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Monday, May 30, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Solitary Prayer (part 3)


Over the last four weeks, we have learned prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. We have learned how to approach God with our heart, mind, and soul – recognize God is to be revered, God’s mercy, God exists, God’s power, God’s faithfulness, God’s righteousness, and God is eternal and omnipotent so keep focused on Him. The final part of approaching God taught our prayers should give testimony of God. The Bible has taught us how to pray to God – petitioning for self, others, enemies, adoration, thanksgiving, and confession/repentance. Besides this, we started learning about the attributes, attitudes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. Two of these are righteous, which comes from God, and belief God has the power to do what is necessary to change things and answer prayers.
Today we will learn one more thing the Bible teaches about the person who prays. The person who prays, prays in solitude.  Why is this important? Why does it not conflict with other Bible passages?

Pray in Solitude

The third most common teaching in the Bible regarding the attributes, actions, or attitudes of the person who prays - the pray-er - regards where physically to pray. Five times in the New Testament, the disciples recorded Jesus teaching or modeling prayer in solitude. With Matthew 6:6 and 14:23, and Luke 5:16, 6:12, & 9:28, Jesus taught His disciples solitude is necessary in praying. Mark and John each record the same thing as Matthew 14:23.
In Matthew 6, Jesus taught the disciples whatever they did because of their belief in Him must not be done to receive attention and praise from men, but to be noticed by the Father. Whether the disciples gave help to the poor or prayed, they should only seek recognition from God. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus said to them, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” [NASB] He spoke against the Pharisees’ method of prayer that sought the attention and praise of people. Jesus contrasted it with the purpose of true prayer - to be in the presence of God, communing with Him, petitioning Him, seeking His will, and listening to Him. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because they sought the approval of man and not God. They were not as righteous as they pretended to be. Jesus told the disciples not to stand in high traffic places praying just to be seen by people. Instead, He said, go to a quiet, solitary place – an inner room or closet - since the reason of praying is to draw closer to God. Solitary prayer keeps people focused on God and their relationship with Him. It keeps the person who prays from seeking self-centeredness.
In Matthew 14:23, Matthew recorded after feeding the 5000 men, plus women and children, Jesus went up the mountain to a solitary place to pray. It says, “He was there alone.” When reading this chapter, we understand Jesus and His disciples fed the people in the evening, which was about 6pm before night fell.  After the feeding, Jesus sent His disciples away from the crowd, probably to give them a respite. While He prayed, a storm blew up and battered the boat. Verse 25 says, “And in the fourth watch of the night, He (Jesus) came to them walking on the sea.” The fourth watch was a Roman term of time for 3am-6am. Understanding this, we realize Jesus prayed alone for almost twelve hours. Mark 6:46 and John 6:15 record this for us, too. He took time to be with and commune with the Father and gained rest for His body. Solitary time in prayer provided rest for Jesus and rejuvenated His Spirit from communion with His Father.
Luke 5:16 says after Jesus healed the man of leprosy, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” After times of ministry, Jesus knew His physical body needed rest. He recognized, too, that He needed to commune with the Father. His relationship with the Father was close. Just as we want to stay close to our parents and other family members by being with and talking to them, Jesus wanted closeness with His Father. Solitary prayer makes it easier to commune with the Father without distractions. It provides rest for the body, too.
In Luke 6:12 we read Jesus went to the mountain to pray. He was alone, we note, because He called His disciples to Him in verse 13. Why was Jesus praying in solitude? How long did He pray? This verse tells us Jesus prayed all night, between 9 and 12 hours. Before this verse, we read Jesus healed a man’s hand. The Pharisees and Levitical scribes were present and challenged Him since He healed on the Sabbath. Jesus prayed to commune with the Father, to receive strength from Him, and to get away from disbelieving, challenging people. He prayed to prepare for the next days when He chose His twelve disciples and teach His greatest sermon – the Sermon on the Mount. Solitary prayer provides peace from daily life, challenges, and the neediness of people. It provides rest for the body and spiritual rejuvenation.
Luke 9:28 says, “Some eight days after these saying, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.” [NASB] Before this record, Luke said Jesus fed the 5000 people, questioned His disciples, told them not to reveal yet who He is, and taught them about being His disciples – what it requires. Jesus had been busy mentally, spiritually, and physically. He interfaced with and met the needs of thousands of people. He was preparing to teach His disciples more and heal a demon-possessed boy. Jesus needed rest for His body. He needed strength. Jesus wanted to be with His Father. He prepared for the coming days when strength of mind and body would be necessary. The tired disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Solitary prayer opens the door for the Father to talk to us in ways that will enlighten and strengthen us for the days ahead. It gives rest for the tired body and mind. Solitary prayer brings us into the presence of God to receive from His well strength, nourishment, and rejuvenation. It allows us to be filled with God’s words and goodness so we can walk strong with Him in the future.
Notice Jesus did not always go to prayer by Himself. At times He took people dear to Him to His place of prayer. He modeled prayer for them and allowed them a glimpse of the Father during His own times of prayer.

Relevance and Conclusion

Solitariness solely for isolation was not what Jesus taught. He taught this so people understood the intent of the pray-er’s heart was what God listened to and saw. That intent, be it righteousness or showmanship, determined if God would listen to and answer prayer. Jesus taught this lesson so people understood a pray-er must get away from distractions to commune truly with the Father. A quiet place allows a person to focus on God so the pray-er can approach God with reverence. That person can have an honest conversation with Him that enables two-way communication. This private conversation gives the pray-er solitude so he or she is not swayed to push his or her sins, for which confession should be made, under the rug. Solitude allows focus, genuine communication, sincere repentance and confession, strengthening for the days to come, and rest from the days just passed. It turns the focus back to God and helps us remember He is our strength and the purpose for our life.
When you pray, do you go to a quiet place alone? Do you seek to meet with and commune with God? Do you have a genuine two-way conversation with Him? Or, do you pray so others can see your “religiosity” so they will know of your “holiness.” Do you seek the praise of people or of God? Solitary prayer is given to us as a gift from God to get us away from the demands on our time, attention, emotions, body, and spirit. It allows us to commune genuinely with God, hear His voice, and be strengthened and nourished. It prepares is for the coming days so we walk in God’s will and with His strength. Solitary is not the only way Jesus taught us to pray, but it has its benefits for our whole being – mind, heart, body, and soul.

When did you last truly seek God in solitude and without pretense?