But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and you Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly. (Matthew 6:6)
These words were addressed in the first instance to the religious leaders and contained a warning about using prayer to publically demonstrate their spirituality earn the praise and respect of men (pride) and in vain repetition of loud prayers, which has the semblance of faith and spirituality but not the true heart. Of course, they apply to each believer with equal measure, and we should guard our hearts and our prayers to keep them safe from the temptation of self and the world to use them for self-gratification. The ability to pray to God our Father, is a gift of grace and we should never take it for granted.
Having said that, we’re also told emphatically in the Bible to ‘pray without ceasing,’ ‘pray constantly’ and ‘pray always,’ injunctions which may seem a little contradictory when set against today’s verse, which cautions against a display of prayer. After all, it’s not humanly possible in a world where we spend the bulk of our time in the workplace – we can hardly dash off to our ‘prayer closet’ every few minutes to constantly pray when we have responsibilities and obligations to meet. On the face of it, it seems that this instruction directly contradicts others that we should manifest Christ-like commitment and dedication to all we do.
But be encouraged, these are not mutually exclusive at all. It is possible to pray constantly, without making our prayer a public spectacle, and fulfill our Christian obligations better than we would have expected. The ‘secret’ lies in the word ‘secret,’ and I am so thankful that He taught me this in a very literal process of experience. In His wisdom, He placed me in a work enviromentment steeped in anti-Christian ethos, founded on questionable ethical practices, and which used a multitude of techniques in direct conflict with the Word of God – manipulation, emotional and verbal abuse, and training which drew on principles of mysticism and new age spiritualism.
Life, for a long time, seemed rather like a tightrope suspended across disaster. It became a rollercoaster of conflict, a seemingly endless confrontation between Christ in me and and he who is in the world. It was during this struggle that He revealed to me the grace inherent in this verse and the power of Him in me through the working of the Spirit. I discovered – in terms more real and vital than it had ever been – the secret place within me in which God dwells.
A word of caution is called for here. This was not some kind of uber-esoteric experience, and I suggest nothing that is not a scriptural, Bible-based reality – a reality that is available to each and every single believer as the grace to live as we should, no matter what our circumstances, and to rejoice in all things. I do not suggest that having a physical space in our home enviroment set aside for prayer and communion with God is wrong. Nor do I suggest that times of prolonged and focused prayer away from the bustle and distractions of life shouldn’t be encouraged. These are both good and proper, and should form part of the Christian walk of every believer.
What I learned, however, is that it is possible to pray without ceasing, and to do so in ‘secret.’ The principle is really very simple. The essence of each human being is spirit. This is the part of us that communes with God. We may engage our minds and emotions, and even our physical actions in the process, but it is our spirits which seek God, believe God, worship God and fellowship with God. The rest of us is simply additional expression, and this is why we are warned against fleshly prayer. If it is our mind, our emotions or physical self that is ‘driving’ prayer, it’s not genuine. It’s flesh.
The Bible mentions more than once that God dwells in the ‘secret place.’ The infinite grace of God has brought that secret place to us. It is no longer ‘out there’ but God has come to dwell with us – in us – through the in-filling of His Holy Spirit. Thus, we carry the ‘secret place’ within us, wherever we may be and whatever our circumstances. The power of the ‘spirit life’ of the Holy Spirit in us is such that it does not require the participation of the rest of us. When praying in the Spirit, we do not necessarily require words or actions or emotions. We can engage them, but they are not critical to the process. The spirit, under the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit, is linked with Christ in us constantly, whether we’re aware of it or not.
It is something that He revealed to me beyond a shadow of a doubt. I held a stressful and demanding position, one which thrust me constantly onto the ‘front lines’ of battle. Left to my own devices I would – and I’m sure of this – have messed up constantly. I would have exploded, reacted, spoken out of turn, wallowed in anger and resentment, been offended… The list goes on. But the saving grace of God upheld, guided, taught and sustained me through it all. While meeting the excessive demands of both the job and circumstances, I was able to retreat, in my spirit, into the ‘secret place’ and pray constantly.
A few things need to be said. Firstly, it was not of my doing. It was the teaching, guiding and sustaining power of God through His Holy Spirit that enabled me to learn this truth and continue in it. I have no doubt of this. In those moments when I moved out in my own strength, the results were barely short of calamitous. Secondly, it was not a ‘holier than thou’ exercise. In fact, it was often humbling. It revealed my weakness and shortcomings, my fleshly responses and my wayward will and spirit – communion with God more than often will tend to do that.
Thirdly, and most importantly, it afforded me a glimpse of the kind of fellowship God desires with His people. It revealed the simple, practical power of the Holy Spirit in us, a daily grace for a daily walk – rather like manna, its sustaining power cannot be ‘saved up for tomorrow’ but is sufficient for the day, the hour and moment, and needs to be constantly renewed through constant unity. Once the unity is diverted or distracted, the grace ceases to operate.
What emerged very strongly is the fundamental truth that our spirits may be contained in our bodies, but they are not limited to them. The body is simply the ‘house,’ and the mind and emotions are simply the ‘furnishings.’ What lives within is the true life. If we are resurrected in Christ, renewed and restored in Him, the spirit is made new. We are enabled, through union with the Spirit within, to rise above the limitations of the flesh, in all its aspects, and walk in the Spirit. God Himself, through the saving grace of Christ and the in-dwelling Spirit, makes this possible in a wonderful and practical way.
None of us can pretend that we’ve ‘got it down pat.’ We’re all in the learning process. I’m honest enough to admit that I might never have learned the full truth of it had He not put me in a place where my very survival depended on it. Yet this is the essential truth behind the life of Enoch, who ‘walked with God.’ We are to pray without ceasing because He has made it possible to do so. Prayer is not simply asking Him for things. It is included in prayer, but it’s not the whole of it. Prayer is communion, fellowship – communication at a basic, core spiritual level that defines as His children.
It is a place we should all aspire to – dwelling with God in the ‘secret place.’ Walking with Him in quiet communion, constantly, daily, moment by moment, our spirits united with our Father. This is the very source of the ‘living water,’ the power to live our lives in righteousness and praise to Him, the power to enable us to surrender all to His will and purpose, the power to reveal Him to the world. It does not replace spending time in the Word or in separate and set apart times of prayer. Rather it enables and empowers us to do so, and it tranforms the benefits of those moments into the life of Christ within us. It’s an integral part of the ‘whole,’ the daily in-working and out-working of Him on the practical level of our lives.
Father God, thank You for Your grace that enables us to walk with You, that brings us into the ‘secret place’ of the Spirit where we can commune with You at all times and at any times, no matter what our circumstances may be. Draw us, Lord, ever deeper into our daily walk with You. Help us to pray without ceasing, to keep hold of that wonderful, grace-given gift of being wholly joined with You. Empower us to live by the Spirit, rather than the flesh, so that the outworking of Your grace and power may impact the world we live in, the places we work in, and even our relationship with You, for Your glory and the revelation of You.