Intimacy with God

As we move through life, we flow with predictable patterns of interaction with others. Sadly, so often the emotions, the cognitive content exchanged, the decisions and the delights of the world with which we interact are not in unity with God. On the contrary, they are adverse to Him. Consciously, sometimes unconsciously, we are pressured to compromise ideals, exposed to language and lines of thought contradictory to God’s principles. The drive, the things that delight those around us, is diametrically opposed to heaven’s will for healthy and godly people, not to mention our families. Yet, we are forced to swim in this stream called the world! A world at enmity with God. We cannot escape it. We cannot leave it and flee to the desert. We must be in it, but not of it.

The way we differentiate ourselves, break from its mad rhythms and noises, recalibrate our values, is solitude. Prayer is a protest against the world as it is. It is a declaration to God that we do not want to be a part of this world, that we want the power to live above its grip, and yet to influence it in some profound way. The inability to pray, to tolerate the stillness and silence, is an indication of the degree to which we have become addicted to the world.

“Nothing but solitude can allow the development of a freedom from the ingrained behaviors that hinder our integration into God’s order.”[1] Jesus urged, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father” (Mt. 6:6). The word for room in Greek is tameion, referring to a small inner closet. It was probably a storeroom, a kind of pantry, typically the only room in a first century home with a door.[2]

John Paton (1824-1907) was a legendary Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides in the 1800s, that great missionary century. Paton’s father was common laborer. The small cottage in which John grew as a boy was ordinary. Nonetheless, in it was an extraordinary place – a small private space consecrated by his father for private prayer. Paton remembered it well.

The closet was a very small apartment…having room only for a bed, a little table, and a chair, with a diminutive window shedding diminutive light on the scene. This was the sanctuary of that cottage home. There daily, and many times a day, generally after each meal, we saw our father retire, and shut the door; and we children got to understand, by a sort of spiritual instinct (for the thing too sacred to be talked about), the prayers that were being poured out there for us, as of old by the High Priest within the veil in the Most Holy Place. We occasionally heard the pathetic echoes of a trembling voice, pleading as for life, and we learned to slip out and in past that door on tip-toe, not to disturb the holy charge. The outside world might not know, but we knew, whence came that happy light, as of a new-born smile, that always was dawning on my father’s face: it was a reflection from the Divine Presence, in the consciousness of which he lived.[3]

Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in the third century noted,

In his teaching the Lord has bidden us to pray in secret – in hidden and remote places, in our very bedchambers – which is best suited to faith, that we may know that God is everywhere present, and hears and sees all, and in the plentitude of His majesty penetrates even into hidden and secret places.[4]

Andrew Murray reminds us,

The Father is in secret…He is waiting for us, where He is always to be found. Christians often complain that private prayer is not what it should be. They feel weak and sinful, the heart is cold and dark; it is as if they have so little to pray, and in that little no faith or joy. They are discouraged and kept from prayer by the thought that they cannot come to the Father as they ought or as they wish. Child of God!…when you go to private prayer your first thought must be: The father is in secret, the Father waits for me there…[5]

Quiet. Solitude. Time alone with God – it is irreplaceable.

[1]       Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ; quoted by Calvin Miller, The Vanishing Evangelical, 160.

[2]       Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, 2000), 17.

[3]       John Paton, ed. John G. Paton, DD, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography, 2 volumes (London, 1889), 1:10-11.

[4]       Cyprian, “Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer,” Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 Volumes (Christian Literature, 1886; Reprinted: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 5:447-457, 448.

[5]       Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer (Westwood, NJ: Fleming Revell, 1953), 30.

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