Becoming a House of Prayer
Two Priorities for the Church:
The story is told about an old farm couple who were driving along in their pickup when the wife said, “We never sit all snuggled up in the truck like we used to.” The husband looked at her and said, “I haven’t moved.”
When we discover as a church or as individual believers that we aren’t as close to God as we once were, understand this, He didn’t move, we did.
When was the last time you really snuggled up to God in prayer?
After nearly 30 years in ministry I have learned at least this much. The church must have these two things:
#1 – A Love for Jesus and for Others (the Great Commandment)
#2 – A Commitment to Prayer
A church can have the best programs and ministries in the world, but if these two things don’t exist, it is a church built on sand instead of rock.
For the past year we have been talking about Jesus. We have made Jesus the priority:
Love, Learn, Live…Jesus!
And when we live for Jesus, we can’t help but love and live for others as well. It has to be a part of our disciple DNA, because that was what Jesus was all about: Love.
But he was not only about love, but he was also about prayer. Daily, Jesus made prayer a priority as He talked to his Father and sought His Father’s will.
D.L. Moody once said:
“I’d rather be able to pray than be a great preacher; Jesus Christ never taught His disciples how to preach, but only how to pray.”—D. L. Moody
Hebrews 5: 7 – In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
Luke 3: 21 – Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened,
Luke 11: 1 – It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.”
Matthew 14: 19 – Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds,
My prayer is that Mt. Pleasant will not only be known for loving, learning and living…Jesus. But also for our commitment to prayer. I do believe we are a praying church, but I believe God is calling us to take it to another level.
It is through prayer that God changes and transforms lives. It is through prayer that we experience the presence of God. It is through prayer that we know and do God’s will as His church.
Last Sunday we talked about how God changes us through prayer individually. That when we are persistent in prayer we are spending more time with God and when we spend more time with God he can change us and move us to where He needs us to be.
In a world of seven billion people, God grants a private audience to young and old alike, who will take time to be still and know that He is God. Prayer is the key to unlocking the resources of our awesome God.
Missionary Hudson Taylor:
“The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, ‘Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not!’
A Christian’s personal prayer time is needed for spiritual growth and daily sustenance. But in addition, God has placed us in the Body of Christ. We are a part of His church universally. But God also desires for us to be a part of body of believers that seeking and serving Him together…and this includes doing these things in prayer. Just like we grow and change through individual prayer time with God, we do the same corporately.
In his book, “The Necessity of Prayer,” E.M. Bounds writes:
A church is a sacred place, set apart from all unhallowed and secular uses, for the worship of God. As worship is prayer, the house of God is a place set apart for worship. It is no common place; it is where God dwells, where He meets His people, and He delights in the worship of His saints. Prayer is always in place in the house of God.
When prayer is a stranger there, then it ceases to be God’s house at all. Our Lord put peculiar emphasis upon what the church was when He cast out the buyers and sellers in the Temple, repeating the words from Isaiah, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer.” He makes prayer preeminent, that which stands out above all else in the house of God.
They, who sidetrack prayer or seek to minify it, and give it a secondary place, pervert the Church of God, and make it something less and other than it is ordained to be. The very place is made sacred by its ministry. Without it, the Church is lifeless and powerless.
Without it, even the building, itself, is nothing, more or other, than any other structure. Prayer converts even the bricks, and mortar, and lumber, into a sanctuary, a holy of holies, where the Shekinah dwells. It separates it, in spirit and in purpose from all other edifices. Prayer gives a peculiar sacredness to the building, sanctifies it, sets it apart for God, conserves it from all common and mundane affairs. With prayer, through the house of God might be supposed to lack everything else, it becomes a Divine sanctuary.
Churches throughout history have strived to do God’s work on many levels. And yet, as time moved on, some became so involved in the doing that they forgot about the being. Like the church in Ephesus Jesus speaks about in Revelation 2: 1-5…
I believe one of the ways we can lose our first love as a church is when we fail to stay connected to Jesus through prayer. Just like the story of the farmer and his wife, if we have lost our first love, it’s because we have moved away from God’s presence…not the other way around. Prayer is what nourishes and keeps our love relationship with Christ vital and growing.
We must look in the mirror individually and corporately and decide if we are making prayer a real priority. And if not, we must humble our hearts before God and make a change in that direction.
We are not in this alone. Churches, today, and throughout history, have suffered through prayer droughts. The temple, where God’s people gathered and worshipped Him and prayed to him was an example of this. It was a place where all Jews who desired to know God would humble themselves before Him in confession of their sins, to bring their offerings and sacrifices to God, and to seek His will for their lives.
