Praying In Secret part 1
by John Thomas Lowe
Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV)
5 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
5 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites,....like the Scribes and Pharisees; whose posture in prayer, the places they chose to pray in, and the view they had therein, are particularly taken notice of:
They love to pray in synagogues and on street corners to be seen by others. It was their custom to pray "standing"; more correctly, it is established by their canons.
"There are eight things a man that prays ought to take heed to do.
Moreover, the first is "standing"; for no man may pray, "but standing"; if he is sitting in a ship, or a cart, if he can stand, he must stand; if not, he may sit in his place and pray."
Several hints of this custom are in the Mishna.
"On their fast days, they used to bring out the ark into the streets--, "and they stood in prayer," or praying; and caused an old man to go down before the ark, which was used to recite prayers, and he said them."
"whoever "stood praying" and remembered that any uncleanness attended him, he might not break off, but he might shorten."
Standing itself is interpreted as praying, for it is said,
"and Abraham rose early in the morning to where he stood, "and there is no prayer but standing."
though sometimes they prayed sitting, as David did, 2 Samuel 7:18 so it is said of R. Jose, and R. Eleazar, that, "they sat and prayed," and afterward rose and went on their way. So it was likewise customary to go to the synagogues and there pray; indeed, they were places built and appointed for this purpose.
"Wherever there were ten Israelites, a house ought to be provided, in which they may go to prayer at every time of prayer, and this place is called a synagogue."
Hence some have thought that such places are here designed, but any assembly or concourse of people gathered together upon any occasion. However, such an interpretation will find no place when the following things are observed.
"Forever let a man go, morning and evening, to the synagogue; for no prayer is heard at any time, but in the synagogue; and every one that hath a synagogue in his city, and does not pray in it with the congregation, is called a bad neighbor."'
6. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Enter into thy closet - Every Jewish house had a place for secret devotions. Their houses' roofs were flat, well adapted for walking, conversation, and meditation. Matthew 9:2 says: "On the roof of the house I lodged at Damascus were chambers and rooms along the side and at the corners of the open space or terrace, which often constitutes a sort of upper story. I observed the same thing in connection with other houses." Over the porch, or entrance of the house, there was frequently a tiny room of the size of the porch, raised a story above the rest of the house, expressly appropriated for the place of sanctuary. This is the place commonly mentioned in the New Testament as the "upper room," or the place for secret prayer. Here, in secrecy and solitude, the pious Jew might offer his prayers, unseen by any but the Searcher of hearts. To this place or some similar place, our Saviour directed his disciples to withdraw when they wished to hold communion with God.
The meaning of the Saviour is that there should be someplace where we may be in secret - where we may be alone with God. There should be some "place" to which we may resort where no ear will hear us but "His" ear, and no eye can see us but His eye. Secret prayer will not be long or strictly maintained without such a place. It is often said that we have no such place and can secure none. We are away from home; we are traveling; we are among strangers; we are in stages and steamboats, and how can we find such places of retirement? I answer that the desire to pray, and the love of prayer, will create such places in abundance. The Saviour had all the difficulties which we can have, yet he lived in the practice of secret prayer. To be alone, he rose up "a great while before day," and went into a solitary place and prayed, Mark 1:35. With him a grove, a mountain, a garden, furnished such a place, and, though a traveler, and among strangers, and without a house, he lived in the habit of secret prayer. What excuse can they have for not praying? Who has a home, spends the precious hours of the morning in sleep, and will practice no self-denial that they may be alone with God? O, Christian! Thy Saviour would have broken in upon these hours and trod his solitary way to the mountain or the grove that he might pray. He did do it. He did it to pray for thee, too indolent and unconcerned about thy own salvation and that of the world to practice the least self-denial to commune with God! How can religion live thus? How can such a soul be saved?
The Saviour does not specify the times when we should pray in secret. He does not say how often it should be done. The reasons may have been:
(1) that he designed that his religion should be "voluntary," and there is not a better "test" of true piety than a disposition to engage often in secret prayer. He intended to leave it to his people to show attachment to him by coming to God often and as often as they chose.
(2) an attempt to specify when this should be done would tend to make religion formal and heartless. Mohammed undertook to regulate this, and the consequence was a cold and formal prostration at the appointed hours of prayer all over the land where his religion had spread.
(3) the periods are so numerous, and the seasons for secret prayer vary so much that it would not be easy to fix rules when this should be done.
However, without giving rules, where the Saviour has given none, we may suggest the following as times when secret prayer is proper:
1. In the morning. Nothing can be more appropriate when we have been preserved through the night and when we are about to enter upon the duties and dangers of another day than to render to our great Preserver thanks and to commit ourselves to His fatherly care.
2. In the evening. When the day has closed, what would be more natural than to offer thanksgiving for the day's mercies and to implore forgiveness for what we have said or done amiss? Furthermore, when we are about to lie down again to sleep, not knowing that it may be our last sleep and that we may awake in eternity, what is more proper than to commend ourselves to the care of Him "who never slumbers nor sleeps?"
3. We should pray in times of embarrassment and perplexity. Such times occur in every man's life; it is a privilege and a duty to go to God and seek his direction. In the most challenging and embarrassing time of the American Revolution, Washington was seen to retire to a grove near the camp at Valley Forge. Curiosity led a man to observe him, and the Father of his country was seen on his knees supplicating the God of hosts in prayer. Who can tell how much the liberty of this nation is owing to the answer to the secret prayer of Washington?
4. We should pray when we are beset with strong temptations. So the Saviour prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (compare Hebrews 5:7-8), so we should pray when we are tempted.
5. We should pray when the Spirit prompts us to pray when we feel like praying, when nothing can satisfy the soul but prayer. Such times occur in the life of every Christian (and they are "spring-times" of piety - favorable gales to waft us on to heaven. Prayer to the Christian, at such times, is just as congenial as a conversation with a friend when the bosom is filled with love; as the society of Father, mother, sister, child is, when the heart glows with attachment; as the strains of sweet music are to the ear best attuned to the love of harmony; as the most exquisite poetry is to the heart enamored with the muses, and as the most delicious banquet is to the hungry.
Prayer, then, is the element of being - the breath of the vital air; and, then, the Christian must and should pray. He is the most eminent Christian and most favored, with solid emotions urging him to pray. The heart is then whole; the soul is tender; the sun of glory shines with unusual splendor; no cloud intervenes; the Christian rises above the world and pants for glory. Then we may go to be alone with God. We may enter the closet and breathe forth our warm desires into his ever-open ear, and He who sees in secret will reward us openly.