At age 41, my spiritual life had become tepid, joyless and somewhat irrelevant to me.
The Christian faith had been a very real part of my life since I was a child, but as I grew older, although my faith was intact, the cares of the world had slowly eroded any real reliance upon God. I was going through the religious motions marked by attending church and minimal charitable giving, but the vibrancy of a personal relationship was suffering.
My wife, Ann, an avid Bible reader, challenged me to read the Bible, something I had not regularly done as an adult. In 2000, beginning in the New Testament, I started reading. It did not take long to be confronted with challenges that would change my life forever.
On Day Two, I saw in the sixth chapter of Matthew the clear instructions of Jesus to give in secret, pray in secret and to fast in secret. None of those practices were a part of my life at that time. But I was looking for something to reignite my relationship with the One I called Lord.
What captured my attention was the obvious promise that follows each of those calls to action: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” “Really?” I thought to myself.
In His own words, Jesus was challenging me not to be “religious” through public displays, but to put faith into practice privately. So I did. All three of these, beginning with prayer.
Following these literal instructions in Matthew 6:6 — “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” — I made it a daily practice to get up an hour earlier in the mornings, set aside time to read my Bible, and then go into a small closet in our home, close the door, get on my knees and pray.
My understanding from this verse was that God wanted me to avoid vain posturing and to pray privately, secretly because of my need for humility. Certainly, that was a need of mine. But there was something far greater to learn.
In this new way of praying, although reverent and respectful, I noticed that I prayed differently when no one else was listening. Prayers became sincere, authentic and transparent. The words that I verbalized aloud were not catchphrases or platitudes, but real, conversational and often urgent.
What was happening was that I was learning to actually talk to God. These were not crafted prayers to impress others. These moments began to bring me closer to Him and into a two-way relationship in a similar way as human friendships develop through conversation.
But what about that “openly reward you” part, you may be asking?
Over time, I began to notice answers to very specific prayers about things that nobody knew were on my heart but God. In other words, Jesus began to show me that He was there; He was listening to those prayers! An incredible joy flooded my soul.
God wanted me to learn that He was in fact present. That He is the God who is not a historic figure or distant, disinterested deity, but the God who is there, fully alive and fully engaged. Only by praying in secret could I have discovered for certain that the King of Kings was listening. What could be better?
• Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. He is also the author of “The Worst Financial Mistakes in the Bible And How You Can Avoid Them”; host of the nationally syndicated radio feature, My MoneyLife; and a columnist at the Christian Post. Follow him @chuckbentley.
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