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The Secret Place


 

The Secret Place

 

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The Scripture is clear. Again and again the Master slipped away and went away to be by Himself to pray. It wasn’t that He didn’t want to be with the twelve. He did. And He was. Nearly all the time. But there were those times when He rather wanted to be with His Father. And He wanted to be alone with His Father.  They had things to talk about. Things only a Father and His Son can talk about. Things too personal; too intimate to be broadcast to a curious world.

 

Oh, occasionally He would take Peter, James and John with Him. He was mentoring them. And because He was, He wanted to not only tell them how to pray, He wanted to show them how to pray, as well.  But for the most part, they didn’t appropriate what He was showing them as part of their own lives. At least not until after the resurrection. So most of the time, He simply slipped away; quietly away, for a time of fellowship with His dearest friend, His Father.

 

That’s what prayer is, you know. It is one-to-one time with the dearest friend you’ll ever have. It is heart-to-heart time with the one who has made Himself responsible for your life. It is a time to listen; a time to share the adoration you have for Him; a time to whisper in humility the burdens of your soul, handing them as you do over to Him. It is a time to bring the needs of your heart and of those you love to Him to seek His mind and appropriate His will.  It is, beloved, the most precious, most priceless, most profitable time of your spiritual life.

 

But oh, so few come to realize just how special it can be. And so few seem to care. Many are willing to “pray” as they call it, superficially. But this process of entering into God’s secret chamber, falling down before His matchless throne, and allowing your heart to become one with His....this is not what most of us call prayer.

 

We admire those who have that kind of prayer life, and we justify it by assuming they are those who are “specially called as prayer warriors”.  The only problem with that is, we all are.  We are, in fact, told specifically to pray without ceasing.  In other words, we are commanded by God to make talking with God and walking with God the normal day to day way of life.

 

According to both Jesus’ teaching and example, however, before you can walk the walk and talk the talk hour by hour, lest you come apart,  you have to have gone apart to pray. Not just for a few minutes, either. Not just long enough to present God with your list of requests. Long enough to linger in His presence until His life becomes yours and thus His will becomes your desire; your only desire, even if it means praying, “Lord, whatever it takes.”

 

Thus we continue our journey down the dusty paths of the roads Jesus walked as He sought to both communicate and demonstrate what living on earth on the way to Heaven was all about. It is all about spending enough time in the presence of eternity that you know what to do with time. It is all about spending enough time in the presence of that which is of the Spirit, that you can handle the pressures of the flesh. It is about being so in touch with who God is that we are only preoccupied with who we are in Christ, not who we are in the eyes of others.

 

All of life changes direction. All of life changes purpose. All of life becomes a Spirit-filled adventure that begins and ends with time alone with God. And it is that time alone with God that we will be looking at as we once again follow our Lord into the secret recesses of the subject of prayer.

 

This study is entitled: “The Secret Place”.  We have looked at the need to pray and at the essence of prayer. Now we begin to look at how we are to pray.  And if we are to look at how we are to pray, we must begin by looking at Jesus’ unusual commands in Matthew, chapter six. It is a look at a trinity of spiritual duties which had a common thread of secrecy that bound them together. They would turn out to be three things Christians often do either subtly or overtly to receive the acclaim of men. Because of that, Jesus makes it clear that unless you are doing them in such a way that men do not even know about it, you are, in effect, not pleasing God at all. In fact, the reward God has stored up for these duties will be completely lost in eternity.

 

Let’s look first at the passage; then at the common threads, and finally at the specific issues that deal with the matter of prayer. The passage reads like this:

Mt. 6:1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6 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.

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

 

In case you haven’t yet noticed, the secret word is “secret”. It is the pivot on which the passage turns. Over and over it appears. In the context of three distinct activities, it surfaces. And in each case, the reward accrued in glory for that activity would depend upon whether or not it was done in “secret”.

 

That word “secret”  (kurfh) and its derivatives is used more than a dozen times in the New Testament, and each usage adds a bit more flavor to the richness of its meaning. A few of those passages are:

Jn 7:1 After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.

John 7:2 Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand.

Jn 7:3 His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest.

Jn 7:4 For there is no man that doeth any thing {in secret} , and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world.

John 7:5 For neither did his brethren believe in him.

Jn 7:10 But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were {in secret} .

Eph. 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

Eph. 5:12 For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them {in secret} .

Lk 11:33 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a {secret}  place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.

