April/May 2013 - Vol. 67

“Entering In” to Prayer 
by Joanie Nath

The subject of prayer can be an endless topic for Christians desiring to grow in their relationship with the Lord. Many people look for resources to help guide them through the sometimes mysterious pathways of prayer. From the wisdom of the early church fathers to more contemporary spiritual writers, many holy men and women throughout the ages have taught us much about prayer. Whatever form of prayer we choose to engage in – such as rote or vocal prayer, spending some quiet moments in meditation, or crossing over the threshold into more contemplative prayer, everyone must first “enter in” if they wish to pray well. 

Entering in to prayer is not just a matter of disciplining ourselves to pray on a regular basis. The Lord wants us to grow in our understanding of what it means to take time with him in prayer and what we are “entering in” to as we engage the Lord, seeking to understand what God wants of us, and how he wants us to respond to him. 

The teaching of Jesus 
In the Gospel of Matthew we find the disciples asking Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Jesus responds by saying, “When you pray go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you”  (Matthew 6:6 RSV).

The Living Bible translation says, “…go away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you…” 
The Amplified version reads, “…go into your most private room, and closing the door, pray to your Father…”
And finally, the King James Version says, “…enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door…”

 Here we have four different ways of expressing the idea that when we pray we should enter into a secluded place where we can give our full attention to our Father who sees us and who will reward us.  Three of these versions suggest entering into a private place; a room that is removed from the routine and busyness of our daily life activities. The Living Bible version suggests that this place we enter into may not be a “room” at all, but rather an interior place of solitude where we “shut the door” on everything outside so that we can be alone with our Father. 

What is the “closet”?
In considering this verse, the use of the word “closet” from the King James Version particularly grabbed my attention. To my way of thinking it seems an odd way to describe a room you might enter for prayer. But there are several meanings for the word “closet” that shed much light on Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. 

The Greek translation of the New Testament defines the closet as a place for storage. It is not the type of storage we typically think of when we use the word in connection with the word closet as in “storage closet”. We store our clothes, the broom, the mop, maybe the vacuum or some other household items in the closet. It’s not a very welcoming or desirable place to go for prayer. Most of us would probably not choose to go into one of our closets to have a prayer time! 

The meaning of this word in the Greek more closely relates to that of a storehouse in which you would keep provisions.  This type of storage room would be situated in the interior of an individual’s house and would most likely be located on the ground floor making it easily accessible.  It has some parallels to our understanding of the storehouses or storage rooms that were located in the biblical temple in terms of what they might contain, such as grain or flour, olive oil and water or wine.  These items would be the “daily bread” sorts of food items that would sustain life on a regular basis. In biblical days people might have used this “closet” to keep these types of food items on hand in much the same way we store food in our kitchen cabinets or pantry. They would have used this storehouse not only for the purpose of meeting their own need, but for gathering surplus or extra so that others’ needs could also be met. They might also have some of these same items stored in anticipation of and preparation for a time of famine. 

In today’s culture many people typically have stored away some emergency supplies in the event of a sudden power outage, a hurricane or a heavy snowstorm. Your storeroom might contain some non-perishable food items, bottled water, a flash light or battery-powered lantern; all the things you might need to sustain life for a short period of time. 

The word “closet” also means “a defense” or a private place of escape. It would be a place where you could find refuge from the threat of intruders or enemies; people wanting to cause you harm, or a place where you would be protected from terrible storms or other disasters. If you combine the idea of a storage closet or storehouse and the idea of a defensive, protected place it begins to look more like you might imagine a “panic room”, more commonly called a “safe room” in a house today. The website of a modern safe room builder describes the most popular, contemporary style of safe room as a “ground floor closet whose foundations have been reinforced with steel and concrete.” 

A safe room is easy to get to yet it’s closed off from the rest of the house. It is impenetrable by enemies, and it provides shelter and protection. It contains provisions so that you can stay there for a while and not worry about going hungry or dying from thirst. It is a place that allows a person to contact outside help and to be at peace while waiting for them to arrive; to be kept safe, regardless of what is happening around them. This defensive kind of storehouse would be a place of sanctuary, a place where you would feel secure and where your needs would be met. You would go into the storehouse, into this defensive shelter, to access what is already there. If the provisions were not there, it would not be a storehouse. Neither would it provide a defense for you but rather it would be just another room in the house.

A parallel to this type of defensive place is a third meaning for the word “closet,” namely “a magazine”, a place where goods are stored, especially ammunition. You are likely to find this type of storeroom in a fortress. Here we have a place where weapons of war or munitions capable of destroying an enemy are readily available. These weapons are intended to completely avert, and if necessary, demolish whatever threatens the life and security of those who have taken refuge in the fortress.

