Why Should We Pray in Secret?
Jesus taught that spiritual acts, such as charitable giving and prayer, should be done in secret so to affirm the genuineness of our motives toward God. In other words, such things done in private are to assure that God alone knows about them... so that our motives can remain pure, seeking only to please and honor Him, rather than seeking recognition or admiration from man.
Jesus said, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-6 NLT).
Without a doubt, fervent secret prayer, combined with tenacious faith and perseverance, plays an important role to effective prayer. The late Leonard Ravenhill, one of the past great apostles of prayer and revival, once wrote, “Do you know what the secret of praying is? Praying in secret... You can’t show off when the door’s shut and nobody’s there.”1
Not only does such private or secluded prayer serve to validate our sincerity toward God, but it can also help us focus more clearly on God alone, without the distractions of other cares or thoughts. God places special value on seeking Him wholeheartedly, and assures that such diligence will be rewarded. “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Andrew Murray put it this way, “Shut the world out, withdraw from all worldly thoughts and occupations, and shut yourself in alone with God, to pray to Him in secret. Let this be your chief object in prayer, to realize the presence of your heavenly Father.”2
Praying in secret also conveys the idea of a close and personal relationship... opening yourself, and trusting God with the most intimate contents of your heart. It involves confiding your deepest feelings, thoughts or concerns to Him, the things you’ve never shared with anyone else. Trusting Him with your secrets, your hidden thoughts... and confessing your sins, flaws or shortcomings, are all a part of trusting and loving Him “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). This type of closeness with the Lord, is probably what the psalmist was referring to when he referred to the “secret place” of fellowship with God. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalms 91:1).
This doesn’t mean that all prayer must be secret or private. Instances of public or corporate prayer are also valid and important. Besides praying much in seclusion, such as often going up into the mountains to pray alone (Matthew 14:23), Jesus prayed openly in many instances too, for the benefit of those who would hear (John 11:41-43). He also taught for believers to pray together in agreement on particular matters, which would not be possible unless they vocalize their prayers openly or are aware of what each are praying. “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you” (Matthew 18:19 NLT).
Obviously, there will be some prayers best kept secret only between you and God, but even your public prayers must always consist of the same genuineness and wholeheartedness toward Him, not for the sake of show or to impress anyone with your eloquence or supposed spirituality.
1 Prayer, Leonard Ravenhill, 1995