By Reverend Dr. Charles R. Watkins, Jr., Senior Columnist
“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” (Matthew 6:6).
Prayer is a time to enter into private communication with the One we know is faithful to hear and answer our petition. Our time alone with God is the most intensely personal act we can do. Our prayer flows from our heart as we clear our thoughts and cast off the weights that “so easily beset us.”
Just as private prayer is intensely personal, prayer is also the highest social act in which we can engage. It is through our corporate or shared prayer that we invite the Savior into the lives of our families and the church.
Though our text mentions secrecy in prayer, we should not misinterpret it to mean that praying in churches, homes, or even on street corners is discouraged or condemned. We are not to read into this scripture a prohibition of public prayer; but rather, it does command the secret or solitary communion of every believer with God.
Jesus had a problem with the Pharisaic prayers offered in the marketplace. He concluded that they were offered so that “they may be seen of men.” Jesus is not at all dictating where we pray but rather the spirit in which we ought to pray. In other words, Jesus does not have a concern with praying where we can be seen. His concern is with our selecting a place in order that we may be seen.
There is a distinct contrast between the vain marketplace prayer and the secret prayer. There is an unhealthy contrast between a display of “showiness” and sincerity. One who is more concerned with those listening to their prayer than to whom the prayer is directed has no sincere devotion.
When we pray there is but one purpose and that is communion with God. We want to be alone so we can more fully and completely feel that we are with God. Our communion could be to petition God’s grace for our needs or to meditate on Him. As we approach God in trying to rise to the highest intellectual truths of His Word and His way, it is a personal and private matter. It is a matter of intense isolation and confidentiality.
The very thought of being alone with God can bring either joy or terror to our heart. We may experience joy if we are walking a path that leads to eternal life. There may be a degree of dread and terror if we are rebelling against God. Nevertheless, whether it is joy or terror that we feel, there is a consolation. There is an overwhelming feeling like the soothing and encouraging touch of the Savior as we approach the throne of God.
The Rev. Dr. Charles R. Watkins, Jr., is the pastor of Pine Grove AME Church, Columbia, South Carolina.