Secret Prayer Distinguishes Sincerity from Hypocrisy

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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17 thoughts on “Secret Prayer Distinguishes Sincerity from Hypocrisy

  1. A deep and honest writing, Mike. What we do and say alone with God is who we really are, all else is a show. And your final written prayer struck 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”

    We are all unprofitable servants, Lord Jesus, but we desire to completely rely and trust You and You alone. Only You can finish what You have started.

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  2. Rick,
    Isn’t it interesting that it is what God knows about us that is most important, while what others see in our lives is really an outer shell, hit and miss and not definitive of what is really in our hearts?
    Your written prayer is right on Rick. I thank God that I have Christian friends who are on the same pilgramage that I am. Thanks for the encouragment and the insight.
    In Christ
    Mike Ratliff

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  3. Hi Mike,
    I struggle very much when praying in public. I stumble a lot and I really get nervous. Yet, when I am alone I can open my heart up and everything pours out. I’m not a public type of person. I so enjoy my intimate times with my Lord. It is so wonderful to go to him with all that is on my heart, I always come away with a feeling of comfort.

    Cristina

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  4. Hi Cristina!

    Yes, that public prayer stuff is a not a comfortable thing for some of us. I, like you, cherish my private time with God. On the rare occasions when I oversleep and have to rush to get ready for work and have to cut short or cancel my morning prayer time I really have a tough time all through the day.

    Also, I am convinced that it is while we are in our private prayer time, God does a great work in our hearts.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  5. I would like to hear what everyone has to say about their experience on fasting and praying. I have a hard time doing this, and really, I don’t think I do it right. Ok, I’m going to share my sins. When I fast and pray I get so hungry that I get sick to my stomach and can’t concentrate on praying after awhile. How do I overcome this? Also, how much of the day to we fast and pray…I’m thinking the whole day, but that many hours of prayer I do find that I run out of things to pray for. Like I said I’m not good at this and would like to know other people’s experiences. Good post, Mike.

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  6. Sarah,
    I actually enjoy fasting, but I don’t get to do it very often. It wasn’t always the case though. I used to really struggle with it as you shared. In 2004 and 2005 I fasted about once a month. It went pretty well. What I discovered was this. If I approached fasting as a time to learn from God or to gain Wisdom from God then it was as if God opened my spiritual eyes more. I saw then that when I fast I must feast on Him. In other words, I would fast from the world and my wants and feast on God, His Word, Prayer, etc. Interestingly, I ususally shun any sort of fellowship during this time. It is a private thing with me.
    When I fast I feel different. As those feelings increase I turn to God and say use this for your glory. Help me focus this “feeling” or “pain” or “whatever” to You Lord. Use it to teach me more about You and Your ways.
    Anyway, that is what I do now. My wife and I are going to start fasting once a week. I am looking for a book by John Piper called, “Hungry for God”. It is about fasting.
    Sarah, my dear sister in Christ, take the “hunger” and other pains and distractions and focus them on God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I pray God will reveal Himself to you as you feast on Him.
    In Christ
    Mike Ratliff

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  7. So Mike you also read the Bible during your fasting time? I will add that to my day of fasting. I will also look up “Hungry for God” I think that would benefit me in learning how to fast and pray.

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  8. Sarah,

    Yes, I read my Bible and pray as I read it. I listen to deep worship songs. I try to focus it all on Him, but listen as I read His word and pray. I am a student in this as well as you though. It seems that every time I have fasted it has been different. I plan on a fast next week. I will let you know how it goes. 🙂 Perhaps we can pick out a day and fast and pray together, upholding each other. That would be interesting.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  9. Oh, yes! I think that would be wonderful! We could pray for each other to withstand the enemy’s attack and to increase in our learning more about the Word of God…God certainly hears the prayers of His children. I just got home from work, but I’m now off work till Sunday and go back on Monday. Anyone else interested? We can get a list of prayer requests. Mine would be the persecuted church and our spiritual leadership here in America like John MacArther and Paul Washer etc. I can pray and fast on any of those days…let me know!

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  10. Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t read your post on the days you planned on fasting very well did I? I have off 13th-17th so any of those would work for me. 🙂

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  11. Ok, the 16th it is! I ordered those hymnal CD’s that Ingrid made available I will use those also They sent the words with the songs. How about online sermons from say Paul Washer or John MacArther is that straying a little too far from prayer and fasting?

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  12. I will spend the day focusing on God and what He has done for me. I will pray for my son to come to repent and come to Christ. I will pray that God will use me for His glory. I don’t see anything wrong with using those things you mentioned if that puts you in position to hear from God. I will be listening to John Piper and John MacArthur that day as well. To fast and pray in a way that glorifies God and edifies us, we must seek His face and will. That is why we do it. The fasting part is hard, the feasting on Him makes it not only tolerable it makes it a wonderful place to be. The last time I fasted, I was very sorry the next day because I broke my fast. It was so sweet to be communing with Him like that. I will probably fast this Monday coming up as well. I am thinking about fasting every Monday. My wife used to fast every Wednesday before all of her medical problems started. She is eager to start fasting again so I may fast the same days she does along with Mondays and whatever we can arange with all who read this here.

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