Excerpt from a doctoral dissertation I’m writing. The study was a challenge to me.
Spiritual churches pray. Perhaps Jesus’ most passionate act besides His sacrifice on the cross comes to us in Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46, and John 2:14. As He walked into the church (in their context, called the temple), He saw that it had turned from a place of prayer and worship to a place of merchandise. A holy indignation welled up within Him, and He walked out. Having made a whip, He came back in a short time later and drove out those that sold, as well as their animals. He then made a statement about His house that we would do very well to note and then emulate. He said, “my house shall be called of all nations a house of prayer…” (referencing Isaiah 56:7). This was the desire of God the Father in the Old Testament. This was the longing of God the Son in the New. His desire is that His house is a spiritual house, a house of prayer.
Our churches can be called many things, especially in this day and age. But when we think of OUR church, can it honestly be called “a house of prayer”? Our church might be a house of preaching. It might be seen to be a house of Bible study. Many can be called houses of fellowship. Some are known for their Sunday School. Some for their ornate buildings (as the temple was, as we see in Jesus’ conversation with His disciples). Others are known for their programs, schools, or institutions of learning. But how many churches do you know that are known as houses of prayer? If there are churches like this, they’re probably not recognized as such because naturally, we look for the methods to their success as opposed to the means of power for success.
I’m afraid that most churches today cannot be called houses of prayer. The prayer meeting is often the least attended meeting of the week. The church gathers for a short time, shares some requests, breaks up, prays methodically- and many times not passionately, and is done for the week. And we wonder why the next generation is looking for new methods and means to reach people. Have we shown them that we rely solely on the Lord and His Holy Spirit to do His work? Or have we shown them that we rely on Sunday school, and follow up, and callbacks, and our man-made means and methods? This is NOT how the early church operated. A.W. Tozer said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
A book I read recently suggested this exercise. It’s a very good one, and yet can be very sobering. Pause for a moment, and imagine having been saved on a remote island by a Christian that just happened to be passing through, and your paths crossed. Though you’re very remote geographically, there is a Bible in your language, and the witness gives you one to read, being the best he can do for you. You have never seen a church. You don’t know what one looks like. You’ve never gathered for “church”. But as you open the Bible, you see that Christ gave Himself for the church. You see what the early church looks like. You see how they lived, were added, gave, continued, and prayed. You know of no other church but the one recorded in Scripture. Here’s the question- would the church you’ve seen in Scripture look like what we practice every week when we gather for “church”? I’ve been reading through the book of Acts this past week, and one of the things that convicts me the most is their reliance on prayer and the Holy Spirit and my lack thereof. From day one, they relied on one-accord prayer…