Sunday Sermon: ‘Being Alone With God’

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We read from gospel of Mark – “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” (Mark 1:35 NASB) Scripture teaches us that Jesus pray often. Prayer was a very important part of His ministry. Sometimes Jesus prayed publicly, but often He prayed in quiet, solitary places. The passage we just read says that He got up long before daylight and went out to a secluded place to pray. Why did Jesus get up so early? Probably He did so because that was the only time He could have alone during the day. There was such a demand on His time that Jesus had a hard time being alone. Therefore, He arose very early morning and went out somewhere private to pray. Sometimes Jesus prayed on a mountain top. We saw that in our last study from the story of the disciples and the storm. At other times Jesus retreated to olive groves in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke’s gospel says that He went there often and no doubt that’s why Judas knew exactly where he could find Jesus.Whenever and wherever Jesus could find some quiet time to be alone with God, He pulled apart from the crowd and entered into what we often call a ‘prayer closet.’ What is a prayer closet and why is it important?

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.

Today I would like to share with you three important truths Jesus is teaching us about our prayer life.

I. The Need For Us to Get Alone With God

To fully understand the need for a prayer closet, we first have to consider the prayers of the Pharisees.

A. The Prideful Prayers of the Hypocrites

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.

1. Who Were the Hypocrites?

Who were the hypocrites?  They were the Pharisees. They were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were the people who acted religious, but for the most part their spirituality was only a show. The word ‘hypocrite’ refers to someone who is an actor, or a pretender. As I read Jesus’ words I thought, “I wonder if the Lord would ever consider me to be a hypocrite.”

2. Why Were Their Prayers Hypocritical?

a. Their Method of Praying

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.

Apparently the Pharisees were very prideful and loved to draw attention to themselves. On one occasion Jesus said –

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces…they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” (see Mark 12:38-39 NLT)

When it came to their praying Jesus said –

“…for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.”

Luke’s gospel records one of their self-righteous prayers –

“I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. And I’m certainly not like that tax collector!” (see Luke 18:11 NLT)

Scripture also teaches us that they also loved to draw attention to their giving and fasting.

Matthew 6:1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.

Matthew 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

b. Their Motive for Praying

What was their motive? Was it to please God? Apparently they did what they did so that everyone else would think, “My, what a righteous man that is!” Jesus said that they did what they did for ‘the glory of men.’ They wanted men to applaud them for their spirituality. Yet Jesus said that the only praise they would ever receive would be the praise of men. (see Matt 6:2, 5, 16) God would never praise them for their hypocritical actions. Perhaps the Apostle Paul, who himself was once a Pharisee, had this in mind when he referred to religious actions that were ‘wood, hay, and stubble.’ (see 1 Cor 3:12)

3. Is it Sinful to Pray in Public?

Was Jesus condemning all public prayers? I don’t think so. Scripture records some of the public prayers of Jesus. Jesus always prayed publicly before He ate a meal. In addition, the book of Acts teaches us that corporate prayer in church was one of their great strengths. (see Acts 1:14; 4:23-31) The early chapters of the book of Acts seem to indicate that the church was gathering often to pray together. Acts 4 tells us about the effect of one of their public prayer meetings.

Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

I would have to say that I have often been encouraged and blessed by listening in to the sincere prayer of a fellow believer. But we should note, even in our public prayers we are praying to God and not to men.

We should also note that God said – “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7) Whenever we come together in the name of Christ, we should give a portion of our time to prayer.

B. The Private Prayers of God’s People

The Bible does not say that there should never be a public prayer, but it does say that a major part of our prayer life needs to happen in what Jesus called the closet.

Matthew 6:6 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.

1. What is the Prayer Closet?

a. Definition

Literally the word used here refers to an inner room of a house often used for storage and sometimes treasures. One resource says that it was a room with only a door and no windows. It was a secure room and a secret room.

I find it interesting that Jesus referred to the room where men normally kept earthly treasures as the room where men could found heavenly treasures.

