Shut Your Door
J. R. Miller, 1910
"But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:6
Jesus gave very definite instructions concerning prayer. We are to enter into our private room and shut the door. This does not necessarily mean that we must actually be in an private room in a house. We may be out in the field, in the heart of a forest, or on a quiet hillside. When Jesus himself prayed, it was often in a garden or on a mountain--somewhere apart from the multitude. He teaches us to do the same. We need to be alone. The presence of others disturbs our thoughts. We cannot become wholly absorbed in the purpose of our errand to God--if there are others about us. The chatter of voices interrupts us.
Prayer is a great deal more than we sometimes suppose it to be. We may have thought of it as little more than a daily routine of devotion. We rise in the morning and through force of habit kneel down for a minute or two of what we call praying. We run hurriedly through a form of words, without giving serious thought to what we are saying. We scarcely know when we are through--what we have asked God for! Indeed our petitions were mere rote work--there were no strong desires in our hearts, corresponding to the words we used. We say we have been praying. But have we? That is not what Jesus meant when he said, "Go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret." We may have been in the private chamber in a literal sense, and the door may have been shut--but we have not been with our Father!
Christ means that when you enter the private room--you and God are alone together. The world is far away. Its noises break not in upon your ear. You have put your business, your ambitions, your pleasures, far from you. No eye sees you. No ear hears what you say. Then God is near--and you are alone with him.
We must have the shut door--for all the most sacred experiences of life. Love will not reveal its holiest thoughts in public. Sorrow wants to be alone in its deepest moods. We wear masks before the world; only when the door is shut--do we reveal our truest selves.
There are moments and experiences in real true human friendships, when two souls are alone and come very close together. The door is shut upon the outside world. No stranger intermeddles. No eye looks in upon the sweet communion. No ear hears what the two say one to the other. No tongue breaks in with any word upon the talk they are having together. Their communion seems really full and close.
Yet not even with the most faithful human friends, is the intimacy ideally perfect. Not even our tenderest friends and those closest to us, know half the reasons why we smile or sigh. Every human heart is a world by itself. We really understand very little of what goes on in the brain and heart of the friend we most intimately know. You say you are perfectly acquainted with your friend. But you are not. You read his smiles and you say, "My friend is very happy today." But in his heart are cares and griefs, of which you do not suspect.
The marriage relation, when it is what it should be, represents the most complete blending of lives, and the most intimate mutual knowledge, the one of the other. "We tell each other everything," says a happy husband or wife. "We have no secrets from one another. We know all that goes on in each other's mind and heart." But they really do not, they cannot. There may not be any desire or intention to hide anything from the other. Yet a life is so large--that no one can possibly understand it perfectly. We cannot know either all the good or all the evil in others. We cannot comprehend all the mystery there is in any friend's life. We cannot fathom the sorrow of our friend when the tears stream down his cheeks; or his joy when his heart is overflowing with gladness.
These are suggestions of the incompleteness of human communion and fellowship. You and your friend come together in the most sacred intimacy possible--and yet he knows only a little of you. Your life and his--touch at only a few points.
But when you enter into your private chamber and shut the door upon you and God--you are in the presence of One who knows you perfectly! It was said of Jesus, "He knew what was in men." That is, he looked into the life of everyone who came into his presence, and saw everything that was in it. He read the thoughts and feelings, he saw the insincerities, the hypocrisy, the intrigue, the enmity of those who were plotting against him. He saw the heart hungers, the cravings, the shy love of those who wished for his friendship. He knew what was in every man and woman. When Jesus asked Peter, "Simon, do you love me?" The answer was, "Yes, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." He knew all.
This brings us to the very heart of the meaning of prayer. You may not find great comfort in communion with even your best human friend, for he does not fully understand you. He sees too little of your heart and life. But it is your Father who is in the private chamber with you, and knows all, understands all--and he loves you with a love that is infinite in its compassion and its grace!
"Pray to your Father." God seeks in every way to make his love plain to us, to show us how he wants to bless us. Of all the revelations he has made to us of himself, no one means quite so much as the name FATHER. We know something of fatherhood as we see it in imperfect men, in ourselves if we are fathers. A writer says: "I never can forget the hour when I first became a father. A new feeling swept through my soul and transformed all life and all the world for me. Then a moment later came a vision of God. God is my Father. My new-born love for my newborn child--is a shadow at least, a revelation, of the love of God for me."
It is your Father whom you meet in the private chamber when you enter in and shut the door. No other answer is needed when someone asks you if you believe in prayer. Just say, "God is my Father, and of course I can pray to him." You cannot conceive of a true father to whom a child cannot come with his questions, his difficulties, his dangers, his sorrows, his sins. If God is your Father, there is nothing you cannot bring to him.
