Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:6b “. . .and when thou hast shut thy door,. . .”
Make sure “thy door” is fastened tight. The privacy must be complete and absolute. Do whatever is necessary to get our minds off others, and on Him. As much as possible, seek to keep private the fact you are going into private prayer.
If we make our retreat into prayer without attracting the glances of others toward ourselves, then we succeed in being a bit more like Him who is invisible. To be unseen by others can help us better commune with Another One unseen by others. It is not always possible to retreat into prayer secretly, but the principle applies, try to develop a private devotional life which truly is as private as possible.
Matt. 6:6c “. . .pray. . .”
Do not flitter away private moments. They are precious. Use them wisely. Pray. Blessed are they who have a burning desire to pray, who have strong inner urgings to commune with God, who feel self irresistibly drawn to this wonderful task. Pray for God to grant us more often seasons when nothing can satisfy us but prayer. Ask Him to help us keep our spiritual sails up so that when God’s Spirit blows, we gladly let Him waft us heavenward. Secret prayer in a private place helps keep us in a mind better suited to being sensitive to these precious moments.
Matt. 6:6d “. . .to thy Father. . .”
Note the family emphasis. Love is to dominate. We are to love God, enjoying Him as “Father.” If God truly is what we seek in prayer, the “closet” will be little problem for us. Possibly the best indicator of true love to our Father is a sincere disposition to engage often in secret prayer with Him, but if we have trouble praying in private, it could mean something is wrong in our relationship with God.
This may be why Jesus neither prescribed particular times of day to pray nor commanded even the frequencies of prayer times. To specify times and how often would lead to formalism and ritualism. Jesus wants our godliness to be voluntary.
True prayer entails loving interaction with the Father. The main point of prayer is to experience God. Our requests must rise from a conscious sense of being with Him. In prayer it is possible, and often commendable, to have communion without specific communication, but communication without communion is impossible. To say words without being mindful of God is tantamount to saying a thing requested is more important than knowing and enjoying the One prayed to.
Matt. 6:6e “. . .which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall
reward thee openly.”
Our Father is as much in our own inner private place as He was in the most famous secret place, the Holy of Holies. We no longer wait to kneel on sacred pavement somewhere. Every minute of every day and night in every spot of earth or sea, we can find a closet where the Father waits, wanting to listen and respond.
He ever wishes to “reward” us. The hypocrites receive their reward, the response of man. True pray-ers will not lose their reward, the response of God. God’s reward is that He, turning our innermost chamber into a temple, hears and answers our every real prayer. We pray, knowing His “yes” will be an abundant yes. We pray, knowing His “no” means He has something better planned for us. We pray, knowing His “wait” means He will grant it at a more appropriate time when we can better appreciate it. When we pray, always expect the best answer.
John Bunyan tells how beggars in his day carried with them bowls when they begged at a house. Some brought small bowls. Thus, no matter how rich the homeowner, the beggar left with little, for the wealthy could give no more than the poor man’s bowl could contain. Those who brought large bowls usually carried them home full, and thus received more. Always come to God with confidence.
As long as the widow kept bringing pots, God kept sending oil for her to sell to live on, but when she ran out of pots, “the oil stopped” (2 K 4:6 NAS). We always run out of requests long before God runs out of “rewards,” of answers.
Matt. 6:7a “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do:”
Our Lord did not here condemn all repetition, just “vain” repetitions, the multiplying of words without mental concentration. Sincere repetition is actually desirable. Jesus commended to us the example of the persistent widow (LK 18:7). In Gethsemane, Christ “prayed the third time, saying the same words” (MT 26:44).
Augustine once prayed all night one sentence, “Oh, Lord, may I know Thee, may I know myself.” Such praying is good if it can remain intense and fervent.
The night I was frightened by government officials in Asia, I prayed repeatedly, “Lord, help us, have mercy on us, we are totally dependent on thee, etc.” for about four hours, from 2 a.m., when they pounded on my door, till about 6 a.m., when I first saw daylight outside my room. Believe me, the praying was fervent.
Vain repetition, repeating words again and again without true mental focus, is ever a temptation because it demands little concentration. To repeat words without consciously focusing on their meaning is to fall into a trap of viewing prayer as merely lip-labor, a duty of the tongue, not the heart. Effective prayer comes from within. If heart and mind do not prompt and follow our words, they are “vain” repetitions.
The error of vain repetitions, separating words from concentration, is common. We see it in prayer wheels, in counting beads while endlessly repeating certain prescribed prayers, in lighting candles, in being called to prayer at set times each day to repeat the same phrases over and over again, in using the same words every time we say grace at a meal or pray aloud in a public setting. We open ourselves to these and many other errors if we deem prayer primarily an outward act.
Power in prayer is multiplied by confident concentration. Unless we trustingly focus on the Father, and focus on what we are requesting, our prayers will be powerless. Why should we expect God to focus on us and our requests if we do not concentrate adequately on Him and the issues we are bringing up? A faith-filled concentrating mind, lovingly focused on our Father and fervently focused on our requests, sends petitions like arrows that are able to pierce heaven (Calvin).