The Place of Private Prayer | Joe Best

“So when do you pray?” This question took me back a bit. It seemed like a simple question to answer. I mean, I’m a pastor. Of course I pray. I pray all of the time. But when a church member asked me this question, I found myself dumbfounded. It was probably because I had not been praying much recently, or at least not praying in any meaningful sense. I had been praying quick prayers. “Lord, help me to preach.” “Lord, thank you for this food.” “Lord, protect my kids.” It is not that these were bad prayers. It was that these were my only prayers. When I was asked this simple question, I realized that no relationship, no marriage, no friendship could ever be healthy on these tweet-sized conversations.

When I was a student at Boyce College, prayer was a priority in my life. My roommate was a great example to me, often disappearing for hours to have private prayer. I read about prayer in books like J. I. Packer’s Praying. I studied about prayer under praying men, like Dr. Donald Whitney and Dr. Stuart Scott. When I was a student, prayer was a daily part of my life. Then I became a pastor, then a husband, and then a father. In the midst of life’s circumstances, prayer lost priority in my life. If you’re not careful, it can lose priority in your life as well. Maybe it already has.

So how do we get back to prayer being a priority?

There is no doubt that prayer was central to the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. He prayed both publicly and privately. He prayed alone and He prayed with others. He woke up early and stayed up late (sometimes all night) in order to pray. He prayed on a mountainside and on a cross. Jesus’ disciples were firsthand eyewitnesses to His prayer life. They saw His passionate prayer, His affectionate tone in conversation with the Father, and His persistence. Naturally, they wanted to know how to pray in this way, so they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In Matthew 6:6, Jesus said to His disciples, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Notice that Jesus expects His disciples to pray. He says, “When you pray…” Prayer is expected from us, not as some religious activity to check off our list to earn the favor of our Father or because God is somehow desperate for conversation. Prayer is expected because it’s an essential part of our relationship with the Father. It is not just that we should pray (we all know we should pray)! It is that we must pray! We desperately need our Father. We are told to pray without ceasing because we will never cease to need the Father’s provision, pardon, and protection. Our Father also wants us to enjoy time with Him. He rewards time spent alone with Him. We pray basking in His presence, trusting in His promise, and being comforted knowing He answers prayer. Prayer will lose its priority in our lives when we stop seeing our desperate need for the Father.

Let’s stop and take an honest assessment together.  I’m in the same boat as you. You hear about prayer at church, in the classroom, and even from your friends. But how is your prayer time with the Father? How has your prayer time been this year? This week? This morning? Is it a priority in your life? No matter how you answered these questions, praise God that because of Jesus Christ the line of prayer is never closed or busy. God is always available and accessible to us.

Let’s make a humble plea to the Father. Let’s start by praying, “Father, thank you for prayer. Help us to pray.” Then let’s get started, because the best way to be disciplined in prayer is simply to pray. Two simple steps can get us back to praying. First, find the time, because there are so many things vying for your time (family, work, and school responsibilities). What are some things you can cut out of your schedule so you can make time to pray? Second, let’s fight the distractions. Find your secret place. Maybe it’s your car, at a park, or in the shower—wherever is an undistracted and quiet environment. Then turn off your phone (not just to silent) and have a prayer list or an open Bible to keep your focus. Let’s not lose the place of private prayer in our lives. Let’s pray.


Joe Best is the lead pastor at Cline Avenue Fellowship in Highland, Indiana.  He is an alumni of Boyce College.  He is married to Faith and they have two children.  You can follow him on Twitter at @jbest700.