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Matthew 6:6


Dr. Paul Ferguson Calvary Tengah Bible Presbyterian Church Shalom Chapel, 345 Old Choa Chu Kang Road, Singapore 689485 August 2010

In the last study, we have seen that we need to have our prayers judged by, guided by, and filtered through the Word of God. Although we live in a superficial fast-paced age where people do not think deeply, we must strive to bring every thought and imagination under obedience to our Lord. Prayer that truly honours God requires the full concentration of the whole man so that we can say with the Psalmist. “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” The vital importance of this subject can be seen that Jesus Christ not only teaches the proper motive and place of prayer, but also a pattern of how to pray. Such an approach will enable us to pray thoughtfully and according to God’s Will. It will allow us to plead the promises of God to be fulfilled in our lives and those around us. As has been said, “prayer is asking God for things which He has promised to give.” Or as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.” One might easily multiply biblical examples, but a particularly striking one was David in the secret place of prayer after God revealed His will for blessing in which David then pleads these promises, And now, O LORD God, the word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it for ever, and do as thou hast said. And let thy name be magnified for ever, saying, The LORD of hosts is the God over Israel: and let the house of thy servant David be established before thee. For thou, O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house: therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee. And now, O Lord GOD, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodness unto thy servant (2 Samuel 7:25-28). Such praying will lead us to always contemplate how great God is and how insignificant we are. It will humble us like David who cried, “Who am I, O Lord


GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?” (2 Sam. 7:18). It will lead us to glorify God as David prayed, “Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee…..And let thy name be magnified for ever, saying, The LORD of hosts is the God over Israel” (2 Sam. 7:22, 26). THE SECRET PLACE Although we need to take heed to the wrong ways to pray, we are thankful our Lord did not stop at this point in giving this manual of instruction on how to truly pray. He also gave a positive teaching of the right way of praying to the Father. Jesus taught in verse six, “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.” In contrast to the hypocrites who love to be seen to pray publicly, Jesus Christ taught clearly here that all believers should cultivate a private place of prayer. He is teaching that the real secret of prayer is secret prayer. Again we must note that our Lord takes it for granted that His people will pray as He says, “when thou prayest” not “if thou prayest.” As the Puritan, Richard Baxter observed, “Prayer is the breath of the new creature.” It is also notable that Christ uses the 2rd person singular “thou” in verse six to emphasize this is a private and personal communion between the individual and His Heavenly Father. Indeed, Christ uses the 2rd person singular no less than eight times in this one verse. The word for “closet” here is a Greek word meaning, “an inner chamber” or as Wuest translates it, “a secret and well-guarded place.” Christ went to great lengths here to express the seclusion and solitude of this place and states we must enter and, “when thou hast shut thy door.” This place is not a “holy building,” as evidenced by 3

our Lord’s choice of places to pray which included a garden and a mountain. Rather, it is anywhere where we can get alone with God that people would not expect to find someone else praying - which, of course, is Christ’s point. Now, this is not just a physical withdrawal, but also a mental and emotional one from the things of this world. It is a removal of our mind to a radically different heavenly sphere. This closet provides a helpful contrast with the hypocrites in verse five who deliberately procured the most prominent public place to pray. Our Lord often withdrew Himself to a private place to commune with His Father. Luke uses a particular Greek tense to indicate that it was Christ continual habit to retire to the wilderness in prayer (Luke 5:16). We also see this principle illustrated in the lives of the saints of God in Scripture. As David MacIntyre writes, Isaac went into the fields to meditate. Jacob lingered on the eastern bank of the Brook Jabbok, after all his company had passed over; there he wrestled with the Angel, and prevailed. Moses, hidden in the clefts of Horeb, beheld the vanishing glory which marked the way by which Jehovah had gone. Elijah sent Ahab down to eat and drink, while he himself withdrew to the lonely crest of Carmel. It is not that Christ is abrogating public prayer here as He engaged in this (Matt. 14:19; 15:36) and the early church met for corporate prayer (Acts 2:42; 12:12; 13:3; 14:23; 20:36 cf. 1 Kings. 8:22-53; 2 Chron. 30:27; Ezra. 9:5-15). Rather by drawing the contrast, Jesus is laying a foundational principle that will aid in dealing with the temptation of our flesh that seeks the approval of others in public prayer. For the private place of prayer will be a true barometer of one’s motivation as there will be no third party to be impressed by our posture, intensity, or verbosity. It is hard to show off when no one can observe you. As Spurgeon said, “Public prayer is no evidence of piety. It is practiced by an abundance of hypocrites. But private prayer is a thing for which the hypocrite has no heart.” That is not to say that family worship of corporate prayer meetings are unimportant but they can never take the place of the


private closet prayer life of the saint. Effective closet praying will melt our cold hearts by the fire of the Spirit of God. A believer engaged in this understands that God not only sees in secret, but also discerns the motivation of the petitioner’s heart. Of course, when our Lord is instructing us to use the closet place in prayer we must ensure that pride does not enter into even this sacred charge. It truly must a secret place of prayer. As Campbell Morgan pointed out, “When a man announces that he is always, at such a time, in the inner chamber, with the door shut, that is a denial of secrecy.” The primary responsibility we bear in prayer is not to focus on the praying habits of others but to monitor our own prayer life. Therefore, when we get this closet praying right, then all public prayer should be an overflow of the secret place of private prayer. Doubtless, this is why Christ switched to this topic after speaking with the dangers in public prayer in verse five. This will lead to what John Knox gave as a definition of true prayer, “earnest and familiar talking with God,” both in public, as well as in private. BLESSINGS OF THE SECRET PLACE When a believer enters a place of personal communion with the Lord there are many benefits to him: (1) There will be less temptation to ostentation or watching for the approval of men out of the corner of his eye. As someone remarked, “Character is tested by what one does when we think no one else sees.” (2) There will be less opportunity for our prayers to be disturbed or interrupted away from people, the world, and employments. The secret place will not shut God in, but to shut out all that is not of God. (3) He will have a greater freedom in revealing his sins, thoughts and concerns to his Heavenly Father.


A classic example of shutting out the things of the world by habitual closet praying is seen in the life of Daniel. We read, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime (Dan. 6:10). This verse reveals the secret of the greatness of this man. In the midst of a busy life in politics, Daniel had prioritized prayer and had a daily pattern of prayer. He refused to compromise this even though he knew that his next appointment would likely be in the lion’s den. Someone estimated that if Daniel was about 85 years old, this would be around 95,000 prayers in his lifetime. No wonder this habit could not be broken by threats of mere men. Daniel knew that when a man feared God in the secret place he did not have to fear man in the public place. JC Ryle put it well, In praying, the principal object to be sought is to be alone with God. “When you pray, go into your room”. We should endeavor to find some place where no mortal eye sees us, and where we can pour out our hearts with the feeling that no one is looking at us but God. This is a rule which many find very difficult to follow; the poor man and the servant often find it almost impossible to be really alone; but it is a rule which we must make great efforts to obey. Necessity, in such cases, is often the mother of invention. When people really want to find some place where they can be in secret with their God, they will generally find a way. In all our duties, whether giving or praying, the great thing to be kept in mind is that we have to do with a heartsearching and all-knowing God.