Jesus says explicitly, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’” (Matt. 21:13; Luke 19:46). Therefore, not only is He stressing the importance of prayer, but it is to be of highest priority of any congregation gathering in His name—from the vocational ministers to the attending laity. So we should ask ourselves, how did churches become houses of worship? Understand, this is not simply a changing of terms. These are not synonymous. No, this shift is quite consequential.
“My house is to be a house of prayer,” the Lord declares. Yet, consider the emphasis of most churches. Is it prayer? No, most churches emphasize the preaching, worship, or missions/outreach of some kind. Yet, typically in any service prayer is given only a couple of minutes. Certainly the preaching of God’s Word, worship, and missions/outreach are all important. However, it is through prayer churches show their dependence on God and seek His directives. Furthermore, it is through prayer these other things are infused with the power of the Holy Spirit versus man’s ingenuity and activity (there is a distinction). Incidentally, it is by the lack of prayer churches reveal their trust in themselves (rather than on God) and seek after their own agendas instead of God’s will. Oh sure, in many cases buildings are erected and congregations grow numerically—but not infused with the power of God and a deeper knowledge of Him!
Henry Blackaby writes this haunting observation, “Those who know they can do nothing apart from abiding in Christ will cry out to God continually (John 15:5). People who become self-confident and proud will find they are too busy to pray.” How much do you and I, as well as our churches, genuinely cry out to God in total dependence and with abandonment of ourselves?
We say that we follow Christ and that He is our Teacher and example—that we want to be like Him. But is this true? Do we follow His example? Do we really want to be like Him? Oswald Chambers is right when he says, “Prayer seems like such a small thing to do—next to nothing at all in fact. But that’s not what Jesus said. To Him prayer is everything.”
Consider how many times in the Gospels we read of the Son of God rising up early in the morning while it was still dark or staying up late into the night for the purpose of praying. Before calling His disciples, He prayed. So devoted was He to prayer that His disciples (who no doubt were familiar with prayer) requested that He teach them to pray. Before His passion, knowing the cup of suffering was being given to Him to drink in its entirety, He pleaded that there was some other way; nevertheless, He wanted the Father’s will to be done. Is this our mindset—our desire—to seek long and hard after God, to enquire of His guidance in every decision, and to surrender our desires and agendas in order to align ourselves with His? This is difficult. In fact, this is impossible if we are not being infused with His Spirit. Cheryl Sacks rightly notes that this cannot happen apart from fervent prayer.
Please understand, I’m not speaking as one who is some great prayer warrior. But I see so much powerlessness of the church as darkness spreads further and many people falling away from the faith. We have Christian literature and media galore, but where is our influence? We have plenty of nice facilities and events, but where is the power? Is not our lack of influence and power simply a result of our lack of prayer?
The purpose of this article is not to shame the church or put her down. Rather, I am simply wanting to encourage you, and that we may encourage one another, to seek passionately after the heart and face of our Father—just as our Savior exemplified. By the moving of the Holy Spirit within us, may our church buildings be restored to houses of prayer instead of houses of worship. May we become completely dependent on God rather than our own abilities, and may we learn to sincerely pray patterned after His, “Your will be done.” From here, only God knows what incredibly positive effects this would have in our lives, our homes, our churches, our communities, and our world. We won’t ever know, except churches becoming what God has willed for them to be—houses of prayer.