DAILY READING: Matthew 6:1–6

FOCUS PASSAGE: “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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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.” (Matt. 6:5–6)

Jesus recognized our tendency to perform religious acts in order to receive a reward.

It is easy enough to attend worship, engage in prayer, serve at the shelter, or give time in our favorite ministry, hoping someone will notice. Or we may hope secretly that some benefit will be given to us, or that some storehouse of blessing will open to us because of our faithful practice. In Jesus’ teaching, the “trumpets” and “street corners” symbolize spiritual practices we undertake in order to receive an external reward.

Who among us is not concerned with how we look before others? We guard our reputations and fret over what people think about us. We go to great lengths to watch over the opinion others have of us, even subtly manipulating those impressions when we are able.

Spiritually speaking, this kind of external focus is not helpful. Here at the outset of Lent, a season of honest reflection and cleansing, we can call this stance what it is: a shaky foundation. A life focused externally will not hold true. It will not stand up in the storms of life.

Instead, Jesus used another term for an inward focus: the “secret room” or the “hidden room.” This was Jesus’ language for the inner landscape of a person, the more soulful interiority which is at our core.

He invites us to grapple with the nuances of life inwardly, going into our “room and closing the door,” in order to offer a healing, freeing presence in the outer world. God is closer to us than our next breath. We’ll have difficulty noticing God in the outer world if we’ve never found God alive and stirring in our inner world.

On Ash Wednesday we receive ashes crossed onto our foreheads and hear these words: “Remember, from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.”

We remember the “inner room,” so we don’t need to blow “trumpets” on “street corners.”

We remember that we are more than what we do and the things we accomplish.

We remember who we are so that the traps of busyness and distraction do not hijack our lives.

We remember that we are not our image. We are not our successes or our failures.

We remember the One who shapes and gives life.

We remember that our existence on earth is not forever; thus, in our limited time we had best live fully the one wild and precious life that we have.

Ash Wednesday shapes the rest of Lent. It gives perspective and provides framework for the days ahead. We are invited today – and then throughout Lent – to give attention to our inner room. We are invited to remember who we are and then live fully into our identity.

The Lent Weekly Devotional series is written by Jerry Webber, Community Pastor, The Center for Christian Spirituality/Contemplative Worship.