Where does the Christian get the idea that private prayer is important? What does the Bible have to say on the matter? Can someone get along just fine in his Christian walk without incorporating private prayer? All these questions and more are important for the Christian to answer as he seeks to grow in his relationship with God.
Many Christian doctrines are taken for granted. They are merely assumed to be true because they have been talked about long enough. For instance, the Christian would say that God is a Triune God. But when asked to defend his position, he may not know how to do it. When asked, “Why do you believe that God is a Triune God,” he may get a little bewildered and say, “Uhh… that is what the Bible says.” All the while, he knows he has no clue where it says such a thing, but that is what so and so has told him in the past, so he goes on believing it.
Peter has told the Christian that he must be ready to give an account for the hope that is in him. This means that the Christian must not simply believe certain things but be able to show others in the Word of God why he believes what he believes.
The same phenomenon can take place regarding private prayer. Again, the practice can be taken for granted with little biblical foundation in the Christians’ heart other than the practices of orthodox Christianity. But what does the Bible say? Why is private prayer important? The Christian must know for himself.
The example of Christ
First and highly foundational is the example of Christ. He is the One the Christian must follow at all costs. Scripture says, “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (KJV, Matt. 14:23). If Jesus sought to break free from the crowds to be alone with His Father, how much more must the Christian seek to be by the Father’s side?
The world is full of deceit, sin, the devil’s schemes, and more. The Christian has been delivered from Satan’s clutches and transferred into the kingdom of the Father’s beloved Son. However, the Christian has not been entirely redeemed as of yet. The final redemption awaits him when he is taken up into glory to be with Jesus. Only then will sin cease to torment him. The Christian must be in prayer.
If the sinless Christ prayed to the Father, how much more the sinful Christian? Later as Jesus was met with His greatest trial, the Bible tells us, “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder” (Matt. 26:36). Not only did Jesus break free from the crowds, but also His closest companions to be alone with His Father.
The command of Christ
While the example of Christ must set the tone, the Christian must also be confronted with the command of Christ. Scripture says, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to the Father which is in secret…” (Matt. 6:6). The context of the passage is Jesus coming against the self-focused practices of the Pharisees. When the Pharisees would pray, they would delight in others taking note of their prayers. They would pray for all to see, and God was not pleased with such practices.
Jesus was not condemning public prayer. The Bible has many good things to say about public prayer. However, in Matthew 6:6, it must be noted that Jesus did not mention private prayer as optional. Instead, he said, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet…” (Matt. 6:6). Jesus assumed the people were praying and pointed them to private prayer. Unfortunately, if He were to come today, He may not have the same assumption.
The hearing God
The Bible clarifies that God hears prayer and rewards those who pray. Scripture says, “Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee, and thou shalt pay thy vows” (Job 22:27). In a passage previously cited, Jesus said, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to the Father which is in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6). Therefore, when someone seeks the Lord in private prayer, he can be assured that if He approaches God properly, God will hear His prayer and reward him openly.
The fruit of salvation
One of the most significant evidences of conversion is a heart that desires to fellowship with God. Eternity will be unbroken fellowship with God. Thus, the work of God in the Christian’s heart consists of preparation for what is to come. Fellowship with God is not a means to an end. It is the end. Therefore, when someone has genuinely been regenerated, He will desire to be with His Father, much like Jesus did.
After Paul’s conversion, the Christian can see that private prayer sprang forth. Scripture says, “And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). Paul’s response to God’s saving grace was not idleness but fasting (Acts 9:9) and prayer.
The Christian should not think that Paul was a unique example. When King Nebuchadnezzar looked upon his kingdom in pride, God humbled the king. King Nebuchadnezzar was made to eat in the field like a wild animal. However, after his humiliation, he turned to the Lord. The Bible says, “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever…” (Dan. 4:34). Thus, the king experienced God’s saving grace, turned to the Lord, and blessed God in prayer.
The priority of prayer
Prayer must be of the utmost importance in the Christian’s life. Nothing should hinder private prayer. When Daniel was a young man in Babylon, he was met with a test of faith. The Bible says, “Now when Danial knew that the writing was signed, he went in his house; and his windows being opened in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Dan. 6:10). But what was the signed writing, and how did Daniel prioritize prayer?
The Bible tells the reader that King Darius signed a decree that if anyone petitioned any god or man for thirty days apart from the king, they would be cast into the den of lions. Thus, Daniel was forced to either stop praying for thirty days to obey the king’s command or continue to pray and face the lion’s den. As the story goes, Daniel prioritized prayer above his very life. He did not obey the king’s edict but opened his chamber doors and sought the favor of God.
So must the Christian learn to prioritize private prayer. While the Christian may not encounter such harsh treatment for praying, he must still lay aside the weight and the sin that so easily besets him. Activity can get in the way of spending time with the Lord. Worldly goals and pursuits can get in the way of spending time with the Lord in prayer. The Christian must turn to the Scriptures, which will make him wise unto salvation, and learn to detect the many things that are getting in the way of his relationship with God.
Father, I pray that You would teach me to pray. Show me what it means to pray like Jesus and heed the commands of Christ. Jesus has shown me that private prayer was important in his life. May I never believe the lie that I do not need to spend time alone with You. Help me to prioritize prayer and realize that private prayer is evidence of my salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.