Cultivating the habit of secret prayer
Our prayer life cannot be healthy if it is not regular. I don’t know about you, but I think that those simple words hit hard. What? Surely not! Only super-Christians are regularly consistent!! After all, we’re all sinners, and we all often fail. And anyway, are there even any actual Christians who are fully regular in their prayer lives?? It’s easy for us to excuse our failure to be regular in prayer, but the fact is that this failure causes us to languish spiritually. To be healthy believers, regular private prayer simply must be a consistent habit.
In Luke 18:1 Jesus made the specific point that our prayers must be continuous. We must be regular in prayer. “They ought always to pray and not lose heart” Jesus says. In Psalm 5:4 David calls upon the Lord to listen to his morning prayers. That means that he took time to do pray each morning, he was regular. In Psalm 55 again we read that David prayed each day at morning, noon, and evening. In the prophet Daniel we find the same example, as “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Dan 6:10). There is consistency and regularity in these examples. The Lord Jesus likewise rose early to pray while it was still dark (Mark 1:35). Prayer is not a super-spiritual mystical thing that transcends comprehension. It’s real and, like brushing your teeth, requires consistency. Again, the Lord Jesus assumed and instructed us to be regular in private prayer, as we ask for our “daily” bread. So too we are instructed in Matthew 6:6 to pray in secret to our Heavenly Father.
I’m not going to focus on how to pray in this article. We have already been addressing that in previous meditations (all of which you can read on our website as a refresher), and we will continue to explore how to pray in future meditations. Today, my point is simple: Make. Time. To. Pray. Deliberately build it into your schedule so that it is regular, consistent, and habitual. Mark out specific times each day for prayer. Again, it must be at least daily, for we are instructed to request our “daily bread” from God (Mt 6:11). But once a day is a minimum. Following Daniel’s three times a day routine, for example, will definitely be beneficial. Now maybe your immediate response to that comment is: “Three times a day? That’s pretty extreme!!”
Well, you tell me, is it? Is it extreme to regularly set aside deliberate time to be with God three times a day? If the standard is our surrounding culture, then extreme it is. Extremely unusual perhaps. If the standard is each other… well, perhaps it is still unusual. I don’t know, but I suspect that it may well be. If the standard is the Word of God, then it is neither extreme nor unusual. It is rather beneficial, an immense privilege, and quite normative. Before you write off the idea, why not ask yourself this question: what on earth do we have to lose? Is there any good reason at all not to set aside time three times a day for prayer? I can’t think of one. On the contrary, having time with God, refreshment for our souls, and seeking God’s help for the seasons of each day, three times seems to be barely enough. Certainly we should also pray spontaneously outside of those deliberate times (e.g. Neh 2:4).
In the Reformed Faith, we believe in a concept called “the Means of Grace” (see the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 154). The idea here is that God has appointed certain things to enable us to grow spiritually. For the artist, learning and practice are the means by which they will grow in skill and ability. So too, God has appointed ordinary means for our growth in faith. The preaching of the word, sacraments, worship, and… prayer. Let me put it this way: if you are neglecting regular, consistent, private prayer, then your spiritual life will languish. We should not be surprised to find ourselves weak Christians, when we neglect God’s divinely appointed means of growth – and prayer is an essential means.
Where does this all leave us? A simple application today. Forget how well you pray for a moment – that’s a discussion for another day. There is one thing to do for now: find slots in your calendar, start with three five to ten minute slots, and commit, by God’s grace, to unwaveringly pray in those times. Do not let that commitment be broken, your soul may depend on it. Set alarms in your phone if you have to – to help keep you disciplined. Maybe we wince at this application, maybe it seems hard. Well, if we can spend more than an hour a day looking at a screen, we can find 10 minutes to pray! Brothers and sisters, if we would take strides forward in our faith, then we must look to God regularly each day in prayer. We believe that we are sinners in need of God’s grace, prayer in Christ is one of the appointed funnels for receiving that grace. May the God of heaven help us in this, giving us a delight and growth in prayer as a church.
Soli Deo Gloria!