There’s a certain class of Bible teaching that is mostly about verbs.
Pray this prayer so God will bless you.
Follow these steps so God will protect you.
Hear and obey so God will listen to you.
The teachers in this camp claim to know the hidden ways of God, and they want to teach you to access these exclusive treasures. They usually have some kind of gimmick—a certain prayer, certain steps, a certain way to read your Bible. Then they bait-and-switch ideas to make you think that they’re teaching what God says when it’s really just what they’re selling.
I recently came across someone who sounds a whole lot like a “verbing” teacher. Now, I don’t know anything about Bob Sorge except his titles on Amazon and the Kindle sample of his book Secrets of the Secret Place. So I have no axe to grind or hatchet to bury in his head. I’m bringing him up because all it took was two chapters for me to recognize:
- The verb
- The gimmick
- The bait-and-switch
His verb is to Pray. (He also adds “hear” and “obey” later.) By “pray” he means to sit in quietness and solitude, reading Scripture, and listening for God to speak. Is that bad? No! I think it’s a very good practice to learn to sit in silence—one I’m not good at myself. The Verb is usually a good thing to do, and pray definitely qualifies.
However, he’s got to have a gimmick to sell his special knowledge of God’s hidden ways. Like any good Verbing teacher, he frames it with a Bible verse. I’ve parsed it out below:
Sorge (from his book Secrets of the Secret Place):
“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” (Matthew 6:6).
…When Jesus taught on prayer, He gave primary emphasis to the secret place. In fact, the first thing He taught concerning prayer was the primacy of the secret place. In the verses following, He would teach us how to pray, but first He teaches where to pray.
This verse, in context, is actually emphasizing the right attitude of prayer. Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t make a big public display of our prayers to show how holy we are, but to pray privately to God alone, without seeking the admiration of others.
Jesus affirmed this truth twice in the same chapter. He says it the second time in Matthew 6:18, “‘So that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.’” Jesus says it twice for emphasis, so we know this word is absolutely certain.
The key word here is fasting. Same point as the verse about praying. Don’t make a big holy display of yourself. Carry out your devotion to God quietly, seeking to please only him.
These verses have nothing to do with where your body is, but where your heart is.
Our Father is in the secret place! Furthermore, Jesus gives us the key to finding this secret place. If you’re wondering what you must do to place yourself in the secret place, Jesus made it clear. To get there, all you have to do is shut your door! When you enter your room, and shut your door, you are in the presence of your Father. Instantaneously!
Hard to argue with that, but I’m also in his presence in the kitchen, at the mall, or stuck on I-81 in road construction. Finding God by going into a room and shutting a door… that, folks, is Sorge’s Gimmick.
It matters not how you feel. Regardless of your soul’s climate at that moment, you know with absolute confidence you have stepped into the chamber of your Father in heaven. The secret place is your portal to the throne, the place where you taste of heaven itself. Receive this word and you have gained one of the greatest secrets to intimacy with God.
And there you go! If you Verb, by way of his Gimmick, you gain a secret way to God.
They always have Scripture to back up their points, of course. Here’s the Bait-and-Switch where he leads you in with Scripture, and leads you right on out on his own hobbyhorse:
Cornelius was a devout Gentile who committed himself to the secret place of prayer.
The “secret place of prayer” wording is the author’s assertion, not actually taken from the Bible.
[Cornelius’] piety is described in the Book of Acts as fourfold: he gave regularly to the poor; he lived a holy lifestyle; he practiced fasting; and he adhered to the secret place of prayer.
I looked up this verse, Acts 10:2, and this is what it says: “He was a godly man, deeply reverent, as was his entire household. He gave generously to charity and was a man of prayer.”
It doesn’t say a “secret place of prayer.” Although I’m all for paraphrasing to keep things moving, this particular paraphrase is a seemingly innocuous, but very important, addition.
It was because of those four pursuits that God filled Cornelius and his household with the Holy Spirit and made them the firstfruits of all Gentile believers.
That’s the bait…
It’s as though God said, “Cornelius, because of your passionate conviction for the secret place, your life is the kind of example that I can reproduce in the nations.”
… and switch. He’s shifted from Cornelius and his four pursuits to a “passionate conviction for the secret life.”
…By making Cornelius the catalyst for the redemption of the nations, God was giving a powerful endorsement to Cornelius’s priority of cultivating a hidden life with God. The eruption of fruitfulness from his life must have caught even him off guard!
I feel like applauding. “Yay! That was so clever!” He so easily slipped in the idea that Cornelius was blessed by something that the author made up. Not only that, but God endorses it.
And he goes on to base the rest of his book (presumably, from the title) not on anything in the Bible, but on this idea of his about a “secret life with God.” Ideally, his audience doesn’t catch the shift, so they follow along thinking it’s all right there in the Bible. Even if they take the time to look it up, Sorge has taught them to equate “a man of prayer” with “a passionate conviction for the secret place.”
If this is how he justifies the very core of his teaching, then I’m extremely skeptical of what else he has to say. Anything he says about “hearing God’s word” now makes me suspicious, because what he claims is God’s word is actually his own. Anything he says about “obedience to God’s word” is a blazing red flag now, because if he can mold Scripture to fit his own ideas like that, then what does he think we ought to be “obeying”?
Following a teacher like this leads at best to disappointment, and at worst to bondage.
Pay attention to people who promise you a new way to access God. Watch for the Verb, the Gimmick, and the Bait-and-Switch. If you see it, then get up and leave the room. And shut the door behind you.