Q: #348. What is a "prayer closet?
By: Steve Shirley
A: This term comes from Jesus' words in (Mt 6:6) which say, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
Some people take Jesus' words here to mean we are "literally" to have a "closet" that we pray in. We will look more at this below, but this is not the primary meaning of this verse. If you look at this verse in context (looking at the verses surrounding it), you can see that Jesus is addressing the "hypocrisy" of the Pharisees. They did such things as "giving" (Mt 6:2-4), "praying" (Mt 6:5-6), and "fasting" (Mt 6:16-18), to show others how devoted they were to God and to draw attention to themselves. In regards to prayer, they were not truly communicating with God, but rather, they were praying to receive approval from, and look pious in front of others.
Jesus says in verse 5 that in doing this, "they have their reward" (their reward being that they were seen by others). Instead, Jesus says that if we "enter into our closet" and "pray in secret," we will be "rewarded by the Father." This does not mean that we are ONLY to pray in secret and alone, and not in public, but rather, Jesus is addressing motives. (Jesus prayed in public a number of times: Mk 7:34, Lk 10:21-22, Jn 11:41-42, Jn 12:27-30.)
Prayer is simply communication with God. It is a privilege bought by the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb 10:19-20)(Jude 1:24). It is first and foremost a desire to conform our will to God's will. It is also many other things which I speak of in more detail here.
We are told to "pray without ceasing" (1 Th 5:17). In short, this means that we should live in a continual state of prayer in our everyday lives. We should be praying all through the day. Obviously, if we follow this, we cannot limit our prayers to simply "praying in a closet." Most agree that when Jesus says to "enter into thy closet," He is talking about the importance of "making time to be alone with God," or "shutting oneself in with God." Jesus sets this example for us many times in the Gospels (Mt 14:23)(Mt 26:36-44)(Mk 1:35)(Lk 5:16)(Lk 6:12)(Lk 9:18)(Lk 22:39-46).
However, the Greek word for "closet" is "tameion," which Strong's says "denotes, firstly, "a store-chamber," then, "any private room, secret chamber."" Those who take Jesus' words literally often have an actual closet or room devoted to prayer. There is nothing at all wrong with this, and it can actually be beneficial to keep our attention focused totally on God. Whether or not you believe this needs to be an actual room, you should have a place where you can go to be alone with God without distraction (which is likely what Jesus meant when He said "shut the door").
I believe many things can be our "prayer closet." For example, some people take a walk, some go to the beach, some pray in their car, etc... For me, it is an old recliner in a dark room with a soothing noise machine. For my wife, it is kneeling on a pillow in front of the sofa. Some use their Bible while praying. Some keep a prayer journal. I saw one picture where a person had a bulletin board in front of them with prayer needs attached to it. Wherever your "prayer closet" is, give your undivided attention to God and "seek Him with all of your heart" (Ps 119:2)(Deut 4:29)(Heb 11:6)(Ps 27:8). God knows the hearts of all men (1 Sam 16:7)(1 Kin 8:39)(Lk 16:15)(Acts 1:24).