by Mike Ratliff
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1 ESV)
Of all of the things Christians do that sets them apart from non-believers, prayer is both practiced heavily and not well understood. There is controversy about what genuine prayer is and isn’t. The Word-Faith people go so far as to use prayer like a vending machine. I could write a post everyday on prayer in this blog from now until the Lord takes me home and never run out of things to write about. Before we go any further in this discussion I want to state here that I am no expert on prayer. My favorite place and time to pray is in my home office in the morning right after showering and dressing before I eat breakfast. I am still learning how to pray. Public prayer like in church prayer meetings or in a Bible study class or a Deacon’s meeting are things that I struggle with. I am not good at it. I hear other people pray out loud and am amazed at the depth and intricate wording of their prayers. Mine are short and sweet. It’s not that I don’t see the value in public prayer, but it seems somewhat pointless to ask someone to pray before a bunch of people who is not prepared or is in the midst of a personal struggle of some kind or is just having a bad day. Then when that person struggles with praying like that there are some who are positive that person’s spiritual maturity is nil.
Our saviour had some clear things to say about prayer in Matthew 6. He equated the way some people approach prayer with bad motives.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)
I cling to these verses at times. Thomas Brooks, a 17th century Puritan, wrote a book called, The Secret Key to Heaven. It is an exposition on secret prayer and how it is the key to the throne room of God. In this post I will touch on some things from a chapter from Brooks book called “Secret Prayer Distinguishes Sincerity from Hypocrisy.” I found this chapter very comforting. Why? I was positive that there was something wrong with me or my relationship with God because I struggled so with public prayer. In this chapter, Brooks makes it clear that the prayer that cannot be done hypocritically is that done alone in the presence of God. On the other hand, when we are in groups of people there is always the opportunity to pray from wrong motives. I think that the fear of doing that very thing is what I struggle with the most. I want what I pray to be for God’s ears alone, but if I am in a group of people then aren’t I going to be divided in my heart about what I pray?
In Brooks on words, “Hypocrites live upon the praises and applauses of men. Naturalists report of the Chelydonian stone, that it will retain its virtue no longer than it is enclosed in gold. So hypocrites will keep up their duties no longer than they are fed, and encouraged, and enclosed with the golden praises and applauses of men. Hypocrites are like blazing stars, which, so long as they are fed with gases, shine as if they were fixed stars; but let the gases dry up, and presently they vanish and disappear.”
On the other hand, how could we have false motives about prayer when it’s one-on-one between us and God? When we are in the prayer closet, there can be no ulterior motives unless we think we are fooling God. I doubt that any one reading this is so immature as to believe they can do that. God cannot be fooled.
Brooks then describes this one-on-one, closet prayer, “Closet duty speaks out most sincerity. He prays with a witness that prays without a witness. The more sincere the soul is, the more in closet duty the soul will be (Job 31:33). Where do you read in all the Scripture, that Pharaoh, or Saul, or Judas, or Demas, or Simon Magus, or the scribes and pharisees, did ever use to pour out their souls before the the Lord in secret? Secret prayer is not the hypocrite’s ordinary walk, his ordinary work or trade.”
I honestly believe that the only one who should be judging our spiritual maturity is ourselves and God. He knows, we have to learn how immature we are. However, instead of how deep we can pray in public as an indication of our spiritual maturity, we should be praying high quality prayer in private with God. Yes, we must examine ourselves constantly. How well are we praying? Are we spending time alone with God at all? When we do, are we praying biblically or are we trying to use God as gift machine? You get the idea.
Hypocrites use prayer to make themselves look good before men. Jesus tells us to not do as they do. We are to take our needs to the throne of grace in secret. It is in this one-on-one special time with God that He uses to work wonders in our hearts. Prayer is still a learning experience for me, but I pray that God will continue to teach me how to come boldly, yet humbly, to His throne of Grace with a sincere heart that is bound to His Holiness and bent on His glory alone.
For a very good example of a prayer that is a great model for a secret prayer click here
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