02 July 2019

Get in the closet.

Matthew 6.5-6.

The proper way to pray is aloud.

You’re talking to God, right? Which means you’re talking to God. Not praying silently—in other words thinking at God. You’re speaking to him out loud.

I know; a lot of Christians pray silently, and it’s the only way they pray, ’cause most of the time it’s not appropriate to pray aloud. If everybody in church simultaneously prayed aloud, it’d get loud. If you prayed aloud at work, people’d think you’re weird. If you prayed in public school, some idiot would complain about it. In general, we’re encouraged to pray silently, and that’s understandable in a lot of places. But Christians get the wrong idea and think we’re always to pray silently. No we’re not.

Lookit how Jesus demonstrates prayer in the scriptures. When he went off to pray, even by himself, privately between him and the Father, other people could overhear him. Like in Gethsemane. Mt 26.39, Lk 22.41-42 The reason we even have records in the bible of people’s prayers, is ’cause these folks weren’t silent. They spoke.

I should add: Praying in your mind is much harder than praying aloud. Because the mind wanders. (As it’s supposed to. That’s how the creative process works.) In the middle of our mental conversations with God, stray thoughts pop into our heads. In a verbal conversation, we can choose whether we’ll say such things aloud, but in a mental conversation, we can’t do that: There they are. We just thought ’em. They interrupted our prayers, like a rude friend who thinks he’s being funny, but isn’t. Ordinarily we ignore those thoughts. Now we can’t.

Even the most well-trained minds struggle with that. And a lot of Christians get frustrated with it, so they give up and pray seldom, if at all. Don’t do that. If you lose your train of thought all the time during prayer, stop praying silently. Pray aloud. It helps a lot.

“But what,” Christians object, “about privacy?” Discussions between us and God are often sensitive. We don’t want people listening in on our conversations, like they do when we answer our mobile phones at the coffeehouse. We want privacy. That’s why we go with mental prayers in the first place.

Well, that’s where the prayer closet comes in. Do you have one? If not, get one.

Pray privately.

Matthew 6.5-6 KWL
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections,
praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their credit.
6 When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed.
Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will credit you.”

Jesus instructed his students to go into their ταμεῖόν/tameión, “inner room.” The typical first-century Israeli house had two rooms: The outer room, used as the living space, and the more private inner room, often used as the sleeping space. Wealthier people had a much bigger outer room, and a number of inner rooms. Or they built their homes Greek-style, with a downstairs courtyard which served a lot of the living-space functions, and private upstairs rooms. And those rooms might have tameía/“inner rooms,” or as the KJV puts it “closets.” Jesus elsewhere uses the word to mean “pantry.” Lk 12.24

Jesus instructed his students to pray privately. Not publicly, so everyone could see you, and so you could show off your prayer life to everyone around you. Hypocrites do that. There’s a time and place for public prayer, but our average conversations with God aren’t that. Those need to be conducted, same as our phone conversations, in private. Go someplace where you’re not tempted to put on a show for onlookers.

Back to the silent-prayer idea: If silent is how Jesus ordinarily expects us to pray, why’d he advise us to go someplace private for prayer time? If I’m praying “in my head,” lips not moving, head not bowed, nobody can tell I’m praying—so there’s no need to go find a back room, an empty office, a closet, a bathroom, and get away from other people. Jesus’s teaching only makes sense if the way ordinary prayer is done, is out loud.

Making a prayer closet.

Some Christians build ourselves a literal prayer closet. We’ll take an unused closet, or a spare corner of the house which we can partition off, or even build a space. It’ll be just big enough to sit down in, and maybe include a few items which we like to use to help us pray—a bible, prayer books, our prayer journal, candles, incense, ikons or crosses, beads, a guitar or a music player, a prayer mat, you name it. That’ll be our prayer space. We’ll go in there, shut the door, and get loud.

Some churches and Christian ministries even build them into their buildings for just this purpose. My seminary had a prayer closet in the chapel, and installed prayer closets in some of the newer women’s dormitories. True, half the dorms used them as actual closets, and stored extra things in there. The prayer closet in the chapel was notorious as a make-out spot. But every once in a while, revival would break out and the students would clear out the prayer closets and go back to using ’em for prayer.

True, having a closet-sized prayer space is a bit literal of an interpretation. It doesn’t really fit the historical context. But that’s not to say prayer closets aren’t handy. If you regularly use it for prayer and meditation, it’ll do you a whole lot of good. Stepping into the room means we intend to speak with God, and prayer and meditation follow naturally and easily.

Some Christians figure this is because God’s presence hangs out in the prayer space. No; we should know better than that. God’s everywhere. We just feel him stronger in a prayer space, because we’re used to meeting him there. It’s the same reason so much office work gets done in the office, and not at the Krispy Kreme down the street: You could do your work at the Krispy Kreme, but you’re more likely to eat doughnuts. Same’s true of prayer rooms: We could pray anywhere, but we will pray in a prayer room.

So if you think it’ll help you pray better—if you think it’ll help your focus, and wanna try to use it daily—you can create your own “prayer closet.” It’s easiest when you already have extra space in your home. Take over the spare bedroom, or even the spare room’s closet. If you prefer to sit or kneel, find someplace with enough room for that. If you prefer to lie face-down on the floor, you’re gonna need space. If you bring prayer props, make room for that too.

Make it comfortable. Not so comfortable you could fall asleep, but not so uncomfortable you’ll never use the space. Remove anything which would distract you. Put in a chair—or not. Put up a bulletin board or whiteboard if you wanna use it to keep track of things to pray. Take your journal. Close the door. Then pray. Meditate. And only that: Do nothing but pray and meditate in that space. When you’re done, leave.

If you bring your phone with you, don’t answer it in the prayer space: Step outside to answer it. When you find yourself reading or studying your bible instead of meditating on it, it’s time to go. Prayer and meditation, nothing else, is for the prayer space; other activities are outside.

And there you go.

Or use other available spaces.

Don’t have an extra space? Then you gotta make the space. No, I’m not saying you should get plywood and nails and build yourself a box—although some Christians have done precisely that. I’ve seen an office partitioned off with a shower curtain, and behind the curtain was that Christian’s prayer space. I’ve seen a garage with a pup tent in it, and the tent was that Christian’s prayer space. I’ve seen a no-longer-working pickup truck in a driveway, its windows blocked out, and that truck was that Christian’s prayer space. I’ve seen Christians pray under tables, under beds, in tool sheds, in their kids’ playhouses. Get creative. There are always options.

Your prayer space doesn’t necessarily have to be in your house. The back patio at 6 a.m. is plenty of privacy for me. Where I used to work, there was a circle of trees on the grounds which made a really nice prayer space. When I went to seminary, ’cause of the other students humping in the prayer room, I used our chapel. Now, outside-the-house prayer spots are less private, and sometimes less convenient. But if nobody else goes there, and nobody else can overhear you when you pray aloud, they’re an option. Use them.

And in a pinch, sometimes nothing works so well as just ducking into the bathroom, locking the door behind you, and having it out with God. Yeah, people may wonder why you spend so much time in the can. So what? You need your prayer time, and you need your privacy. Do whatever it takes to get it.