It was a busy Thursday evening in October 2002. Billy Graham was leading a crusade in my hometown, and my church had chartered a bus for any interested church member to ride to the gathering with ease. I was one of the last people to make it to the bus before it departed and there was only one seat left next to an older lady I had seen previously around the church but didn’t know.
I sat down beside her and for the next hour we chatted. I learned she and her husband were both retired medical doctors who had served as international missionaries for over three decades. She was humble and markedly godly in her demeanor and character and over the next four days she and I sat next to each other in the commutes to and from the crusades and during the gatherings. Over the next 13 years – until her homegoing in 2015 – I would learn many lessons from her in an informal capacity. Chief among them is the need to cultivate the secret place with the Lord.
The secret place. In our culture of transparency, social media use and “share all” environments, the idea of having a secret place in our personal relationship with the Lord has slowly become lost. Pulling away from the demands of life and spending one-on-one time with the Lord is what Jesus desires with His followers. It is the secret place the Father sees that garners His reward.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to His disciples, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them (emphasis added); otherwise you have no reward with the Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Jesus continues to tell His disciples when they give to the poor, they are not to announce it to all to be honored by men, otherwise they have their reward in full (Matthew 6:2). However, when His disciples give, it is to be done in secret and “your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4).
Jesus then instructs His disciples when they pray, they are not be like the hypocrites who like to be noticed in important places “so that they may be seen by men. Truly … they have their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5). Instead, Jesus tells His disciples to go to their inner rooms, close their doors and “pray to (their) Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Jesus also says this to the disciples when it comes to fasting (Matthew 6:17-18).
The word for secret used in the original Greek is kryptos, and it is where we get our modern-day word cryptic. The word means hidden, inward or concealed and doesn’t refer to a physical place, but rather the heart. It is the same word used in 1 Peter 3:4 when Peter writes about the character of women, “…but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
It is the secret place the Father sees that garners His reward.
There is a link between heart motivation and our actions. It is in the secret, as we obey our Lord’s commands to pray, give and fast, that we engage in worship. If we are engaging in these acts of righteousness to be noticed by men, it is no longer the Lord who is the center of worship – instead it is us.
Jesus contrasts acts of righteousness done in secret only seen by God with the same acts of righteousness done to be noticed by men. Immediately following, Jesus tells His followers, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Are we forfeiting the eternal for the temporary? Is the cultivation of our relationship with the Lord – and His promise of rewarding acts of righteousness done in secret – less important to us than the temporary, and fleeting, approval of man?
It is from this passage of Scripture we derive the theme of the 2021 N.C. Baptist Women’s Retreat, “In the Secret.” How do we grow in our relationship with God where we begin valuing and treasuring our time with Him in prayer, giving and fasting without broadcasting it to the world? How do we store up treasures in heaven instead of enjoying the temporary approval of man? During this year’s women’s retreat we will focus on learning biblical and practical ways to cultivate the secret place with the Lord through Bible study, prayer, giving, fasting, worship and disciple-making.
In his bestselling devotional My Utmost for His Highest, the late Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers wrote, “Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.” When we spend time with the Lord, we don’t have to be noticed by men. God will make Himself known through us as we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), and all the things Jesus speaks of in Matthew 6 are added to us.
The truth of Matthew 6 is for every believer. This is true for the mom with four children. Or the recent college graduate. Or the new believer in her 60s. Or the lady who feels forgotten by everyone around her, but isn’t overlooked by the Lord. Or the lady who feels overwhelmed by her life. Or the missionary who gave her life to serve Christ overseas. Our Heavenly Father, who knows us by name and has numbered the hairs on our heads, desires to commune with us in the secret place and promises, “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant” (Psalms 25:14).
How are you growing in the secret with the Lord?
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