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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

September 2010

There is a difference between merely saying a prayer and effectively praying. There are too many who can do the former well but all of us struggle to do the latter. Prayer is not something we can do unthinking or carelessly. As Lloyd Jones points out, “the great saints of all the centuries are agreed in saying that one of the most difficult things of all is to learn how to pray.” The devil cannot keep God from answering our prayers so he puts his efforts into preventing us from asking. The greatest problem in our churches is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer. Christ made it clear here that we do not pray to inform, impress, or instruct God. We do not bend His will to ours, but to invite Him to reveal His Will into our circumstances. Even in the sacred duty of prayer we have to battle the world, our pride, our self-glorification, and the devil. Instead of worshipping God, we can just as easily be worshipping self. The life of Jesus was characterised by continual prayer. On the last night of the earthly life of Jesus, He is found making intercession with the Father. He even died with a prayer on His lips. Jesus Christ had a busy and strenuous travelling ministry, but he still found a “secret place” for prayer (Luke 5:16). As visible representations of Christ we should heed the Master Who, “leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Robert Murray McCheyne once observed, “A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more.” The Bible urges and teaches us to pray through precept and pattern, so it is not a question of whether we should pray but how we should pray. The absence of prayer is not merely to miss a blessing but is rebellion and sin. To cite Lloyd Jones again, Watch those patriarchs, watch King David, watch the prophets, all praying, and the more saintly they were the more they prayed. Watch the apostles


praying, and above all, watch the Son of God praying. In preparation for effective public prayer, we need to make sure that it flows from a healthy private prayer life. Too many public forms of prayer appear they were not intended for God at all. The closet prayer should discipline us to assist in avoiding this danger of ostentation. Jesus Christ 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.” After instructing the believer to have a secret place of prayer, the Lord Jesus tells us to things about God the Father here: (1) Our Father is the One “which is in secret” (2) Our Father is the One “which seeth in secret.” THE FATHER WHICH IS IN SECRET This phrase “in secret” is a Greek word meaning hidden or concealed. The Bible reveals that God who “inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15) is the One, “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting” (1 Tim. 6:16). Theologians speak of this as the incomprehensibility of God. This means that no matter how much of Himself is revealed by God in Scripture, He is going to be incomprehensible to us. The Psalmist tells us that, “His greatness is unsearchable (Psa. 145:3) and “His understanding is infinite” (Psa. 147:5). The Apostle Paul wrote, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33). The reason for this incomprehensibility is due to the fact that God is beyond man’s capacity to truly understand because He is infinite and we are finite. We are additionally limited by the sinfulness of our minds and we are limited by


revelation itself (1 Cor. 4:6). We need to learn to be what the Puritans called, “contentedly ignorant” concerning what God has not chosen to reveal. THE FATHER WHICH SEETH IN SECRET God not only dwells in the secret place, but also observes us there, when we come into His presence. “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous andHis ears are open unto their prayers.” (1 Pet. 3:12) Therefore, it is not significant that other people do not observe your prayers, as God’s attention is the only thing that ultimately matters. A failure to pray with this understanding simple shows that we do not know who God is. He is omnipresent and omniscient. In this secret place we are to exclude everything including self. Lloyd Jones points out that often this latter is forgotten, There is no value in my entering into the secret chamber and locking the door if the whole time I am full of self and thinking about myself and am priding myself on my prayer. I might as well be standing at the street corner. No; I have to exclude myself as well as other people; my heart has to be open entirely and only to God. I say with the Psalmist: “Unite my heart to fear thy name. I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart” (Psalm 86:11-12). This is of the very essence of this matter of prayer. When we pray we must deliberately remind ourselves that we are going to talk to God. Therefore other people, and self also, must be excluded and locked out. Hebrews 11:3 tells us, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” The very motives of our heart are seen there as James 4:3 warns, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” David also warned Solomon, “the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts” (1 Chron. 28:9). This is wonderfully illustrated in Scripture. When Hannah “poured out my soul before the Lord” we are told, “the Lord remembered her.” (1 Sam. 1:15, 19). In Acts 9:11 the Lord gave Ananias evidence of the conversion of Paul in terms of his