“…and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Here’s an important principle for getting our prayers answered. Pray secretly to your heavenly Father. Jesus said that sincere prayers prayed in secret will receive a public reward. Let me also say that I believe that some of the most effective and powerful public prayers often come from the lips of those whom we can tell have spent a lot of time praying secretly. It’s in the secret place where we learn not only the practice of prayer, but its power as well.

b. The Prayer Closet is a Private Place Where We Can Be Alone with God

i. May or May Not Be a Literal Room in Our House

The prayer closet may or may not be a literal room in our house. For those of you who saw the movie ‘War Room’, you know that the woman in that movie had a literal room where she went to pray.

Years ago I heard Charles Stanley say that he had a small room built adjacent to his office. In this room there was only one thing – a Bible. No chairs, no tables, and no internet. Just a Bible. I remember him saying that it was here that he always went in order to receive God’s guidance for his sermons, as well as the rest of his ministry.

Probably most of us do not have a closet big enough to get into, and if we do, there’s probably so much stuff in it that we could never crowd in. But our prayer closet doesn’t have to be a literal room. I love the story about Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley. It appears that Mrs. Wesley had ten children who were always crying for her attention. Yet she still established a prayer closet. She taught her children that when they saw her sitting with her apron over her head, they were to back off and leave her alone. Her prayer closet was under her apron.

ii. A Secret Place in the Soul

Actually I believe that the prayer closet has more to do with a spiritual condition than a physical location. The prayer closet is what I call the closet of the soul.  It’s a place where we can go and be completely alone with God. Why is it important that you and I have a secret place?

Matthew 6:6 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.

1) God Sees in the Secret Place

First I want you to note that Jesus said that our heavenly Father –‘sees in secret.’ The Bible says that while men may evaluate us based upon what they see and hear outwardly, God evaluates us based upon what He sees and hears in our heart.

Christ’s words seem to indicate that God watches what we do in secret. What’s the big deal about doing things in secret? If I do something in secret, there’s a good chance that what I am doing. I am doing only for God. I have no other motive than to please Him and to do His will. Personally I believe that if I get any rewards in heaven, it will not be for what I preached from the pulpit, but for what I did when no one else was looking.

But there’s something even more important contained with these verses.

2) God Dwells in the Secret Place

Matthew 6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret

Do you see what Jesus is saying? Where is the Father? He is in the secret place. A little earlier we read together Psalm 91:1 “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”  Notice, the psalmist tells us that there is the secret place of the most High. Where is this secret place of God? I believe that it is the Holy of Holies in heaven. We read from the book of Hebrews that because of Jesus and His death on the cross, we can now enter boldly into the presence of God. The veil has been torn and the way is now open for us to enter directly into God’s secret place.

II. The Need For Us to Get Quiet Before God

Not only do we need to get alone with God, we need to get quiet before God. Notice what Jesus said –

Matthew 6:6 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.

No doubt the reason many of us think that God isn’t real or that prayer doesn’t help is because we do not spend time alone with God in a secret place.

Notice that Jesus said that when we enter into our closet, we are to shut the door behind us. In other words, enter in and shut out the world. Why is that important?

A. We Live in a World Filled With Distractions

We live in a world filled with noise and distraction. In many of our homes, if the TV is not blasting, we’re on the internet – or perhaps if you’re like us, you’re doing both at the same time. And within arm’s reach is our cell-phone. Some of us can’t imagine living for a single moment without being connected to our various sources of social media. Many people can’t even sit through a church service without checking their phone for a tweet or a text. Recently I was visiting in a home and one of the family members said that they could remember when the news was only 30 minutes or at most an hour. Now it’s on 24/7.

Although these aren’t necessarily wrong in and of themselves, they can become a great distraction that will keep us from spending quiet time alone with God. Dwight L. Moody once said that Satan will do everything he can to keep us from praying, even if it’s nothing more than adjusting the window shade. Many of us are going to pray – in a minute, tomorrow, or someday.

B. We Need to Get Quiet Before God

We live in a world filled with distractions, yet Jesus said that a healthy spiritual walk comes from us spending time in our closet.

Matthew 6:6 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.

Let me give you a couple of reasons why I think that we need to get alone and quiet before God.  Perhaps you can think of others.

1. To Hear What’s In Our Heart

I believe that one of the reasons many Christians’ spiritual walk is weak and anemic is because their prayer life is very shallow. We throw out one-liners in the midst of all of our busyness. Yet we need regular times when we can get alone with God and share with Him what is in our heart.

