Implementing Christ's Approach: Effectiveness in Prayer

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Can you think of the most desperate prayer you’ve ever prayed? I’m not sure when mine was, but I sure know when it should have been. It happened in Vera Cruz, Mx. Tony, Doug and I were there visiting churches and decided to take a taxi from the bus station to the hotel. I think this guy must have seen us coming, but we all piled into his little Nissan Sentra or whatever it was. There were three of us in the back seat and one of us in the front. I was sitting in the middle with no door to lean on and this guy takes off.

He was possessed! I don’t know where the fire was, but this guy drove like he was Barney Fife chasing a crook through downtown Mayberry. He was flying in the middle of heavy traffic, only he didn’t slow down. He would see the lane blocked and never took his foot off the accelerator. Sitting in the middle, I was thrown all over that car. I don’t remember if I was praying, but I should have been.

Which reminds me of the story I heard of this minister dies and is waiting in line at the Pearly Gates.Ahead of him is a guy dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans.

Saint Peter says to this guy, "Who are you, so that I may know whether to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?"

The guy replies, "I'm Joe Cohen, taxi driver, of Noo Yawk City."

Saint Peter consults his list. He smiles and says to the taxi driver, "Take this silken robe and golden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

The taxi driver goes into Heaven with his robe and staff, and it's the minister's turn.

He thought to himself, “If this taxi driver gets a golden staff and a silken robe, I can’t wait to see what I’ll get.” So he stands erect and booms out, "I am Joseph Snow, pastor of Saint Mary's for the last 43 years."

Saint Peter consults his list. He says to the minister, "Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

"Just a minute!" says the minister. "That man was a taxi driver, and he gets a silken robe and golden staff. I’m a pastor. Served the Lord all my life and all I get is a silken robe and a golden staff? How can this be?"

"Well, you have to understand, Joseph,”said Peter, “Up here, you receive your reward based on your results, While you preached, people slept. When he drove, people prayed."

Which leads me to this question: Taken any taxi rides lately? Had any desperate prayers in your life of late? I’ll tell you something about desperate prayers: They go a lot better if they follow a life of prayer that knows the one to you pray! And, yet, even among people who attend church and would likely call themselves Christians, only about 1 out of 3 pray daily and another 1out of 3 seldom or never pray.


Why is this? Why is it that the very people who claim to know Christ spend so little time talking to Him? More specifically, Why is it that you and I often neglect prayer? We know we need to do it, but we don’t. Why?

Well, in some cases, we are blocked by INTEREST. What I mean is we lack interest in prayer. If we were to just get honest with ourselves, we’d have to admit that we find prayer boring. One blogger wrote:

Sometimes prayer is BORING. Isn’t that scandalous to admit? I mean no disrespect to the Lord. He is not boring – not at all. But sometimes I am bored at the thought of talking to Him. Isn’t that crazy? The God of the universe (or multiverse, depending upon whose teaching you follow), the God who created the rings around Saturn, who made the tree outside my office window, who gave me four, healthy beautiful children, an amazing marriage, who parted the water for the Isrealites to walk through on dry ground, that God – that’s who I am too bored to approach. Hmmm, clearly something is wrong with me. And knowing that changes nothing. I should be excited at the very thought of approaching my Creator, the lover of my soul, the great I AM. But sometimes I would rather sleep in or watch TV.

Have you been there? You know you need to pray but you lack interest.

In other cases, we are blocked by IDOLATRY. We are so focused on ourselves and our own interests that we can’t really pray and get through to God. We may take stabs at it, from time to time, but our feeble efforts are akin to us inviting the Almighty to join us in the worship of . . . well, US. No wonder it seems like no one is listening. Christ never joins the idol temple of self-worship and personal appeasement. So we go on prayerless and empty. We are blocked by idolatry and we are blocked by interest.

But we are also blocked by IGNORANCE. We struggle with prayer because of our approach to prayer.


