Matthew 6:5-6 – “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
It is often said that you can tell the depth of intimacy of someone’s personal private prayer life by the person’s public prayer. The more a person is in prayer in his private life, the more natural his public prayer will be spoken. Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 that God’s desire for us is to take significant time in prayer in secret. The depth of relationship with the Lord created in the secret prayer closet is more significant than we might expect. Consider John Owen’s words to pastors: “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”
Consider also what Tim Keller said: “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.” This is clearly not an infallible test anyone can give to anyone else. This test is only infallible as an individual tests himself. Only you can test your own spiritual vitality and integrity. And the way you test this is by looking at your prayer life. Keller goes on: “Many people will pray when they are required by cultural or social expectations, or perhaps by the anxiety caused by troubling circumstances. Those with a genuinely lived relationship with God as Father, however, will inwardly want to pray and therefore will pray even though nothing on the outside is pressing them to do so.” They pray because they love the Lord. They pray because they desire intimacy with their Heavenly Father. They pray because it is the desire of their heart.
Many people find themselves wishing that their prayer life was stronger. Some people, on the other hand, are not too concerned with their prayer lives because they claim that they draw near the Lord through time in the Word or time studying books on theology. While studying theology and mining the depths of God’s Word are necessary and excellent means of drawing near the Lord, they cannot serve as a substitute for intimate communion with the Lord in prayer.
Prayer is important for at least these three reasons. First, prayer draws us into a deeper communion with the Lord. Just like communication with a spouse is crucial for intimacy, so is communication with the Lord. Second, prayer for others is one of the strongest ways we can fulfill the second greatest commandment of loving others. The most common promise broken by well-intentioned believers sounds like this: “I am so sorry you are struggling like you are, I will pray for you.” How many times have you shown selfishness by promising to pray for another, yet failing to follow through with your promise? Third, God has commanded us to pray in ways that he chooses to use to act. There is much that could be written on this topic, yet Scripture’s teaching on prayer is crystal clear. God chooses to use His people’s prayers to accomplish His purposes.
A vital prayer life fueled by a deep-seated faith in the Lord is a powerful thing. When was the last time you sat down for ten minutes or more to give yourself to your relationship with the Lord through prayer?