What Is a Prayer Closet?
Answer: After a short discourse on the follies of trying to appear religious in front of people, Jesus talks about prayer. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like 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). The Greek used here for “room” istameion, which means "an inner storage chamber or a secret room." The point being, a public prayer, announced on a street corner, gives the pray-er all the attention he can expect to receive. A quiet prayer, directed at God and not passers-by, will reap spiritual blessings.
Some have taken the admonition literally. They set aside a room or a quiet corner in their homes, furnish it with a comfortable chair, table, Bible, and maybe a notebook, and use that corner for a regular prayer time. That’s certainly appropriate, but the fact that the room Jesus referred to most likely meant a pantry gives us a little more flexibility. A “prayer closet” might be a daily commute, a bench in the back yard, or the kitchen table. John Wesley’s mother is said to have sat in a chair and thrown her apron over her head as a sign to her kids to leave her alone. Jesus usually went to a secluded hillside. The point is that the “closet” is free from interruption, distraction, and listening ears.
Although there are good reasons to have a dedicated space for regular prayer—such as training the family to respect the quiet and keeping prayer-related materials in one place—that was not what Jesus was referring to. The passage in Matthew 6 talks about performing religious acts for the purpose of allowing others to see. Any act, be it praying, giving, or serving, should not be done for the purpose of gaining approval from others. Praying, giving, and serving should be responses to our relationship with God and the mercies He has given us. If a specific, dedicated location encourages prayer, it should by all means be used. If the cab of a pickup or a quiet stretch of beach suffices, that’s perfectly acceptable.