I’m so glad that Jesus has not left us to fend for ourselves in this spiritual battle of prayer. He has taught us how to “PRAY TO WIN.” He thought it was so important to talk about the prayer battle that, when He was giving His disciples His magna carta on His coming kingdom, He thought it necessary not only to teach them the lesson of prayer, but also to teach them the logistics of prayer. Over the next few weeks, we are going to examine the Lord’s prayer and seek to understand what Jesus wanted us to learn from Him about how we are to approach God.. We start today in Matthew 6:5-8.

5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

Jesus begins here by admitting to His followers that there are some things that tend to keep us from “praying through.” There are some hindrances to effective prayer. So just how can you and I pray effectively? Well, first, we can:



Jesus mentions two particular groups of people in this paragraph. These two groups reveal to us the two obstacles to effective prayer. The first group is the “hypocrites” and they demonstrate how the wrong motivation hinders our praying.

Now, by “hypocrite” Jesus meant those religious people who said one thing and did another. The prime example of this would be the pharisees, who loved to have attention, and made a show of their religious activity. Jesus warns the disciples about this first group, when He says: And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

If you want to understand what Jesus is talking about here, think of those Muslims you may know or at least know about. If they are at all devout in their faith, they pray three times a day. To do that, they take out their mat, get down on it, and bow towards Mecca. Jews of Jesus day would do much the same thing. Two times per day, the pious Jew would stop what they were doing and pray.

When their prayer time would come, they had an option. They could take this time for prayer discreetly, with no fanfare, or they could put on a “prayer-show.” They could slip away quietly, or they could, as v 5 says, pray “standing in the synagogue and on the corners of the streets . . . (to) be seen by men.” By the way, when it says that they “love to pray standing . . . on the corners of the streets,” the word for “standing” is in the perfect tense, which simply means that these hypocrites stood there and continued to stand there. They put on a pious play, They performed a shameless show. They “performed” a prayer so that people see them and think, “What a spiritual, holy person this is.” Their problem was motivation. They were motivated by the attention and the praise of man. The sad part is, Jesus indicates that, when that happened, they received all the reward they would ever get.


In his autobiography, Donahue, Phil Donahue, shares an experience from Holden, West Virginia. He and a CBS television crew had gone to this Appalachian community to cover rescue attempts of thirty-eight miners. They had planned to be there one night but stayed three, eating doughnuts and drinking Red Cross coffee in bitterly cold weather.

At last the rescue teams emerged, covered with soot and grime, weary beyond words. Relatives of the miners were waiting in the snow. Gathered around a smudge pot, a preacher said, “Dear God, let us pray.” They joined hands and sang, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Donahue says it gave him goose bumps. It was beautiful! He knew it would make a great film for CBS, but the camera was frozen; by the time it was warmed up, the service was over. At 2:30 in the morning, Donahue approached the pastor with a request.

“Reverend, I am from CBS News. Would you please go back through your prayer again? We have 206 television stations across the country who will hear you pray for these miners.”

The humble minister looked at him and said,

Donahue was shocked that anyone would turn down a chance to be on CBS News. At last he made his way to a pay telephone to report to New York: “The won’t pray!”

Donahue claims that the preacher’s stand was the greatest demonstration of moral courage he has ever encountered. The man would not “show biz” for Jesus. He would not sell his soul—not even to CBS. Donahue says he often thinks of that preacher and that night. “I don’t know where he is now, but if he isn’t going to Heaven, no one is.


Now, I realize that most of us do not stand on the street corners praying so that others will see us, nor are most of us approached by Phil Donahue to perform a prayer on national television, so just how does the wrong kind of motivation hinder our praying?

Well, if you are a believer here this morning, you must understand that prayer is a microcosm of the Christian life. In the same way that prayer, reduced to an outward show, is meaningless, so the Christian life, reduced to an outward lifestyle is also meaningless. In fact, its worth than meaningless. It’s relationally isolating, emotionally unfulfilling, and spiritually dangerous.