Ro. 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept {secret}  since the world began,

Ro. 16:26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:

Mk 4:21 And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?

Mk 4:22 For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept {secret} , but that it should come abroad.

Jn 19:38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but {secretly}  for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.

 

I trust that you get the picture. In each case, the word “secret” means “that which is hidden from view” or “that which is concealed or held back until an appointed time”. The idea was that anything done “secretly” would not be known to others. In the case of Mark 4:22, it simply wasn’t time. In Luke 11:33, the issue was that they were hiding something that shouldn’t be hidden. But the meaning is clear. If something is done in “secret”, no one knows about it.

 

Now on to our passage. Jesus takes the three great disciplines of the spiritual man: giving, praying, and fasting, and groups them together in a most unusual and often overlooked set of instructions.  Verses one through eighteen of Matthew 6 are, in effect, all one thought with three different applications.

 

The thought is this: there can be two motivations for doing what you do in the spirit realm.

1-You can do it to be seen of men and therefore to accrue glory to yourself...or

2-You can do it in “secret” where no one knows but God and all the glory will go to God who will honor or bless you in due time as He sees fit.

 

He also says that rewards will be received in one of two places; not in both. You will either be laying up treasures in Heaven, or you will receive whatever reward you are going to get on earth. When you accept glory on earth, expect none in Heaven. In fact, verse one says if you do these things to be seen of men, you have absolutely no reward in Heaven.

 

Instead, your giving, your praying, your fasting should be “in secret”. So secretly, in fact, that in the case of giving, your left hand should not so much as know what your right hand has given. Think carefully about that. That isn’t semi-privacy. That’s absolute secrecy. If your other hand doesn’t know, nobody else can know.

 

Verse 16 applies the same principle to fasting. You mustn’t walk around with a frown on your face, hoping that others will see your discomfort and assume it’s because you haven’t eaten. Instead, you should wash your face, comb your hair, put a smile on your face and live in such a way that no one would ever guess you are fasting. The minute you broadcast that you are fasting, Jesus is saying, you lose your reward. And if you do it subtly, so that you don’t have to tell them, but they get the picture, you have double trouble. You have stolen God’s glory and done it hypocritically.  No reward for you.

 

That’s the secret sandwich. When you give, when you fast. Now inside the sandwich in verses 5-13, we see Jesus telling us where to pray and how to pray.  Probably most of us could spend a year meditating on this one passage and only begin to get a glimpse of its power. We must at least begin to peel back the layers of its magnificence and begin to see the glory of the truths therein.

 

First of all, it begins when you pray.  Not if, when. Prayer is, as we discussed two lessons ago, an assumed fact. Then Jesus goes on and brings up a word He uses many times in describing the Scribes and the Pharisees and the other religious rulers of His day. The word is hypocrite. It is the same word used of an actor in a play. Don’t “play-act”, Jesus was saying. God hates it. If you read Matthew, chapter 23, you get a good idea of what a hypocrite is. 

 

According to that passage, a hypocrite is someone who:

1-Doesn’t practice what he preaches (vs 3-4)

2-Does “spiritual” things for show (vs 5)

3-Sits in prominent places to be seen (vs 6)

4-Loves to add titles to his name (7)

5-Does religious duties while overlooking the needs of        hurting people (vs 13,14)

6-Seeks “followers”; then leads them astray (vs 15)

7-Focuses on legalistic activities, rather than character (vs         23)

8-Calls attention to the sins of others; overlooking their     own   (24)

9-Concentrates on looking spiritual, rather than on being spiritual. (vs 25-28)

10-Loves to compare his spirituality with others. (vs 29-32)

 

All of these definitions of hypocrisy, which come from the lips of Jesus Himself, can be applied to the issue of prayer. The bottom line is that if you are seeking to elevate yourself, satisfy yourself, or justify yourself, and are using prayer or any other activity designed to elevate God and humble self, you are in big trouble. It’s bad enough to not be praying for the right reason or in the right way.  But if you are using prayer as a means to call attention to yourself, you are in hot water twice the temperature.

 

This is the background. Now Jesus builds on the foundation. He says,

“When you pray, don’t be a hypocrite. Hypocrites love for other people to know they pray. They pick out the most highly trafficked corner in the city, and standing on the corner, looking pious, they pray. Or they stand up in church where all their fellow believers are congregated, and pray with great fervor and with beautiful words.”

