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The men that pray have a desire to know God, a broken dependency because they need God, and a cross-embracing, love-motivated, Spirit-empowered discipline to persist in seeking God. So, let me share with you ten things, I want to mention very quickly in regards to the practice of secret prayer. I trust many of you are already seeking to seek God and have something of a practice. But if you are young men listening to my voice, if you are beginning to just prepare and think about ministry, or if you are an older saint that has gone on for a while and are like a tired soldier that doesn't want to fight any more, let me lay out before you several practical suggestions for developing a more consistent life of secret prayer. These have been very helpful to me. They are very, very practical.
1. Make Your Relationship With God Your Highest Priority.
Remember again what David said, “One thing I ask of the Lord”. Jesus told Martha, “Martha, there is one thing necessary” (Lk. 10). Paul said in the book of Philippians, “This one thing I do.” If you're going to be a man of prayer, you must make your relationship with God in secret your highest priority, your highest calling, your greatest privilege. So, set that in stone and write it on the tablets of your heart and say, “God if you don’t bless me anywhere else in my life, I want to know you in the secret place of prayer.” Make it your highest priority.
2. Arrange Your Schedule That Reflects That Priority.
All of us have twenty-four hours in a day. Some of us sleep four hours, some for six, some for nine, some for ten. But we only have a certain amount of waking hours. We prepare ourselves, we eat food, we have a little rest and relaxation. What we do with the rest of our time makes the difference as to whether we are going to be useful or not. Arrange your schedule that reflects your priority to make God your highest priority. And for most men down through history, beginning with David in Psalm 63:1, the time to spend time with God is morning. “Early in the morning” he says, “earnestly I will seek you.” Following also the example of Jesus Christ. Mark 1:35, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
Young men, one of the challenges of youth is being undisciplined and irresponsible with one’s time. And if you are going to be useful in the kingdom of God, you have got to arrange, manage and discipline your time that reflects the highest priority of seeking God. That means perhaps if you are trying to get up early, you have to go to bed at a reasonable period of time. Most men aged about twenty to thirty or forty, need more sleep–seven to eight hours minimum. When you get older, you may not need as much sleep. Get the sleep you need, reorient your time and arrange your schedule so that you can have your first priority seeking first the kingdom of God and the person of God in the place of prayer by arranging that schedule.
3. Secure And Arrange A Private Place Without Disturbance
The Bible says, “Go into your inner room, your closet and shut the door, and turn off your phone and turn off the TV, and turn your mind away from minding earthy things, and secure a private place away from the wife, away from the kids, away from the phone, away from the computer. This is so that you will have undistracted time to try to connect with God.” Secure a private place without disturbance. I trust that most of you men have that place, and I trust that you are going to that place.
4. Go Consistently To Prayer Regardless Of Your Feelings.
Eighty-five percent of the time, as I have told many of you, when I wake early in the morning, I am tired, I’ve got a headache, my wife's body is warm, and I don't want to get out of bed. But we don’t operate the Christian life on the basis of feelings or circumstances. We step out in faith regardless of how we feel. We don’t wait for an angel to come down from heaven and to lift us out of our beds and to take us to the place of prayer. That won’t happen. You have got to get up. You can get up out of bed.
When I was a young man, I used to love to hunt and fish. And in order to hunt, you have to get up early. My father never had to drag me out of bed to get up and go hunting because I love to hunt. I love the outdoors. Some men will get up in the middle of the night to watch a soccer match or a cricket match across the world because of the time differences. But lo and behold, sometimes because of remaining sin and the sluggishness of our heart, we find it difficult to get up! Men, you will never make any progress in the Christian life if you run it based upon your feelings or you wait for God to give you a first impression to do anything. The Bible says we walk by faith not by sight, circumstances, emotions, feelings. And faith says, “I will get up.” We can get up. Wash your face, take a shower, drink coffee, do something and get to that place regardless of how you feel.
5. Develop The Habit Of Getting On Your Knees Often.
Now we can pray anytime, anyplace and in any posture. The Bible says in Psalm 95 and 96, “O, Come let’s worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” You remember the verse in Daniel 6, “He went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously in the habit of doing.” Jesus himself was often on his knees. The Apostle Paul said, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father.” Now, there is nothing inherently spiritual about different postures in prayer. But you show me a man that never has the inward inclination to get on his knees and I will show you a man who has never had an experiential sense of the presence and power of God, nor an experiential sense of weakness and inability of himself. Men who have seen God and seen themselves will fall on their face in worship or begging God for mercy.
Some men cannot get on their knees. I am seventy-one years old and I can get on my knees, but it is getting harder and harder to get off of my knees. If you can’t get on your knees, stretch out on your belly and put your face to the floor.
