“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.