My Dear Friends, January 2021
The new year is upon us, and naturally we think of how 2021 could be better than 2020. One place that always could stand some improvement is mentioned by our Lord in Matthew 6,6: your room.
When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Where is your room for prayer? Of course, we can speak to God so that he listens anywhere and anytime, but here Jesus refers to a specific place to routinely enter in order to say some things to God. Not a church building, though; this is a place where it’s in your power to enter and exit, where it’s up to you whether the door is shut against any disturbances, or not. A private and quiet place.
Fill in the blank: My place of prayer is __________________________.
Throughout my years and with contributions from various people, my list of possibilities for rooms for prayergrows longer.
- Even in the tiniest of houses, there’s normally a small closet. In his Autobiography, the missionary John Paton spoke movingly of the effect of hearing his dad in his prayer closet:
Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, were blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, “He walked with God, why may not I?”
- The Victorian era English preacher Charles Spurgeon said that the prayer room could be, ironically, downtown. In the middle of the anonymous crowd truly no one will disturb you… get to praying!
- In the shower, away from the badgering kids.
- In the walk-in closet off the MBR.
- In the car, while commuting to work.
- In the car, parked in some quiet place. I’ve hit upon one such – the back of Newton Andover Seminary in the early morning. Don’t join me there: find your own place. I found it first!
- Early morning or late-night through the neighborhoods or winding through forested paths.
- The “wee small hours” and the “midnight oil” hours themselves can be sectors away from people and distractions. Mark 1:35: And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
- Some cold, out-of-the-way section of your house, equipped with a space heater.
Really, the possibilities of what constitutes a good prayer room are endless. And your place to pray can change over time. What can’t change, though, is the determination to return over and over to the place where you meet with God.
“Father who is in secret” is entrancing, isn’t it? In some respects, God is off the maps, “dwelling among untrodden ways.” You don’t stumble upon him but must go searching for him. And this particular kind of seeking him (the kind we’re discussing) must always be a solitary pilgrimage.
Or, using our Lord’s imagery, our contacts and friends and Siri are on the other side of the door doing their things, and you – body, soul, and spirit- are alone going after the God who hides.
That point can’t be stressed enough: Jesus is instructing us to place a barrier before the external noise so we can better concentrate in our prayer. Thing is, we have enough of a problem to quiet or ignore the internal noise arising out our own heads: plans, fears, reviewed conversations, etc etc. Add the smart phone with all its distracting potential to our runaway thoughts, and more than likely you can kiss your prayers goodbye.
And “reward you” is tantalizing, isn’t it? We all stand in need of a few of the same things from God, plus each of us has a few particular hankerings. God does hand out things, some of those come our way only after privately meeting with him. And even though meeting with him is as simple as entering a room and shutting the door, something or other makes those simple actions to be pretty durn difficult. So, as it is, God ends up giving us a reward for doing something childishly simple, yet hard.
What are the Almighty’s prizes? A raise? Increased will power? Muffin top gone? Or being reconciled to the idea of the muffin top? Spark in the marriage? A gentler disposition? Debts eradicated? Good ideas? Converts? Steadiness? Erased shame? Obedient dog? Relationships eased and honest? Projects completed? Children walking in the truth?
Well, reward is left open-ended, so we can figure generally that things will improve once we get to praying. So my vote is “yes” to all the above queries.
What’re your choice phrases for the blessing-reward you’d like from God? Here’s mine, for myself and others: “I will run in the way of your commandments/ when you enlarge my heart” and “I shall walk in a wide place/ for I have sought your precepts.”
As never before, in 2021 may you find room and the room to meet with God. May you be given the will to and the actual shutting of the door. Then may God Himself be your reward and also give you the reward, either the one you’ve sought after or the one you should have.