The Space Dimension of Prayer – Where We Pray
By Evelyn Christenson
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Matthew 6:6
My old green chair has long since been reupholstered, but years ago, when it was brand new, it became the quiet place to which I would steal very early in the morning to spend time alone with God. It was on my knees at that old chair that I would pour out the inmost groanings of my heart—for only God to hear. Groanings much too personal to be beard by any other. My tears stained its cushion as I knelt interceding for a loved one. It was there I was filled with awe and adoration for Him and all He is—the “heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee” (1 Kings 8:27).
It was there on my knees with my open Bible that God taught me to wait on Him for every point in a series of messages. It was there with my head buried in my bands that I begged God for wisdom for a certain message that I was to give. Not getting any answers, I reached for the morning newspaper, laid it on the seat of the chair, and read in the headlines that Russia had sent Sputnik I into outer space. Then God said, “It isn’t who can conquer outer space that counts, but He who created it and by whom it consists” (see Col. 1:16-17). I bad my message!
Private Prayer—Public Praying
Do you have a secret place for private prayer, a certain corner, a particular chair, or a room set apart where you can spend time alone with God? A “closet” where you daily shut the door to pray to your Father in secret? The group concept of prayer is important, and we do need to pray with one another, “not forsaking the assembling of our selves together” (see Heb. 10:25). But the drawing apart to pray in secret is perhaps the most vital type of prayer in which we engage. It is also an indicator of the kind of prayer group participant we really are, for it is our private praying that determines the quality and validity of our public praying.
Though we are never to be critical of the prayers of others, we can often recognize in our prayer groups those who have spent time in private closet prayer and the others who have come perhaps to do the only praying that they have done all week Some struggle and strain to sound pious, but it’s obvious that they haven’t experienced the deeper dimension of closet prayer.
Have you ever seen a bright blue iceberg? In Alaska recently I stared in awe at a mountain lake filled with beautiful blue icebergs that had broken off Portage Glacier. Immediately my mind went back to an article I had read in a Family Tie magazine that compared our secret Praying to an iceberg. The “absolutely no boating” sign reminded me that eight-ninth of the bulk of an iceberg is below the waterline out of sight. Only one-ninth is visible above the surface. The next day at our prayer seminar in Anchorage I explained how prayer should be like those icebergs, with about one-ninth showing in our public group praying and eight-ninth out of sight in our secret closets.
I can almost hear you saying, “I can’t spend great periods of my time in a closet.” No, neither can I, but I have found another kind of closet praying. It’s just drawing apart to God wherever I am—at the kitchen sink, at a desk, or even in a room filled with people.
“You must have tremendous power of concentration,” someone said.
No, I’ve just learned to draw apart from people to God. Practicing this at a California retreat with 525 people packed in a room that barely held 500, we found, though touching elbows physically, that we could each draw apart mentally to God. This, too, is closet praying, though it is no substitute for drawing apart to that one spot, at that one time of the day, when we really spend time with God and His Word.
One of my very favorite “closets” is my car. As I draw apart, you may be sure I don’t take my hands off the wheel, fold them and kneel. To shut my eyes would be even worse!
One morning last week, as I was getting ready to leave for an all-day prayer seminar 50 miles away, everything went wrong. My husband called from California asking me to find out when certain professors should be met at the San Francisco airport, and to give the information to his secretary so he could call her after I had gone. I couldn’t find the professors; I couldn’t find the secretary after frantically dialing all the possible numbers.
Then my son called from school: “Mom, I forgot all my books; could you bring them over?” I did, and was completely out of time when I left his school only to run into such a long detour that I could hardly find my way back to the freeway.
As I finally emerged on the right road, I cried to God, “O Lord, take over! Remove from me all this tension and frustration. Flow through me with Your peace and power. Make me what You want me to be by the time I arrive at the prayer seminar.” And He did! My car had become my prayer closet.
Even a plane seat can be a prayer closet. For two years I had been praying with a friend about her sister who did not know Christ. Every time my friend wrote to her sis, she’d call asking me to pray for God to work in her heart as she received the letter. One day my plane had a 10-minute layover in a Midwestern city with no time to disembark. I looked out over that city and thought, That’s where my friend’s sister lives! Suddenly there descended from God a heavy, overwhelming burden to pray for her. I sat in that plane in the very depths of intercessory prayer. Two days later my elated friend called to say, “I just received a letter from my sis, and she accepted Christ!” When? The exact day God had said in that plane, “Evelyn, pray.”
Just as our “momentary” closet praying requires no particular place, neither does it require a certain prayer posture. In one of our seminars a man announced to me after the first session that he would not be back. “You’re not praying scripturally,” he said. When I asked him to please explain, he said, “You’re not ‘holding up holy hands.” He could see only this one position to be used at all times even though I pointed out to him that there are many postures of prayer mentioned in the Word of God.
Jesus, when He was praying in the garden of Gethsemane, set for us the example of kneeling in prayer: “And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed” (Luke 22:41). At the tomb of Lazarus, while stand ing, “Jesus lifted up Hi eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me” (John 11:41). Paul wrote, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8).
My husband can recall circumstances in which men experienced such grief and anguish that they have lain prostrate on the floor of his study. One was a dad who had just learned that his teenage daughter was pregnant out of wedlock. He cast himself to the floor, weeping, and my husband had to take him in his arms and gently lift him up.
King Solomon, in the Old Testament, prostrated himself before the Lord when he prayed in the temple. His father, David, communed with God upon his bed (Ps. 4:4). Whatever our posture, whatever the place, the ears of our God are open to our cry (see Ps. 34:15).
God does not dwell in temples made with hands. Even so, some spots have been used as closets for prayer by so many that they seem to be holy places. Have you ever stepped into a room and felt God there? My husband and I were looking over the grounds at a Midwestern retreat center last fall. We stepped into an old chapel—and I felt God’s presence immediately. “Hon, please go on without me for a few minutes,” I said. I knelt at that altar— not talking or praying, but just feeling God so powerfully there.
Another time I arrived at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul to speak at a women’s retreat just as the planning committee stepped out of the Eric Fryken berg Prayer Tower, where they had been praying for our meetings. Their eyes were wide with wonder and amazement. “We felt Jesus in there!”
“Yes,” I replied “that is one of those place where I always feel a particular sense of the presence of Christ.” That little circular room has no windows, no furniture—but it is filled with the thousands of prayers uttered by students and faculty of that seminary—and His presence!
Christ recognized the need for spending time alone with God. What a tremendous example Christ’s prayer life was to His followers and to us. Though the disciples were Jesus’ very closest friends, He knew there were times He had to pray in secret to His heavenly Father. So Christ, though He taught His disciples the concept of group prayer, as we have learned in previous chapters, also knew the importance of this private closet praying. Even though He was God incarnate, He thought it necessary to withdraw to a mountain to pray all night alone before the important task of choosing the 12 apostles. If He not us?
For you to pray:
“Lord, give me the joy of secret closet praying. Keep me faithful to shut the door every day and spend time with You and Your Word in secret. Teach me to draw apart alone with You, no matter where 1 am or with whom.”
Excerpted from What Happens When Women Pray by Evelyn Christenson
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”