Meg Barnes serves in the worship ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, where her husband, Andrew, serves on staff. Meg will be the worship leader for the 2021 N.C. Baptist Women’s Retreat — a one-day virtual event scheduled for Saturday, March 27. Meg recently took time to answer some questions about the retreat, its theme — “In the Secret” — and the focus of our worship.
The 2021 N.C. Baptist Women’s Retreat theme is “In the Secret,” from Matthew 6. When you hear “in the secret” what comes to mind and why?
To be honest, the first thing that comes to mind is the early-2000s and my Birkenstock-clad self jamming to the song “In the Secret” by Sonicflood. As nostalgic songs often do, it fills me with fond memories of hanging out with friends and listening to it together. But far beyond its nostalgia, that particular song reminds me of the first time I truly understood the purpose of spending time alone with the Lord. Over and over, the lyrics say “because I want to know You more,” and while listening to it, it finally clicked in my heart that designated time alone with the Lord is not just something to check off a list or do because you’re supposed to — it’s an incredible privilege. It’s a gift given to us by the Lord — an opportunity to draw close to the one true God who rules over all creation, yet also desires a personal relationship with me.
Matthew 6:6 says the Lord rewards those who pray to their Father in secret. While there are many rewards that come with spending time in His presence, I believe the greatest is simply growing to know Him more. It’s in the secret that I grow to understand the desires of His heart, and He molds my heart to desire the same. It’s in the quiet that He tunes my ear to recognize the sound of His voice and teaches me to wait and listen for it. It’s in those snatched moments of solitude that He shows me the profound majesty of His glory and the steadfastness of His character. As Paul says in Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (emphasis added). I am praying that you will experience the joy of growing in your knowledge of Him as you seek Him in the secret.
Around the world this past year, people have had a lot of downtime. How have you been able to use some of your downtime to cultivate your secret place with the Lord? Has your life and walk with the Lord changed in light of this, and if so, how?
The Lord blessed my husband and me with our first child in December 2019, so my personal definition of “downtime” has changed significantly over the past several months. As we have navigated these new waters of caring for a little one while both working from home, downtime as I once knew it has been far and few between. While we are all home more, the lines between work and parenting and marriage and time with the Lord sometimes blur so quickly that I get to the end of the day having no idea how I got there. This has made setting aside specific time to spend with the Lord more important than ever.
There have been two specific ways that I have tried to intentionally cultivate my secret place. The first is by waking up before my son to spend time in the Word and prepare my heart for the day. My husband has graciously taken care of our boy if he wakes before a certain time so I can have those moments with the Lord, which has been such a tremendous gift during this season. The second is memorizing and meditating on Scripture as I walk around our neighborhood or on greenways throughout the city. I try to get out for a walk every day, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Those have been some of the sweetest and most transformational moments in my walk with the Lord, and I know that the Scripture I’ve memorized and words He has spoken to me will continue to impact my heart for years to come.
How would you encourage another woman to cultivate her secret place with the Lord?
First and foremost, we must plan to spend time with the Lord. I will be the first to admit that I struggle with this. Being still before the Lord is not something that comes naturally for many of us. Countless other activities that seem more productive clamor for our attention on a daily basis. Prioritizing specific time to cultivate our secret place with the Lord is something that we must choose to do over and over again. This often means laying down our comfort or temporary happiness by sacrificing that extra hour of sleep, turning off the TV or even foregoing an outing (or Zoom call) with friends so we can ensure time with Him is a priority.
Please also remember, sister, that the Lord is full of grace. He loves you and loves when you choose to spend time with Him. He desires for you to seek Him even if it’s not in the perfect setting that you would prefer. Some days just don’t go according to our well-constructed plans, so cultivating that secret place may mean choosing to make a microwave meal rather than preparing a three-course dinner so you have time to sit at His feet. Other days you may need to study His Word with a little one rolling around at your feet or at the kitchen table while kids sit next to you and color. As Jesus goes on to say just a few paragraphs later in Matthew 6:33, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” While it is so lovely to sit alone with Him in our favorite spot with a cup of coffee in hand, the where and how are not nearly as important as the Who.
How do you think worship and the secret place are tied together?
We are all worshippers — whether it is entertainment, food, exercise, the Lord, ourselves or something entirely different. We all honor, adore and devote our lives to something. Worship is knitted into the very fabric of our beings because we were created to worship God. But we cannot worship what we do not know. The deeper our knowledge and understanding of the Lord’s character, the more we will grow to adore Him. And the more we grow to adore Him, the more we will desire to spend time with Him and be like Him. We certainly can and should grow in our knowledge of Him through group Bible studies and church gatherings, but it is in the secret place — our time alone with the Lord — that we develop intimate knowledge of His character that blossoms into a loving and personal relationship. The more we seek the Lord in the secret place, the more we will grow to adore and worship Him. And the more we grow to worship Him, the more we will desire to seek Him.
Anything else you would like to add?
It’s always amazing to me how the Lord uses every season of our lives to “bring forth our righteousness as the light and our justice as the noonday” (Psalm 37:6). No matter the immediate circumstances, He never stops molding us into His image for our greatest good and His greatest glory. This season was unprecedented for all of us in many ways, and one of those is the unique environment we have to put Matthew 6 into practice. We could not “stand and pray in the synagogues.” We have been encouraged not to linger in public places like “street corners” and there would likely be very few people there to listen if we did. While technology has been a huge blessing, many of the group activities we might normally rely on to maintain or even define our relationship with the Lord have been stripped away.
(At the outset of COVID-19 I said) I will be the first one running through the doors of the church when we are allowed back in, but during this season of physical separation from the church the Lord has given us the opportunity to examine the motivation of our hearts. Do I genuinely have a personal relationship with the Lord, or do I just go to church because it’s the right thing to do? Am I faithfully praying and seeking the Lord on my own even though there is no one around to see it? What do I miss about serving in the church — my glorification or the Lord’s? Go to the Lord in the secret place. Ask Him to search your heart and show you any offensive way in you (Psalm 139:23-24). Then “commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your justice as the noonday” (Psalm 37:5-6).
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