Go Into Your Closet to Pray

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:

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  • 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?
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“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.“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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward 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 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 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!

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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!

He Knows MY Name

My first name, Lila, is not unique, but it is uncommon. Last week, when my husband and I got away for a few days for our anniversary, we visited a gift shop. I was excited to see a magnet with my name on it, so I bought it (though we don’t need any more kitchen magnets, and it was more than I would normally spend on such a trinket). My husband, David, on the other hand, has the opposite experience. He can be in a room with 20 people, and if someone calls out, “Hey, Dave,” sometimes three people will answer! He can find trinkets that say, “David,” “Dave,” and “Davey” almost anywhere.

Names can be funny that way. Almost everyone knows how to pronounce my husband’s name. And spell it. It’s a good name, a strong name– that’s one reason it’s so popular. My name is shorter by one letter, but almost no one spells it correctly– I’ve seen it spelled Lyla, Lilah, Laila, Leila, and Lily; and I’ve heard it pronounced Lee-la, Lay-la, Lill-a, as well as just misread completely as Lisa, Lilian, Lina, Lenore, Delilah, Lora, Mila…

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Both David and I were named after other members of our families, and we have nieces, nephews, and cousins named David or Lila, as well. Our names have personal and family importance beyond just the normal meanings. Still, somewhere in the world, there are dozens of people who bear the same name (first, middle, and last) as my husband, while there may be one other who bears my same name.

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God knows my name. He never misspells it, never mangles the pronunciation or gets me confused with someone else. And he knows “my” David, and never gets him confused with someone else or lumps him in with a group of other “Davids”. God knows why David and I were named as we were, and He knew the family members after whom we were named. He knows the names of our great-great-great grandchildren!

Jesus had twelve disciples. The Bible records that two of them were named James, two were named Simon, and two others were possibly named Judas. Jesus gave one of the “Simons” the new name of Peter’ the other was also known as “Simon the Zealot”. The two James were distinguished as “the elder” and “the younger” or “James the brother of John, and son of Zebedee” and “James the son of Alpheus.” Judas Iscariot was the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the authorities; there was another disciple, who went by the name Jude, or Thaddeus, or Judas the brother of James. Historians know little about “the other Judas”, and even the authors of the Gospels give different lists of names for the twelve disciples, given that some of them went by more than one name. However, Jesus knew each one from before they were even born.

Of course, God knows far more than just our names. He knows our every thought– before we even think it! God “gets” us–for better or worse. He knows our quirks and our capabilities. He knows our deepest shame, and our deepest fear; our greatest accomplishment and our most secret desire. Even more, God knows our future; He knows all that we could be and all that we will become (or fail to become). He knows “what might have been” if we had been born in a different time or place. He knows exactly how our decisions have affected us for good or ill, and how others’ actions have impacted our character.

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There are nearly 8 billion people alive on this planet at the current time (7.9 billion estimated as of September 2021). God knows the name and dreams and histories of each and every one! And when we pray, we are not praying to someone whose knowledge of us is limited or determined by our relation to someone He knows “better.” Imagine God having 8 billion kitchen magnets with names on each one–even if there were 100,000,000 of them with the name “David,” God would know exactly which one belonged to “my” David. And God would not confuse mine with any of the millions of similar magnets saying Lily, Lisa, Lylah, Lola, Laura, or even “Lila.”

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What an amazing God! What a privilege to call on HIS Name, knowing that He knows us so intimately and loves us so thoroughly!

The Lord is My Shepherd…

The Twenty-third Psalm is one of the most quoted and well-known poems in the Bible. In its short six verses are contained some of the deepest truths and most beautiful images in scripture.

Today, I want to look at just the first five words of the psalm: The Lord is my shepherd. Familiarity with these words can rob them of their true power. Imagine if we used a modern-day analogy: The Prime Minister (or King or President) is my life coach, or home health care nurse, or bodyguard. Can you imagine!?

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How often do we gloss over these words and fail to see the amazingly powerful message there. The LORD– Yahweh, the Almighty, Ruler of the Universe– is MY shepherd. He does all the kind of things a shepherd does for his sheep– feeds, leads, protects, and provides. He fights off predators, binds up wounds, and shears off the extra wool that can get us entangled in briers or slow down our progress. He stands with us in the heat and cold, and finds shelter for us from the wind and rain. He does all of this for me, when I can’t; because I can’t. He knows everything about me– my strengths and weaknesses and limitations. He knows everything about what I need– where the best grass and water are and how to get there; how much rest I need before the next stage of our journey; the likelihood that I will wander off and need to be called back to the flock. He knows what dangers lie ahead, and how to deal with them.

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The Lord IS my shepherd– He is always on the job. He hasn’t left me alone in green pastures, or sent someone else to take me through the valleys. He didn’t start out as my shepherd and then decide to quit. He isn’t waiting for me to reach a certain stage or measurement before I qualify to be His sheep.

The Lord is my Shepherd– not my task-master, nor yet my servant. He is both my Lord and my caretaker– my master and my minister. When I pray today, it is not to someone remote and aloof or powerless and malleable– I am bleating in my sheepish voice all my praise, my love, my irrational worries, and my sincerest gratitude, to the eternal and all-powerful shepherd who calls me by name.

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