The Secret Place Leads Us to the Public Place
We’ve all been thinking a lot lately about the subject of prayer as we have studied The Lord’s Prayer together throughout October. I cannot think of a better use of our time than to press into Jesus’ instruction for how to experience prayer the way that God intended it to be experienced. That is essentially what Matthew 6:5-13 highlights for us. As the disciples saw Jesus praying, they saw something so radically different from what they were experiencing in their own prayer lives, that they felt compelled to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. What a beautiful posture to have as we approach the Lord with a desire for greater intimacy with Him!
As we learn from Jesus’ instruction in The Lord’s Prayer, there is a fascinating balance that exists between the secret place and the public space. On the one hand, Jesus says that we should go into our closet and pray to our Father who is in secret. This is something that we see Jesus model for us time and again in His public ministry. He would often retreat to the wilderness to be alone with His Father. On the other hand, Jesus hard-wires the idea of community throughout the Lord’s Prayer, as He promotes a plurality. Not only that, but we also see corporate prayer commanded and modeled for us throughout the New Testament. So, which is it? Should we pray in the secret place, or should we pray in the public space? The answer is, of course, both! Private prayer is essential to seeing our relationship with God deepen and grow over time. We will never find a substitute for this intimate time with the Lord. But corporate prayer is also essential to the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace that exists within the covenant community of God. God seems to work in a unique way when we are together in prayer.
While both aspects of prayer are important, we must also consider the importance of how they are ordered. I would suggest that prayer in the secret place is what leads us into prayer in the public space. More specifically, our private prayer life both prepares us and protects us for prayer in public. It prepares us to pray in public by creating a habit of naturally talking to God. The more we commune and communicate with God in private, the more normal it will be to talk to God with other people. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s our private prayer life that conditions our heart with humility. That is what protects us against a posture of pride when we pray in public. For example, Jesus warns us against praying in order to be seen by others in Matthew 6:5. The more intimate time we spend with our Father in the secret place, the less we will want to be seen in the public space. That doesn’t mean that we shy away from praying out loud, but it does mean that our motivation is that God would be big and that we would be small.
So, if prayer starts and is sustained in the secret place, how can we think about prioritizing that time with the Lord. Well, let’s start by thinking about the motivation for getting into our closet alone with God. I love the words of Psalm 91 in this regard. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place — the Most High, who is my refuge — no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” (Psalm 91:1-2, 9-10) Take a moment and really think about what the Psalmist is saying in these verses. Where we are dwelling in God’s shelter, we are protected from evil. This is not to say that we won’t experience difficulty in our lives. But, when we face difficulty, we will face it with the Lord because we are consistently with Him.
And, to be clear, prayer is one of the primary ways in which we dwell in God’s shelter and abide in His shadow. Prayer is one of the greatest means of grace that keeps us clinging to God and depending upon Him in this way. Which means that we must prioritize our time with the Lord. Martin Luther famously said, “I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” I love that, because we often move time in prayer to the back burner depending on what our schedule will allow. Instead of believing that we are too busy to pray, we must think about being too busy not to pray.
At some point we each must make a choice if we are going to pursue God with our whole lives. And then we must repeatedly chose to chase after God this way. This is why Jesus said that we must take up our cross daily and follow Him. In fact, just think about how Jesus concludes the chapter that contains The Lord’s Prayer: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
The calling that God has placed on our lives is to forsake everything else and run hard after His Kingdom. This begins in the secret place and leads us into the public space. Let’s all take some time to consider if that is true of our lives, and let’s ask God to help us in our unbelief. Praying for you as you seek Him!
Because of Christ,
Jeff & Merin Neville