The Bare Soul
September 23, 2012
The Inner Room of Prayer
Matthew 6:6 - But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
For many years and at various times, I have been nominally to very involved in what is regarded the present day prayer movement. There is something commendable to be said for believers in Christ who are dedicated to 24-hour a day prayer, 365 days a year. Time spent in a prayer room with other believers, seeking God for our spiritually impoverished world, is wonderful. However, it cannot take the place of hidden prayer. Solomon tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes: "It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them." (Ecclesiastes 7:18) If we use this scripture as a measuring rod, there is a balanced approach to prayer. However, while private prayer is possible without public prayer, I believe the Scriptures unequivocally state that effective public prayer is somewhat superfluous without an inner room prayer life.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave both his past and present disciples an extremely important admonition on prayer. In ancient Judaism, the prayer life was regarded as sacred, yet it was mainly a public demonstration of faith. Jewish men would gather in the Inner Court of the temple, Jewish women would gather in the Court of Women, and all other peoples were only allowed in the Court of the Gentiles. In all of these places there was the public display of prayers offered up to God. (Today, there is no better example than those offered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.) However, Jesus turned the paradigm upside-down when he told His disciples to hide oneself in their inner room rather than allow others to see them voicing their prayers to God. According to Jesus, public prayer was not the pinnacle of devotion, but hidden prayer instead. Prayer should be a personal expression of our relationship with the Father. In the example He uses in Matthew, no one is to know how much we pray or do not pray. "Rewards" are not necessarily contingent on our earnestness or the length of time we spend in the inner room, but our obedience according to the Father's bidding.
If we took this one scripture in Matthew and built a theology on prayer, it would seem to condemn all public expressions. As with all Jesus' writings, it is important to see what He states in all instances regarding prayer and form a consensus of thought. He was not against public prayer, as we read in the Gospel of Mark. In the context of chapter eleven, Jesus had entered Jerusalem for His final week before His death. The previous day, the Lord and His disciples had cast out the moneychangers from the Temple. So, when He spoke about standing and praying in verse 25, it is evident He was referring to public prayer. Mark records Jesus' words in the following: "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions." (Mark 11:25) While Christ has often been accused of rabbinic hyperbole in certain instances (e.g., plucking one's eye out if it offends), we have enough written on prayer by the Gospel writers to know Jesus did not condemn public demonstrations of this sort. To apply Solomon's wisdom once again, we must marry public prayer with personal devotion. Without a private life of prayer in the proverbial inner room, there is not much sense "standing" in prayer in any public setting. True, God hears all prayers. However, if we can only please God through faith (Hebrews 11:6), then how much of this substance will truly be part of our public petition if we have not developed it in the secret place of devotion?
Do we hide our prayer habits so that others cannot see them? Or, do we make sure we are seen by others? Public prayer rooms are wonderful and have their place. However, there should be a reluctance for others to see us there and somehow equate we are "spiritual." Conversely, if we are seeking to conceal ourselves from men's approval then we can be hidden in God for His purposes and for His pleasure. We must covertly offer up prayers continually in our private devotion so we will have something to give in a public prayer forum. As a result, others should not necessarily witness our standing and spouting right-sounding prayers, but they should rather breathe prayer's fragrance exuding from our lives. If we are interceding continually to God then it will be moot whether anyone sees us. Nonetheless, it will be evident by the aroma of Christ upon our lives. Beloved, may we all seek to stealthily hide our prayer life from men. For in so doing, God will make it evident to all both in this life and the one to come.
Father God, may you draw each of us to that secret place within the inner room of prayer. Through this surrender, would you then equip us to be holy, humble servants of yours who are ready to take our place with others to stand in the gap and shore up the wall of intercession for our world. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Your Barefoot Servant,
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