The Secret Prayer



Fourth in a five-part series

As a young boy I remember going to “Prayer Meeting” on Wednesday nights at the Baptist Church. We sat in the pews, we sang hymns, the pastor preached a sermon–it was just like Sunday morning, except that we took some prayer requests and the preacher offered a longer “pastoral prayer.” Even as a child I recognized that we had set aside an entire night to pray, but we did not know what to do with the time. Except to talk and talk some more.

In this the Baptists are no different than everyone else. Christian worship is a blizzard of words. Perhaps–unless we are Quakers, who worship in silence–it is inevitable. Often they are eloquent, biblical, imaginative, inspiring. Nevertheless I find myself echoing Hamlet: “Words, words, words.”

Jesus loved the words of Torah and worshiped faithfully in the synagogue, but he balanced that public prayer with a private oration he called “prayer in secret.” “But whenever 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” (Mathew 6:6).

For centuries Christians have heard in these words not only a literal call to solitary prayer, but a kind of inner knowing where words drop away. It assumes a level of deep trust—that God is safe to be alone with, that the emptiness and silence are actually substantive and alive (if you give it a while and lose your sense of awkwardness or anxiety), and that the journey into God is actually a journey into yourself. It assumes that God will speak if only we will be still. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46).

There was once an argument among the gods over where to hide the secret of life so men and women could not find it. One god said, ‘Bury it under a mountain; they will never look there.’ ‘No,’ the other gods said, ‘one day they will find ways to dig up the mountains and they will discover it.’ Another said, ‘Sink it in the depths of the ocean; it will be safe there.’ ‘No,’ the others objected, ‘humans will one day find ways to plumb the ocean’s depths and will find it easily.’ Finally another god said, ‘Put it inside them: men and women will never think of looking for it there.’ All the gods agreed, and so that is how the secret of life came to be hidden within us.

As the disciples sought the long-awaited kingdom of God in some future reality, Jesus pulled them up short with these arresting words: “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). Take Jesus at his word. Go into your room and shut the door. Don’t be alarmed if your mind starts churning out all the things you should be doing instead of “wasting your time like this.” Wave those thoughts on. Sit alone, and an amazing realization will begin to dawn: you are not alone.

Next Week: Solitude

Part 1 The Big Secret

Part 2 The Secret Reward

Part 3 Secret Saints



2 Responses to The Secret Prayer
  1. Michael
    March 8, 2018 | 12:09 pm

    “emptiness and silence are actually substantive”. That’s Lent, meditation, faith itself, in six words. Thx David. Makes me think also of the natural world, the cosmic, where it’s also true.

  2. Ginny Lovas
    March 10, 2018 | 5:36 pm

    Secret Prayer! I find I do that sometimes, and it is good. Other times I am in a small group on Friday’s during Lent when we walk around the Church saying together the words from the Way of The Cross. Those are very special times, when you start to think deeply about the last hours of our Lord’s life on Earth as told in the Bible.

    After many years doing this, I will suddenly be struck by words I have heard and said over and over. Those words come home with me, and I think about them during the week.

    I have found it amazing how one or two words is all that I need to spend some quiet Lenten time in my tiny corner where I go to think, pray, and meditate.


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