I encourage you. Yes, pray in the shower. Yes, pray in your car. Yes, pray lying down on our bed. But pay attention: holy men, have a need and a desire and a compulsion under the pressing weight of the glory of the exalted magnificent God and out of the crushing sense of their own broken insufficiency to fall down in the presence of God. Develop the holy habit of getting on your knees. When you get on your knees, that shows humility. When you get on your knees, that shows submission. When you get on your knees, that shows resignation. When you get on your knees, it shows that you know who you are and who God is. So, I encourage you to spend some time on your knees.
6. Follow Christ’s Pattern For Prayer As To Its Content.
You remember that content. Luke 11 and parallel verses in Matthew 6:9-13, “When you pray; pray this way: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”
Those are the basic ingredients of secret prayer. I encourage you not simply to repeat the words, but use that prayer as a primer to direct you and to guide you.
7. Try To Spend At Least 5 Minutes In Prayer Without Asking Anything
And as I have told you many times, some of you have heard me say, Begin your time in secret with praise and thanksgiving to God for who he is and for what he has done. No petition, just praising him and glorifying him! The psalmist says in Psalm 145:5, “On the glorious splendour of your majesty, and upon your wondrous works, I will meditate.” What I’m saying is: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” And I encourage many of you to develop the habit.
By God's grace go to the place of secret prayer regardless of how you feel. If you are able to get on your knees without falling asleep. Open the Word of God and thank God for who He is and what He has done and try to spend five minutes—five minutes without asking God for anything else. Five minutes without asking God for anything else. No request. No petitions. No intercession. Just praising God for who He is and for what He has done in your life. Try that, men. I encourage you. God inhabits the praises of his people. And if you praise God and give Him the glory and intercede and focus at the beginning of the prayer upon the greatness and glory and the might and majesty and the dominion and the power and the blessedness of the one true living God as He has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, you will be blessed. The Spirit of God will come and will help you to pray.
8. Use Scripture To Guide You And To Prompt Your Prayer.
Sometimes, when we start praying, we are as dead as a hammer. We are tired and weak and we know not how to pray as we ought. But use the Scriptures. Turn to the Psalms. Those are prayers and meditation and praises of the children of Israel toward God. Use the Scripture to guide and to prompt your prayer. That is, pray through some Psalms and paraphrase it and enlarge it and expand it in your own mind. Use the Scripture to guide and prompt your prayer.
9. Ask For The Help And Assistance Of The Holy Spirit In Prayer.
Paul put it this way in Ephesians 6, “Praying always in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication.” Jude echoes that in Jude first and the only chapter when he says, “Build yourself up on your most holy faith praying in the Holy Ghost.” What does he mean? He does not mean speaking in tongues. He is talking about having the felt assistance and divine-enablement and filling of the Spirit of God in prayer. That is, when God comes by his Spirit, he illuminates the mind, he enlarges the heart, he loosens the tongue, and he gives us the sense of what the old Puritans called it, access. By that, they meant they had access into the presence of God. And if you’ve ever known that experience, you feel like you are wandering around and flopping around in prayer, like a fish thrown up on the bank out of the water. And then, all of a sudden, the Spirit of God can come and he can fill the wind in the sails of our soul. He enlightens and illuminates your mind, he loosens your tongue and you can pray for thirty minutes and it seems like thirty seconds. Most of the time, we pray for a minute, and it seems like an hour. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, pray for the grace and help of the Holy Spirit in prayer. Now I am not talking about what Romans 8 says, “We do not pray as we ought to pray but the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep to be uttered.” Romans 8 is talking about the Spirit himself silently and secretly praying on our behalf within us. “He that searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is.” I am talking about our prayer with the help of the Holy Spirit enlarging, illuminating, expanding and directing us in our prayers.
10. Don’t Quit Or Give Up In Spite Of Deadness Or Discouragement
Be willing to come back again the next day. Men, my desire for each one of you is that God would help you to know more of His presence in prayer in your ordinary life. So that, you then could be given to extraordinary prayer during times of crises in which presently we find ourselves.
Finally, let me mention six books that I have found helpful in regards to this issue of cultivating a life of private prayer and intercession.
1. A Call to Prayer - J. C. Ryle
2. Power through Prayer - E. M. Bounds A bit long book and a bit old English
3. The Secret Key of Heaven - Thomas Brooks
4. The Diary of David Brainerd - David Brainard
5. A Method of Prayer - Matthew Henry
6. The Hidden Life of Prayer - David McIntyre
Men, by the grace of God tomorrow I seek to rise and get up to seek God. I encourage you to not give up. Determine, if God does not meet you anywhere else he will meet in prayer.
This article is the third part of the transcript of a talk by Brother Andy H. in June 2021 entitled ‘The Preacher’s Private Prayers and Ministry of Intercession.’