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THE SECRET PLACE (Views from the Abbey 24)

Do you have a favourite place, a secret place, a place you retreat to whenever you want to be alone, when you want to pray perhaps? It may be a room in your house, or a place in your garden, or a seat in a local park, or somewhere further afield that you can only get to periodically but it is always special when you manage to get there.

Adam Melfort is the central character in John Buchan’s A Prince of the Captivity. An officer and a gentleman, a brilliant career lies ahead of him until he is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. After he is released he embarks on daring missions in the service of his country, dangerous work behind enemy lines in World War I and espionage in 1920s. His favourite place is Eilean Bàn (Scottish Gaelic meaning White Island) a small island near the Isle of Skye, and it is a place he retreats to in his mind whenever he find himself in a stressful situation.

My favourite place is the beach at Tabgha, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee [see photo above]. It would appear to have been Jesus’ favourite place as well. The site of a number of major miracles and events, significant conversations with his disciples, but also a place of retreat and prayer for Jesus. I have visited there several times and for me it certainly carries a sense of place and presence, the feeling that I am on holy ground. Of course I can’t get there at the drop of a hat so to speak, although (like Adam Melfort) I often go there in my mind’s eye. These days I often settle for a seat at the bottom of our garden, under the willow trees (when the weather is warm) or my small upstairs study (when the weather is bad). A secret place, a quiet space, is important when you simply want to be quiet, to think, to reflect, and above all to pray. When the famous Canadian missionary Isobel Kuhn (1901-1957) was first converted the only place she could find in a busy household was the broom cupboard. I recall a girl in our youth group at my home church in Greenford who, when she first became a Christian, used to go to the bathroom when she wanted to spend time with God? It doesn’t really matter where our ‘secret place’ is, as long as we find a place, a ‘sacred space’, where we can be alone with God.

Jesus taught us, ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Amen, I tell you, they have their reward in full!  But you, when you pray, go into your inner room; and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you.  And when you are praying, do not babble on and on like the pagans; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.’ (Matthew 6:5-8). It was Leonard Ravenhill who, a number of years now, suggested that ‘No man [or woman for that matter] is greater than his [her] prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.’

Having said that, I have some sympathy for those people who, like Jesus’ disciples according to Luke’s version of this story (Luke 11:1-4), don’t know how to pray but want to learn. Or for those Christians who have lost their way and need help to start building back a vibrant relationship with God once again. Some years ago, in order to try and help people like this, I distributed a little booklet called Seven Minutes with God [you can find a copy at https://navigators.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/7-Minutes.pdf] to members of the congregation of the church where I was the Pastor at the time. I was roundly criticised for doing this, not for the act itself, but because I was ‘encouraging people to only pray for seven minutes each day’ when, in the eyes of some, they should be spending a lot longer in prayer! Facetiously, I have to confess, I did wonder how long those who were most vociferous in their comments and criticisms actually spent in prayer themselves each day?

The whole point of the little booklet is to help people who struggle with setting aside time to be with God, to think, to meditate, to just ‘be’ sometimes, to pray.  It is simply meant to ‘prime the pump’ so to speak, to get us going again in the realm of personal prayer. It helpfully suggests taking the first 30 seconds to prepare our hearts, the next four minutes listening to God (by reading a short section of Scripture), and the final two and a half minutes talking to God in prayer. Commenting on this simple outline Bob Foster suggests, ‘Very soon you will discover that it is impossible to spend only seven minutes with the Lord. An amazing thing happens – seven minutes become 20, and it’s not long before you’re spending 30 precious minutes with Him.’ Foster is also quick to point out, however, that developing a prayer habit in this way should be for the right reasons not the wrong: ‘Do not become devoted to the habit, but to the Saviour. Do it not because other people are doing it, not as a spiritless duty every morning, not merely as an end in itself, but because God has granted the priceless privilege of fellowship with himself.’

So why not give it a go? You don’t have to tell anybody what you are doing or why you are doing it. You don’t have to ‘clock in’ or report back to the Pastor on your progress. If you want a deeper walk with God … start by giving him just seven minutes and see what happens!

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,

Near to the heart of God. 

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Saviour meet,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

~ Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866-1944)

Jim Binney

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