Pray in Secret

Matthew 6:5 "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."

Introduction

Prayer was a serious and constant part of Christ's ministry.

Public Prayers of Christ

Sometimes Christ prayed publicly as seen in the following verses:

Matthew 14:19 (KJV) 19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

John 11:41 "Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth."

Secret Prayers of Christ

More often than not, however, Christ prayed privately in some secluded location. He appears to have gone out frequently—perhaps daily—in the early morning to talk with His Father in Heaven; we find Him also going out in the evening; sometimes He began in the evening and remained praying through till morning. Notice the following verses on His private, secret, prayer life:

Matthew 14:23 "And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone."

Mark 1:35 "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed."

Luke 6:12 "And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God."

The point is that prayer was a very important part of Christ's ministry.

Noisy Praying and Secret Prayer

At the time of Christ, there was a lot of noisy hypocritical praying going on that was more for show than for connecting with God. As you will read below, some of the religious leaders loved to stand in the synagogues and out on the street corners, praying loudly so that they might be seen by the people around them.  They apparently thought that impressing men with their supposed piety was of greater importance and value than pleasing God. Truth be told, Jesus did not encourage this kind of prayer, nor does God value it. I am not sure anyone appreciates when a person is seeking to gain attention by praying loudly or ostentatiously [conspicuous attempt to impress others}, but that's what they were doing back then. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters, 6-8, Christ corrected the misapprehension and specifically instructed His hearers to go into their "closets," shut the door, and tell their Heavenly Father what was going on in their lives. He assured them that His Father who met them in secret would reward them openly.

Notice the Bible verses:

Matthew 6:5 "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."

From what we have already reviewed, Christ often prayed in secret, and resorted to this kind of prayer on a daily basis. He also instructed His followers to pray secretly. We should follow Christ's example in taking time to talk with our Heavenly Father on a regular basis.

Pray in Secret

What does it mean to pray in secret? 

According to the verses in Matt. 6:5-6, it means going to a private place where your prayer will not be overheard and opening your heart to God about everything going on. I would suggest it also requires minimizing distractions as much as possible.

Putting this succinctly, secret prayer is about a quiet private place, the ability to freely communicate without worry of being overheard, and minimal distractions.

A Quiet Private Place

What was private in the days of Christ may not be as available and practical in our day! He would get up early and head out to some solitary place where he could be alone. Some of the people reading this may find themselves in a big city where a solitary place would not be safe. I don't think Jesus was calling his followers to endanger themselves.  In some places and at certain times of the year, a private place might be limited to a warm spot in a home since the cold outside would not conducive to quality time with God.

So what is a private place? A private place is any place where you can freely communicate without worry of being overheard and enjoy distraction-free time with God. You might find this in a separate room, a special place in a room, a special chair; it might even mean artificially creating a quiet private haven. The place can also change from day to day, and from season to season. The important thing is to find time to pray in secret every day.

I personally have a favorite place where I like to meet God. At times, however, I choose to meet God in nature somewhere, sometimes even when I am walking.  At one time, when I was caring for my mother and it was hard to be far from her, I would make a mini "temple" on my bed by kneeling at the edge and putting my head under the comforter. Under the comforter it was very quiet and private, and there was a sense that God was present.

Susanna Wesley, the mother of 19 children, 10 of which survived childhood, as well as the mother of John and Charles Wesley, had a special way that she sought to have private time with Christ: she would flip her apron over her head when she was having her "secret" prayer time—the children knew to be quiet if the apron was over her head.

The point is that it is possible to find or make a quiet place in any situation.

A Place to Freely Communicate

Lest one think that secret prayer is about a place—a private place is necessary and very important, it is even more about freely communicating with God. The secret private place provides a location where the person praying can tell God everything that is going on in his or her life. Heeding the call to come with burdens (Mat. 11:28), the promise to give wisdom (James 1:5), the believer finds a sympathetic hearer in His Father in Heaven.

A Place to Simply Communicate

Though you may have heard beautiful, well-rounded, sentences when the pastor and elders pray at your church, when you pray in secret you use simple language and tell God exactly what is going on. You may not even know what to pray about, but the Holy Spirit will help you (Rom. 8:26-28).

Lack of Distractions

In our modern age, spending undistracted time with God is a major challenge. We are surrounded by digital devices, televisions, notes, computers, Ipads, Kindles, and all of these cry out for our attention. If you want to have quality time with God, you are going to have to leave these devices behind, or be very disciplined in using them—something that is VERY HARD to do!

