One of the most striking events in the New Testament occurs in Mark 11. It’s when Jesus gets angry and gets after some folks who are selling and exchanging money in the outer courts of the Temple. We see it here:
Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” – Mark 11:15-17, NASB
Jesus quotes from both Isaiah and Jeremiah in the lesson He taught after cleaning house. What is interesting about the passage from Isaiah (56:7), is it talks about the offering being acceptable. This is in start contrast to previously in Isaiah where God says that the offering wasn’t acceptable. The difference between the two passages is the heart attitude of the people. Before they went through the motions, but they weren’t acting out of a pure heart dedicated to God. When God, speaking through Isaiah, calls His house a house of prayer, it is because of the hearts of the people coming there are focused on Him. The Jeremiah passage can be found in Jeremiah 7:1-11. It is when God tells Jeremiah to stand at the gates of the Temple and proclaim a rebuke for the people there aren’t focused on God. They are still caught up in their evil ways. They are pretending to be faithful and holy, but they aren’t. And Jeremiah levels the condemnation against them about the fact that the Temple is nothing more than a den of thieves.
Today our churches can resemble one or the other. They can be houses of prayers or dens of thieves. The choice as to what they become is in the hands of those who go to each church. I have a dream that one day every Christian church around the world would be seen as a house of prayer in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, many of our churches are far from this. For instance, here in the United States it is more often to hear about business matters, college football, politics, and just about anything except God. We have Sunday school and we have the music portion of the worship and we have the sermon, but look at what most folks are truly focused on. It’s not being in fellowship and communion with the Lord. So our churches don’t really resemble houses of prayer.
I want desperately for that to change. However, I know that I’m part of the problem. When I focus on other things than God during my time within the walls of our churches, I’m guilty of the same thing I’ve just spoken of. When I fuel other things other than God, I’m guilty, too. So talking Clemson – Carolina football at my church tends to get people thinking and talking about those two teams. And if their minds are on college football, they aren’t focusing on the Son of God. Now don’t get me wrong. Some folks use those as bridges to fellowship. They lay down common ground and come to know their brothers and sisters in Christ better. And in those cases it makes sense. But if we were honest with ourselves, how many of us talk about those kinds of things because we’re building bridges and how many of us do it because we just want to? And that’s a key heart difference to keep in mind.
So how do we fix things? Complaining about it doesn’t change it. I know in my own life I’ve got to do better. I’ve got to approach God’s house prepared to worship and to pray. I’ve got to think about that time as set apart solely for God and for His work. In other words, I start with what I can change: me. I work on the areas of my life which aren’t in right step with God. As I do so, hopefully I will serve as an encouragement to others who are of similar minds. See, I can deplore the negative. I can criticize and complain. Or I can change, and give a start to that change I want to see spread through my church and onto others. I’m not so egotistical to think that because I’m doing something everyone else is going to follow suit. But I know that until I’m doing something about me, I’m not really attacking the problem where I can make the biggest difference. I’m not putting my efforts to where I have the most control and influence. So if I want to see my dream come alive, I must start with me.
Do you want to see all the Christian churches of our world become houses of prayer for the Lord? Does this weigh on your heart? If so, you’re the best place to start. We can do this, one person at a time. We can do this, not because of our own abilities, but because this is what God desires of us and He will give us the strength and courage to change, if we we’re willing to let Him step into our lives. But we’ve got to want to change. We’ve got to want to see a difference. I want that. I want my church to be a house of prayer. I want my Lord to look at me and say, “His heart’s desire is for his church to be a house of prayer and for the offerings of its people to be pleasing to me. I will give him this desire of His heart.” Do you want God to react this way to you? If so, join me.