Jesus expects us to spend time alone in personal prayer, He said, “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father”….(Matthew 6:6a).
Personal prayer is not an easy option. All of us at some time or another will have had difficulties with it.
With the best of intentions our quiet time does not come up to our hopes and expectations. Our minds very quickly wander from the real aim of our prayer. When we try to pray for issues of worldwide concern, we feel overwhelmed and inadequate. On occasions we suddenly remember an important little task, and although it could wait, we are worried we will forget it and so we leave our prayer time, and may not return that day.
All these difficulties focus our attention on ourselves. But God is always in our lives! So in spite of these and other difficulties there will be brief moments when we know the presence of God with us, we sense the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the reassurance of our Lord’s presence. Wonderfully there will be times when we know our prayers have been answered.
The story is told about a zealous young theological student who asked Michael Ramsay how long the Archbishop spent in his personal private prayer. After some thought the Archbishop replied, “Mm …about two minutes…yes… yes…about two minutes”. But then the Archbishop noticed that he had shocked the student with his reply and added with a kindly smile, “but it usually takes me about half an hour to get there”. Most of us would nod in agreement with that sentiment!
There seems to have been no hint of self judgment in the Archbishop’s reply. It is so easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism, especially when we feel that our personal prayer is not what it should be. The danger is that because it is difficult, and we feel we have failed, we give up trying to pray.
The comment of Jesus, quoted at the start of this article, comes when he is criticizing the hypocrisy of those who, “love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others”. Perhaps the sheer difficulty of personal prayer helps to keep us from the sin of spiritual pride. So maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.
I try to keep the following thought in my mind when I “go into my room and close the door” for a time of personal prayer. The idea is written in a tiny little pocket book entitled “A moment of Prayer” by Tom Wright.
“PRAYER IS ME BEING ME IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD BEING GOD”