Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Do Not Forsake Your Prayer Closet

Today I'm writing a sober blog to address an issue that seems to be running rampant in today's church: neglect of the prayer closet. For those who may not know or have never heard the term, a "prayer closet" is slang Christians use which refers to our private prayer time with the Lord Jesus Christ. In days of old, people used to have a specific room (or closet) to cloister themselves into so as not to be disturbed when they pray. Most people no longer have an actual "closet" to go into and pray, but the term has stuck to refer to any time you're with the Lord in private prayer.

I have blogged about prayer before and I have even written a book on how to pray. Not that I'm an expert on the subject, but I know from experience the warning signs of a vapid prayer life. Considering the recent breach of a certain website which promoted adultery to unhappily married folk, many pastors and public figures were revealed in the scandal. Not only that, but in a different scandal, a well-known pastor had to step down from his pastorate and disband a flourishing ministry due to an affair he had in retaliation for his wife's own affair.

Brethren, what are we doing?

What are we doing?!

The only excuse I can find is that these men and others like them are neglecting their personal prayer time with God. A person with a solid prayer life is equipped to avoid sin and flee temptation. It is not always easy, and we do sometimes stumble. But cheating on your wife isn't a "stumble". Cussing after stubbing your toe is a stumble into sin. Lying about stealing office supplies is a stumble into sin. But signing up on an affair website isn't a "stumble". It's the long drop into the darkened pit after tripping over every rock on the way there. It's not a momentary lapse, rather it's the end of a very sinister secret, the one you've been hiding from your kids, your wife, and all your brethren.

We cannot blame it on lack of godly knowledge, as those caught red-handed are very well-read and theologically sound men. Two of them come from very influential Christian families. We cannot blame it on no one to talk to and be accountable toward, as some of these men were leaders and chairs of very prolific ministries. At the end of the day, we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God. Without Christ, none of us have any hope of which to speak.

And that's my point.

When left on its own, the sin nature overtakes one's heart like a fast-growing weed. Its thorns choke out the good fruit until only rotten fruit remains. The only defense we have, Church, is THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER. These are the only things that keep the sin nature at bay. Through the Word of God, we obtain counsel from the Lord Himself, and by prayer, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to resist evil so the enemy will flee from us.

Let me share with you an excerpt from my book The Prayer Project:

Coming into God’s presence, for me, is like a balm from this crazy life. The gouges the world carves from my heart are smoothed over by the Potter’s hand. The peace that passes understanding washes over me, and the Living Water of Christ sustains me. When I’m in the presence of God, there’s nothing I want more than to stay right where I am. I want to know more of Him, seek more knowledge, gain more wisdom, glean new insights. I want the Lord to teach me His ways, and it is not only His pleasure, but His will, to do so.

When the Holy Spirit begins to sanctify us and take us out of the vanity of this world, what we realize is Christ is the only Treasure worth having. He might grant us a few unspoken thoughts or prayers, but that is because He loves us. The true fruit of unspoken prayer is when God grants us the grace to realize Heaven isn’t Heaven because it’s an eternal utopia; Heaven is Heaven because Christ is there.

For the sanctified believer, Heaven is Christ Himself.

And if that is true, then we can have a taste of Heaven here on earth.

Within this excerpt, I touch on the fact that a meaty prayer life springs from the deep passion one has for Jesus Christ. The more we pray to Him, the more precious He becomes to us, until He is our All-in-all, until we realize we have no one in Heaven but Him, and there is nothing on earth we desire besides Him (Psalm 73:25). When we take our eyes off our fellowship with the Lord, we begin to drift away from Him. Maybe not drastically, but gradually, until before we know it, we can no longer see our Anchor in the Sea of Adversity.

Here's another quote from The Prayer Project about prayer itself:

It’s almost like the water cycle of earth, if you think about it. The Holy Spirit lifts our prayers up to the Father, which He then returns to us as Living Water raining down and refreshing our hearts for Christ. Within that Living Water are spiritual blessings from God, and He grants the things we want of Him – more wisdom, more knowledge, more insights. Before you know it, your heart has become a vast garden, seeded, cultivated, and pruned by the Spirit, overflowing with fruit.
One of my favorite themes from the Bible is the garden. We see it everywhere. From the Garden of Eden, to the Garden of the Beloved in Song of Solomon, to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is no coincidence this theme reoccurs again and again. Song of Songs is my favorite book of the Bible. Charles Spurgeon once said this book is the Holy of Holies of Scripture. I agree with him. The entire book is a metaphor of Christ and His Church, and the garden is a picture of His spouse’s heart. The only way to be fruitful for God is if your heart is His garden (Songs 4:16).
Prayer begins the work of breaking up our fallow ground (Jeremiah 4:3). We pray to know our God, we pray to know our Scripture, we pray to shape ourselves, and...our heart is then seeded to grow fruit for the Lord. The Holy Spirit moves in us to sanctify our lives to resemble the life of Christ.

