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"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."
It was a frigid, early winter morning in Michigan over 25 years ago. A young Eric Ludy awoke with an extra spring in his step and an unexplained sense of excitement in his heart. Despite the cold and dreary weather outside his window, he had the feeling that something amazing was about to happen.
Eric and I had been in a serious relationship for nearly two years. Both of us sensed that the time for our marriage was drawing near. Being apart was getting to be more and more heart-wrenching. But there were some practical obstacles standing in our way. For one thing, Eric wanted to buy me an engagement ring. But on his meager missionary’s salary, it seemed that the only ring he’d ever be able to afford was the kind found at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
And yet on that winter morning, Eric went through his daily routine of having a quiet time and getting ready, only to have his sense of excitement grow. He danced down the hall to find his coat and retrieve a bottle of lotion he’d left in his pocket the night before. Reaching into his coat pocket he pulled out a thick envelope he’d never seen before. Startled, he peered inside and realized the envelope was full of cash — a large pile of 100-dollar bills!
Looking closer, he discovered that there was a simple hand-written message on the outside of the envelope that said, “He is Jehovah Jireh” (God our Provider). And next to the phrase was a picture of a ring.
Still to this day — over 25 years later — we do not know who our secret benefactor was. It was a gift given in secret; an act of obedience that was kept private between him (or her) and God. As a result, it is God’s amazing provision that stands out, rather than simply the name of the person who gave the gift.
That secret gift-giver who made it possible for Eric to buy me an engagement ring all those years ago beautifully illustrated Jesus’ words, “when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be done in secret…” (Matt. 6:3–4).
Scripture has much to say about keeping secrets — giving in secret, praying in secret, meeting God in the secret place, and guarding secrets that are entrusted to us. Here are just a few additional examples:
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.
Debate your case with your neighbor, and do not disclose the secret to another.
… do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
A gift in secret pacifies anger…
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Even Jesus kept secrets, as well as charged others to do so. On various occasions He commanded His disciples not to tell others that He was the Christ, after they had seen amazing signs that convinced them. (See Matthew 16:20; Mark 8:30; Mark 9:9.) And when He healed various people, He told them not to tell anyone what had happened. (See Luke 5:14 and Luke 8:56.)
And yet despite these Scriptural exhortations toward secret-keeping, being guarded is not en vogue these days, even in Christian circles. It is often seen as far more healthy and right to share everything, to be open about everything, and never keep anything to yourself.
Social media has made it easier than in any other generation to reveal our secrets to the world. Have a gripe against someone? Post it on your Facebook page and you’ll be applauded with comments like, “I appreciate your honesty” and “Thanks for being real!” Going through a personal struggle? Blog all about it and let your followers comment about how much they can relate. Have dreams and desires for the future? Post them on Pinterest or Instagram for anyone and everyone to see and emulate.
Even being a mom these days has become more of a public journey than a private one. Those of us who are raising children are often led to believe that unless we are constantly posting and blogging about our kids and home life, our motherhood role is not really valid.
In a world where being “raw and real” and “open and honest” is esteemed as a refreshing and wonderful virtue, being guarded and discreet in any area of life can seem foreign, awkward, and even unspiritual.
While sharing personal things with others is certainly not always wrong, I believe that many of us have lost something precious that God intended us to experience — the intimacy of communing with God alone “in the secret place,” as Jesus so beautifully described it.
Throughout the past year, I’ve been walking through a very difficult personal trial. It’s a trial that has often left me feeling helpless and discouraged, and there have been times when I’ve longed to share my struggles with someone who can personally relate to what I’m going through. But other than Eric, who has walked through this intense trial with me, there aren’t many people in my life who have any kind of personal experience with this particular struggle. And many of the details can’t be shared publicly in order to protect the privacy of others. As a result, I’ve often been tempted to feel very alone and isolated in this trial. A few months ago, I stumbled across a few lines in one of Amy Carmichael’s books that greatly comforted me. She wrote of a private personal struggle, saying, “I am dispirited. I cannot speak to anyone of the cause. It is private.” And God’s answer to her was, “I heard thee in the secret place of the storm. In the secret place among the unspoken things, there I am.”