Pray in Secret

Because we find ourselves in very busy settings with many responsibilities, sometimes it can be hard to transition into a more devotional mode. At such times, the only thing we can do is spend some time in silence preparing to meet God.

Come Into God's Presence

There is no substitute for time when coming into God's presence. God wants to communicate with you, but He insists on having undistracted time with you. Wait before God in silence until other thoughts cease.  Add praise and adoration to this preparatory time, letting God know how much you appreciate and love Him.

Use Helpful Resources

Sometimes it is helpful to read some Bible verses to direct the time and to bring one's mind into God's presence.

Some people follow a passage of Scripture as they are praying, using the individual verses to prompt what they pray about. 

Sometimes the singing of a hymn can bring great blessings.

Confess and Receiving Forgiveness

God cannot tolerate sin, and unconfessed sin will greatly hinder your time with God. Ask God to reveal the things that need confessing. Confess them specifically. Promise that you will also confess to others as necessary and appropriate.

Commune With God

When I speak of "communing with God" I am referring to taking time to talk to God, and listening to God's responses, about all the things going on—in your personal life, with your family members, your church, your community, etc. Remember, however, that you are talking with God, and therefore will have this conversation in the context of His Kingdom and His will being done. It has been suggested that this is a time to open the heart to God as if one were confiding in a close and trusted friend. 

Share Needs and Listen to God's Responses

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and claims the silver and gold as His. Accordingly, petition specifically, remember to ask according to His will—only seeking those things that will bring God glory and will be good for the person involved, if it is the right time. I find it helps to ask specifically and persistently for some things. 

Seek to Know God's Will

Secret time in prayer is greatly bolstered by the sense that God is in charge, that God knows what is best and will give specific direction if we are open to it. Accordingly, the constant attitude in secret prayer should be "How can I please you Father; show me Your will in order that I might do it." Needless to say, God's will is always aligned with the teachings of the Bible. 

Initially Receive Answers by Faith

James Frazer, a missionary to the Lisu People in China, said that many prayers are initially answered with a promise. That is really true. The Bible is full of wonderful promises and God will sometimes give you a promise that seems so very real that you cannot help but rejoice ahead of time for the good things He will be doing. The point is, believe God heard and is answering! In my own prayer experience, I have found that nothing helps me having confidence in prayer as does thanking Him in advance for the answers given.

Live Out Your Prayers

Finally, live out your prayers. Sometimes God will call us to answer our own prayers. In many cases we will play a role in the prayers being answered. I am confident God will lead you in this regard.

Other Suggestions

Many people have found that it greatly helps to pray out loud in this time of prayer. That doesn't mean boisterous and noisy prayer, but respectful and worship verbal prayer that expressed quietly can greatly augment the reality of that time of prayer.

Imagine that God is there next to you as you pray. I have heard of people who actually have an empty chair close by to remind them that God is with them.

Cautions

Some individuals believe in what is sometimes referred to as "contemplative" prayer. Contemplative prayer often refers to emptying one's mind of all thoughts, sometimes achieved through repetitive prayers, and paying attention to whatever comes to mind. Often this done without much reference to what the Bible teaches. Accordingly, this kind of prayer can become very self-centered and the devil can do a lot of mischief with it. 

I have also come across individuals who believe the Holy Spirit speaks to them and that whatever the Spirit communicates is to be believed and followed. In hearing of the things the Spirit was supposedly communicating, which in some cases were quite contrary to the teachings of Scripture and common sense, it was hard to believe it was the real Holy Spirt. 

We serve a real God who created us in His image to have a relationship with us. That means He wants to have real conversations with us. Talk to Him as if you were talking to a parent or to a friend. He will respond in kind.—Dan

What Famous Christians Have Said About Closet or Secret Prayer

“The great importance of perseverance in the exercise of prayer and inward retirement may be sufficiently learnt,” he declares, “next to the experience of it, merely from the tempter's artifices and endeavors to allure us from it and make us negligent of it. He knows that by this delightful exercise alone his gloomy empire in the soul will necessarily be destroyed, through the imperceptible influx of the light, love, and life of Jesus; and that all the flowers and fruits of the fairest gifts of grace and virtue fade of themselves, if he can only break them off from this their root.” Gerhard Tersteegen, quoted by Govan, Gerhard Tersteegen, p. 49