We cannot rely on prayers of rote or prayers before and after the sermon. We cannot rely on prayers to bless our meals or prayers for others. We cannot rely on tradition and people praying for us. WE MUST PRAY OURSELVES. We must go into our room and close the door (Matthew 6:6). We must earnestly seek Him (Matthew 6:33). We must come to Him with a childlike heart (Mark 10:15). We must have a RELATIONSHIP with the Lord of Glory. He cannot be your best Friend if you never speak to Him. As I said in my book mentioned above, "If you spend no personal time with God, you cannot say you know Him personally."

We are too caught in "doing things" for the Lord, that we've lost sight of spending time with the Lord. What's the first thing Christ did every single day? Wandered off to be by Himself with God. He didn't have scrolls tucked under His arm, He wasn't claiming that His study time was "spending time with God". No, He just went out to a quiet place, sat on a stone, and PRAYED. Not repetitious rote like the Pharisees, not tradition like the scribes, but like a child - the Son to the Father. And if we're all adopted children of God (Romans 8:15Ephesians 1:5), then we must do the same. Christ is our example in all things - even our prayer lives.

When we look back over the history of the church, those men who had a special "unction" from the Lord were stoic men of prayer. Their ministry couldn't have succeeded in any other way. It had to be built upon the private prayers of these men, weeping and rejoicing in their prayer closets - and not just for the good of their people and the world, but for God to come and make His abode with them, to equip them and use them for His glory. To make them holy as He is holy. To cultivate their prayer life until their entire being was saturated in tearful, joyful doxology.

And here is where the beauty of private prayer can be seen -- obedience! To obey is better than sacrifice. It matters not how much you DO for the Lord Jesus Christ, what matters is do you OBEY? It is the obedient heart that God the Father and Christ the Son come in to make their abode (John 14:23).  We must be DOERS of the WORD not just hearers only, lest we forget what we look like (James 1:22-24).

This is especially true for pastors and public figures (James 3:1).

Pastors, do you pray for your congregation? I mean earnestly, with tears of desperation over the state of their souls?

Husbands, do you pray over your wives and children? Do you lift your families before the Throne of Grace and pray for their sanctification?

Wives, do you pray for your husbands and for your children? Do you actively ask God for His peace and His grace over their lives and in their hearts?

Brethren, do you pray for your pastors and for your church, that it will thrive and flourish and that God will use your preacher mightily for His Glory?

Do you pray for yourselves, that God would move in your own lives to mold you into a Christian who truly abides in the Vine? Have you ever asked Him to cultivate a deep love in your heart for His Word or sat and chatted with Him beneath a starry sky? Have you ever thanked Him for your blessings and made praise as natural to your life as breathing?

We have forgotten to pray without ceasing. Or perhaps it is in tossing up a nugget of prayer every now and again that we have convinced ourselves we parade the banner of "praying without ceasing" while neglecting the wisdom and meditation of praying long in our closets. What made men like the Puritans and Edwards and Spurgeon such bright stars within the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Why did the fragrance of Christ cling so closely to these esteemed men?

I think the little book Valley of Vision magnificently answers that question. It was their prayer lives, brethren.

The Father who saw them in the secret place rewarded them openly (Matthew 6:6).

We must find the grace within our hearts to forgive those who have fallen deeply into sin. I weep over these men and pray for them myself, that God will restore them into a more intimate fellowship with Himself and His Church. But we must remember that a man falls in private long before he falls in public. Do not become so busy in your ministries that you have no time to spend with God Almighty. With no fresh supply from above, how then can your heart become an ever-flowing fountain (John 7:38)?

Never forsake your prayer closet. By doing so, you not only deprive yourself of heavenly refreshment, but those who look to you for guidance as well. If there is no fresh water flowing into your supply, then your heart is a rancid, brackish pool of black standing water. If there was more private prayer in the Church of Jesus Christ, perhaps there would be less scandal, less adultery, less porn, less divorce, less bondage to sin. How can we who died to sin still live in it (Romans 6:2)?

Draw near to God, my brothers and sisters, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8).

Come to Him, sinner. O, come to Him in prayer! And never again will you thirst for anything other than Christ and Him Crucified (John 4:13-14, 1 Corinthians 2:2). Come and give Him the glory due His name, and worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness (Psalm 29:2).

1 comment:

  1. Anyone longing for a richer prayer life should pick up and read "The Life and Diary of David Brainerd" compiled by Jonathan Edwards. If anyone had an unbridled devotion to the King of Glory in "private retirement", it was Mr. Brainerd.