OK, you knew that I’m not going to talk about homosexuality, right? We’re going to address that topic soon when we get to Romans chapter one.
No, today we’re going to go over a few basics on private prayer. For anyone reading this who’s already familiar with all this, my apologies. This is undoubtedly the most famous passage on the topic. Let’s look at it, and I’ll share my thoughts on it.
First and foremost, of course this doesn’t forbid public prayer. Jesus frequently prayed in public. By praying with other believers, we can encourage each other and join together in front of the Throne of Grace. And if you’re praying with someone who A) knows their Bible and knows how to pray its words effectively and B) actually believes that God answers prayer, it can be such a boost to your faith. I’ve been strengthened so many times by the prayers of others as they lift my name up to the Throne, I can’t even begin to count them.
But today’s passage is a warning. Your public prayer life is only as strong as your private prayer life. My dad used to make fun of people who make a huge show of making long prayers before their meals. He called it “Naming the missionaries,” and he strongly believes that someone who makes such long prayers publicly is probably deficient in their private prayer life. I wouldn’t presume to judge someone by their public prayers, but I would say this: You should spend at least as much time on your knees in your personal “room” as you do in public.
As our Lord makes clear, if you’re praying in public in order to impress other people, you'd better hope they’re really impressed, because that’s all the reward you’re going to get. Which would you rather have: The respect of people who can’t see past the skin, or the smile of God? You might have both, but you can’t pursue both.
So what other thoughts do I have about private prayer? Well, there’s no command about how often to do it, nor is there a command about when. But we have the example of our Savior. In his human flesh, as powerful as he was, he felt the need to spend time alone with the Father. I’ve mentioned this before: One of the most convicting verses in the Bible for me is Mark 1:35—“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Now, I’m not naturally an early riser. I’m naturally a night owl. When I first get up in the morning, especially in the morning, my brain is mush until I have a cup of coffee, and even then I’m usually less than fully coherent. It doesn’t do me lot of good to try to have an extended prayer session and Bible study time. So what do I do? I try to have a short prayer, something like “Father God, thank you for another day in this world so I can serve you here. Please help me to please you and serve you and obey you in everything I do and say and think today. Please help me turn others towards you and not away from you. And if you would, please give me an opportunity to share the Good News about your Son with someone today. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Then, later in the day, I’ll take some time to read God’s word on my own, and then some more with my wife. As of this writing we’re going through the 3-year Bible reading plan and a devotional by John Piper. And I’m soaking my thoughts in the book of Romans in preparation of our discussing it in a couple of weeks. And then I have some prayer time alone. I try to start out with praise, thanksgiving, time of confession, and then start making requests. I pray for my wife, my pastor, my church, my friends, needs in my family, and, yes, for myself. I ask him to make me a better husband, teacher, employee, and all-around witness for Jesus.
Do I spend an hour on my knees? I know I should, but I don’t. I probably spend about 15-20 minutes a day praying for various people at various times, some days more and some days less.
Another thing that’s really important here. I know that I’m talking to people with really crazy schedules: work, kids, errands, housework, etc. But none of that changes this fact: In order for you to have quality time with the Lord, you have to follow his example in at least one regard: Get alone with him. If you wanted an intimate conversation with your spouse or “significant other,” you wouldn’t try to do it in the middle of the highway in rush hour. You’d find a place and time where it’s quiet and you can hear what each other is saying.
Same principle here. You have to, you must, find a place and time to be alone with him. Otherwise, your fellowship with him is going to suffer, just like a marriage would.
Enough reading about this. It’s time to go to Keith’s “inner room,” even if it’s in my head.
Lord Jesus, I so desperately need to bask in your presence and hear what you have to say. And then I can pour out my heart to you. Thank you for listening.