In this part of ‘The sermon on the mount’ we are covering Jesus’ teaching on prayer. We are spending a few weeks alternating between how not to pray and how we should pray. Last week we looked at how not to pray – by praying to impress other people. This week Jesus talks about the correct attitude of praying – in secret. I don’t for one minute think that Jesus is condemning all types of public praying. There are instances in the bible where he prayed in public himself and the early church prayed in corporate prayer meetings often. In this passage, Jesus is not addressing corporate prayer, He is addressing private prayer between an individual and God.
Before we analyse the passage, let’s consider the awesome privilege we have in the first place of entering into any communication with Almighty God. The creator of the universe, the Holy God who dwells in unapproachable light has made Himself available to us. Jesus died to make a way into the father’s presence through His supreme sacrifice. God has not given in and said “Ok you can come to me if you want to” no, He has actively pursued us. He passionately desires a relationship with us because He loves us. Isn’t that amazing?
Going back to the passage, Jesus is saying “when you pray.” It is an assumption that we will. It certainly isn’t ‘if’. As Christians we have given submitted ourselves to God. What he wants for us matters. We have made Him Lord of our lives and so He now has control over us. We couldn’t be called followers if we had no interest in where He wants to take us.
Going into a room is not literal but symbolic. Not all followers of Jesus have a private place they can go to. Going into a room and closing a door is symbolic of finding a place where you can commune with the Lord privately. Shutting the door is an act of dedication of saying to God that “only you matter” This is ‘our’ time. For that reason, I don’t think it’s a good idea having your phone with you. To spend quality time with God we need to give Him our undivided attention. Jesus himself was constantly surrounded by people but He found time to be with the father. He would get up early in the morning or retreat to a solitary place.
We obviously can’t see God, so this discipline is a tremendous act of faith. We are exercising our faith every time we go to Him alone and consequently our faith will grow.
Jesus wants us to pray in private so that our motives are pure. If our communication is in secret it is not impressing anybody else. On our own we get His undivided attention, a personal audience with Him. The reward is God hearing our prayers and answering them. It reminds us of our dependence on Him. By praying behind closed doors you are showing that God means more to you than anybody or anything else.
It seems crazy, given the immense privilege we have, but praying to God, for the Christian, is one of the hardest disciplines to engage in. It takes great practice and commitment. If you don’t do it so much, don’t be discouraged, God wants to help you. Jesus’ disciples found it hard, so don’t be surprised if you do too. Over the next few weeks we will be investigating some amazing teaching on prayer. Let these blogs inspire you to go deeper into prayer and discover the delight of spending time with our amazing God.
Let me leave you this week with a poem;
Mid all the traffic of the ways,
Turmoils without, within,
Make in my heart a quiet place,
And come and dwell therein.
A little shrine of quietness,
All sacred to Thyself,
Where Thou shalt all my soul possess,
And I may find myself.
A little shelter from life’s stress,
Where I may lay me prone,
And bare my soul in loneliness,
And know as I am known.
A little place of mystic grace,
Of self and sin swept bare,
Where I may look upon Thy face,
And talk with Thee in prayer.
by William A Dunkerley