Another definition of “closet” is “dispensary”, a room or a place where medicines and treatments are prepared and given out to those who are sick or injured.  A well stocked  dispensary will have on hand whatever might be needed for treating injuries, healing wounds, and remedies for various types of sicknesses. 

In the King James version of the Bible, the word for “closet” is used once in the Old Testament passage from Joel 2:16c,  “Let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber and the bride out of her closet.” The Hebrew word for “closet” here refers to a place of privacy, especially a person’s most private room. Other translations of the Bible use the term “secret chamber” or simply “chamber”. The King James’ use of the word “closet” has elements of the protective, defensive definition which we find in the Greek usage of the term. So, here we can see a distinction between the bridegroom’s chamber and the bride’s closet. The bride is afforded a special place of protection – a defensive shelter which the bridegroom does not necessarily require.  When referred to in context of the bride and groom together we can understand that this “closet” or “secret chamber” is the bridal chamber, that place where no one else but the bride and bridegroom are allowed to enter. It is exclusive to them. It is a place where there is no disturbance; a guarded place that is closed to the outside world. It is a place of uninterrupted communion. 

And finally, the term “secret chamber” is frequently used interchangeably with the terms “inner chamber”, “inner room” or “inner sanctuary.” These terms are used in the Old Testament to describe the Most Holy Place in the temple, the place where the presence of the Almighty God dwells in all his glory. The Most Holy Place was inaccessible to the average Jew of his day. As Christians we know that it is only through the death of Jesus Christ that this inner chamber was opened to ordinary human beings.  Only through Jesus can we enter into that Most Holy Place where God dwells in splendor and majesty. This is the inner chamber, the throneroom of God where we are invited to enjoy intimate fellowship with him, to gain an audience with the King of Kings and Lord of all Lords. There is no higher place than this inner chamber! 

What is God calling us to?
The term “prayer closet”, and it’s many nuances, shed much valuable light on what God is calling us to as we enter into prayer with him. If we understand this verse from Matthew and the word “closet” as it is defined here, then what God calls us to in this place is almost beyond our ability to describe; it is much more wonderful than our words can say. It is most certainly far beyond what we deserve. If we begin to think of our place of prayer as this type of room, then it takes on a whole measure of rich meaning for us. 

C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s tale, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, describes the adventures of four siblings who, while playing hide-and-seek, unwittingly discover a whole new world as they step out the back of an old, musty wardrobe. God is calling us to approach our time with him by stepping over the threshold that allows us to enter into a vastly different environment from the one in which we live. He wants us to see this place of prayer as an easily accessible, protected, private place; a place that is already filled with his provision for us; gifts and graces that he is ready to pour into us; a place of quiet refuge, built on a strong foundation, where we are kept safe from the storms that often rage outside. In this storehouse, this safe room, he is our daily bread and the living water. He is also our source of light, providing wisdom and spiritual sight, inspiration and revelation. He wants to care for us as a father cares for his children by providing everything we need for life, but also that we might have a surplus to give to others. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). He wants to be our refuge from trouble. He is our defense and with his word as our weapon of war we are equipped, ready to fight against any enemies. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).  He is waiting to dispense his healing balm so that we might be restored to wholeness. We enter into prayer and we are in a safe, restful, warm and secure place (Psalm 23: 1-6). 

In addition, he wants us to come to him in this secret chamber to gain intimate knowledge of him; he wants to reveal himself to us; to be close to us. He ultimately wants union with our souls, something we find unimaginable and hard to fathom. What he desires is to give himself totally to us. And when we consider our unworthiness and fallen state it becomes a thought so big, so grand, and so unreasonable that we cannot wrap our brains around it! 

Finally, we are given the astonishing privilege of entering into the very throne room of God, to have an audience with the Great King; to enter free of fear into the inner sanctuary.  In this room, “…we are raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms…” (Ephesians 2: 6), and called to enter into the very presence of the Almighty God, the Creator of all that is, whose greatest and all-consuming desire is to love us without limits! 

Our Lord Jesus is saying to us, “When you pray, enter all alone into your room, your closet, your storeroom, your safe room, your secret chamber, the inner chamber that is the throne room of your King, and closing the door behind you, shut out the rest of the world and pray to your Father who is unseen. And your Father who has provided everything you could ever need, the One who heals you, who is your defense and protector, the One who sees to the very center of your soul, who alone knows your heart and who sees all that is done in this secret place, will reward you.” 