But one day, Jesus encountered something quite different. The Temple had turned from a house of prayer for all people into a segregated warehouse of merchandisers who exploited God’s people. Let’s look together at John 2: 13-17…
God required His people to come to the Temple each year during Passover to remember His faithfulness in delivering the Hebrew slaves from Egyptian slavery. It was a time when the people would remember his faithfulness, his love and his provisions for those who loved Him. It was a time for the people to draw near to God.
The money changers and the merchants took advantage of that. Instead of helping the people, they were hawking them.
The story of Jesus’ cleansing the house in John comes at the beginning of His ministry right after his first miracle. John tells the story in the second chapter of his book. Now let’s take a look at the event that happened toward the end of Jesus’ ministry.
Luke 19: 41-46…
What is the lesson Jesus is trying to teach us in these stories cleansing God’s house?
Jesus makes it clear that He is zealous for the house of God. Jesus is declaring that God’s house is to be a house of prayer for all people. This truth was even prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus entered the temple to clean things up.
Isaiah 56: 1-8…
When God’s Word says that the church is to be house of prayer for all people/nations, he means it. “All nations” is a reminder that God’s purpose for the church today, and just as it has always been, is that we welcome the stranger, the alien, the lost, the divorced, the fatherless, the broken, the hurting, the misplaced, the widow, the orphan, the exiled…all people who are looking for answers for their lives.
We all love a church where we feel comfortable, right? We want a safe place for our families. A place to call home. But think about this. Do you think God cares more about our comfort or whether we are truly loving everybody that walks in these doors?
It’s natural to gravitate to those who are like us. But when people walk into our lives that are totally different than us then things can get a little uncomfortable. But here’s the thing. We all have a story. We all have had experiences that have impacted our lives…both good and bad. Before we met Christ, we were lost just as much as the next person.
God’s heart is for all people which makes this a house of prayer for all nations.
If Jesus walked in our doors today, would He need to turn over any tables of attitudes, personal agendas and such? Do we look at people who walk through these doors and think… “I don’t think they’ll fit here?” (I’m talking to myself here as well). Or, do we look at them as people who matter to God?
As I mentioned at the start, I’ve been involved in ministry for 30 years. I have gone through stages where I truly felt everything the church was doing was definitely prayer driven. Other times, I think the church falls back into being program driven. Programs, ministries and budgets are necessary, but if we don’t bathe all these things in prayer, none of it really matters, because without prayer, we won’t be a place for all people and our programs and ministries will lack the foundation of God’s power and grace.
Think about the stories from Scripture:
Hannah was the unfortunate barren second wife, ridiculed and humiliated by the wife who easily bore children. So Hannah pleaded with God for a son, promising to give him back to the Lord: “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1 Sam. 1:11).
Sure enough, Samuel became the greatest prophet in Israel’s history, who maintained direct communication with God throughout his life. In addition to Samuel, God gave Hannah 3 more sons and 2 daughters. When we are willing to give our best to God, He blesses us with more!
After the Christian faith began to take root, the religious Hebrew governor, King Herod Agrippa, arrested Peter and put him in prison. “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5)
One night, an angel appeared in Peter’s jail cell and led him out of the prison, through doors and past guards. Peter arrived at Mary’s house, where the church was gathered praying; the servant girl was so surprised, she forgot to let him right in the house. Sometimes, God answers our prayers so quickly, it surprises us!
The powerful Assyrian king Sennacharib had laid siege to Jerusalem. King Hezekiah, who told his people to keep their faith in God, prayed for delivery from their enemy: “And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God’” (1 Kings 19:20).
That night, the angel of the Lord killed 85,000 Assyrian soldiers, which compelled the rest of the army to return home without a fight. Whenever God’s people follow His plan, He wages war on their behalf!
While Jesus suffered on the cross to provide us salvation for our sins, two thieves hung next to him. While one of them ridiculed Jesus for allowing Himself to be crucified, the second asked for forgiveness. “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43).
Jesus forgave the thief during His dying moments. It’s never too late for a spiritual transformation!
When prayer is the foundation of our faith, transformation takes place in such a way that you know that it can only be the power of God that has made the difference. This is what happened in a community Guatemala a couple of decades ago:
Faith in action: Are you committed to pray for your church and community? What would you be willing to do to pray for your church and community? Spend this week asking/praying to God for how He wants your prayer life to change.