I have been reminded these past months what an incredible joy and privilege and blessing it is to meet God in the secret place — that private place in the soul that only He can comfort and only He can understand. Even when nobody else in the world can offer anything helpful, He knows, He hears, and He meets us there in that beautiful, secret place. He is the All-Sufficient One and the God of All Comfort. And His help is far superior than the help of men. (See Psalm 108:12.) When I feel alone, when my struggles are too private to share with others, He is waiting to meet me in the secret place.
In one of Elisabeth Elliot’s episodes of her radio program, Gateway to Joy, she spoke about a woman who was in constant physical pain. This woman read Jesus’ words about going to meet the Father in the secret place and began to apply that truth to her situation. Instead of telling others about the pain she was in, she decided to keep it between herself and the Lord alone. Instead of wearing a continual downcast expression on her face, she did the opposite. She dressed nicely, put on makeup, and wore a smile. She lived in such a joyful, outward-focused way that others would not have guessed that she was walking through a trial of constant pain. The grace and strength that flowed into this woman’s life from abiding in the secret place was powerful and real.
If you are going through a struggle of any kind, I’d like to encourage you to meet your Father in the secret place. Even if it is a struggle that nobody else can relate to, even if the people in your life seem insensitive or indifferent — He knows, He hears, He cares, and He understands. Take your cares to Him. Lay them at His feet. Wait expectantly for the comfort and wisdom that He delights to give; it will always prove far superior to that of any human comfort or human wisdom.
Many of us desire to draw closer to Christ but aren’t exactly sure how to do it. Learning how to take our private cares and concerns and struggles to Him alone is a wonderful way to cultivate deep and lasting intimacy with Him. Just as a marriage relationship cannot thrive if a couple does not guard the privacy of their relationship, our relationship with Christ cannot thrive if we do not keep sacred things sacred in our walk with Him.
Of course there may be times when He leads you to share some of your personal journey with other people. But let Him first prove Himself as the All-Sufficient One in your life. Learn how to make Him your first turn, your true Comforter, before you rush to process or share with other people.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a beautiful example of abiding in the secret place. From the moment the angel first came to her, there was no one else in her life who could truly relate to what she was going through. When she was found to be with child, most people in her life probably assumed it was a result of her sinful choice, rather than a miracle of God. Yet she did not rush to defend herself or explain her situation to others. She remained yielded and obedient to God’s will, even when her circumstances became very difficult.
Later, when she had seen and experienced many incredible things, she chose to keep them quiet rather than publish them to the world. “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart,” says Luke 2:19. I’ve often wondered if one of the reasons Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus was because of this rare quality of discretion and guardedness. She knew how to keep sacred things sacred. I believe we can learn so much from her amazing example of secret-keeping.
Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” In order to guard that “secret place” in our relationship with Christ, we need to know what to share with others, and what to keep between ourselves and Christ alone.
Here are two practical principles that have been helpful for me when it comes to making decisions about when to speak and when to keep silent.
1) Offenses, Hurts, and the Sins of Others:
Amy Carmichael once wrote about a man who wrestled with the question, “When should I speak and when should I be silent regarding personal grievance and sin in others’ lives?” And the answer was, “His Father caused him to understand that when the wrong done was personal, his lips must be silent. And he must see to it that in the hidden man of the heart there was always the gentleness of Christ. But when the good of others required it, then he must speak even as Paul did … Then the son took for a law of life these words, ‘Silence, unless the reason for speech will bear the Searchlight of Eternity.’”
It can feel nearly impossible to keep silent when we feel the sting of personal offense. It’s so much more satisfying to vent our hurts to a girlfriend or pour out our frustrations on social media. But this is exactly why we are told in Scripture to “cast all [our] care upon Him, because He cares for [us]” (1 Pet. 5:7). He is waiting for us to take our hurts and sorrows to Him; waiting to restore us, comfort us, and give us grace to love and forgive in return. When we push Him away and run to others instead, we might find temporary human comfort, but we will miss out on the supernatural peace He wants to give us when we meet Him in the secret place.