I say that its dangerous because it can be so deceptive. Jumping through spiritual hoops to “perform” the Christian religion won’t take you to heaven. Countless screams of Christian performers echo from the halls of hell. If your prayers are pretentious, check out your life. Prayer is a microcosm of the Christian life. In the same way that prayer, reduced to an outward show is dangerous, so the Christian life, reduced to an outward lifestyle, is also dangerous.

Christians, guard your hearts. Guard, especially, your prayers. Check your motives. It’s so easy, especially if you are praying out loud to lead a group of people in prayer, to begin to pray what you think people want to hear, or what will spiritually impress others. Jesus says, guard against that!

And perhaps you are here today and you are not a believer. I want you to know that, if you are here and you actually will freely admit that you are not a believer, you’re really in a good place! What I mean is this: The majority of “religious people” spend their time jumping through meaningless hoops on their way to hell. the hardest person to reach is the religious person who really doesn’t know the Lord. If you know you’re lost today, you’re much closer to heaven than the hypocrite who stands on the street corner praying to impress others.

You can pray effectively when you overcome the barrier of faulty motivation. But you can also pray effectively when you

EXP - Overcome the Barrier of Manipulation

In v 7, Jesus turns his attention from the hypocrites to the Heathen. He says, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”

Notice how drastically our attention has shifted. We’re no long talking about the well-respected pharisee, but the unflattered pagan: The “heathen.” The pagan approach to prayer is “vain repetitions” and “many words.” The first word, “vain repetitions” in Greek is pronounced, battalogeo, and literally means to “say batta.” In other words to “babble.” The second work is polylogia literally meaning “many words,” or “much speaking.” The picture here is one of a presidential state of the union address. It has “much speaking,” goes on forever, and says nothing. There’s a lot of flowery language and rhetoric, but there’s no substance and no meaning, either for the god or the pray-er. And that first word, “vain repetitions,” may even contain the meaning, “to utter nonsense syllables common to the magical incantations in the pagan religious festivals.

But why would I use the term “manipulation” to summarize this concept. How is flowery, eternal or even incantational language and attempt to manipulate God?

To answer that question, recall a famous Bible Story:


It was the Superbowl of preachers. It was a big contest, but it wasn’t fair. On one side, 400 prophets of Baal would try to persuade their god to “fire-up” the sacrifice laid out on the altar. You remember the story don’t you. They had quite a prayer meeting on the top of that mountain! They prayed long and they prayed loud; they prayed hard proud. They started in the morning and went all day. I’m sure there was a lot of battalogeo and polylogia. There was flowery speech, magical incantation and a lot of it.

And after a while the praying wasn’t enough so the Bible says that they “leaped about the altar they had made.” Well, it was all getting kind of funny to Elijah. O yes, I didn’t tell you. He was the One preacher of Jehovah who was taking on all 400 of Baal’s boys. And this prophet was in a mocking mood.

He said, “Hey, boys, you’re just not yelling loud enough. Come on! Let me hear you now! You’ve really got to use your diaphragm. That Baal dude is out in the back yard meditating, or else he’s busy or, I’ve got it! He’s in Bermuda at a luxury resort getting a massage and you’re going to have to really scream to wake him up.

Well, that just got those prophets really going. They began to scream and they picked up knives and lances and began to cut themselves until the Bible says that the blood gushed out.

Now, what was going on here? These “heathen” were engaging in “vain repetitions” and “much speaking.” Why were they doing that? Because they were trying to get the attention of a non-existent God.

Do you see what Jesus is saying here? When He tells His followers that they are not to use vain repetitions like the heathen do, He is telling them that they don’t have to use the tactics that the Heathen use in order to try to manipulate the real God into giving them what they want. In fact, He goes on to tell them that their heavenly Father already knows what they need before they ask Him. He’s saying, “Hey, You don’t have to scream and cut yourself to try to make your Heavenly Father give you what you want. He is not there to simply be your little Genie in the bottle Whom, if you happen to rub the lamp the right way, will grant your request. No! Your Father already knows your need. What you need to do in your prayer is to discover what His will is so that you can get on board with what He is doing. When you do that, you will be effective in your prayer. Your God will not be manipulated. Don’t even try!


