Not long after I began to follow Jesus in the late 70s, I was invited to take a Sunday evening class at the church designed to help new believers grow. As I joined the group, they handed me a small study book focused entirely on “the devotional life.” I still carry it in my Bible to this day. I was 17 and eager to learn, and I read it over and over.
Most of my friends referred to their private prayer and Bible reading activity as their “quiet time.” It felt “right” when I did “it.” I read my Bible. I prayed because I was supposed to pray. These were things serious Christians practiced as a daily part of their lives. It seemed hard on many days. I did not want to get up early. I had trouble focusing on the reading for the day (to read the Bible through in a year I had to keep it up every day). I didn’t feel “right” when I failed to read my Bible and pray in the mornings. I blamed myself and my lack of discipline.
During the summer before my sophomore year of college, I was working an all-night security job and began reading large sections of the Bible in one sitting. At times I wept over the truth I was encountering for the first time. Sometimes the joy was so great I could not help but laugh out loud. My heart was full. I sensed God stirring my heart with a fresh love for His Word — and for Him.
Oddly enough, I still struggled with the discipline of the daily “quiet time,” but I began to long for something more meaningful to happen. I was missing something, and I knew it.
When my wife and I married at the end of our junior year of college, I was serving on the staff of a small-town church. We were house-sitting that summer for a professor and his wife while they were away on a short-term teaching assignment in another state. Located among gentle rolling hills miles out in the country, the house sat well back from the rural highway on several pine-covered acres.
The care of the house included an exceptionally large German shepherd named Daisy. Barking fiercely at any perceived threat, she convinced anyone driving up to the house to stay in their car until we told her to stand down. She was a sweet, well-trained protector of her territory and was completely fearless — unless a thunderstorm was coming — then she was terrified and had to be let into the safety of the laundry room.
Beyond the backyard there was a beautiful pasture populated with cattle. Sometimes they would poke their heads between the strands of barbed wire fencing, straining to crop some of the grass from our lawn. I could tell Daisy to “move those cows” and with great delight she would ferociously charge the errant beasts, driving them across the pasture until I called her back.
It was during that summer – at a backyard fence post – when I began to understand what had been missing from my “devotional life.”
Prayer is a Relationship
While teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus explained:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” ~ Matthew 6:5-6
At first glance, this seems to be an explanation of the proper time-and-place procedures associated with prayer. But read in context, Jesus is saying something especially important about the prayer life of His disciples. Some people love public, attention-getting prayer moments. But do they love God? Do they love being alone with Him?
A variant of the public prayer life of a hypocrite is the pursuit of a daily Bible reading and prayer time for the purpose of being able to say, “I did it.” Whether I am reporting my “discipline” to my peers to gain their respect, or just doing it for my own sense of “rightness,” Jesus is making it clear that I am missing the point of prayer.
It is not merely an admirable practice or discipline — prayer is a relationship – and that’s what many faithful “quite-timers” are missing. In contrast to those who crave the respect and attention of the crowd (or just the self-satisfaction of doing what all “good Christians” do), disciples are invited to meet with the Father — to carve a space out of an insanely busy world where it’s just Him and His child.
Easily overlooked is the fact that Jesus is also telling me something about the Father’s heart. He wants me to be alone with Him. He calls me to pray as a way of being intimate with me. Again, He says, “and when you have shut your door, pray….” Only when I have shut out the possibility of receiving attention, affirmation, or affection from anyone else am I ready to meet with my Father.
Prayer is Opening My Heart to My Father
So, what happened during that summer out in the country? One morning before my wife was up, I slipped out to one of the fence posts by the pasture. Daisy followed me and laid down next to my feet. I placed my Bible on top of the post and began to read and pray — first silently and then out loud — addressing my voice to Him. Except for Daisy, who was neither impressed nor disturbed, no one else could hear.
Rather than merely laying out a list of daily prayer requests, I was spending time with Someone who wanted to be with me. I was enjoying Him, and I came to believe that He was enjoying me. I told Him what was bothering me – what was wrong. I unloaded my questions and worries and longings, laying them down “at His feet” – at the fence post. As I read the Psalms, I noticed the writer doing what I was doing – pouring out His heart.
There were moments when I wanted to sing as a way of expressing love and thanks and praise. I did sing songs that I knew, but at other times, I made up melodies and lyrics, singing a “new song” of my own. No, I didn’t write any of that down. And you really would not appreciate the quality of what you heard… but it wasn’t for anyone else and it wasn’t something to be recorded or repeated. They were songs for Him.
Sometimes I wept over something I had done that I believed hurt Him. I asked Him to forgive me. On other occasions, I could not help but smile and laugh as I recognized some new truth about Him in His Word, learning and listening as I read. He would bring someone to mind and I would pause, reflecting how I needed to pray for that person. Then there were those moments when I had nothing to say, but I did not move… I just stood there quietly before Him, yielding my heart and my life to the One who was there and who loved me.
Prayer is Meeting with My Father Who Waits for Me
And there is more: I discovered that He waits for me. He waits in the “secret place.” In the Matthew 6 passage Jesus adds: “…pray to your Father who is in the secret place.” He is already there. When you go “there” – to a time and place where no one else can hear or see – you are assured an audience with your Father. I began to understand that whenever I chose to bypass my time at the “fence post,” I was no longer just skipping my “quiet time” as a spiritual discipline: I was passing up a treasured appointment highlighted on my Father’s schedule.
Since those days at the fence post, there have been countless other times and places – morning walks, travelling alone in my car, late night visits to an armchair, hotel rooms – but the purpose is always the same. I want to meet with my Father who is waiting for me, calling me to Himself, and who desires to be with me.
So, to meet with your Father, you do not need to travel to an awe‑inspiring cathedral or to an insanely beautiful mountain meadow or to a fence post in a hillside pasture.
Well-chosen times and places sequester you away from the incessant “noise” of the world around you, but the real journey is to a time and place within you.
He is waiting there for you.