Six Principles of Closet Communion: The Key for Christian Life and Growth
There is no doubt that the key to Christian life and growth is communion with God…on your own! You’ll hear many people say that they pray throughout the day with arrow prayers or they pray with other people. This is good, but this is not the foundation. Jesus constantly went to be with his Father in prayer (Matt. 26:36; Mark1:35; Luke 4:42, 5:16, 6:12). If he did this, how much more should we? Don Whitney says, “The two most important personal devotional practices are the intake of the Word of God and prayer”.
This is the most difficult thing for Christians. Why? Because both Satan and our sin hate life and growth. The devil will do anything to distract us from the task and our flesh will weaken in the task.
So here are six principles for cultivating closet communion:
1. Don’t Wait to Feel Like It Before You Do It
Closet communion is duty. Jesus commands it (Matt. 5:6). Obedience will often come before feeling. Commitment, not emotion, is the basis of covenant love. We do not always wake up with a heart on fire for God, but we do wake up knowing his command for us to pray. Even when your feelings waver you have objective truth, which tells you what to do.
Let the Word stir you and ask him to make you feel: “Lord, Hallow your name in my heart.”
But covenant love is not without emotion. God is an emotional God and we should delight in him. It is a sin not to delight in the source of all joy (Ps. 16:11). Paul even exhorts us to be joyful: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).
Closet communion won’t always begin with joyful feelings, but it can begin with joyful obedience.
2. Make It Regular
Train yourself for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). Training means repetition and regularity. Reading and praying for half a day once a week is not as good as reading and praying for half an hour once a day. Begin small, but be regular.
Find a regular place and go there on your own. I spend it in my study. It’s where I know I can be away from everyone for a season. Also, find a regular time. In general, don’t fit communion with God into your day, fit your day around communion with God. Decide whether you need to get up early before work or stay up a little later in the evening to do it. If you are a busy, tired mum, perhaps your husband will offer to watch the children while you spend time in the Word and prayer.
I know that the most important thing for my wife, children and church is my personal holiness and this begins with regular time in closet communion.
3. Prepare to Meet with God, Not Tick a Box
Even before you begin to read the Word or open your mouth in prayer, reorient yourself to whom you are dealing with. He is “Our Father in heaven.”
Attitude is crucial. Do you approach with bold reverence seeking to receive, repent and worship? Do you want to get things or get God? In the midst of trials David said, “Your face do I seek” (Ps. 27:8). We don’t simply want God to fix our problems (not that we shouldn’t ask him), we need experiential knowledge of him.
Praying “Make me like Jesus” is a dangerous prayer. It will involve repentance and that’s hard. How are you repenting during your daily devotional times as the Word is applied to your heart? Repentance should always be followed by worship. Praise him for what he has done in the gospel. You are a new creation. You have a Father in heaven. Christ is for you. The Spirit is in you. Change occurs in the heart first. Then go out and act accordingly.
Remember, you are going to meet with the living God, not tick a box. You can’t breathe without him. This is the most important part of your day. Fear to miss closet communion. Not just because you fear God’s rebuke, but also because you don’t get to see him.
4. Let the Word Govern Your Prayer
Supplication should not be dull and same old. Repetition of prayer doesn’t mean repetitive prayer. Boredom in prayer makes for wandering minds, which means a lack of fervency. Letting the Word govern your prayers prevents us praying the same words for the same people and things. Whitney has some good advice here:
“If you pray through Psalm 23 and pray for your family, for example, you’re going to pray for God to shepherd your family. It is different than any other prayer. Then if you pray the next time from Psalm 51, you may pray asking God to forgive you for yelling at your family. If it is Psalm 138 the next day then it’s “Lord, I pray would sense your presence today wherever they go.” If you look back up it’s really the same prayer: “Bless my family.” Instead of saying, “bless my family” half-heartedly, mindlessly, every day, you are saying “bless my family” through Psalm 23 and it comes out as “shepherd my family.”
Personally, I let the word I read in the morning not only govern my closet communion but my whole day. God has something particular for me each day in his living Word. My task is to find it and be led by it throughout that day.
5. Dig For Gold; Don’t Rake For Leaves
Many people try and read too much Scripture at once. Now, reading the Bible in a year demands as much as four portions per day (as per McCheyne’s plan). But most people forget what they’ve read by the time they come to pray or they’ve read so much they don’t know which part should govern their prayers. They’ve read the Word but they’ve raked for leaves instead of digging for gold.
Digging for gold in God’s Word demands time. One way of solving this problem is to read smaller portions, working through one book for your daily communion, and reading the larger portions at another time in the day. Reading smaller portions allows you to dig deep.
Here’s what I do when I’m alone with God. I take a chapter of a book I’m working through (sometimes its only half a chapter). I ask God to open my eyes to His word, to show me Jesus, ignite my affections for him and supply his Spirit for illumination. Then I look at the passage. First I’m looking for the authorial meaning, not just what stands out for me. I’ll chew on repeated words or phrases and see how they connect to the flow passage whether it is poetry, narrative, law, history, prophecy, etc.
Once I get the meaning (I may use a commentary to help), I’m looking to see how it points to Christ and what it means for me as a Christian. I’m renewing my mind in the Word (Rom. 12:2), and having that Word shape my affections and direction. But prayerful meditation is the key (Ps. 1:2). That’s when, like the miner in Job 28, you are going down into the depths of God’s wisdom and staying there until you come up with treasure.
My aim is not just to get treasure for me but for my wife, whom I lead daily in devotions. A tip for husbands here: in your personal devotions mine for gold so you can wash your wife with the Word (Eph. 5:26). Don’t drown her with an hour-long doctrinal dissertation. Give her a nugget and make application to her life as you live with her in an understanding way.
But all of us can practice this. This way the gold you discover is not only for you but also for others. Your closet communion should have an inward and an outward effect.
Finally, persevere in these things. Perseverance shows faith (Luke 18:1-8). Many times the difference between some Christians and others is fight! In an age of instant gratification, we have become lazy and complacent and when we don’t see immediate results or it becomes hard work we get discouraged and give up.
Perseverance is the sign of a Christian. We need to rediscover a theology not simply of physical work but spiritual work. Times are coming when being an evangelical in Calgary will become increasingly more difficult. We need to be fit for the conflict or we’ll be trying get fit during it.
Closet communion is the key to life and growth. Let’s encourage one another to cultivate this over the summer.