Think, too, WHO God is. Earthly fathers are limited in their knowledge, in their vision, in their power to help. But God is without limitation. He is almighty. He is not little, like you. It is sweet to sit down beside a human friend who is rich in character, in sympathy, in wisdom, in love, in power to help, and to know that he is your friend. Some of us know by experience, what it is to have such a person to whom we can go with our weaknesses, our hard questions, our inexperiences, and to know that all this friend is, and all he has--he will put at our disposal. But how little the strongest human friend has power to do for us! He is only human like ourselves.
Then think of the immeasurable greatness, power, wisdom, and love of this Father, with whom you come into communion in the private
chamber when you have shut the door. When Tennyson was once asked his thoughts about prayer, he answered, "It is the opening of the sluice-gate between God and my soul." Behind the sluice-gate is the great reservoir with its pent-up volumes of water. Below it are the fields and gardens to be irrigated, the homes to be supplied with water. The opening of the sluice-gate lets the floods in to do their blessed work of renewal and refreshing. Prayer is the sluice-gate between God and your soul. You lift the gate when you pray to your Father--and infinite floods of divine goodness and blessing--of life--pour into your heart.
Our thought of prayer is too often pitiably small, even paltry. Within our reach are vast tides of blessing, and we take only a taste. Many people seek but the lower and lesser things in prayer, and lose altogether the far more glorious things that are possible to their quest. What did you ask for this morning when you entered into your private chamber and shut your door upon your Father and you, and prayed? Did you ask for large things, or only for trifles? For all the fullness of God, or only for bread and clothes and some earthly conveniences? For earth's tawdriness, or heaven's eternal things?
A writer defines religion, as friendship with God. If this is a true definition, what then is prayer? When you visit your friend and are welcomed, and you sit together for an hour or for an evening, do you spend the time in making requests, asking favors of each other? Do you devote the hour to telling your friend about your troubles, your hard work, your disappointments, your pinching needs, and asking him to help you? Rather, if you have learned the true way to be a friend, you scarcely even refer to your worries, anxieties, and losses. You would spend the hour, rather, in sweet companionship, in communion together on subjects dear to you both! There might not be a single request for help in all the hour you are together. There might be moments of silence, too, when not a word would be spoken, and these might be the sweetest moments of all.
Our prayer should be friendship's communion with God. It should not be all requests, or cries for help. When we enter our private chamber and shut the door and pray to our Father, it should be as when two friends sit together and commune in confidence and love.
"When you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret." But someone says, "It would be impossible, with all the duties that are required of us, in our busy days to spend large portions of time in the private chamber, even with God." There is a way to live in which in a sense--we shall be always in our private chamber, with the door shut, in communion with our Father.
This must have been what Paul meant when he said, "Pray without ceasing." There never was a more strenuous Christian worker than Paul. He certainly was not on his knees "without ceasing." But we can learn to be in our private chamber with God, through all our busiest days. That is, we can commune with him while we are at our work and literally shut our door to pray to our Father. Jesus prayed that way. His days were all days of prayer. He was in communion with his Father when he was working in his carpenter's shop, when he was teaching by the seaside, when he was performing miracles of healing in people's homes or upon the streets, when he was walking about the country. There really never was a moment when he was not in the private chamber, with the door shut, praying to his Father.
There is a sense in which we all should obey this word of Christ's in the same way. There is no other way in which many of us can obey it. We have our long hours when we must be at our common tasks. We want to give a portion of our time to pious duties--but here also Christian work presses, and we cannot pray long alone. There are duties which must be done in certain hours, even if we stay away from the meetings of worship.
It is said of Francesca, that though she never wearied in her religious services, yet if during her prayers she was called away by some domestic duty, she would cheerfully close her book, saying that when a wife and mother was needed, she must leave her God at the altar, to find him in the duties of her home. There come times in every life when formal prayer is not the duty. Yet we may be really in communion with God, while we are doing our plainest tasks. We must make all of life prayer, in the private chamber with God.
Yet while this is true, this is not the only way to read the lesson. Jesus took a great many hours to be in the private chamber, alone, with his Father. He spent whole nights with God. He would rise a great while before day--and go out to the mountain to pray.
His command here should be literally obeyed by all his followers. We must make time for prayer. There is no other place, where can we get strength. The work we do without prayer--is poor work, work without power. The busy day that does not begin with prayer--is a day without divine blessing. The sorrow that does not go to God--remains uncomforted. The joy that is not sanctified by prayer--is not perfect. The teacher who does not pray before teaching--finds even the Bible without power to impress. The preacher who does not enter into his private chamber and shut the door, with only God and himself within, may preach eloquently--but his preaching will not win souls, will not comfort sorrow, will not edify saints, will not lead men into holy service.