“But you, when you pray, go into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” – Matthew 6:6
Almost everyone has a “special” place, a place that they love to go to relax, to engage in a favorite activity, or just to be at peace. In fact, most people, like me, probably have several. A scenic view from a back deck. A cozy basement. But do you have a special place to meet with God and pray? A place where you can “shut the door,” knowing that no one can bother you? In His teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stresses the importance of having such a place. I’ve come up with four reasons why He stresses a secret place, some based on textual exegesis and some based on just plain common sense: intentionality, privacy, intimacy, and integrity. I’ll tackle these one at a time.
1.) Intentionality. We go places with specific purposes in mind. When we go to work, we’re there to work. When we go to the gym, we’re there to work out. When we go to our secret place with God, we should be there to spend time with Him, and for no other reason. Going to a specific place for a specific purpose produces the type of intentionality that is sorely lacking in the lives of many Christians.
2.) Privacy. The word “closet” that Jesus uses in Matthew 6:6, tameion, is defined in Strong’s Greek Dictionary as a secret chamber, a place may one retire to for privacy, or a place for storage of something (like a closet). All three of these concepts unmistakeably emphasize the fact that this place should be private and cut off from the comings and goings of the household. It should be a place where the world can be shut out. The reason such privacy is necessary for prayer is clear: privacy fosters honesty, and honesty fosters relationship. How can we pray freely and openly with God when there are others nearby, or who may come by to disturb us and listen in on us at any moment? Having a secret meeting place with God precludes any hindrances to the unbroken communion that is essential for meaningful prayer.
3.) Intimacy. Obviously, this comes right on the heels of privacy. Without the safety of privacy, having any depth of relationship of any kind with another is impossible. Even when intimate friendship or relationship is developed in a group setting, it is still developed because of a certain privacy that surrounds the group, allowing the group to bond without the encumbering presence of outsiders. The point is, there is no intimacy without privacy.
Also, the sharing of a special, secret place is an intimate act in itself. If there is a place where you meet with one person, and with nobody else, that place becomes one of the hallowed sanctuaries of the relationship. It becomes more than a place. In fact, the thought of sharing that place with another for similar purposes can seem blasphemous. Simply going to that special, secret place with another creates an expectation in itself. In the same way, having a special, secret place to meet with the Father creates an expectation, before we even arrive, that God is already there, eager to meet with us.
4.) Integrity. The Bible scholars reading this entry were probably wondering if I would ever comment on the context of Jesus’ teaching on the prayer closet. In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about outward righteousness and inner righteousness. He speaks of how the Pharisees pray out loud, in public, so that people will see their piety and be impressed. Jesus says that “they already have their reward,” (Matthew 6:5), meaning that praise from men is all they will receive for this action. God will not reward them. Jesus, in contrast teaches his followers to “go into their closet” to pray, so that they will receive no praise from people. If no praise is received from people, then our reward is from the Father instead – a much better reward indeed. Praying in a secret, special place removes the “trying to impress” element from prayer and leaves us naked and open before the Father in a setting where we no longer have any motivation to pray for the wrong reasons.
Obviously, we are to pray with others often as well. Jesus taught clearly about the power of agreeing prayer. If Jesus taught both to pray alone in secret and with others in agreement, there is obviously to be a balance of both in the Christian life.
This teaching about having a special, secret place to be alone with God has deepened my prayer life in ways I never imagined. And it is so simple and practical! When I first grasped this teaching, I realized that the little “nook” under the stairs in the basement would make for a perfect prayer closet. It’s a hidden, cramped little space under the stairs that has no other use in the house. So, my wife and I used markers to write prayer requests on the walls as well as Scripture promises pertaining to prayer. When I go there, it’s only to pray. And when I go there to pray, there is a presence there when I arrive, an expectation. God is already there, eager to meet with His beloved son.
Find a special, secret place to meet with God. It will add intentionality, privacy, intimacy, and integrity to your times of prayer, and you’ll find yourself looking forward to your meetings with God more and more often.