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!

We the People

Yesterday and today mark two important milestones in North America. September 16 is Mexican Independence Day, and September 17 is Constitution Day in the United States. On these days, people in our two countries celebrate some of the great things that can be accomplished by “we the people.” The founders of our nations were not perfect, but they fought and worked and came together to make “a more perfect union,” and a brighter future for their citizens.

All around the world, governments are instituted to protect the rights and lives of people– to protect them from danger, to allow them to interact in peace and safety, and to provide for “the general welfare” of all. But governments– even the best–are run by fallible people.

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The Bible tells a long and complex story of the ancient nation of Israel. Tracing its origins to a single patriarch (Abraham), the family grew to be a powerful nation, ruled first by priests and judges, and then by a series of kings. The nation split into two distinct countries, before being scattered and sent into exile. The story of the nation is chronicled (literally) in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. In the books of the prophets, the same message comes from God again and again–Israel and Judah have both fallen into the same idolatry and corruption that doomed the nations they had conquered in former times. Instead of seeking justice for all the people, and providing order and protection, the leaders had become drunkards, liars, thieves, and murderers. They betrayed their allies, made foolish treaties, oppressed the poor and helpless, and celebrated their own cleverness. “We the People” had devolved into “us versus them.” Worship of God had been replaced by worship of a pantheon of foreign gods–worship that involved ritual prostitution and human sacrifice. Family members and fellow citizens were sold into slavery, robbed and beaten, used and abused, and slaughtered–without remorse or fear of retribution. God’s warnings were followed by His justice and punishment, and the demise of both nations, as well as punishment for their neighbors.

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Israel’s story, while very detailed, isn’t unique in history. Instead, it is a case study of what can happen when the people abandon unity and the rule of law for division and corruption. It is what happens when “who we are” becomes more important than “whose” we are; when “we” are more important than anyone else–even God. Israel and Judah continued to be religious right up to the point where they were dragged off to exile. They brought offerings and sacrifices, sang songs, prayed, and memorized scripture. Their leaders assured them that God would protect them and continue to let them prosper as their enemies marched up to the gates of Jerusalem. They had not abandoned the worship of God– they had just added idolatry to it. They worshipped their own prosperity, they worshipped gods and goddesses of the harvest, of war, of wealth, and wisdom. They still thought God was great– but not necessarily Sovereign.

Who or what are we worshipping today? What “new” and additional principles have we added to our own Constitution? To the laws of the land? To our way of being good citizens in our respective countries? To the eternal Word of God? When we hear the phrase, “We the People,” does it bring to mind people who look and live differently than us? Does it bring thoughts of justice and unity? Does it humble us?

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King David, the second, and one of the greatest of Israel’s kings wrote: “Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3 NKJV) “We the People,” by ourselves, will scatter and fall into destruction, like sheep without a shepherd.

Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes

I worked for many years at a public library doing pre-school story time programs. One of the favorite songs among the children was “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Children love rhymes, music, and movement, and this song involved all three. Children stood, ready to stretch and bend, point, and sing: “Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” Their hands flew from one body part to another as we sang, faster and faster. “Eyes and ears and mouth and nose; head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” Faster and faster, louder and louder, the excitement growing, until the song ended in a breathless shout, “Knees and toes”!

Another favorite was the “Hokey Pokey”, in which we formed a circle and took turns “putting in” and “putting out” various limbs and body parts, “turning (ourselves) about” and clapping. We “put in” our right arms, our left legs, our heads, and “our whole selves.” From the earliest of ages, we become aware of the various parts of our bodies, their names and functions, and how they work together.

As God’s people, we are to be the “Body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) and our bodies are to be His temple(1 Corinthians 6:19). It is important that we recognize how every part of our body needs to be consecrated and ready to serve, to worship, and to reflect God’s Glory.

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This is not a new concept. In fact, much of the book of Leviticus is given over to consecrating every aspect of the worship of God by His children. There are detailed instructions for the priests– how and when to enter the Tabernacle; what to wear, what kind of offerings to bring and how to prepare for service. One set of details involves the installation ceremony for the priests. They were to wash from head to toe, before putting on the sacred garments. They were to offer a blood sacrifice, and some of the blood was to be placed or smeared in three places– the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot (Leviticus 14:28).

Scholars through the years have given us many reasons for these detailed instructions (see this link for a terrific overview) https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ears-thumbs-and-toes/, and most of them bring out the idea that God wants us to worship and be consecrated “from head to toe.” God has authority over how we choose to use our ears, hands, and feet– He wants purity in our words and deeds. He wants us to listen to Him, obey Him, and follow Him.

The smearing of blood in these three areas also demonstrates a need for atonement– only blood can cover or atone for our lack of attentiveness, our lack of obedience, and our open rebellion against God’s authority. The blood of the ritual sacrifices in Leviticus are a foreshadowing of the ultimate atonement we receive from the sacrifice of the Only True Lamb, Jesus Christ. Christ takes away our sin, and consecrates us to His service and worship– from head to toe!

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And, unlike the Hokey Pokey, THAT’S what it’s all about! God gives us His life and purity, His Grace and forgiveness, His divine purpose and eternal Glory when we “put our whole selves” in His hands, and He “turns us all about,” to become more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm 100:3)

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