motives are sincere is to pray in secret. The Greek word is "kruptos," meaning something that is hidden, inward, or secret.
To help us, Jesus advises that we go into a hidden place. The Greek word is "tameion," meaning an inner room or a storeroom, and a root of the word "tamieion," which means treasury. Jesus wants us to go to that place, whether physically or spiritually, which is not seen by others. This is the place where we pray. Here we worship, here we lift our requests, and here we receive God's blessing and comfort. Indeed, this should be a treasured place for us, our special time with God.
Jesus goes on to tell us that for what we do in secret, God, not man, will reward. The Greek word is "apodidómi," meaning to give up, to give back, to return, or to restore. When we pray as we should, God not only hears and answers our prayers, but he also refreshes and enriches us. Those having a rich prayer life may appear to others as energized. They seem to have something special that others lack, as indeed they do.
Father, I praise You for loving me. Forgive me when I forget that You are the focus of my prayer, not me. As I go about my busy day, help me to hear above the noise Your call for me to come to the secret place for our special time together. In Jesus' name, amen.