Are our churches really houses of prayer?
IT’S WORTH CONSIDERING
Sit through a typical church service today and the format is generally the same. There is time devoted to praise and worship, announcements, the offering, some prayer, and finally, the pinnacle-the sermon. The message from the pastor is seen as the culmination of everything else. We seem to have twisted Jesus’ words to say, “My house shall be called a house of preaching.” I’m not discounting the need for good, solid Bible-based preaching. We need it now more than ever. But why did Jesus say, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”? (Mt. 21:13) What was His point and what should it mean for our church services today?
To help answer this question let’s look at how the church came into being in the first place. In the first two chapters of Acts we find the disciples gathered together, obediently waiting for the promised “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). While they were waiting, they were devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). I think we can safely say that their prayers were a far cry from our short “Lord, bless what we’re about to do” prayers. They had been with their resurrected master. Their sorrow had been turned to unbridled joy and excitement. All that Jesus had told them was starting to make sense. They knew they were about to experience a life-altering event that would fill them with the power of the Living God. For certain, they were engaged in gut-wrenching, protracted “kingdom prayers” that God would accept and use for His purposes.
In short, they were waiting and praying, patiently using the time to enter into the presence of the living God. They weren’t brainstorming. They weren’t pontificating to one another. They weren’t analyzing their options. They didn’t organize a protest against the oppressive policies and tactics of the religious leaders. They simply waited and prayed, letting God shape, mold, and prepare them for what He was about to do.
AS I SEE IT
I think it is significant that the Church was birthed during a prayer meeting. Likewise, Paul and Barnabas were sent out on the first of Paul’s three missionary journeys as a result of a group of Jesus’ followers ministering to the Lord and fasting (Acts 13:2). In Acts 12 we find the church praying fervently while Peter is in prison. Instead of planning a strategy to gain some political leverage, they were engaged in prayer. The apostles had learned one lesson well: when in trouble, pray. When intimidated, pray. When persecuted, pray.
In its early form, the Church can be seen as God meant it to be-desperate and completely dependent on God. Through its dependence and submission, the Church was the perfect conduit through which God could pour His love, His miracles, and His power. Its members were unconcerned with when to take up the offering, how many songs to sing, or the length of the sermon, let alone the intensity of the lighting or the comfort of the pews. They didn’t insert a few short well-placed prayers. Their time together was a time of ministering to the Lord through prayer, during which they sang, shared a timely word with one another and met their needs by sharing what they had. Ever since the day of Pentecost, every gathering of the early church was undoubtedly a communal “calling on God” resulting in regular manifestations of God’s power via the Holy Spirit-manifestations that glory to God and confirmation that God had heard their prayers. They didn’t “say their prayers.” They prayed.
When God told Ananias to go to Saul of Tarsus, the man known for his brutal persecution of Jesus’ followers, He reassured Ananias that Paul was a changed man. How could he know this for sure? Because Paul was praying (Acts 9:11). This was proof in God’s eyes. Paul was finally praying as God wanted him to pray, and it reflected a drastically changed life.
I believe that, more than anything, this is what’s missing from our churches today. We are so committed to limiting everything to a selected time slot so we can finish on time that we have given the Holy Spirit no opportunity to work. The people leave just as they came, having been convicted of nothing, moved to do nothing, and immediately checking their watches to see if there’s time to catch a quick bite before the game comes on. The following Sunday will be the same, only with different songs and a different message. And we wonder why America is in such decline.