The Bible says – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NASB) Paul used two different words here for prayer. The first word has to do with prayer in general; but the second word, the word ‘supplication’, refers to a much deeper prayer where we come before God and plead for His help. The reason a lot of Christians live a life full of anxiety is because they never unload their anxiety before God. They just keep carrying it around.

2. To Hear What’s in God’s Heart

Although God is able to speak and it sound like a clap of thunder, the Bible teaches us that He sometimes speaks to His children in a ‘still small voice.’ Literally the Bible says that God spoke to Elijah in a ‘small whisper.’ It wasn’t just a whisper; it was a small whisper. It’s a voice so small that we can hear it only in the secret place of our soul.

Prayer is not just us spitting out a list of requests to God. Prayer is also God speaking to us and revealing His will. For me personally, it is during my private prayer times that God helps me get my head straight and my heart right.

III. The Need For Us to Get Real With God

A. Jesus Condemned the False Spirituality of the Pharisees

Jesus called the Pharisees ‘hypocrites.’ As I have already said, a hypocrite is someone who is only pretending to be religious. It’s superficial spirituality. It’s pretending to be spiritual when being spiritual is convenient or to our advantage; but then, when the church service is over, we take off our spiritual mask and turn back into the person who we really are.

Jesus said that superficial spirituality is useless. Though it may gain the praise of men, it does nothing with God. God does not get into superficial spirituality. The Bible says in order to worship God, we must worship Him in spirit and in truth. (see John 4:24) What does that mean? It means that our worship must go beyond what we do outwardly and into who we are inwardly. It’s something spiritual that takes place in the heart. Jesus also said that it must be in truth. In other words, it must be real. Years ago I read something in the book of Ephesians that stuck with me. Paul closes that great epistle with these simple words –

“Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” Ephesians 6:24 KJV 

The Bible says that God gives grace upon grace to those who sincerely love Him.

B. Jesus Encouraged Genuine Spirituality From His Followers

Matthew 6:6 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.

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

In other words, don’t try to impress God by trying to be something you’re not. Big spiritual words do not make an effective prayer. Sincerity and genuineness does.

CONCLUSION

How do we develop a prayer closet? Let me make a few suggestions:

1) We Need a Quiet Place Where We Can Be Alone With God

Jesus is not saying that you need to go home and empty out your closet in order to pray. What He is saying is that we need a time and a place where we can get alone and quiet before God. We need a place where we can shut out the world for a while and talk with our heavenly Father.

2) We Need a Quiet Time When We Can Think Through the Concerns of Our Lives

Peter tells us to cast all of our care upon God. (see 1 Peter 5:7) Literally his words mean for us to place upon God’s shoulders the worries of our lives. I believe that one of the greatest hindrances to our prayer life is busyness. We constantly busy and on the go. We’re never quiet. We don’t have time to be quiet. Yet I remind us of a quote I used a few weeks ago by A.J. Gordan –

“You can do more than pray after you have prayed; but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed.”

The great theologian Martin Luther once said –

“If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.”

Now I doubt that most of us are going to spend two or three hours each morning in prayer. Our feet hit the floor running. Yet think how much different our life and even our world might be if we took the time teach day to enter into our prayer closet,shutting the door behind us, and spending some quality time with God in prayer.

3) We Need the Discipline of Consistently Bringing Our Cares Before God

I don’t want to judge anyone in their prayer life. I don’t know how you pray or even if you do pray. I can only speak from personal experience. I am sometimes guilty of maybe praying about a matter once or twice and then stopping. If it’s a concern, I might ask God a few times to help me, however, if I do not see God responding immediately, I have the tendency to stop praying about it. I conclude that maybe it’s not His will to help me. However, guess what – the problem is still there. And guess who now gets the glorious duty of shouldering it. That’s right – I do! Yet there are a lot of things in life that I can’t shoulder. There are things that I can’t fix. I need God to help me and Jesus told us to pray and keep praying until we get an answer. But that’s another sermon for another Sunday.

So, beginning tomorrow morning, set aside some time and determine a place where you can take your prayer list and go before God. I would suggest that you give yourself about thirty minutes. But let me give you a warning, if you start spending some quality time with God each morning in sincere Bible study and prayer, your thirty minutes is going to grow. No doubt there was a reason why the great theologian Martin Luther said that he often spent two to three hours with God in prayer.

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