The minister is appointed by God to teach and help those who are engaged in the ordinary avocations of life to find time and to use it aright for the preservation of the spiritual life. The minister cannot do this unless he himself has a living experience of a life of prayer. His highest calling is not preaching, or speaking, or parochial visitation, but it is to cultivate the life of God daily, and to be a witness of what the Lord teaches him and accomplishes in him. Andrew Murray, The Prayer Life, p. 90,91

“Curiosity is one of Satan’s most dangerous weapons, by which he keeps many souls out of their closets, yes, out of heaven! When many a poor soul begins in good earnest to look towards heaven, and to apply himself to closet duties, then Satan begins to bestir himself, and to labor with all his might, so to busy the poor soul with vain inquiries, and curious speculations, and unprofitable curiosities. Ah! how well might it have been with many a man, had he but spent one quarter of that time in closet prayer, that he has spent in curious inquiries after things that have not been fundamental to his happiness." Thomas Brooks

"It is because there is so little communion with God, that spiritual life is so feeble, and the efforts of our workers meet with so little success. Our natures must be raised from their earthliness; they must be kindled and purified in the upper brightness of God’s divine presence. Why are we so easily satisfied with little flashes of light, when there is a heaven of illumination for us? We drink at shallow streams, when there is a great fountain just above us, if we will only rise a little higher in the pathway of faith.  It is by beholding Christ, through faith, that we are to be changed into his likeness. As we meditate upon the perfection of his character, we shall desire to become wholly transformed and renewed in the image of his purity. There will be a hungering and thirsting of soul to be made like him whom we adore. The more our thoughts are upon Christ, the more we shall speak of him to others, and represent him to the world. We shall represent him in our words, in our love for the brethren, in our deep, earnest love for the souls for whom Christ died. Ellen White, Home Missionary, November 1, 1890, par. 11, 12

“One of the greatest men of prayer of the last century was the saintly George Muller of Bristol. He was an expert in prayer; and he always taught that the first thing to do in prayer is to realize the presence of God. You do not start speaking immediately... There must be this fellowship, this communion, this conversation. And the realization that you are in His presence is infinitely more important than anything you may say.” The Christian Soldier, p. 82

"There is absolutely no substitute for this secret communion with God. The public Church services, or even the family altar, cannot take the place of the 'closet' prayer. We must deliberately seek to meet with God absolutely alone, and to secure such aloneness with God we are bidden to 'enter into thy closet.' God absolutely insists on this 'closet'-communion with Himself. One reason, no doubt, that He demands it, is to test our sincerity. There is no test for the soul like solitude. Do you shrink from solitude? Perhaps the cause for your neglect of the 'closet' is a guilty conscience? You are afraid to enter into the solitude. You know that however cheerful you appear to be you are not really happy. You surround yourself with company lest, being alone, truth should invade your delusion…" – Gordon Cove

"Do not neglect secret prayer, for it is the soul of religion. With earnest, fervent prayer plead for purity of soul. Plead as earnestly, as eagerly, as you would for your mortal life, were it at stake. Remain before God until unutterable longings are begotten within you for salvation, and the sweet evidence is obtained of pardoned sin." Ellen White, Selected Gifts, vol. 2, p. 246.3

“The act of praying is the very highest energy of which the human mind is capable; praying, that is, with the total concentration of the faculties. The great mass of worldly men and of learned men are absolutely incapable of prayer.”—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“I ought to pray before I see anyone. Often when I sleep late or meet others early it is eleven or twelve o'clock before I begin to pray in secret. This is a wretched practice. It is unscriptural. When this happens family prayers lose much of their power and sweetness, and I can do no good to those who come to seek aid of me. The conscience is guilty, the soul is unfed, the lamp is untrimmed. It is far better to begin with God, to see his face first, to get my soul near him before it is near another.”—Robert McCheyne.

"I call you to early prayer. My soul is aflame with the necessity. I call you to self denial. “Self denial is the law of life." I call you to a duty that some day will prove the most available habit of your soul. I call thee, O my brother, to the “Heights" where God through the blessed Holy Spirit will make our soul a theater of action, a shrine, and your eyes a fountain of tears. The soul He will act in, and the eyes He will weep through for a lost world. God clothed Himself with Gideon and He must clothe Himself with flesh and blood. He will use you and me as He used Gideon—help me to praise Him, not to fight the visible armies, but the invisible devils that “darken the air and rule the lower world. I call thee, O my brothers, to hours of communion with God when this world will to lost to view and the shore lines cut for millions of miles. The only sound will be The Silence of the Mid-Ocean of God’s Love and approval; when He will hand you the keys of time and eternity, and give you the “treasures of darkness and the hidden riches of secret places,” ...."

