Soaking in the Secret Place #1
Prayer is more than just going to God with your wish list. It’s about having intimate fellowship with Jesus where He communicates to us the loving heart of our heavenly Father.
“Let Jesus love you. It’s so much simpler than we thought. It’s time to be transformed by His love so that there is no fear in you. Be wrecked for everything but His presence. Be so utterly abandoned in His love.” (Heidi Baker, Always Enough).[i]
One of the major themes in Acts is prayer. This is the very first thing that the church did together, after Jesus ascended to Heaven: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Acts 1:14). When the church was birthed on the day of Pentecost, Luke tells us that they “continued steadfastly… in prayers.” (Acts 2:42). The leaders in the church demonstrated that this was their primary responsibility when they said, “we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4). In Acts chapter ten, we see the story of a man who prayed.
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (Acts 10:1-6).
Sometimes when people pray, they wonder whether or not it makes any difference. They ask questions like, “Does God answer prayer?” Cornelius was a man who regularly prayed to God, and an angel of the Lord told him that his prayers had not gone unnoticed by God. What an encouraging truth this is! One of my favorite Scriptures is <st2:bcv_smarttag>Micah 7:7: “Therefore I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me.” It is unfortunate that many people have turned that statement around to read, “Will my God hear me?” Do not doubt the truth of God’s eternal Word. He is a faithful, prayer answering God.
In obedience to the angel’s instructions, Cornelius sent two of his household servants and one of his soldiers to Joppa to find Peter.
“The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate” (Acts 10:9-17).
There are many lessons that can be drawn out of this story, but the one I want to focus on is the importance of personal prayer. As a part of his Christian life, Peter regularly went up to the housetop to pray. We know that Peter believed in the power of prayer, because he taught us to “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you.” (1 Peter 5:7, nlt). He also taught us to “remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites when he judges. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as foreigners here on earth.” (1 Peter 1:17, nlt).
When we talk about prayer, an important distinction must be made here. There are many people who say their prayers, but they never pray. They never communicate or have fellowship with the Lord. They might read their prayers from their favorite prayer book, but never actually pray. There’s more to praying than just saying your prayers. The early church knew how to pray. The church itself was birthed in ten solid God-seeking days of prayer.
Peter knew prayer was important, for we see him heading to the housetop to pray. He didn’t go there to prepare a sermon for church or seek God’s blessing to be upon his evangelistic endeavors. He wasn’t crying out to God because some crisis had popped up in his life. Peter knew that spending time with Jesus in the secret place of prayer was of the utmost importance in his life. Peter remembered when Jesus had called him: “Jesus settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word.” (Mark 3:14, msg). The first call of the disciples was to simply be with Jesus. This is our highest calling. After spending time with Him, Jesus sent them out to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and change the world.
Peter went up to the rooftop to spend time with Jesus in prayer. Because of his heart cry to know Jesus more, because he was spending time with Jesus in the secret place of prayer, God showed up.
We need to get alone in our prayer closets until we’re not alone anymore. What I mean is that we lock ourselves away and pray, “Jesus, I’m grabbing a hold of You, and I’m not letting go unless you bless me! I don’t want to just say my prayers, but I want to encounter You. I want to meet with You today.”
Because Peter had taken time out of his day to be with Jesus, the Lord showed up and started speaking to him, giving him wisdom, direction and vision for his life. Too many people walk around without any sense of purpose for their lives, wondering what they’re here for. If they would just take the time to get alone with Jesus, and ask Him, “Who are you, Lord, and what do you want me to do?” everything would change.
You have a higher calling, purpose and destiny in God. There is something great He wants you to do. When you get alone with Jesus in the secret place of prayer, He will begin to show those plans to you. There are so many wonderful promises in the Bible that confirm this:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8).
Because Peter was praying, God gave him a fantastic vision. This vision is significant because it opened the door for Peter to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, a turning point in the history of the church. If you are a Gentile – that is, a non-Jew – then this story is significant to you, because if it wasn’t for the transition that happened here, you and I would have never been saved. Thank God that Peter was a praying man who heard God’s voice.
As I prayed recently, the Holy Spirit directed me to a Scripture that says, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” (Ephesians 5:14). He told me that the church is mostly sleeping, because it’s not tapping into the power of God, the presence of God, and the love of God. The church is not being a force for good in the world today. He is saying, “It’s time to wake up!” The wake up call is to return to our first love, and focus on our personal relationship with Jesus.
How do we do that?
Praying in the Secret Place:
Jesus said, “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 6:6).
Jesus didn’t say if you pray, but rather when you pray. “Those who have determined in their hearts to develop a relationship with God will ultimately be driven to the place of prayer. There is no way around it.”[ii] (Wes and Stacey Campbell). There is a longing inside every one of us, drawing us to the place of prayer. There’s something like a magnet in our spirit that is longing to connect with our Creator. Only Jesus can satisfy the deep desires of your soul.
Why did Jesus tell us to go into our rooms and shut the door behind us? He is telling us to shut the door to all of the distractions in our lives. We need to turn off the cell phones, MP3 players, computer, internet, video games and television. We need to shut them down, and take the time to pray. Jesus told us that when our heavenly Father sees us praying in secret, He will reward us. That speaks of answered prayer. God wants to answer your prayers! However, we aren’t going to see miraculous breakthroughs and answers to our prayers when our prayer life is limited to spending 30 seconds praying in the morning, “God bless my day!” Don’t be surprised when you don’t catch the ear of God with those kinds of prayers. God doesn’t just want us coming to Him with our wish lists. He wants our heart. He wants our friendship.
The whole story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is about a loving God desiring to have a personal, intimate relationship with human beings. In the Garden of Eden, God’s first words to Adam and Eve after they sinned were, “Where are you?” In the final book of the Bible, Jesus’ words to a church are: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20). Christianity is about a personal relationship with the Lord.
Jesus is calling His disciples to meet with Him in the secret place. However, many Christians, even if they were motivated to have a deeper prayer relationship with the Lord, wouldn’t know where to start. Two minutes into their prayer time, after having gone through their prayer list, they start twiddling their thumbs, or say amen and move onto something else. If they could just catch a glimpse of the Father heart of God, I believe it would motivate them to pray more.
As a father, nothing thrills me more than when my children walk away from the computer or put their toys down and come and tell me how much they love me, or just give me a hug or a kiss. I love that! God is the same way. When we go to the Lord, not just when we need something, but because we love to be with Him, that thrills Him, too.
The Voice of the Lord:
Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27). He didn’t say, “My pastors, preachers and missionaries hear my voice.” He said, “My sheep hear my voice.” If you’re a child of God, then you’re one of His sheep. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and all of His sheep can hear His voice. Christianity is not religion. It’s about a relationship with Jesus. You can’t have a relationship with someone who never talks to you.
We need to learn to listen, because the Lord loves to speak. We need to learn to hear God’s voice so we can have a relationship with Him. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them.” The first reason we need to learn to hear His voice is so that we can have a personal relationship with Jesus. The second reason is so that we can follow Him. How can we follow Jesus if we’re not hearing His voice? Following Jesus doesn’t just mean obeying the commandments in the Bible, although that’s part of it. Following Jesus also means following the leading of the Holy Spirit, and to do that, we need to learn to recognize His voice.
[i] Heidi Baker, Always Enough. (Chosen, September 2003).
[ii] Wes and Stacey Campbell, Praying the Bible. (Gospel Light and Regal Books, 2002).