But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy
closet, and when thou hast shut thy door,
pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy
Father which seeth in secret shall reward
thee openly (Matthew 6:6).
What we do in secret speaks a lot about our true spirituality. The heart of the Christian faith is the Christian faith within the heart. It is the secret abiding in Christ, the desire for His kingdom and the communion with the Spirit that make a real difference. Even the heathen pray (vs.7), and the religions of the world make a show of their prayers. But the Christian enters into a secret place where the focus can be on God alone.
It is in prayer that the life of God is boosted in His people. In this verse, the Greek for ‘closet’ could also be translated as ‘store-room.’ It is in this ‘store-room’ that we accumulate the hidden treasures of God’s friendship and love, and this in turn adds luster to the light that Jesus shines in our lives.
Shut the Door
One reason why prayer seems to look better on paper than in the actual doing is because we often ‘enter into the closet’ but fail to ‘shut the door.’ That is, we come to pray but we come with a multitude of extraneous thoughts. We have other plans in mind and our responsibilities beckon. Then the devil throws in his two cents and makes plenty of suggestions or temptations. There are also the many physical distractions that make it hard to get quiet in an increasingly busy society.
It is hard to shut the door, but it is necessary. It requires an act of the will. Every thought and distraction must be rejected in order to get into that secret place of divine communion with God. These distractions will continue to knock, but the will that shuts the door finds the happy place of heavenly solitude (solitude- there’s a word you don’t hear much in this day of constant media noise and social networking!). Then, like in other aspects of the spiritual journey, the Lord will meet us and carry us the rest of the way. “You have made it through the trials and obstacles, now enjoy my presence.” When this happens, prayer becomes desirable and it is often hard to break away.
The supernatural is required in prayer. Weariness occurs when prayer becomes a mere duty of the flesh. Then the routine becomes a rut, and the prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. It is time for renewed faith and a fresh approach.
Here is what I have found helpful for building up the prayer life…
Tips for Praying
Saturate yourself with the Word of God. Pray before, during, and after reading. This will reveal the mind of Christ and transform you as it renews your mind. Read the Bible consistently. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). Getting answers should bring some excitement to prayer!
In order to understand the mind and will of God, it is necessary to read through entire books of the Bible, and not just jump from one section to another. A good idea is to read through a book in the Old Testament and a book in the New Testament. If you read a chapter or two from each every day, you would get you through the entire Bible in about a year and a half. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read certain isolated sections once in a while or as God leads, but your fundamental reading should be consistent and contextual.
This will be a firm foundation, and a solid rock from which to build prayer and be transformed. It will be life changing, because God’s word converts the soul, causes rejoicing, and brings wisdom and enlightenment (see Psalm 19:7-8).
The more familiar you get with God’s Word, the easier prayer becomes. You can use what you have just read to help provide content for prayers. You can bolster your faith with the knowledge of God’s works and faithfulness. You can be stirred to praise with the understanding of His love. And there are thousands of promises in the Bible that can bring strength and victory in troubling times.
Come to God with words of worship. “But I don’t know what to say!” Learn this language from His very Word. Get acquainted with the worship and praises expressed in the Psalms, and learn to praise Him in like manner. Reading or singing the words of a good worship song can also help bring us into a ready spirit for prayer. Sometimes the feelings may not be there, but often they come after praising God anyway! Praising God is a great way to stir up the heart. Feelings come and go. Faith takes action regardless of feelings, but the feelings often come after faith has been exercised.
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps.46:10). It’s very hard for people to be still. Try not to be in a hurry. I believe this also means to be quiet. It is very natural to just ramble off everything that comes to mind and heart, and to be the only one doing the talking. God may want to say something to you.
“But God does not speak to me when I am quiet.” You may be depending on your natural senses. You may be waiting for familiar English words to come to your mind. You would like to hear an audible voice. Some people do hear from God in these ways, but He may also be speaking in a way completely outside of natural understanding. This is not mystical, it is spiritual. Your spirit may be thriving in the stillness, but your thoughts and worries are making too much noise. Let everything be hushed by faith in His presence. Be still and you will know that He is God!
After a while of stillness, words may well up and need an outlet. Allow them to flow. It may be praise, petitions, or even a heavenly language. Stay in a spirit of faith and let it out.
Give thanks. Season all prayers with thanksgiving! Giving thanks encourages faith, and faith brings strength. One of the biggest mistakes often made in prayer is that it becomes a griping and complaining time. I used to think I needed to “pour out my heart,” and I would go on and on telling God how bad everything was. Guess what? I felt worse for praying after that! If all we do is rehearse the bad, we will remain in bondage to it. Instead, look for the good side of every situation. If there doesn’t seem to be any good side, we can at least thank God that this won’t be a problem in heaven!
