Shelter in Place? Safer at Home? How about... Stay and Pray
In an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, our governor issued a “safer at home” order that results in the people of Wisconsin retreating further into their homes and away from one another. This type of order is also referred to as “shelter in place”. However one chooses to refer to this new reality, it’s clear that the people of our state are going to be spending lots and lots of time hidden away in their homes.
This is just another in what has been a series of disruptive and unsettling developments in a very short period of time. But even as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the world around us, could this “safer at home” order be a blessing in disguise? In my sermon last weekend, I lobbied against the phrase “shelter at home” or “safer at home” in favor of the phrase “stay and pray”.
To “stay and pray” is to see this order as a divine invitation into a new kind of prayer. As people are forced to stay in their homes, a new way of praying can be developed in the lives of believers. This behind the scenes, hidden, secretive and private kind of prayer is a biblical idea.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has much to say about prayer, but listen to what he says specifically about secret prayer:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” —Matthew 6:5-6
In Jewish religious practice, it was common for the devout to pause during the day at prescribed times and offer up prayers to God. Some would do this discreetly while others would pray as a self-aggrandizing spectacle. Though Jesus did not condemn all public prayer, he did denounce the spectacle and then elevated secretive prayer. Some have referred to this as closet prayer. A closet prayer is a hidden, private prayer that aims to strip away distractions and values simplicity. It is to be an intensely personal conversation between a man or a woman and God. I refer to it as private closet prayer.
This “stay and pray” order is an opportunity to purposefully engage in private closet prayer. It’s an invitation to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” This season of quarantine could very well be a God-appointed time for the people of God to “stay and pray” and learn to commune with God in deeply personal and profound ways.
As you engage in conversation with God, keep these three components of private closet prayer in mind:
- It is Intentional—Private closet prayer is a purposeful prayer that won’t just happen unless there is intentionality. To cultivate the discipline of private prayer, you must first establish a plan, pick a place and set a time for the sole purpose of communing with God.
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he (Jesus) departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” —Mark 1:35
- It is Intimate—To meet with God in private closet prayer is to meet with him intimately. There is no room nor need for inhibition. As you engage in this hidden kind of prayer, remember you are having a personal conversation with your Creator who already knows you intimately, so keep nothing hidden from Him.
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” —Psalm 139:1-2
- It is Trusting—A trusting prayer doesn’t maneuver for control. To trust God is to honestly share everything with him—your failures, your anxieties, your concerns, and your requests. To trust God in private closet prayer is to joyously relinquish control fully to Him.
“...Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:6-7
These components of private closet prayer are certainly not exhaustive. There is much more that can be and should be said about prayer. These three components are simply designed to give you a framework to begin developing a private closet prayer life in this season when we are gifted with the order to “stay and pray”.