Read an Excerpt
In the Secret PlaceLifeChange Books
By J. Otis Ledbetter
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2003 J. Otis Ledbetter
All right reserved.
In You I take shelter. Teach me to do Your will,
In the church where my father was a pastor during my boyhood, a set of stairs behind the sanctuary led upward to some classrooms. Tucked away beneath those steps was an abandoned janitor's closet with only one entrance-a narrow doorway just big enough for my slim body to slip through.
That's where I would go when I wanted to be alone just to think. That's where I could occupy my mind with the typical struggles of a nine- or ten-year-old-my budding, innocent romances, my schoolyard sports career.
Then came the day when one of my friends in the church died of a childhood disease. Suddenly my secret place took on a whole new significance. I spent a lot of time there, pondering my own mortality. The issue consumed me, and what I remember most is how fearful I was. That little closet was the only space where I could think through such a terrifying matter and come away feeling better about it.
Meanwhile my father's church was growing, which eventually prompted our relocation to a new church facility that didn't provide me with the hideaway I'd grown accustomed to. I grew into my teen years still wanting such a place, but never quite finding one-a suitable location where I could escape the disturbing everydayness and confusing choices of adolescence, a place where I could enter and no one else could, a place of solitude where I could hear the clear leading of the Lord.
A Place More Real
As manhood dawned on me, I began to wonder if what I was seeking wasn't a physical location, but something else, something deeper and more real.
As my "life verse" I had earlier claimed the entire ninety-first Psalm, which begins, "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." As time went by, the fuller meaning of those words began to grip me more and more. Little by little I came to see there really was a secret place where God wanted me to meet with Him-not a closet or room, but a real place nevertheless, a place of fellowship where I could go anytime and pour out the questions and hurts of my heart in the presence of my Father. It was where I could hear directly from God about my life's decisions, and He would always be there to give me all the time and answers I needed to face the turmoils and traumas of my life.
Even without fully understanding this truth, I began to use it.
A close friend and I had decided to pursue careers as certified public accountants, and we decided together on the college we wanted to attend to get started on this pursuit. But even while we were pushing forward our plans, in my newly found secret place I sensed a moving in my spirit; deep in my heart I came to realize that those plans would never happen. God was preparing something different for me, though it took a while for me to discover what this direction would be.
So it was that I learned early to withdraw often to this place and commune with God. Experiencing the Lord's presence in the secret place has been a source of refreshment throughout my Christian life; there, my God and I have planned His business for me.
I believe from God's Word that He has provided such a secret place for each of His children to dwell with Him, a place He uniquely designed for each one in order to communicate His will to them. It isn't something only for the spiritual haves, to the exclusion of the have-nots (a demeaning distinction I don't believe in). God has a secret place waiting for you and for every believer-and the choice whether to meet Him there is entirely our own.
No one knows your needs better than your Father in heaven. When He created you, He knew you would need a private place to meet Him-a place where no one else may enter, a pathway where only you and He can stroll. He calls it "the secret place" (not just "a" secret place) because there's only one like it for each of us. And we need look no further than the Scriptures to determine its location.
Tragically, however, intimacy with God in the secret place-one of the most powerful spiritual realities our Lord has given us-remains unknown to many of the very people He intends to be blessed by it. In fact, some of them still doubt this place's existence even after being told of it. But we must not allow the tactics of the evil one to take this blessing away from us through his deceptive power to convince us there's no such place.
Connection and Protection
As a pastor, I can't begin to number the times people have wished aloud in counseling sessions that they somehow had a clearer connection with God and His guidance. As one man expressed it, "I just wish God would write down His instructions for me and send it in a letter."
Others feel discouraged because of a seeming inability to escape ever-present pressures from the evil one. For them, "doing business" with God always seems ineffective; "I just can never seem to get away from Satan's influence," they say. They conclude that the devil must be able to read their every thought, and constant spiritual defeat overshadows their life as a result. As they're frustrated once more by an event or circumstance that in hindsight seems to be yet another example of the enemy's snares, they wonder: "Why couldn't God have warned me about that without Satan interfering?"
When I explain to these beleaguered people about the secret place-about their own private stronghold in the presence of their God, a place where they can discern His personal and unique directions for their life through the promptings of His Spirit, a place that's entirely off-limits to intrusion by Satan and the demonic forces under his dominion-a look of relief crosses their face.
May that same sense of relief be yours throughout this book as we discover more about encountering God in the secret place.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
As you weigh the significance of this concept I'm describing, you may wonder: Is the secret place nothing more than getting away to think on your own? There doesn't seem to be anything special about that-even an unbeliever can get alone with his thoughts.