 

“They have their reward”, says Jesus. They wanted recognition. They got it. They haven’t prayed. They’ve performed.  That which calls attention to the pray-er is not prayer at all.  And that which calls attention to the prayer itself is not prayer. Prayer, in reality, doesn’t ever call attention to itself or yourself. It is a “secret” discipline. It is something that is designed to be known only to you and to God. When someone else is made aware of it, it ceases to have the same power, and it ceases to produce the same reward. And when you intentionally or knowingly pray in such a way that others know about it, you are demonstrating a kind of hypocrisy that not only robs you of rewards, but assures you of the divine discipline that accompanies sowing and reaping. God said “don’t do that”.

 

As always, Jesus doesn’t just tell us what not to do. He gives us God’s alternative. He says, “When you pray, enter into the closet”.  One translator words it “Enter into thy secret chamber” implying that even the location of the room should be a secret. Still another says, “Go into a room by yourself”. That word “closet” may present some confusion in our society. It means, “When you pray, find a place no one knows about that is private, and quietly slip into that room or that place.”

 

It may be a rock near a stream. It may be on a hillside a long way from your regular surroundings. It may be a room in your own house, or a spot in your back yard, or a place in your office where you go when everyone is gone. Where is not the issue. The kind of place is the issue. It ought to be a place where you won’t be noticed; won’t be interrupted; won’t be recognized as praying.  That presents a problem for some. But there are creative solutions. The key is the principle. When you pray, go away somewhere where you aren’t a spectacle that calls attention to yourself or your supposed spirituality.  Go into your closet. You’ll have to define what that means for you. But once you have, you’ll know.

 

Then The Master gets even more specific. He says, “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door...”  That brings an exclamation mark to the word “secret”. Don’t just find a place to go, but once you’re there, do what it takes to see that no one is watching or listening. Shut the door! What a penetrating commandment. “And when thou hast shut the door”, then begin to pray. Oh, the privacy that seems to surround this whole passage. It’s secrecy, but not in the exclusive context, but rather in the private context. You’re not hiding anything, you are maintaining the intimacy and the personal nature of your relationship with God, and you are protecting yourself from the dangers of hypocrisy that accompany prayer when it is done outside the secret place.

 

This doesn’t mean you never pray in public. Not at all. It does mean, however, that praying in public has a specific purpose, and you must realize its dangers, and never let it become a substitute for what takes place in the secret place. 

 

It doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for group prayer. There is. Scripture gives us illustrations.  But even group prayer must be measured against these yardsticks, and often the most profitable thing is for the group to gather together and agreeing on what to pray for, to go off and pray separately or one to one or in small groups, lest the temptations to focus on what others think rather than on who God is overtake you.

 

It doesn’t mean you don’t pray as you drive to work, as you wait for your client, as you wash the dishes, as you vacuum the floor. Not at all. In a later study, we’ll look at those commands to “pray without ceasing” and “men ought always to pray and faint not”. Prayer should be a constant, consistent, natural way of life. But even that should not become a substitute for the quiet place, and those prayers should be so in secret, that you do nothing to let those about you know you are praying.

 

There are many examples in Scripture of blessing food or praying over meals. Even that, however, ought to be done in such a way that you are not calling attention to what you are doing, but rather in such a way that those who are involved in the blessing are focusing on God and those around you who are not involved are not either impressed or disgusted with your display of spirituality.  Don’t use prayer to call attention to itself. That’s the issue. Let what God does as a result of your prayer call attention to Him. This truth ought to affect the way we pray in public and why we pray in public. 

 

The key is: prayer is a private matter between a man or woman and his or her God. It was never intended to be a vehicle by which you demonstrate either to a lost world or to your fellow believers how spiritual you are. (or think you are)  And even if your motives are pure, the temptations to lose your concentration and your perspective are compounded when you pray any way but alone with God.

 

There are, then, two real considerations where the “secret place” is concerned. The first is the need for you and God to be alone to shut out all foreign intrusions. Such intrusions would include wondering how you sound to others who are listening. Another would be wanting to hear what the others are praying so you won’t pray the same thing. Another would be the distractions that come from the moving or talking or weeping of those around you. And if the surroundings are not stripped of the things that divert you, the phone, your computer, that unfinished work, then your mind is not so free to focus on God and God alone. Additional temptations to sin might reach out to grab your attention as well.

