As I laid awake in the early hours this morning, I was thinking about what to write. Then at 5am, the Call to Prayer started at a local mosque. Yesterday and today have been religious holidays here in Tanzania because of the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. During their daily fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations. They also refrain from sinful behavior such as false speech and fighting. Muslims believe the spiritual rewards for fasting is multiplied within the month of Ramadan.
This is all new for Jeremy and I. We have lots to learn about what our new neighbors believe. To be truthful, it is disturbing to hear the Call to Prayer every day. I try to stop and pray for our neighbors at these times of day.
At 5am this morning, I turned to what the Bible says about prayer and fasting in Matthew 6.
v5. 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.
v7. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
v16. When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
These were Jesus’s words against those who publicly pray and fast for others to see. At the time these were his Jewish neighbors. They were receiving their reward in full by the religious practices of the day. Sadly, our neighbors here publicly call for prayer five times a day and publicly fast for an entire month. They have received their reward already. Yet, they believe by doing these things they are increasing their spiritual reward.
But what did Jesus actually say about receiving rewards for prayer and fasting?
v6. 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.
v17-18. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others 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.
To me, these are clear instructions of what not to do and what to do. Jesus was calling out his Jewish neighbors for their religious acts and setting a new way for his followers. Jesus even taught them how to pray in Matthew 6.
v9-13. This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
I do pray for our neighbors and that one day we can all pray this prayer with a sincere heart to Our Father in heaven, the unseen One, who will reward each person for what is done in secret.