And that's exactly it! "Alone with his thoughts" is the situation for the unbeliever; God's children, however, come to the secret place to be with their Father. The secret place of the believer always has a reservation for two.
Where Is It?
So what is the secret place? And where is it?
Though it's a real place, it transcends any spatial dimensions. And it's invisible. It isn't something we ascertain by any of our five senses. Even if someone could somehow throw a switch to turn off your eyesight, your hearing, and your senses of smell and taste and touch, you could still encounter God in the secret place. He created our five senses so we might enjoy the beauty of His creation and operate effectively within its reality, but He can bypass those senses and work directly within our spirits to communicate His certain presence and everything He wants us to know.
Jesus often said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." I believe He was speaking of more than physical ears and physical hearing, and of more than just the specific words He uttered on those occasions to the particular people gathered around Him at the time. He was speaking also of His audible voice to His followers down through the centuries, and of their ability to distinguish and understand it through the Holy Spirit's enablement within them.
The secret place isn't some mystical or magical location where God plays hide-and-seek with us. It is, however, a spiritual place, far below your skin and muscle and sinew, deeper than your vital organs, with more life-sustaining value than your blood vessels and giving you more strength than your bone structure. It's a place lying in the depths of your spirit, so deep that no one else but you and God can get there. The map showing the way is legible to no one else. No other person, no matter how powerful, and no matter how cherished he or she may be to you, can visit its confines-not even your spouse, your children, your closest friend. You may be able to describe this place to them, but they cannot make an entrance there to experience it simultaneously with you.
When Do We Go There?
The kind of devotional time that many believers set aside each day is only a glimpse of what God offers in the secret place. He often calls us there at other times to communicate with us.
His invitations to join Him there often seem to come in the middle of the night or in the dark hours before dawn. We sense His wakening call in much the same way the boy Samuel did in 1 Samuel 3. Anytime I'm awakened for no apparent reason during the night, I always think first, God, are You wanting to talk to me in the secret place? Sometimes I turn over and fall asleep again, but most times I sense a strong prompting to meet with Him.
This has particularly been true during the past five years, as the church and the private Christian school I lead have been building and growing. As decision points and financial deadlines approached, God has often awakened me to meet with Him, and in the secret place He has settled my heart and confirmed His control over the details.
I'm often amused as to why this needs to happen at such weird hours. Perhaps I'm not as diligent in committing such matters into His hands during normal hours. Or maybe He just wants my undivided attention, and that's the perfect opportunity to get it. You may find Him frequently doing the same thing with You, especially as you move into greater intimacy with God in the secret place.
What Happens There?
Although in the Scripture we sometimes see God sending visions and angels to communicate His will to individuals, for believers today the word promptings probably best describes how God's Spirit communicates with us in the secret place.
Those promptings from the Lord are as real today as ever. Not long ago, my wife Gail and I set aside an evening to drop by some homes of the new people who had been visiting our church. Our intent was to make a brief appearance, letting the family know how much we enjoyed their visits to our Sunday services. We were frustrated in our efforts. No one answered their doors, so we headed home.
Not far from the turnoff to our house, Gail said to me, "Keith and Dianne have been on my heart all day." These were friends of ours and former neighbors, but after moving from their neighborhood we'd lost touch with them. "The Lord must be prompting me to pray for Dianne," Gail said. "Why don't we stop by and see if they're home?"
I turned the car around and headed for their house.
We walked up the drive to their front door and rang the bell. Keith answered the door. His jaw dropped and he uttered some unintelligible sound, then invited us in.
As we were sitting down, he explained his amazement. "Just twenty minutes ago I knelt beside my couch and prayed. Today has been almost unbearable. So tonight I asked God to send someone by to pray with me ... and here you are!"
After prayer together and some uplifting fellowship with our friends, Gail and I left overwhelmed once again with how God guides us by means of the secret place.
God's Word Comes Alive
The secret place provides the right environment where we're most free to sense the genuine promptings of God's Spirit. But a word of caution is in order, lest you think that in the secret place God reveals things that go against or beyond the truths in Holy Scripture.
In the freedom from the world's distractions that we find in the secret place, God shines His light on His written Word in our hearts and makes plain how it applies to our personal circumstances.
Such personal understanding of the Bible is especially essential in weighing desires or plans we have. In the light of Scripture, we can determine if these are rising from our own selfish desires or confirm that they're actually a prompting from God.
Those are some perspectives relating to basic questions about the secret place. But to understand it best, let's look in the pages of Scripture to the passages that speak most directly about this freeing and wonderful truth. Get ready for a rich time in exploring God's Word.
Excerpted from In the Secret Place by J. Otis Ledbetter Copyright © 2003 by J. Otis Ledbetter
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.