Prayer is a very personal pursuit. Yes, there is group prayer, and corporate prayer– and they are important and valid. But most of our prayer takes place alone; just pouring our heart out to the Father. There is no “rule” for where or how to pray, but Jesus did say that prayer should not be done for show. In fact, He advised that when we pray, we should go into our closets (or inner room, or away by ourselves) and lock the door! Why would He give such advice? I don’t have a full answer, but I can think of several advantages of “secret” prayer:
- If you are alone and isolated, you are less likely to be interrupted. No phones, no text messages, e-mails, or drop-in visitors. Just you and God, intimate and focused.
- A closet or inner room is not just free of interruptions, it is free of distractions– looking out of the window, hearing traffic noises, etc. So many times, we try to multi-task during prayer. Sometimes it is unintentional; other times, we feel guilty when we are not “doing” something. It’s not “wrong” to pray while we are cleaning, or driving (except don’t close your eyes!), or listening to music. But it is more likely that we will lose our focus. Even keeping a prayer list or journal can become a distraction– we’re more focused on “checking off” items on our list than communicating with our Loving Father.
- A small , private, designated space can sometimes alter our perspective. God is Spirit– He can fill vast spaces, and His presence can go anywhere. But we are creatures of time and space; when I am in a small room, I feel my own smallness; it is easier to “be still” and to be humbled.
- As Jesus noted, God knows what is done in secret. We have a human tendency to need affirmation and admiration. God will affirm, encourage, and even reward us for what we do– including what we pray– but it is tempting to seek human admiration, instead. This doesn’t just refer to the actual praying, but our need to announce our actions and prayers to the world. Once again, it isn’t “wrong” to let others know you are praying for them– in fact, it can be a great encouragement! But it IS wrong to make that our focus. Are you praying for the victims of a crisis or war– Great! Keep doing it! But be very careful about posting it on FB and announcing it to everyone in an effort to look “better” in their eyes. Are you praying for someone dealing with cancer or depression– Great! But are you doing more announcing than actual praying? Are you doing anything else to encourage and help the person in question?
6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 5 “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. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Matthew 6:1-8 NIV (emphasis added)
This passage immediately preceded the example of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus modeled for us, not just what words to pray, but how to think about prayer. For many of His followers, this was radical and new thinking. They were used to gathering for prayer. They were used to prayer being limited to rituals and practiced at festivals and worship services. The great patriarchs of the faith prayed as individuals, the priests prayed– long elaborate, and intimidating prayers. Jesus was removing the intimidation of history and tradition, and encouraging people to return to the kind of personal relationship that God intended for us from the beginning– the kind that would be possible with His own defeat of Sin and Death!
Even though I have this intimate access to the Father, and even though I write about it, I still need to be reminded of the importance of seeking God’s face and His approval above that of anyone or anything else. I hope you will also be encouraged to set some time aside today to spend in intimate communication with the One who loves you best!