Desert Wisdom: Praying “In Secret”

The “room” of prayer (whether literal or figurative) is intended to facilitate Jesus admonition for us to “pray in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

Bunge points out that praying “in secret” is not simply to avoid pride, but also a practical way to diminish distractions (p. 55).  Abba Markos told Arsenius, “I cannot be with God and at the same time be with men.”

Years ago, I learned about this through an experience a friend of mine had with E. Stanley Jones.  My friend was attending a conference where Jones was speaking.  He really wanted to have some personal time with Brother Stanley, so after lunch one afternoon, he followed Jones to his hotel room.  Giving him some time to get settled in, my friend knocked on the door.  No answer.  He knocked again.  No answer.

He knew that Brother Stanley was in there, so he tried a third time.  But again, no answer.  At that point, he gave up and went away.  That evening, he had the opportunity to sit next to Jones at dinner.  My friend commented that he had knocked on the hotel room door, to which Brother Stanley said, “Oh, was that you?”

My friend confessed that he was a bit put off by Jones’ remark, because it showed he had obviously heard the knock.  But before he could say anything, Brother Stanley continued, “I have learned that the person who is available to everyone is soon no good to anyone.”

My friend says this was the most important lesson he learned in the whole conference.  Brother Stanley’s words became wise counsel, and they are reflective of the ancient wisdom underlying praying “in secret.”  There simply must be those times when we “go away”–not as a means of avoiding people, but as a means of attending to God.  Otherwise, our availability to everybody will mean we are no good to anybody.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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