Pastoral Articles

Returning to those “First Loves” – The Prayer Closet

Returning to those “First Loves” – The Prayer Closet
Pastor Jeff VanGoethem

Dear Christian, let me ask you a question. Do you meet with God daily? I don’t mean merely uttering a prayer now and then during the day when you are in a traffic jam or when some problem develops.  Rather do you have a regular, sustained, daily experience of purposefully communing with God with a view toward coming under His will and burden?

If you have to honestly answer this question “No,” then I want to challenge you.  As your pastor I realize that it is going to be very difficult for me to help you along in the Christian life if this fundamental discipline is not in place in your life.  It would be like trying to help you become a better hitter in baseball, but you are not coming around for batting practice!  It is just something we have to do if we are going to grow in the grace of the Christian life.

The Lord Jesus taught us that only those abiding in Christ can grow spiritually fruitful. To gain wisdom and insight in life, according to the Proverbs, the sense of the fear and presence of God has to be present.  To have deep and abiding fellowship with others – that moves beyond mere superficial friendship, we must have God at the center of life. To get past our typical inertia in serving God, we must possess vision and passion.  All of this is tied into our experiencing of communion with God in the prayer closet.

So, brethren, we must meet with God.  It is critical in the Christian life. We need only look at our models in scripture. The Lord Jesus Himself met with God for sustained periods (Matthew 4:1,14:13,26:36, Mark 1:35,6:31, Luke 5:16,6:12).  Think about Moses.  There are over twenty-five recorded prayers of Moses in the early books of the Bible. Think about the Apostle Paul, the model Christian, who urged us to pray without ceasing and modeled it himself, telling the churches that he was “always” praying for them.

What does it mean to meet with God?  What are the steps of a good devotional session?  What should happen in the prayer closet?

  1. We have to set aside a regular time and place. There is no progress in the Christian life without discipline.  Pick a time and a place and be disciplined to go there daily.  Be devoted to it – the scripture speaks of being “devoted” to prayer (Acts 1:14,  Acts 6:4). Schedule it like you would any other important appointment.   And give yourself adequate time.
  2. Second, grow your devotional life around quality reading material.  I have read scores of books in my devotional time, a little at a time:  books on God, books on prayer, books on the spiritual life, books on the Holy Spirit, etc. Feed on this kind of material.  It draws us from the world we live in unto the world God lives in. It teaches us how to go deeper in our prayer lives.
  3. Third, read and meditate on God’s Word. What is it saying to you?  What sin does it expose?  What promise can be claimed?  What direction does it point you?  What should you do or not do in response to this text? Etc.
  4. Fourth, pray.  How should we pray?  Let me make a couple of suggestions.

I like to include first of all a spontaneous period of prayer.  I begin with adoration, exalting God.  I move to confession, what are my sins?  I include thanksgiving and praise and finally supplication and intercession, what is God laying on my heart to pray for?  This kind of spontaneous process is how we find our way to God’s burdens and learn how to submit ourselves to Him.  Vision and passion for the Lord and His work flow from this kind of praying.

One can also follow the outline of the Lord’s prayer in doing this (Luke 11:1-4) or the outline of the 23rd Psalm or some other text of scripture.

Some people find it helpful (in order to concentrate better and to maintain a record of their prayers) to record their main prayer thought of the day in a journal of some kind.

But we should also, secondly, practice “routine praying” which is simply bringing before God normal, daily concerns and needs.  I keep some lists for doing this. I have one long page just for Scofield Church!   We can develop prayer lists  for family, missionaries, our church, lost souls, ministries, and so forth.   It is good to keep a little notebook where you can also record the answers to your prayers. I have such a record that goes back twenty years.

5. Finally with regard to our devotional time, we must learn to practice the presence of God throughout the day and maintain our communion with Him.  We may not pray for hours but we should seldom go through an hour without praying.  It all starts with a quality time with God each day.

Let me add one more idea. Within this kind of structure we also want to take care to maintain some freshness.  There are many different ways to keep our devotional lives fresh.  We can try different postures of prayer.  We can experiment with long periods of silence or meditation on scripture or praying without words, with just an attitude of worship.  We can sing or play, offering praise to God. We can listen to Christian music and allow the teaching of the songs to flow into a season of prayer. Some look to the book of Psalms or Proverbs every single day for a thought or a prayer. We can read some of the great devotional literature to gain to insights on the practice of prayer. We can walk and pray, we can drive to a scenic spot, or to a crowded area and seek the Lord and His burdens in that place.  We can develop a prayer partnership with someone else and use it to exhort and stir up one another.

Returning to the prayer closet (if we have left it) is one of those vital, life giving steps of restoring our first love; it involves repenting of spiritual negligence and returning to the deeds we did at the first. It shows love for the Lord Jesus and reverence for God.  Let us all be found in the prayer closet daily.  The Puritans called this “private” or “secret” worship in contrast to public worship on Sundays. Both are needed.

Yes, you’ll have to change the way you live to accomplish this. You’ll have to become disciplined.  You’ll have to say “no” to the cares of the world when they are calling you away from prayer.  You’ll have to subdue and put down the flesh, which never wants to go to the place of prayer. You’ll have to learn to fight. You’ll have to develop strength. You’ll have to become a warrior.  What will it cost us to do this?  It will cost us everything. I don’t want to minimize what it takes to live a life of prayer. But it opens the treasure house of heaven.

To be a man or woman of prayer, you have to give your life away to God and His burdens.  This is what God is after that He might draw us into the orbit of His concerns and make us a soldier in His mighty army, willing to do His will in this world.

 

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