But people try all the time. Some people try with what I call the “if-then prayers.” You know, they are trying to make deals with God. They say, “God, if you’ll heal my wife, I’ll start going to church.” “God if you’ll bless my business, I’ll give you back 10%.” “God, if you’ll let me stay in Wilson, I’ll surrender to your will.” This is just manipulation.

There are the “If-then prayers” and then there are the “me first requests.” James describes these in his letter in chapter 4 where he reveals that we ask God for things and we don’t receive them because our requests are self-oriented. In fact, he says we ask for things so that we can try to use them to satisfy our “lusts.” This is just manipulation.

And then there is the “bless so-and-so babble.” Now this really resembles the “vain repetition” Jesus talks about. We have this long list of names and so we rattle through them simply praying, “Lord, bless so-and-so.” Now we do all of that mechanically without any real focus on what we are even saying. It’s like God’s going to somehow be impressed that we got through our list again. I’ve really been convicted about this one personally. I have been trying to focus on praying for specific things when I pray for people and I still have a long way to go with this. I want to really start connecting with what God’s will may be for a particular person rather than just throwing prayer spit-balls up on the wall and hoping they stick.

Well, last, there’s the “God is good, God is great ritual.” You remember that blessing we all learned as a child before going to bed: “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen!” Now that’s ok if you’re asking God to bless your food and you’re four years of age. But, even though they may not use this exact same prayer, many people resort to cliches and well-worn phrases when they pray instead of talking to God like a real person. Now I know they can’t be getting a whole lot out of just going through the motions like that, but they still endure it because somewhere in the back of their minds they must feel that if they will just go through the ritual of prayer, God will give them brownie points. But all of these: the “if-then prayers,” the “me first requests,” the “bless so-and-so babble,” and the “God is good, God is great ritual, they are simply vain attempts to manipulate and God never plays that game.

You see, if you’re going to be a prayer warrior, you must overcome the barriers that often hinder effective prayer. But if that’s what you must not do, how do you become an effective pray-er? Well, the answer to that question is in v 6. There we find Christ’s approach to prayer, and you can be effective in prayer if you:



V6 begins emphatically. The emphasis in Greek makes the English translation like this: Don’t be like the hypocrites when you pray, but YOU when YOU pray go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Jesus is saying that He wants His disciples to pray in a decidedly different way from the hypocrites or the heathen.

And how is it that He wants us to pray? Well, he first tells us to approach prayer with privacy. He says that we should go into our room and shut our doors. In Jesus’ day, family members didn’t have the luxury of their own bedroom. Most Palestinian homes had one inner store room which was lockable. This is what is pictured. Instead of trumpeting your prayer to impress others or prolonging your prayer with flowery language to manipulate God, you are to go into the inner room where no one else will see you. One commentator said about this, “The focus is on the intimacy of communion with God in one’s heart, which is at the center of all prayer, whether it happens to be given publically or privately.

Then v6 says that we are to pray to God “who is in secret.” There is something remarkable about that phrase. As one commentary notes, the verse doesn’t say here that we are to pray to the God who sees in secret, but to the God who is in secret. This suggests not just that God is omnipresent, even in the secret place, but also that He Himself is in invisible and “in secret” if you will, in stark contrast to his pretended worshipers who are only too visible. I don’t want to push this too far, but I really think there’s something here. You see if I am to come to God in secret, I have to genuinely believe He’s actually there. I may pray publically so that others will be impressed and perhaps give me some sort of benefit. But, when I pray in secret, if God is not really there, I’m wasting my time. Therefore, I must approach prayer with a sense of reality. I must, as Hebrews 11:6 says, “believe that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. If I am to be effective in prayer, I will seek the secret place because that’s the place I can really connect with the God who is there!