Sometimes I try to just get myself “into heaven” and away from this world (through prayer). The song says that when you fix your eyes upon Jesus, the things of this world will grow strangely dim. After that there is strength and renewal. But to just groan and mope over a laundry list of problems brings even more weariness.
There’s a place for mentioning the problems. I’m just saying don’t dwell on them for too long. Stop begging God for help and start claiming His promises. Go to the Word and find the Scriptures that can address your situation. Then in prayer thank God for the promise and ask Him to make it manifest in your situation.
Invite the Holy Spirit. Whenever we pray, we want the prayers to be spiritual. Sometimes the Lord lays a burden on the heart and it is a spiritual prayer from the very beginning. Other times it is necessary to wait on the Holy Spirit, and call upon Him to breathe His petitions through us. Sometimes we don’t even know what we are praying, but the Spirit Himself is groaning within (Romans 8:26). The key here is to just be sensitive and aware that prayer is taking place.
Be sensitive. Remember that you are speaking to God! Prayer can often become a routine of speaking religious language with no real connection to God. It is easy to develop a pattern in which the words sound good but have nothing of the heart. Beware of falling into this. Watch out for vain repetitions- praying endlessly for the same thing, or repeating the same phrases over and over. Prayer is sometimes referred to as ‘watching.’ If we should watch what we say to other people, we should watch what we say to the Lord. This doesn’t have to be a rigid rule, it just requires a little sensitivity.
Know that Jesus intercedes. This is the good news! After all has been said and done, God still accepts imperfect prayers from His children. He heard the prayers of Cornelius before Cornelius even believed in Jesus (Acts 10). How much more does he hear ours! I once read an illustration that alluded to our prayers as flowers being offered up to the Father. When we offer them up with weeds (our sins and imperfections), Jesus sorts them out! God is pleased with our prayers (Prov.15:8). As in every respect of the Christian life, we are covered.
In China, I have seen nervous ladies bow and kow-tow before porcelain statues. I have seen (in temples) idols larger than life, with hideous expressions and grotesque features. In Thailand, many places carry the stench of incense, and gigantic idols in Buddhist temples are found on every street corner. Offerings are made to little demon-houses in people’s front yards. And how many minority people groups are there throughout the world, who are bound to village witch doctors and occultic practices? They are all caught in the unrelenting grips of fear. It is such a contrast to the freedom we have in Christ Jesus! We are blessed to serve a God who loves us, and to serve him without fear (Luke 1:74).
I am thankful for the privilege and opportunity to pray to “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God…” (1Tim.1:17). He bids us to His throne of grace. He meets us with love, and has the desire to answer our prayers- “thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
Objection: “I don’t always get what I pray for! I don’t see any rewards!”
Answer: It is interesting to note that some versions of the Bible do not have the word ‘openly’ where it talks of the Father’s reward. The Greek for this was actually added in a later manuscript. This has significant implications. What is done in secret WILL be rewarded– that is the promise of the Word. Often prayer will be rewarded openly with wonderfully visible results. This should be expected. But there will also be rewards given in the age to come. Jesus spoke of secret prayer being rewarded, as well as secret deeds, and secret fasting. In each instance He repeated that what was done in secret would be rewarded. Significantly, He follows up these promises with the exhortation to store up our treasures in heaven (Matt.6:19-21)! There are rewards coming forth openly as well as rewards storing up in heaven. The point is that you will see a return either now, later, or both.
Do you realize that your times of prayer are divine investments? The flesh may cry, “I prayed but nothing happened!” But faith will answer, “It ain’t over yet! And it has already been rewarded in heaven.”
Times of prayer on this earth can be the sweetest experiences we have in this life. The Christian should make it his or her aim to find that precious blessing of communion with God, and that daily. Just remember that all is not lost if the blessing is not immediately experienced. It may be that a greater blessing is upon you because you prayed in faith even when you felt nothing.
Go then to the storeroom, and pray in secret. And do not come out– here I mean that the heart should stay in the state of prayer continually. Do not ‘become a spiritual person’ only when it is time to perform ‘an act of religion.’ No. When you come out of the room, or the church building, or the time of fellowship, try to stay in that frame of special alertness before the Lord. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). The body comes out but the heart must stay in. This then will speak of a significant distinction from the ‘religious’ of the world.