Tuesday, September 30, 2008

About the Closet

I think that one of the most misused and misunderstood scriptures on prayer comes from Matthew 6:5-6. Was our Lord saying here that we are not to pray corporately or aloud? Most certainly He was not. Jesus was Himself devoted to prayer, remaining in consistent communication with His Father, interceding on behalf of those who would become sons and daughters of God, and praying openly, audibly, and with others. Jesus understood both God’s original plan for communication and the Father’s desire that we would invite Him into our circumstances. He fully understood the power released through prayer. So then why does the Bible say this?

To truly understand God’s word we must “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 (AMP) The Holy Spirit will help us to understand the Word of God as we search, but it is important that we do not lean on our own understanding and instead study the scriptures. Some of the tools I use in my own study are the commentaries of the great saints of God who devoted their lives to the study of God’s word.

Two of my favorites are Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary and John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible. In this instance, I am using John Gills Exposition. John Gill preached in the same church as C. H. Spurgeon. Though he was not well known, his work is complete in its information and gives treasured insight found no where outside the ancient Jewish writings. His commentary presents a verse-by-verse exposition of the entire Bible. So how does John Gill divide the Lord’s mandate:

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6:5-6 (NKJV)

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, As the Scribes and Pharisees; whose posture in prayer, the places they chose to pray in, and the view they had therein, are particularly taken notice of:
for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. It was their usual custom to pray "standing"; nay, it is established by their canons.

“There are eight things, (says Maimonides F21,) that a man that prays ought to take heed to do; and the first he mentions is "standing"; for, says he, no man may pray (dmyem ala), "but standing"; if he is sitting in a ship, or in a cart, if he can stand, he must stand; if not, he may sit in his place and pray.''
Several hints of this custom there are in the Misna F23. “On their fast days they used to bring out the ark into the streets-- (hlptb wdme), "and they stood in prayer", or praying; and caused an old man to go down before the ark, who was used to recite prayers, and he said them.'' Again F24, “whoever (hlptb dmwe), "stood praying", and remembered that any uncleanness attended him, he might not break off, but he might shorten.'' Yea, standing itself is interpreted of praying; for it is said F25, “and Abraham rose up early in the morning to the place, where he stood, (hdymeb ala hlpt Nyaw), "and there is no prayer but standing”;’ though sometimes they prayed sitting, as David did, (2 Samuel 7:18) so it is said of R. Jose, and R. Eleazar, that (yluw wbty) , "they sat and prayed", and afterwards rose up and went on their way F26. So it was likewise customary to go to the synagogues, and there pray; and indeed they were places built and appointed for this purpose.

“Wherever there were ten Israelites, a house ought to be provided, in which they may go to prayer at every time of prayer; and this place is called a synagogue F1.” Hence some have thought, that not such places are here designed, but any assembly, or concourse of people gathered together upon any occasion; but such an interpretation will find no place, when the following things are observed. “For ever let a man go, morning and evening, to the synagogue; for no prayer is heard at any time, but in the synagogue; and everyone that hath a synagogue in his city, and does not pray in it with the congregation, is called a bad neighbour F2.” Again F3, “he that prays in the house of the Lord, is as if he offered up a pure offering.'' Now, partly on account of the publicness of the place, and partly because they thought their prayers were only heard there, therefore they chose to pray in the synagogues; and also in the corners of the streets, where two streets met, and they might be the more easily seen. This was also a common thing to pray in the streets: “says R. Jochanan, I saw R. Jannai stand and pray in the streets of Tzippore F4.'' And a little after, it is said of another, that he stood and prayed (ayjroab), "in the streets"; though such places were not reckoned holy, as the synagogues were.

‘The street of a city, (says Maimonides F5,) although the people pray in it at fasts and stations, because that there is a great collection of people, and the synagogues cannot hold them, has no holiness in it, because it is accidental, and not appointed for prayer.'' Wherefore streets were only used in case of necessity, or by such of the Pharisees, who chose to be seen of men. A reason is given for this practice in another place F6, where it is asked, “why do they go out to the streets, i.e. on their fast days? to show that we are reckoned as if we were carried captive before thee: says Joshua ben Levi, because they prayed in "secret", and were not answered; therefore they went without, (wmorptyw), "that they might be made public”.’ Now let it be observed, that neither the posture, nor places of prayer, are condemned by our Lord, but their view in all to be seen of men; and a considerable emphasis lies upon the word "love"; they loved "standing" in prayer, rather than any other posture, because they could be better seen; and they loved to be in the synagogues and streets, rather than in their closets; they liked public better than private prayer, because it gained them applause among men.