What is the “reward”?
The writer of Hebrews tells us that “…anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6c). If the reward is for those who seek him earnestly, then we should ask ourselves, “What does it mean to seek the Lord “earnestly”? It is to seek him with a zealous determination to know him; to approach the Lord in all seriousness, with a thoughtful and sober recognition of who he is, who you are, and a heart full of gratitude for the great privilege we’ve been given that allows us to enter into his presence.

The writer of Psalm 63 understood what it meant to seek the Lord “earnestly”. 

“God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, 
my body longs for you,
like a land that is parched,
              weary and without water.
I long to gaze on you in the sanctuary
and to see your power and your glory.
Your love is better than life itself!
My lips will recite your praise.
All my life I will bless you
and in your name I will
     lift up my hands.
On my lips there is a song of joy
and in my mouth, praise.
My soul feasts most richly.
On my bed I think of you;
I meditate on you all night long
for you have always helped me.
I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings close to you;
your right hand upholds me.”

The writer of this psalm is consumed with desire for God.  He is suffering from a spiritual longing that can only be compared to the pain of dying from thirst. He wants to be lifted up into the higher place where he can “see” the glory of the Lord.  He has known the love of God and is desirous of more of him, even to the point of preferring God to life itself. There is a profound ache within him to be in the Lord’s presence, to worship him, to keep him in the forefront of his mind at all times. He finds the same satisfaction in the presence of the Lord as feasting at a great banquet table. Even as he prepares for sleep his thoughts turn to the Lord, and throughout the night he is moved to give thanks for the help God has continually granted to him. He is determined to remain in the Lord’s providential care, trusting that God will take care of him. There is nothing casual about his relationship with God; he does not take it lightly. When he speaks with God it is with the utmost respect, honor, sincerity and solemnity. He is seeking the Lord “earnestly”. 

In all earnestness we enter into our prayer “closet” believing the words of Jesus that “your father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

So what is the “reward”? As it is used here, “reward” is a term that means to deliver, to give, to restore and to pay. But in this sense it is not a “one time” deal. It connotes a broader, ongoing intent to deliver again, to give again, to restore again and to pay again. Every time we enter into prayer, our Father is there waiting to give us again what we need, to deliver us from our sin and our enemies, and to restore us again to right relationship with him! And as we seek him in earnest our “payment” is the possession of God himself. He rewards us by allowing us to come into his presence – into the secret, exclusive, and private chamber where we can have the full attention of our King!

It would seem appropriate and reasonable for us to spend as much of our time as we can in this place with awe and wonder at our God and  Father who has provided so abundantly for our needs. Here in this room he seems to be disinterested in our whimperings of unworthiness, but rather, he waits eagerly for us to come with an excited anticipation to receive his extravagant grace, mercy and love.  Praise, worship and thanksgiving should be our primary occupation in this place.  

Our Father certainly wants us to ask him for the things we need and to intercede for the needs of others. His storehouse has been opened to us and “he gives generously to all without showing favoritism.”  Everything he has is ours for the asking. But in Matthew we see Jesus admonishing his hearers to, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added to you” (Matthew 7:6). Seek the higher things and the lesser things will be given as well. Seek the eternal and trust him for the temporal. Seeking God, wanting God, loving God for his own sake, in all earnestness, without any other agenda, is what he calls us to strive for with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 22:37). Giving glory and honor to the One who has so generously provided for our needs from his abundance is what is most fitting in this room set apart for our exclusive time of prayer with God. 

Let us open the door!
If we would enter into prayer with our heavenly Father we need to be the ones who open the door. The Lord has issued the invitation, “behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, and I will come…” (Revelation 3:21). Our Father has made provision for us; he has provided for all of our needs. We can come into the storehouse which he has provided or remain outside, defenseless and needy. It is our choice to either access and receive his gifts or refuse his provision. He awaits his beloved in the secret chamber, in the exclusive closet. We make the decision whether to embrace him or to remain at a distance; to engage our King or to settle for less than he offers. Jesus makes a promise to those who open the door, “And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). God himself is our great reward – our  greatest treasure and possession. What could possibly be more important and worth the investment of our time? 
Joanie Nath has been married for 36 years and is the mother of three grown children. She has been a member of the People of God Community in Pittsburgh for 30 years where she serves as a Senior Woman Leader and retreat speaker. She also serves in the Sword of the Spirit North American Region as a Regional Senior Woman Leader. She resides in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, USA.

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