"The men who have done most for God in this world have been early upon their knees. If God is not first in our thoughts, in our efforts, in the early morning, He will be last in the remainder of the day. The heart that is behindhand in seeking God in the early morning has lost its relish for God. A desire for God which cannot break the chains of sleep is a weak thing, and will do but little good for God after it has indulged itself fully. It Is not simply getting up early that puts men to the front and makes them captains-general of God’s host, but it is the ardent desire which Stirs and Breaks All Self-indnlgent Chains." E. M. Bounds

"There are but two objects I have ever desired these forty years to behold," wrote Charles Simeon in 1819;" the one is my own vileness; the other is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and I have always thought that they should be viewed together. . . . This is the religion that pervades the whole Liturgy. ... The praise all through savours of adoration. ... I consider the religion of the day as materially defective in this point. I do not see, as much as I could wish, a holy, reverential awe of God." In 1834, two years before his peaceful death, he wrote: "I have often wished there were more of holy reverence in religious people when speaking of God and of the things which He has wrought for their salvation. I see not an instance in Scripture of any remarkable manifestation of God to man which did not instantly generate in his heart and produce in his act a lowly reverence and self-abasement. ... I would have the whole of my experience one continued sense, first, of my nothingness and dependence upon God, secondly, of my guiltiness and desert before Him, thirdly, of my obligations to redeeming love, as utterly overwhelming me with its incomprehensible extent and grandeur." Charles Simeon, quoted in H. C. G. Moule, Secret Prayer, p. 91,92

"The very essence and speciality of Secret Prayer, so it seems to me, is that it should express most freely, whatever else it deals with, the movements of the individual spirit ; confessing inmost personal sins, giving praise for personally received mercies, both of providence and grace, worshipping in view of personal insights into the Lord's great glory, supplicating regarding the deepest needs, and the simplest needs, of the individual man, and interceding for individuals in the freest detail and name by name." H. C. G. Moule, Secret Prayer, p. 20

"Many Christians backslide because this truth [need for daily fellowship with Jesus] is not clearly taught. They are unable to stand against the temptations of the world or of their old nature. They strive to do their best to fight against sin and to serve God, but they have no strength. They have never really grasped the secret: The Lord Jesus will every day from heaven continue His work in me. But on one condition—the soul must give Him time each day to impart His love and His grace. Time alone with the Lord Jesus each day is the indispensable condition of growth and power. Andrew Murray, Secret of Fellowship, p. 8

"Many who do come into the secret place, and who are God's children, enter it and leave it just as they entered, without ever so much as realizing the presence of God. And there are some believers who, even when they do obtain a blessing, and get a little quickening of soul, leave the secret place without seeking more. They go to their chamber, and there get into the secret place, but then, as soon as they have got near to Him, they think they have been peculiarly blessed, and leave their chamber, and go back into the world… Oh, how is it that the Lord's own people have so little perseverance? How is it that when they do enter into their place of prayer to be alone, they are so easily persuaded to be turned away empty; instead of wrestling with God to pour out His Spirit, they retire from the secret place without the answer, and submit to it as being God's will." – William C. Burns

"Time that is consumed in so much reading and study is often worse than thrown away. A large portion of the time spent over books and in studying should be spent before God imploring Him for heavenly wisdom and for strength and power to let the truth, which they do fully understand, shine out before the people in its clearness and harmonious beauty. There is too little time spent in secret prayer and in sacred meditation. The cry of God’s servants should be for the holy unction and to be clothed with salvation, that what they preach may reach hearts. Time is so short and ministers of these last days are so few that they should throw all their energies into the work, and should be in close connection with God and holy angels, that a tremendous power may be in their preaching—a compelling power, to draw every soul who is honest and loves the truth right along to embrace it."— Ellen White, The Voice in Speech and Song, p. 219

"There are three elements that are key to a meaningful, power-filled life: “The initial act,” “the fixed purpose” and the “daily habit.” “The initial act is the full response of our whole being to His call, which is generally awakened by a realization of the amazing love which made God stoop down to clothe Himself in flesh  and die for our sins….” “The fixed purpose is that in every choice we shall choose God’s way and not our own.” … This fixed purpose to do the pleasure of God must embrace very department of life. Christ explained that it meant a disowning of self and a readiness to forsake parents, home, business, pleasure and the life itself, if necessary, for His sake. We must live up our own right to ourselves and be completely at His disposal.” … “This fixed purpose to do the will of God always, everywhere, in every detail, cannot be sustained without the daily habit of spending a quiet time alone with God over His Book.” Gordon Guinness, How Should I Pray, pp. 7,8,10,11