Verily I say unto you, they have their reward; they gain their point; they have what they seek for; and this is all they will have. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet… Or "chamber", a secret place, fit for private retirement, meditation, and prayer. And when thou hast shut thy door; see some such like phrases in (Isaiah 26:20) where they are used to express security, here secrecy. Our Lord does not mean to exclude and condemn public prayer, in joining with few, or more persons, in such service; for he himself directs to it, and approves of it, (Matthew 18:19, 20) but his view is to instruct persons that they should not only pray in public, but in private also; and especially the latter, which is more suitable and fitting for their particular cases, and less liable to pride, hypocrisy, and vanity.

Pray to thy Father, which is in secret; who is invisible; not to be seen with the eyes of the body, but to be approached with a true heart, in faith and fear, through his Son Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man; and who is the image of the invisible God, and in whom he is pleased to manifest himself to his people, so as he does not unto the world: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, observes and takes notice of the secret breathings, pantings, desires, and requests of thy heart and lips, shall reward thee openly, both here and hereafter; by pouring into thy bosom all the good things thou hast been praying for, both for time and eternity. This is agreeable to what the Jews sometimes say, “that a man ought not to cause his voice to be heard in prayer; but should pray (vxlb), "silently", with a voice that is not heard; and this is the prayer which is daily accepted F7.''

So in essence what our Lord was teaching here was that communication with the Father was not to be delegated to the Church alone, nor were the great oratories of those who loved to be heard of men favored by God. Their reward was complete in that they may have impressed a few. But to touch the heart of God, we are all exhorted to develop humble, honest and focused time spent in communication (prayer) with our Father.

The chamber or secret place means that we are to close the doors on the distractions of the world and enter into the presence of God where our offerings of heart, soul, and mind are directly presented to the lover of our souls. This place of intimacy is open to all who believe, and each of us has access to our Father in the same degree. As we do this, we find our heart changes and so does the way we pray. Our prayer becomes less “me” focused and more “God” focused. We begin to glean from the Spirit, and our eyes open to deeper understanding in all that the Lord has done, is doing today, and will do tomorrow.

I am consistently delighted in the way the Lord continues to draw, teach, and show the treasures we search for. The more I pray, the more I want to pray. As the days go on, my desire is to share the sweet things the Lord has shown to me with you as regards prayer ~ especially the critical nature and power released in corporate prayer and intercession and to have you share your insights with me too!

Blessings and love!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A New Experience

This blog is created as a direct result of the encouragement of Heartland Community Baptist Church Associate Pastor Dan Barnes, who is not only in the process of becoming a mighty vessel to be used to bring a message of hope and healing in our Lord, but a young man who also takes the time to urge an old dog to learn a few new tricks!! Thanks, Dan, for sharing your love for God and His Word, wisdom, kindness and insight so freely. They are qualities of the heart that plow up the fallow ground in preparation for seeds of righteousness and understanding to take root and grow.

There is nothing that delights my heart more than sharing with old friends and making new ones in gleaning from the things that the Lord shows us as He delights us in new revelation of His Word and His love for us. I'm not sure how this blog will bloom and grow, but I pray the Lord's hand will guide heart and pen in the days ahead.

My intitial thoughts are that this blog will most likely develop in some way connected to prayer. I am an intercessor by calling and love to spend time talking with my Father, knowing that as we pray Jesus sits at our Father's right hand and intercedes for us!! For this reason, I chose to call my blog, Grandma C's Closet. It is my hope that in the days ahead, we can explore some treasures of the Lord together, share some tears, and encourage each other through the hope that is ours through the sacrifice of the cross and the covenant that is ours as King Jesus obtained for us the title of heirs according to promise!

Who will read it or why? How will the Lord direct this path? I have no clue. That too is known only by God, but I yearn to walk in obedience and delight in His surprises!

My love to you!