I must approach God with expectancy. v 6 goes on to say that the God who sees in secret will reward you openly. Simply put, I must pray in faith, refusing to waver. I must expect God to work. But I also have to realize something about the reward that Jesus does give. Does that mean that if I pray in secret, I’ll always get what I pray for? I guess that depends on what you’re praying for.

Again, Hebrews 11:6 is of some help to us here. Notice it says that He who comes to God must believe that He is (or that He exists) and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Well, what is it that the seeker is seeking in that verse? That’s right! HIM! When I come to the secret place and I am seeking God, I can guarantee you that He is there, waiting to be found. There will be times when I pray in the secret place and Christ rewards me with a miraculous intervention or a divine healing. There will be other times when I pray in the secret place and the reward will not be some lesser, temporary blessing, but Christ Himself. And if I come to my secret place of prayer seeking God, I will always be rewarded!


Have you heard of “Murph”? He has cleaned Willie Mays’s spikes, ordered bats for Barry Bonds, and rubbed baseballs for Juan Marical. In the realm of sports superstars, Mike Murphy plays a small but essential role for his pro baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. Recently, he was the one who presented the world series trophy to the world champion San Francisco Giants. He had helped the Giants win their first World Series in 52 years, and Mike was on the job for the entire 52-year journey. But you won't find his name on the scoreboard. You won't see him endorsing new products for millions of dollars per advertisement. He'll never make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"Murph” has been with the team since 1958, starting as the team's batboy, before moving up to his roles as the clubhouse attendant and finally the equipment manager. Throughout his 52 years of faithful service, Murph has worked behind the scenes so his much more famous teammates could achieve success.

No one has been through more of the heartbreak from a field-level perspective, from the Game 7 losses in the 1962 and 2002 World Series to the earthquake that turned the 1989 Series upside down. Murphy, 68, was here when the Giants lost 100 games in 1985, and for seven seasons, including 2008, when they lost 90 or more.

“I was here in the bad times,” said Murphy, who is a grandfather and lives in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco. “I wasn’t sure this would ever happen. Maybe someday in the future. I guess the future is now

According to an article in The New York Times, "If anyone embodies the 52-year endurance test the San Francisco Giants underwent to reach baseball's summit, it is Mike Murphy." That's one reason why the owner of the team handed the World Series trophy to Murphy so he could present it to his ecstatic teammates.

While everyone else celebrated, Murphy slipped away and made a phone call to a very special former player, Willie Mays. Asked how Mays sounded, Murphy smiled and said, “Very happy.”

A few minutes later, he turned to a clubhouse attendant and pointed to some bags. There was equipment to be loaded onto a truck. Murphy was back at work.

He worked in secret with no fanfare all those years. He was rewarded openly. That’s like our prayer life. We find the secret place and we connect with God, and the God who sees in secret rewards us in the open: Sometimes with physical blessings, but always with His presence.


So, if I am going to take Christ’s approach to prayer, what should I do? Well, first, if you are going to approach prayer with privacy, you really do need a private place. John Piper writes:

I would suggest that you think creatively about the place of prayer. I have often wondered why Christians build houses with a room designated for play (called a den) and for food (called a kitchen) and for sleep (called a bedroom) and for cleaning (called a bathroom) and for clothes (called a closet), but do not build a room for the solitude of prayer and meditation. But if we gave thought to this, could we not find or create such a space? The reason we don’t do it is mainly that nobody thinks of it. But now I have caused you to think of it. Where could you create such a space? Is there a space under the stairs that could have a kneeling mat and a prayer bench and a light?

In 1975, when we bought our first home, I built a prayer bench with a place for my elbows in a kneeling posture, and a place for my Bible to lie, and a shelf underneath for the Bible or other books and a notepad. It has been with me ever since in three different houses. For the last twenty-one years we have lived in the same house, and there has a been a nook in my study, created by positioning filing cabinets to block it off from the rest of the space. There the prayer bench welcomes me every morning and several times during the day. God alone knows the tears and songs that have mingled there. I urge you to think creatively. Seriously consider building a place of prayer, even if it is just the rearrangement of furniture or the cleaning out of an unused storage space

In 2003, we finished out the room over my garage. I have an office there, but its also my quiet place of prayer. You need that place in your life and even in your home. If you are going to approach prayer with privacy, you need a private place.