 

The first issue then, is that the holiness of God demands that we shut out foreign intrusions, so we must be alone with God.  He needs to be our sole focus. Anyone else or any thing else becomes competition then, for His undivided attention. The secret place, then, needs to be the quiet place, as well. A place where the only noises would be the sounds of things that call attention to Him. A rushing brook, a waterfall, the sounds of birds in the trees may well be blessings, not intrusions. But other sounds; man-made sounds, serve only to remind us of things that occupy our hearts when God is not our central focus.

 

The second issue is that the glory of God was never meant to be shared. That seems to be the crux of this passage. Issue number one meant that nothing must be allowed to interfere with our beholding His glory. Issue number two has to do with nothing being done that will allow us to share His glory. Nothing must be done that would make us aware that others are aware that we are praying.

 

Moses, when he went up into the mountain to be alone with God to receive God’s word, had to go alone. And when He had spent so much time beholding the glory of God, he returned to earth so engulfed in God’s glory that those about him could scarcely look upon his face. He had focused so on God alone for so long that the literal, actual glory of God had been transferred to his spirit and he actually glowed with God’s presence.

 

That’s what happens when you spend the quality of time and the quantity of time in His presence that God desires. Your countenance is changed. That is the result of being in the secret place. It’s not something you conjure up to demonstrate your spirituality. You are not even aware it is there. People are drawn to you for counseling and encouragement. People are moved by your discernment; even by your rebuke. But you are almost unaware of what you are saying or doing. God is so dominant in your life and you are so transparent in your walk that miracles are taking place and changed lives are becoming commonplace in your ministry.

 

But it’s not because people know you pray. They only know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And they are not necessarily aware of anything you do or have done. You are virtually invisible. His glory shines through you and they see Him, not you. “He must increase; you must decrease”. That is the key.

 

And the key  to that happening is you and God in the secret place......alone. “When you pray, enter into the secret place, and shut the door...shut out the world, and having done that, pray.”   Pray indeed. Pray the night through, if need be. Pray until the sun sets, if need be. Pray until the light of God’s will breaks through and you have the answers you long for. But don’t set a timer and limit God by the clock. Oh, sometimes you have no choice. We know that. But there need to be times when God has no boundaries that limit His ability to get your attention and keep it. There need to be those “days away” or “hours away” when you plan to remain in the secret place until the conviction, the discernment, the direction, the hope that you long for or need finally breaks through. If left to us, we will leave His presence often just before that real breakthrough.  As the writer of Hebrews said, “Ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.”  (Hebrews 10:36)

 

We often will “do the will of God” by laying our needs or our griefs or our concerns before God and having done that, feel we have prayed. Satan sometimes can’t stop us from doing that. But if he can then either divert us or confuse us or make us impatient so that we jump up and go on our way, he has won a great victory. Prayer is more than dumping on God. It is staying before God until the business that needs to be transacted is finished. That sometimes takes time. And the enemy has convinced us that time is something we don’t have.  What fools we are. If the eternal, creator God who framed the heavens has time to spend with us, we have time to spend with Him.

 

This, beloved, is serious business. It is not just a study on the place of secrecy and privacy in prayer, though it is that. It is time, at this early stage of this study on prayer, for some of us to make some real decisions about setting aside a time and a place and making a commitment, that on a regular basis, we are going to go into the prayer closet, wherever that might be, shut the door, and having shut the door we will stay there until we and our loving God have had the time together we need to have.

 

A second commitment that some of us need to make goes one step beyond that. It is an agreement with God to, on a reasonably regular basis, to go away.......up into a mountain, if you will, as Jesus did, and leave the constraints of time behind, staying in place before God until He has reached into the depths of our hearts the way He desires. Jesus had to do it. That ought to say it all. Sometimes it was before a great crisis. At other times, it was just a time of refreshment. At still others, it was for discernment and direction in the regular trials of the ministry. We don’t know a lot of what went on between them. Of course not. It was a secret. Jesus was in the secret place. Oh, dear God, may we follow Him there from this day forward.

 

For some, this is already an established practice. But I dare say, for most, particularly for most men, it simply doesn’t happen. And yet, if we were to take a vote on whether or not it ought to be a priority in our lives, probably 90% of us would say “yes”.

 

That doesn’t make sense, does it?  Something that is perhaps the most vital element in our spiritual lives doesn’t happen, yet we still say its that vital. Sounds as though the enemy has deceived us or confused us, doesn’t it? Let’s do something about it right now. Let’s consider making a commitment to God. Some of us need to drive a stake in the ground and make either a vow or a promise to God that the quiet time in the secret place is going to be a real and a regular experience for us from this time forward. Here are some of the ingredients in the decision:

 

1- A place.

