Alone in the secret place with God

Where would you begin in helping a new believer learn how to pray? What would you teach about prayer?

Although the early followers of Jesus practiced prayer, there was something about the way Jesus approached prayer that caused them to feel inadequate.

  • “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Luke 11:1).

Jesus taught his followers to pray in secret with God. He gave some clear guidance on the practice of secret prayer.

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:5-8).

Think about it. “go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Our God is a loving Father who carefully watches over us and knows all about us. Prayer is meant to be a dependent response to a caring Heavenly Father.

Let these words shape your communion with God: “Your Father knows what you need…” 

These words should change our approach to prayer. He is our heavenly Father who knows all about His children. He is neither ignorant of our needs, nor in need of our persuasion. 

  • “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do” (Matthew 6:6)

We can still find parallels to pagan worship in Churches today. Don’t let people lead you into unintelligible prayer languages, ecstatic babbling, mindless running at the mouth, and repetitious emotional pleading with spiritual-sounding incantations! These are forms of pagan worship (see: Acts 19:24-34).

Some believers genuinely desire to be heard but mistakenly believe that, “the probability of an answer is in proportion to the total number of words in the prayer.” (D.A. Carson, p.59, Sermon on the Mount).

“They imagine that the more they say, the more likely they are to be heard” (N.E.B.). “What an incredible notion! What sort of a god is this who is chiefly impressed by the mechanics and the statistics of prayer, and whose response is determined by the volume of words we use and the number of hours we spend in praying?” (John Stott, Sermon on the Mount, p.144)

Repetition itself is not necessarily wrong (see examples from Jesus (Mt. 26:44) and Paul (I Cor. 12). Lengthy, sustained and persistent prayers are not necessarily wrong (see: Lk. 6:12; 18:1-8; I Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:5). We must avoid meaningless repetition, along with approaching God as if he doesn’t know our needs unless we inform him. 

Jesus condemned thoughtless repetition and incantations that characterized pagan worship. Pagans approached the gods on contractual grounds believing they could manipulate the deities for their own purposes. 

The true and living God does not need an informant filling in the blanks for Him. Nor should we approach Him as anxious children squabbling about our perceived needs. 

Rather, we should enter the presence of the One who has searched us and known us — who knows (as the psalmist said) when we sit down and when we rise up. The One who understands our thoughts from afar, and is intimately acquainted with all our ways (Psalm 139).

“Even before there is a word on my tongue; Behold, O Lord, you know it all.” How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” (Psalm 139:4, 17-18).

When you pray, remember these amazing words: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (cf. Job 32:16; Ps.147:5; Isa.40:13, 14; 46:9-10; Ac.15:18; Heb. 4:13; I John. 3:20; Mt.11:21; Jn. 21:17). We pray to our omniscient Father.


Sometimes the contemporary use of music in worship for getting people into a mood to worship God is dangerously close to what Jesus condemned. 

Prayer or worship that must be worked-up, warmed-up, or emotionally induced, contradicts the deliberate and thoughtful prayers in Scripture. These prayers are characterized by simplicity, honesty, and clarity. God wants our minds as well as our hearts to be fully engaged in prayer – as in all parts of worship.

  • The Pharisees loved ”to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.”
  • The pagans took more of a mindless approach to prayer. 
  • Christians are to pray with their minds fully engaged in a secret place with God (see: Isaiah 40:13-14).

Learning what to pray

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus gave his followers a model or an outline for prayer (“pray in this way…”), In Luke 11, Jesus taught it as a form for prayer (“when you pray, say…”). In both contexts, Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray.

“To understand that the work of prayer involves a learning process saves us from arrogantly dismissing it as false or unreal. We can determine if we are praying correctly if the requests come to pass. If not, we look for the ‘block’; perhaps we are praying wrongly, perhaps something within us needs changing, perhaps there are new principles of prayer to be learned, perhaps patience and persistence are needed. We listen, make the necessary adjustments, and try again.” (“Celebration of discipline,” Richard Foster, p.38)

According to John 15:17, learning to pray involves an abiding and obedient relationship with Jesus (cf. Jn.14:31; Heb. 5:7-8 – Jesus’ example). But it is a process and we must be open to correction and change.

“To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.” (Ibid., p. 33)

Steve Cornell 

See – Resources for prayer & Three steps in prayer

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Devotions, Disciple-making, Discipleship, Personal devotions, Prayer, Spiritual disciplines, Walking with God and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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