The same is true for seeing sin in others’ lives. It’s so tempting to want to talk to someone else about the failures we have observed in others — which all too quickly becomes nothing more than spiritualized gossip and slander. Do we trust that when we take our burden for another person to God in prayer, He is mighty to save? (See 1 John 5:16.) Do we trust that the other person can be won without a word by our good conduct in Christ? (See 1 Peter 3:1.)
When we adopt the code of entrusting offenses to God alone — unless we must speak for the sake of another soul (or for our own safety or the safety of another, such as in a case of abuse) — we will find that there is a comfort and joy far deeper than the temporary satisfaction of venting our feelings to others. As it says in Proverbs 29:11, “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.”
Trusting God with personal offenses and going to God when we see sin in others’ lives requires supernatural grace. But it is grace that He is more than willing to give if we simply ask Him.
2) Public Sharing of Spiritual Truths:
In an age when it seems that nearly every Christian woman has a blog or social media presence, it’s easy to assume that when spiritual things are being shared publicly, it’s healthy and good. After all, sharing personal life lessons in a public platform is a whole lot better than sharing gossip and cultural fads, right?
The biggest pitfall here is that in our eagerness to share our experiences with others, we all too often fail to protect the intimacy of our walk with Christ. There are things that God may be doing in our lives: spiritual lessons we are learning, biblical truths we are pondering at a whole new level, sin we are being convicted of — but this doesn’t necessarily mean all these things should be immediately shared with the world. Like Mary, there may be a season when we are meant to “keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts.”
In Matthew 6:6, Jesus exhorts us to maintain privacy in our personal prayer life. This is where the concept of a “prayer closet” comes from. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to publicly share all about our personal spiritual walk and let others know every detail about God’s private dealings with us.
Not only does too much public sharing disrupt our intimacy with Christ, there is another danger. It’s easy to pass along spiritual truth to others before it has fully matured in our own lives, which can become a hindrance to our hearers. Sometimes what we may intend as “verbal processing” of new concepts and ideas, others may take as Gospel-truth and begin applying to their own lives.
There is a time and place to share about what God has taught us or truths that have impacted our lives. But I believe spiritual truths should only be shared on a public platform after God has established them in our own lives, not right as we are thinking about them for the very first time.
We must also examine our motives for sharing our personal life lessons with others. Is it so that we can impress them with our profound ideas and spiritual depth? Or is it to encourage them and point them toward Jesus Christ? Ask yourself the question: Would I be fine sharing these truths even if nobody ever knew my name and I never got any credit for them? If the answer is no, it may be a sign that your motives for sharing aren’t quite as God-honoring as they should be.
If you have a blog, social media presence, or other platform in which you share spiritual truths and experiences with others, take some time to prayerfully consider what you share, and when you share it. This certainly doesn't mean that you should never share your own struggles, challenges, or failures. It’s vital to remain humble and “human” with your fellow believers, rather than putting on a false front of perfection. But be extremely purposeful about protecting your own intimacy with Christ as you do so. Keep your intimate “prayer closet” with Him sacred and private. When He leads you to share spiritual life-lessons, be sure that you are doing so for the sake of another’s soul, and not merely because you are jumping on the “share everything” bandwagon.
God’s Word reminds us that, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19).
When in doubt, silence instead of sharing is always a good course of action.
Charles Spurgeon once exhorted his congregation to come away from the distractions of the world and dwell in the secret place of intimacy with Christ. He said, “Come away to private communion … Come away, shut the doors of your chamber and talk with your Lord Jesus and have close and intimate dealing with Him.”
Dwelling in the secret place of intimacy with our King may not be glamorous to this world; in fact, nobody else may even know anything about it. And yet, it is the most beautiful, fulfilling, and precious place we could ever hope to be. Let us never take it for granted.
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