But 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 6:6 –
In this verse, Jesus contrasts praying ostentatiously for the praise of men with praying privately for the reward of our Father.
In fact, He says of the hypocrites, “Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” What does that mean? It means that those who consider that their reward for praying is to be praised and well-thought of by other people will indeed have that reward. However, that’s the only reward they’re going to get. They will have no reward from God. In contrast to the hypocrites, though, Jesus’ disciples are commanded to pray in secret, considering that the Father who sees what is done in secret will reward that true, God-centered worship.
It may seem strange at first that Jesus commands us to pray so that we can receive a reward. We might be thinking, “We should pray simply because it’s the right thing to do, not because we want to get something out of it!” But it’s not the reward-seeking that Jesus confronts; it’s from whom we seek that reward.
Notice the centrality of reward in the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes are chock full of reward language: Jesus promises that the faithful will receive the kingdom of heaven, will be comforted, will inherit the earth, will be satisfied, will receive mercy, will see God, and will be called sons of God (Mt 5:3-10). He tells us to rejoice in persecution because our reward in heaven will be great (Mt 5:12). He commands us to love our enemies so that we may be sons of our Father (Mt 5:45), and contrasts that to our lack of reward if we fail to do so (Mt 5:46). He warns against practicing righteousness before men because we’ll have no reward with our Father (Mt 6:1). He commands us to give in secret, pray in secret, and fast in secret so that God will reward us (Mt 6:4, 6, 18). And He commands us to store up treasures in heaven (Mt 6:20).
So what is the reward that we are to seek? Very simply, it is the fullness of joy that comes from enjoying delightful fellowship with our supremely glorious Father. The hypocrites will never enjoy such fellowship with God; they prefer the praise of men. But the godly men of the Scriptures have always been motivated to worship God by taking pure delight in His glory.
- Psalm 27:4 – David had a singular focus. The one thing he wanted from God was to behold His beauty and to pray to Him in His temple.
- Psalm 42:1-2 – Elsewhere the sons of Korah declared that their souls pant for fellowship with God like the deer pants for water, and asked in eager anticipation, “When shall I appear before my God?”
- Psalm 73:25-28 – Asaph joyfully exclaims that He wants God more than anything else. Even if everything else around him crumbles, fellowship with God is reward enough.
- Psalm 84:1-12 – The psalmist proclaims that a day in the courts of God is better than a thousand anywhere else. And the reason he gives for that “betterness” is that many blessings come to the one who dwells with Him.
- Philippians 3:8-14 – And in this famous passage, the Apostle Paul declares that he considers everything as loss compared to the reward of knowing Christ.
If we can get a grasp on the reward of seeing and savoring the glory of the Eternal God, we will be happily compelled to pray to Him and to Him alone. No praise of man will compare with the reward of true fellowship with our Father.