"If you would have the rich treasures of heaven, you must have secret communion with God. Unless you do this, your soul will be as destitute of the Holy Spirit as were the hills of Gilboa of dew and rain. When you hurry from one thing to another, when you have so much to do that you can not take time to talk with God, how can you expect power in your work?" Ellen White, General Conference Bulletin, July 1, 1902, Art. A, par. 6

"The aim and object of conversion is to bring the soul even here on earth, to a daily fellowship with the Father in heaven.” Andrew Murray, Secret of Fellowship, p. 5

"The feeble state of my spiritual life is mainly due to the lack of time day by day in fellowship with God. … New life will dawn in many a soul as a result of time spent in prayer alone with God.” Andrew Murray, Secret of Fellowship, p. 8

"You will receive more strength by spending one hour each day in meditation, and mourning over your failings and heart-corruptions, and pleading for God’s pardoning love, and the assurance of sins forgiven, than you would by spending many hours and days in studying the most able authors, and making yourself acquainted with every objection to our faith, and the most powerful evidences in favor of our faith."— Ellen White, The Review and Herald, January 19, 1864

"The young believer must understand that he has no power of his own to maintain his spiritual life. He needs each day to receive new grace from heaven through fellowship with the Lord Jesus.  This cannot be obtained by a hasty prayer or a superficial reading of a few verses from the God’s Word. He must take time quietly and deliberately to come into God’s presence, to feel his weakness and his need, and to wait upon God through His Holy Spirit to renew the heavenly light and life in his heart.” Andrew Murray, Secret of Fellowship, p. 6

"It was a fixed habit of our Lord to have regular times when He withdrew from men to speak with God. If He needed these times,  (and in all reverence it seems that he did, how infinitely more do we? The example of Christ shows how essential Quiet Times are for maintaining our communion with God unbroken." Guinness Gordon, How Should I Pray, p. 13

"Secret prayer is frequently perverted, and its sweet designs lost, by loud vocal prayer. Instead of the calm, quiet trust and faith in God, the soul drawn out in low, humble tones, the voice is raised to a loud pitch, and excitement is encouraged, and secret prayer loses its softening, sacred influence. There is a storm of feeling, a storm of words, making it impossible to discern the still, small voice that speaks to the soul while engaged in its secret, true, heartfelt devotion. Secret prayer, properly carried out, is productive of great good. But prayer which is made public to the entire family and neighborhood is not secret prayer, even though thought to be, and divine strength is not received from it. Sweet and abiding will be the influence emanating from Him who seeth in secret, whose ear is open to answer the prayer arising from the heart. By calm, simple faith the soul holds communion with God and gathers to itself divine rays of light to strengthen and sustain it to endure the conflicts of Satan. God is our tower of strength." Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church Vol. 2, pp. 189, 190.

Written Resources On Praying in Secret

Secret Prayer: A Great Reality - Henry Wright

Henry Wright's pamphlet was a very popular resource on prayer at student missionary conventions in the late 1800s.

Pray In Secret - Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray, like E. M. Bounds, might be termed an "apostle of prayer." He wrote on many subjects, but the power of his writing and his eminent piety came out of his personal prayer life. There are only a few paragraphs here but they are rich and will greatly help you.

Intensity & Early Morning Prayer: H. W. Hodge

This short but wonderful call to early morning prayer is "meat in due season." Hodge was an admirer of E. M. Bound, and learned to pray as a result of observing Bounds praying when Bounds came and stayed in his parents home—sharing his bedroom.

Pray In Secret - Samuel Chadwick

Chadwick is wonderful whether he is writing on the Holy Spirit or prayer. You can read more about him on the page dedicated to his ministry.

Prayer: The Forgotten Secret of the Church - H. W. Hodge

Hodge seeks to stir us to pray in this sermon.

Secret Prayer - E. White

Just a few paragraphs but it is deeply instructive.

Who Will Rise Early - H. W. Hodge

H. W. Hodge played a key role in bringing about the publishing of many of E. M. Bounds books. He was a also a mighty man of prayer and makes an earnest plea for early prayer in this presentation.