But 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. (Matthew 6:6)
Over the years I have spent an enormous amount of time in ancient church buildings. There they stand, hallowed by years. Pushed to the corners are the relics of earlier generations: old prayer books with their collects for Queen Victoria; long forgotten kneelers; and leaflets bearing witness to enthusiasms of the past. The walls hang with monuments to those who died with the money and reputation to earn them. Often there is a list of vicars stretching back to the rule of the Normans. It is easy to get a sense of a structure which has served its community for countless generations. With so much focus on a building it is easy to think that this is where Christianity lived, that this is the place you go to practice the faith. Theatres for plays, rinks for skating and church for Christianity.
In his introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus suggests otherwise. He was, of course, happy to go to the Temple but there is more. Alongside this communal worship, alongside dedicated buildings, there is the home. Prayer made in private, prayer unseen by others.
But will God hear these prayers? Surely it is best to go to the places where people gather to pray, where the noise of prayer is greatest. When discussing this question, Thomas Manton turns to a surprising passage:
mark that passage, Acts 9:11, ‘The Lord said to Ananias, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus; for behold, he prayeth.’ Go into such a city, such a street, such a house, such a part, in such a chamber, behold he prayeth. The Lord knew all these circumstances. It is known unto him whether we toil or loiter away our time, or whether we pray in secret; he knows what house, in what corner of the house, what we are doing there.
Manton’s point is simple. God knew Saul (a.k.a. the Apostle Paul) was praying, and precisely where he was. No prayer is overlooked. No cry is unheard. The room with a shut door is as much a house of prayer as the grandest cathedral. God hears.