And Jesus began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:17
The context in which Jesus said this was during His historic cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem which took place the very week leading up to His eventual betrayal and crucifixion. He had just driven out all the merchants and money changers. The teeming crowds gathered there in preparation for Passover were doubtless standing in stunned silence, astonished at the demonstrative way in which the great, revered teacher had underscored His point. He made two extraordinary statements. First He declared that the Temple was His house, a claim which if made by any other person would be blasphemy. And second He insisted that His house’s salient, defining purpose was to be a house of prayer.
Several days later, that agonizing night in the Garden of Gethsemane, He issued a similar call to prayer to His own disciples. “Could you not watch with me one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
The problem of prayerlessness, both in corporate worship settings and in the private devotional lives of individuals is very much with us yet today. In fact I would venture to say that the most glaring omission if not the greatest weakness in a majority of church services across this nation on any given Sunday is the time and commitment given to prayer. By and large more time is given to every other aspect of the service, including the announcements, than to prayer. Yes I know that many churches and pastors pray over the offering and before and after the message. But in terms of concerted, sustained corporate prayer; for both personal and public needs and for local, national and international concerns such as the government, the church, missionaries, the poor, oppressed and persecuted etc., little if any time is dedicated.
Why is that? Has religious activity in God’s house, and even non-spiritual activity dressed up to look religious, become a substitute for watching and praying? Is it still the case that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak?” Having been a first-hand observer as a worshiper, service planner and leader, and pastor/teacher for over 40 years, I say unequivocally that the answer to all the above is “yes.”
I do not hesitate to plead guilty to failing to make Jesus’ house a house of prayer. Over my many years of ministry, along with my brothers and sisters I have wrestled with this dilemma. Attempts have been made, big pushes have been initiated, prayer meetings have been started, prayer emphases have been introduced into weekend worship services, that and much more. But for many reasons the impetus behind the pendulum of prayer all too often runs out and the chime of prayer in the house of God has fallen silent.
Recently as I was once again considering Jesus’ call that His house be a house of prayer, and wondering how it was ever going to come about, I felt the Lord say to me, “You are my house. You can begin by praying ‘Lord make me a house of prayer!’”
It was suddenly as simple and as plain as the image I view in the mirror every morning. As a temple of the Holy Spirit I am the dwelling place of God and in every aspect His house, and a key building block or living stone in the house which is His church. If the church is to become a house of prayer for all nations it must begin with me!
That liberates me as I realize that His house will be a house of prayer if I pray. Today marks day twenty-one, since I began praying “Lord, make me a house of prayer!” and I can say that it is revitalizing my soul.
By God’s grace He has begun instilling in me a desire to set aside a minimum of one hour every day exclusively to “watch and pray” (Mark 11:14) and also to experiment with a rhythm of “evening, morning and at noon” times of prayer. (Psalm 55:17) Right now my life is like a prayer lab. Thus far it has been an exciting and educational journey. I am relearning and learning for the first time many biblical principles of prayer. My humble desire is that they will transform me and give my longings for God new life. I hope to be able to give you some updates as things develop.
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