Building a House
of Prayer, Part 1
Is the congregation you attend a “praying church?” “We
always have an opening and closing prayer,” you say. That’s good, but is
it enough to qualify us as a “praying church?” Do we have special periods
of prayer set aside for members to get together and pray? Does anyone go
to them? Are there opportunities for members to make prayer requests and
lists kept and distributed to them? How many Bible classes, sermons and
bulletin articles in the past twelve months emphasized prayer? What percentage
of the membership prays daily beyond offering thanksgiving for meals? God’s
house is many things, but it is nothing if it is not a house of prayer.
Many congregations would benefit from giving more emphasis to prayer. One
said, “To pray without action is hypocrisy. To act without prayer is pagan.”
It’s easy for a Christian to be guilty of both.
Do you remember what the Lord said the day he cleaned
house at the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13)? Try to picture him standing to
one side of the Court of the Gentiles and watching the Jews buying and
selling sacrificial animals. His anger grew as their profits amassed. One
historian tries to paint the scene:
Money was changed from foreign currency into
the half shekel used to pay the Temple tax. These actions were seldom quiet
and not always honest. As He watched the buying and selling, the haggling
and cheating, His displeasure grew. If those who passed Him by had noticed,
they might have seen Him flex an arm made strong by years of carpentry.
They may have seen His fists clenched in frustration and anger. Now His
eyes looked around the area, searching for something. Then, He saw it,
a piece of rope that had been lost or discarded by one of the merchants.
Picking it up, He doubled it, making it a whip, suitable to drive cattle
out of the Temple area. Now He quickly moved in actions that were startling
and upsetting even to those involved in the clamor of the buying and selling.
With a strong hand, He turned over the tables of the moneychangers, scattering
their stacks of coins. He untied sheep and cattle and with one flick of
His whip, sent them into the narrow, winding streets of Jerusalem. With
a voice of authority, he commanded the sellers of birds to take them out
of the Temple.
What was his complaint? What “set him off” like that? In
a voice loud enough to be heard clearly above the turmoil, he announced
his protest by quoting Isaiah, “My house will be called a house of prayer,
and ye have made it a den of thieves . . .” (56:7; Matthew 21:13). He was
talking of Herod’s temple, of course,1
but his new temple, the church (Ephesians 2:21), is no less “a house of
prayer.” If we cannot truthfully say that the church where we worship could
be called a “house of prayer,” how do we expect God to bless it with growth?
Phase I: Laying the Foundation
– Why Should the Church of Christ Pray? Let’s take this image
of building a temple, and apply it to building God’s house of prayer. The
first step to constructing any building is laying the foundation. Upon
what foundation does the church of Christ (each congregation) build its
The Church of Christ Must Pray
to be Like Its Founder. The church is the spiritual body of
Christ on earth and must continue the work he did when he occupied a male
Jewish physical body two millennia ago. While on earth, he sought to save
the lost (Luke 19:10); so must we (Matthew 5:16). He had compassion on
the hurting (Matthew 9:36); so must we (Jude 22). He glorified his Father
(John 17:1); so must we (Matthew 5:16). He was never far from prayer; we
must never be (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus was disappointed with his disciples
when they forgot to pray (Luke 22:45); we must be disappointed in ourselves
if we forget to pray (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Prayer is mentioned in the Bible five hundred forty five
times (in 511 verses). Jesus is mentioned in connection with prayer sixty-two
times (e.g. Matthew 14:23; 26:36, 39, 42, 44; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32, 35,
39; John 14:16; 17:9-11, 20). He is known to have prayed on at least twenty-two
different occasions. We may think a half hour is a long time to pray, but
God’s Son sometimes spent whole nights in one-sided conversation with God
(Luke 6:12). Much of his last hours of freedom on earth were spent in prayer
(John 17), as were some of his last breaths (Luke 23:34, 46). It is safe
to say that no one ever understood and practiced prayer as Jesus did. He
encouraged his disciples to pray and inspired them by his example. Luke,
more than the other writers, takes notice of Christ’s praying. Luke’s “Gospel
of Prayer” gives at least twelve references to Jesus’ prayer life.
Ø At his baptism (3:21).2
Ø When his fame spread abroad (5:16).
Ø Before naming his twelve apostles (6:12).
Ø Before feeding the 5,000 (9:16).
Ø Before asking, “Whom do men say that I am?”
Ø Prior to his transfiguration (9:28, 29).
Ø When he rejoiced in spirit (10:21).
Ø When his disciples asked for instruction on
Ø For Peter’s faith to fail not (22:32).
Ø Before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane
Ø While on the cross (23:34).
Ø Before eating bread with the disciples at Emmaus
As we analyze these references, we can make several observations.
we see that Jesus prayed before making major decisions. As his
church, we need to pray before appointing elders and deacons, hiring preachers,
selecting missionaries, beginning projects, and before merging with other
congregations or planting new churches. Second, we observe that Jesus
prayed when facing trials. When congregations go through trying
times, they need to increase their prayer time. Third, Jesus prayed
on “ordinary” days (cf. Mark 1:35). He never got too busy to pray
(cf. 1 Kings 20:40). His church needs to remember to rely on prayer during
“non-crisis” time. We must not get too busy with emphasizing the next project
or activity that we forget to thank God for the success of the last one.
We must not get so busy enjoying past success that we forget to pray for
1Remember Solomon’s prayer
at its dedication included the fact it would be known as a “house of prayer
for all nations” (cf. 1 Kings 8:41-48).
2Interestingly, all the
three voices from heaven, by which the Father bare witness to the Son,
were pronounced while he was praying, or soon after, here, Luke 9:35 and