Where is not crucial. That there is a somewhere may be. Unless we have a familiar place, we often overlook the need to be there. As we discussed earlier, it may be a spot in the yard, a place at the park, a room in your house, a corner of your office, some place you pass as you take your daily walk. There may be more than one place. Apparently, Jesus often went “up into a mountain to pray”, yet He went so often to the garden, that Judas knew in advance where He was likely to be. It can change.  There can be more than one place. But pick a place, beloved, and call it your “secret place”. That will be a start.

 

2- A time.

This is important. You have a time when you are expected to be at work. A time when you are expected to have meals ready. A time when you are to be at church. A time to meet for Bible study. You don’t consider that legalism; just ordinary discipline. Why, then, has Satan sold some the lie that to set aside a regular time to be with God is legalistic? That doesn’t preclude your having other prayer times the same day, but it does mean you have made an appointment to be with God each day at a set time. Some say they would rather just “see how it works out”. The problem is, it often doesn’t. Set a time. For some, it is nearly impossible. That’s good. God loves the impossible. It may have to be after everyone else is asleep. Or before everyone else wakes up. Or it may have to be in place of lunch. How important is it to you? That’s the question. If you had a meeting with the President or the Mayor or the Governor, you probably would find a way. The God of eternity is 10,000 times more important than they. Make time, beloved. Make time. Jesus did. And you are no busier than He was.

 

3- Praise.

Learn to begin by approaching God in awe at who He is, and before you so much as breathe a word about your needs, begin a season of worship and praise. Sing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord. If no one is there but you, the fact that you can’t carry a tune won’t matter. It will be sweet music in the ears of God. Take one aspect of His nature and breathe it back to God before you ask for anything.

 

4- Take the Word with you.

Don’t ever approach God for a protracted period of time without His word. How can He speak to you if you have taken off your spiritual headphones? He speaks through His word. You cannot separate prayer from the Scripture. We will look in a later study at how to pray using God’s word as our guide. In the meantime, remember to take your Bible with you into your secret place. It holds all the secrets of the kingdom.

 

5- Keep a prayer list.

We’ll look at some ways to do that in the future. But don’t depend on your memory to remember those you have committed to pray for. If you have a memory like mine, tie a string on your finger to remind you to take the prayer list. But write down each person you want to pray for and a verse to claim on their behalf. And have it with you when you go.

 

6- Accountability

This may seem like a contradiction to the “secret” place, but some of us need a level of accountability or we either won’t keep our commitment to God or will forget we haven’t. You don’t need to share any details. But you may need someone to check up on you and remind you of your vow or your promise.

 

7- Prayer Partners

Jesus often took Peter, James and John with Him. He seemed, at least in the garden, to separate Himself a few yards from them, but first He shared His heart with them. Many of us need someone, even if we never pray with them, to share prayer needs together. To pray for one another. To agree together to pray for the same people. It may be your mate. It may not be. It needs to be someone whose heart and yours can be knit together by God’s Spirit. If you don’t have a prayer partner, why not make it a matter of prayer to find one? God has someone in mind. Let Him do the choosing.

 

8- The Secret

Finally, the secret. Agree with God not to promote or publicize your prayer life. It’s between you and God. Some of what happens in the quiet place need not even be shared with your prayer partner. Agree with God that your time with Him will be the best-kept secret in your life. You will not share His glory. Shut the door. That’s the key. And let God have the only key. Below is  a contract that may want to consider making with God. Pray about it. And oh, yes, keep it a secret.......if you do.

 

_____________________________________________________

 

Dear God:

I hereby recognize afresh my need to have a regular time and place to be alone with you.  By your grace, I want to set aside the following time each day:________ and the following place _____________________________________ to be our time together.

Even if I have to skip a meal to be there, I understand what an honor it is to have the Creator God available to meet with me.  I will honor that opportunity by being faithful.

I also hereby pledge to thee my desire to keep my time with you a well-kept secret. I will not use prayer as a means to publicize my spirituality, but rather will humble myself at the very thought that you would take pleasure in meeting with me.

 

Dear God, as we meet, please teach me to pray; how to more perfectly know how to make our secret times the best times of my life.

 

In Jesus’ Name

 

(signed)______________________________

 

(date)_________________________

 

 

_________________________________________________________________

 


 
 
 
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