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. Matthew 6.6 (KJV)
When I was a teen-ager I remember game nights with my youth group. There were 10-15 of us who would meet at some one's house with our favorite board games. We played cards and games late into the night. We ate pizza, popcorn and pop. We flirted. We prayed. We had a great time.
My favorite game was double-bid euchre. I'm not sure that I can remember how to play it today, but it was great then. We also played Monopoly, Life and Clue. It seemed that every time we had one of these gatherings someone would arrive with a new "religious" game. One time it was a Bible trivia challenge. Another time it was the "Ungame." It was not competitive and there were no winners or losers. It was not very popular in our group.
One time someone showed up with the "Prayer Closet Game." I don't remember much about the game, except that it was pretty fun as Christian games go. There were dice, markers and a game board. There were challenges and competitions. The one thing I remember clearly about the game, however, was the thing that offended me. There was a penalty area on the game board. It was roughly equivalent to Jail in Monopoly. When you drew the wrong card, or landed on the wrong space, or rolled the wrong number on the dice, or answered a question wrong, or something, you had to go to the Prayer Closet.
How wrong is that? When you fail your punishment is that you have to pray. I was upset by that premise then, I am more upset by it now. It is hard enough for Christians to spend time praying. We should never equate prayer with punishment, or as a penalty for doing something wrong. Prayer is a reward. It is a privilege to spend time with God. We should feel honored to go into our prayer closets with the Creator of the world, the Lord of the universe.
One final thing; there are times when prayer may be especially hard. It could be that there is sin in your life that you do not want to admit or face. In such cases we may dread the encounter with God that is necessary. But we should always remember that when we come to God, he will forgive and restore us. Prayer is never a punishment. It is a blessing. It always has been.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Remind me that prayer is an awesome and intimate experience with you. Help me to always see it as a positive experience. Be very present with me when I pray. Stay with me always. Amen.