By Becky Harling, Crosswalk.com
In the early 1900s Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote a profound children’s book called The Secret Garden. The story is about two children who find life transformation. In the secret garden the children are transformed from being sickly, friendless, and self-absorbed to physically and emotionally healthy children. Just as in the secret garden the children are transformed, so our souls are transformed by secret prayer. Secret prayer is merely the term used for time in prayer alone with God. There, as we learn to dwell and delight in God’s presence, the Holy Spirit draws us into deeper union with Christ and our lives are transformed.
What Does the Bible Teach about Our Need to Pray in Secret?
Secret prayer is referenced through the scriptures. Jesus gave us very specific instructions on how to practice secret prayer.
One day as Jesus was teaching his disciples about prayer, He told them not to be like the Pharisees. Jesus called them “hypocrites” who pray in front of synagogues and out on the street. (Matthew 6:5). The Pharisees loved to pray for show. They most likely used a lot of “thee” and “thou” phrases, and dramatic pauses so that others would admire their spirituality. Jesus then went on to teach, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Jesus wasn’t against public prayer. However, He was against praying to put on a good performance. In addition, Jesus was teaching us that the place of intimacy with God is on our knees, in secret prayer.
Jesus continually modeled secret prayer while on earth. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus would escape and go be alone with the Father for times of prayer (Mark 1:35). In the evening, He also often withdrew for times of secret prayer with the Father (Mark 6:47). If Jesus needed to withdraw from the crowds for extended times of secret prayer alone with the Father, how much more do we need to practice this as well? Jesus knew that as we spend time in secret prayer our lives would be transformed.
The Psalmist, Moses, also wrote about the secret place, when he penned these poetic words, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). The New King James translation reads, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High” (Psalm 91:1). The secret place is a picture of our time spent alone with God in prayer. The Psalmists had some of the most passionate walks with God in the Old Testament. In Psalm 91, Moses was instructing us that the depth of our spiritual walk and life transformation are both firmly rooted in our time spent in secret prayer.
You might be wondering why time spent in secret prayer is so imperative to our spiritual transformation? How might the time we pray in secret benefit our lives in practical ways and change us into the person God created us to be?
Here are 5 ways our lives benefit from us learning to pray in secret:
Increased Intimacy with God
God designed us for relationship with Him. We were created for heart connection with Him. He didn’t just intend for us to be casual acquaintances. He designed us for intimate union with Him. The prophet Hosea wrote that the Lord spoke, saying, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion…I will show my love” (Hosea 2:19, 23b). Just as a passionate husband pursues his wife and shows her his love, so the Lord as our bridegroom pursues us and demonstrates His love to us. He longs for an intimate relationship with his bride. Like the intimate physical union between husband and wife happens in privacy behind closed doors, Jesus, as our bridegroom, is inviting us to intimate union with Him. There alone in His presence, we block out other voices, we worship the majesty of who He is, and we are drawn deeper into knowing Him and feeling known ourselves.
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More Secure in God’s Love
Author and Theologian N.T. Wright wrote, “Love is not just tolerance. It's not just distant appreciation. It's a warm sense of, 'I am enjoying the fact that you are you.'”
God doesn’t just tolerate and appreciate you from a distance. He cherishes you and delights in being with you. He feels excited every time you come to spend time alone with Him. He aches to spend time with you and to have your undivided attention. When you are undistracted and present to His love it thrills His heart and transforms your soul. The more time you spend in secret prayer the more secure in God’s love you will be.
Our culture is filled with millions of distractions and diversions. Social media, Netflix, and work deadlines all scream for our attention. However, when we dare to withdraw for time in secret prayer, our souls are restored to God’s original intent; a person who enjoys being completely loved. The Holy Spirit delights in awakening our souls to feel God’s love.
Greater Joy in Daily Life
Life is filled with disappointments, trials, and sorrows. However, the place of greatest joy is found when we are communing with God in secret prayer. There, as we are focused completely on God and His goodness, the Holy Spirit unlocks our souls to experience the joy of His presence in remarkable ways. There is no greater joy this side of heaven! The Psalmist David knew and experienced this in his secret prayer life. He wrote passionately, “You will fill me with joy in your presence” (Psalm 16:11).
Larger Impact and Fruitfulness
We all want our lives to matter. God has given us a purpose. His purpose is that we might glorify Him and share His love with the world. Each of us do this in different ways. You might be an administrative assistant seeking to love the people in your office well. Or, perhaps you’re a stay-at-home mom, seeking to love and keep your sanity amidst diapers, pacifiers, and toddler toys. Maybe you’re a more seasoned saint and you are seeking to love your neighbors well. All of this matters to God. He wants you to grow in fruitfulness both internally and externally. He wants the ripe luscious fruit of the Spirit to grow in you. The fruit of the Spirit only develops as we abide with Christ in secret prayer. He wants the fruitfulness of loving others well to flourish in your life. The time you spend with Him nurtures the fruit-growing process in your life. The deeper your roots grow down into Him, the more luscious the fruit of your life will be. Time spent in secret prayer is where your roots grow deep into the LORD’s goodness and love. This is what the Psalmist meant when he wrote, “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither” (Psalm 1:3). The place of secret prayer is where we become rooted in Christ. As our roots sink down deeply into Him, our purpose becomes clearer and our fruitfulness grows.
Deeper Calm in the Face of Life’s Challenges
Research tells us that mental health issues are on the rise. Anxiety, fear, depression and a host of other illnesses plague our society. One of the best practices for releasing anxiety and embracing calm is secret prayer. As we learn to pour out our hearts authentically in prayer, the Holy Spirit takes that burden off our shoulders and we experience a release of anxiety. The Psalmist David wrote, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you” (Psalm 63:3). The Hebrew word for glorify that’s used there is the word shabach, and it carries a duel meaning. It means to praise and adore, but also to soothe and calm (Strong’s Concordance #7623). As we shift our focus to praise and glorify the LORD when we pray in secret, the Holy Spirit soothes and calms our anxiety. Our souls are transformed from anxious to peaceful.
Secret prayer is the place where we position ourselves to be transformed by God. As we learn to enter the secret place, shut the door, and commune with Him, our souls will be changed. We will grow deeper in our intimacy with God, experience greater joy, enjoy a larger impact and fruitfulness, and receive deeper calm.
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Authentic. Passionate. Funny and Biblical all describe Becky Harling. A best-selling author, Becky is a popular speaker at conferences, retreats, and other events. She is the author of 11 books including, How to Listen so Your Kids Will Talk, Psalms for the Anxious Heart, and The Extraordinary Power of Praise. Becky is a certified coach with the John Maxwell Team and a seasoned Bible teacher. You can connect with Becky at www.beckyharling.com, www.harlingleadership.com, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/beckyharlingministries, Twitter, @beckyharling, or on Instagram at Becky Harling