…close the door behind you.

“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. 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.” (Matthew 6:5-6)

“Of all things, guard against neglecting God in the secret place of prayer.” William Wilberforce

“Be much in secret prayer. Converse less with man and more with God.” George Whitefield

Having realised that our heavenly Father always longs to hear us in prayer and consistently welcomes us with gracious and open arms, we are now faced with how and what we pray. In the next few blog posts I want to invite us to look at Jesus and Paul’s words on these two ideas – how do we pray and what do we pray for? In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to pray in secret – “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”

It is rare in our modern and connected age that we do something no one knows about. Yet there is nowhere that I have grown and struggled so much as in the secret place of prayer. It has been in times when no one has known where I was, or what I was doing, that I have come to know God better and fulfilled my true human purpose. But the secret place of prayer is challenging. To be alone before God and seek Him can often reveal how much we really believe He is there, and how much we trust in His ability to hear and respond. It is therefore not something that comes easily to anyone. Practically I have found it useful to put secret prayer at the beginning of the day, after a shower, before I eat, that way it actually happens. Jesus often got up before dawn and went and hid in solitary places or in the mountains of Judea and Galilee to have time alone with His Father. I know many of us already have a similar “quiet time” at some point in the day, but I want to encourage us to go deeper in this. Keeping a time set aside for secret prayer every day is vital to life – Jesus makes that clear in this passage and by his own example. However, it is also the greatest privilege for any human being: to have a one on one with the creator of the universe, to share anything with Him, and to hear from Him. Secret prayer with our awesome and almighty Father is uniquely powerful in creation.

Spending quality time with spouses, friends and family is a high priority for many of us. Depending on how important people are to us will dictate how much time we give them and where. Thriving relationships take time and effort, and cost us other things in life. Yet how often do we push God into the “church box” where we only speak to him at small group or on Sunday mornings? Praying as a church is great and the Bible celebrates it, but Jesus also tells us of the importance of having quality, focused time with our Father in secret. However, no one would begrudge spending time with a good friend or someone they love dearly. Secret prayer is something I often don’t feel like doing – it gets pushed out of my routine by other “more important” things. But when I do bite the bullet and go into my room and shut the door, I am always thankful that I did it and remembering the joy it has brought me draws me back again and again.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” I often wonder whether the reward Jesus speaks of here is found in the time of prayer itself – a fresh realisation of our Father’s great love for us and the joy it is to know Him. Indeed, it is in the secret place of prayer with God’s word and His Spirit that we truly come to know Him.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you call us into a place of secret prayer. Thank you that we can talk with you on our own, one on one, knowing that you hear us. Thank you Lord Jesus that you have made this possible and that we can come into a secret place of prayer every day because of the cross and empty tomb. Lord God, help us to set aside time for you each day, to humbly go into our room and shut the door behind us as we seek you and approach you. May our pride not stop us from praying when no one else is looking; instead help us to love you, that we might always long for a bit more time alone with you.

The door is always open

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. Psalm 86:5-7

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:8-9

Cris has asked me to share a few thoughts on prayer on the blog so I thought a good place to start would be prayer and guilt… (stay with me). There are often times when I feel guilty that I haven’t prayed enough. 15-20 minutes a day with the occasional extra bit one evening or on a Sunday just doesn’t seem to do God the justice I feel He deserves. Thinking and talking about how little time many of us spend in prayer with others can often end up with all involved in the conversation feeling guilty about not praying enough. Similarly, feeling guilty about a whole range of things can prevent us from praying – how are we supposed to face God, when we’ve done that thing or when we’ve hurt someone? Perhaps rather than guilt, we might just find it difficult to pray if we haven’t spoken to God for so long, or if we’re angry at Him for something that’s happened in life.

But God’s door is always open. God doesn’t have office hours (please pray only between the hours of 9-5 Mon-Fri), instead he’s the loving parent who is always happy to hear us when we call on Him. I remember the image of the Father running to embrace His child in the story of the Prodigal son. Forgetting those who might have been watching, the father must have pulled up his clothes before sprinting towards a long lost son whom he hugs tightly. It’s the same for us. God’s love is “unfailing” and it is by His grace, His gift of forgiveness that we become His children. The Lord is longing to hear from you whenever, for whatever reason and in Jesus’ death and resurrection has forgiven you for anything and everything. Do not let anything come between you and your Father. Whether you spoke to Him last year or yesterday, there is never any reason not to start talking with Him today.

Father God, thank you that you are always ready and waiting for us to speak with you. Thank you that we need only come to you, as we are, and that by your unfailing love and grace we can know you as our Father in whatever situation we are in. Thank you that your door is always open and that in prayer we can speak to you as our God, our Friend and our Father.

by Gordon Taylor