And, if you are going to approach prayer with reality, you need a connected heart. Now, when I say a “connected” heart, I don’t just mean that you must believe that God is there. I mean you must grow in your ability to genuinely sense His presence in your heart. There is a joy at being there with Him and a sense of His peace that passes all understanding. It is this experience with Him which will, more than anything else, sustain you.

And I realize that may be a little confusing to some of us. You may ask, “Just how can I do that? How can I “sense” the presence of God?” Well let me give you four ingredients to finding Him there in your quiet place.

First you must take time. You cannot be rushed. The old hymn says, Take time to be holy, the world rushes on. Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone. Thus, led by His Spirit, like Him you will be. Your friends in your conduct, His likeness will see. I know its tough, but hurry will make it almost impossible to connect with God. This is more about attitude than time, however. What I mean is that you must have an unhurried attitude, even if you only have five minutes. I discovered many years ago that, if my time was limited, I would tend to keep glancing at my watch while I prayed and would be very distracted. So I just started setting the alarm on my watch. That way, if I only had five minutes to pray, I’d just focus on God until the alarm went off. It really helped. If you really want to connect, you must have time.

Then you must have quiet. I won’t repreach what I’ve already said, but I will just say that you must find that quiet place.

Then you must have focus. It is often difficult when you pray to really focus on God. I have found that worship music helps here. Before my prayer time in the morning, I will often play a couple of songs like “The Power of the Cross” or “In Christ Alone.” I will focus on the words and let the music be the fodder to ignite the fire in my heart. Whatever it takes, if you want to connect, you must focus on God.

Last you must have the Word of God. One saint of old wrote that the Word of God was the key to His prayer life. he said:

the first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious word, was, to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out of it.… The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for awhile making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead to it.

If you are going to approach prayer with privacy, you need a private place. And, if you are going to approach prayer with reality, you need a connected heart. Last, if you are going to approach prayer with expectancy, you need a God focus. Prayer cannot focus on needs as much as on God. If I connect with Him, and see Him for Who He is, I will have no trouble walking away from my prayer closet with full confidence that, having discovered and prayed within His will, He will provide. If I simply pray, focusing on me, I will accentuate my needs more than the one who is able to meet them. I must focus on the provider, not the provision.

Do you want to be an effective pray-er? Then you must do it Jesus’ way. You must overcome the obstacles of motivation and manipulation and you must implement Jesus’ plan. You must come privately; you must genuinely connect with God, and you must expect Him to do all He has promised.


An article in the Denver Rocky Mountain News described various web sites to which people can submit prayers. One site,, says, "Simply click on the 'Pray' button and transmit your prayer to the only known location of God." The site claims "that it can send prayers via a radio transmitter to God's last known location," a star cluster called M13 believed to be one of the oldest in the universe.

"Crandall Stone, 50, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, engineer and freelance consultant, set up the site last winter after a night of sipping brandy and philosophizing with friends in Vermont. The conversation turned to Big Bang theories of creation, and someone suggested that if everything was in one place at the time of the explosion, then God must have been there, too.

"'It's the one place where we could be sure he was,' Stone said. 'Then we thought that if we could find that location and had a radio transmitter, we could send a message to God.' "After consulting with NASA scientists, the friends settled on M13 as the likely location. They chipped in about $20,000, and built a radio-wave-transmitting Web site."

Stone reports that they transmit about 50,000 prayers a week from seekers around the globe.

There are a lot of problems with this prayer strategy, but one of the biggest is this. God’s a lot closer than the star cluster called M13. You see He is right in your home. He lives in your prayer closet. And He is ready for you to take the time to come there and meet with Him.




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