secret prayer life as “behold he prayeth.” Another striking illustration of this was Hezekiah’s prayer in the temple after the receiving the intimidating letter from Assyrians. Isaiah brought God’s response that “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard” (2 Kings 19:20). To be effective praying saints we must talk to God and not merely to men. And God knows the difference. The truth that God is all-seeing should strike fear into the heart of the hypocrite, but it should also be the foundation of the saint’s hope and comfort. SHALL REWARD THEE OPENLY Prayer is an obligation for us, as it is commanded, but God promises a blessing attended that, “thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” If you are really seeking God, then Christ promises here that you will always find him. This gives us great confidence as we enter the secret place, when we are in it, and when we leave. The Greek word for “reward” in this verse carries the idea that God places a debt or obligation on Himself. Putting God’s will first will always be fruitful when we seek first the kingdom of God and His as, “all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt 6:33). This reward will be publicly - so the secret place of prayer will determine what happens to us outside this secret place. The fact that God answers prayer and rewards true prayer is not merely a creedal statement or fact of history, but is a present reality. His performance always coincides exactly with His promises. His timing is always perfect for, “as for God His way is perfect (Psa. 18:30), although sometimes we must, “wait patiently for Him” (Psa. 37:7). The reward or answer God gives us may not always be that which we want but we need to always remember, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.” God is the One Who sovereignly, “shall reward thee


openly.” It is not wrong to pray for a specific answer as long as we submissively accept God’s perfect response. David prayed for the healing of the child conceived in adultery with Bathsheba, but God denied this request (2 Sam. 12:15-19). David submitted to this answer (2 Sam. 12:20). King Hezekiah prayed to be healed of what he was warned through Isaiah was a fatal illness. In this instance, God graciously healed him and gave him 15 more years of life (2 Kings 20:1-7). Often the reward is simply the answer to our request, but the Scriptures demonstrate other rewards in prayer. Moses’ physical appearance was altered as He spent time with God. When we spend time in God’s presence, we will shine in the image of Christ, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). The Puritan, Thomas Brooks put it well, “One hour’s communion with God in one’s closet, is to be preferred before the greatest and best company in the world.” There are diverse rewards both in this life and the life to come from closet prayer. Dr Alan Cairns gives six rewards that God may bless us with true prayer: (1) God’s presence (Psa. 145:18) (2) God’s peace (Psa. 34:5-6) (3) God’s pardon (1 John 1:9) (4) God’s protection (1 Peter 3:2) (5) God’s power (Luke 11:13) (6) God’s full provision (Psa. 34:10) MOTIVE IS VITAL Those who pray to be acclaimed by men will get this but only this, as Christ warns, “they have their reward.” As the Psalmist testified that these, “men of the


world have their portion in this life” (Psa. 17:14). Hypocrites live like atheists, as they are not concerned with the God who is invisible. The fact that the Father will never honour such prayers should remind us and thereby keep us from praying them. However, Christ promises that there is a reward for those who pray with a true motive in secret. This reward is eternal in contrast to the temporal praise and applause of men. It is, therefore, vital to guard our motives in prayer, because the reasons why we pray will determine God’s response. There is no substitute for prayer. Prayer is not an optional luxury, but it is a necessity. Generations of saints have lived without modern technology but none have lived without prayer. We need to heed the advice of the Psalmist to, “Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us” (Psa. 62:8). However, it is not enough to pray in secret, we must truly commune with God. William Chalmers Burns writes of the necessity of truly meeting God in the secret place, Many who do come into the secret place, and who are God’s children, enter it and leave it just as they entered, without ever so much as realizing the presence of God. And there are some believers who, even when they do obtain a blessing, and get a little quickening of soul, leave the secret place without seeking more. They go to their chamber, and there get into the secret place, but then, as soon as they have got near to Him, they think they have been peculiarly blessed, and leave their chamber, and go back into the world… Oh, how is it that the Lord’s own people have so little perseverance? How is it that when they do enter into their place of prayer to be alone, they are so easily persuaded to be turned away empty; instead of wrestling with God to pour out His Spirit, they retire from the secret place without the answer, and submit to it as being God’s will.