I’m leading my congregation in growing as a house of prayer. What does that look like? Do we keep our doors open 24-7 so people can drop in to pray? Perhaps a prayer hotline fits the bill. What exactly is a house of prayer?
That’s the question that piqued my curiosity. So I did a little research. What I found was not much. Most of the literature on the subject just acknowledged that a house of prayer had something to do with prayer and it was a good thing. Those who fleshed out the concept went straight to practice, with little or no redemptive-historical foundation laid.
I set out to trace the development. For those interested I put together a paper on the subject entitled “God’s House of Prayer—Extreme Makeover Edition.” I explore the house of prayer concept, tracing it from its Old Testament genesis, through its reinforcement in Jesus’ day, to its outworking in the new covenant community of faith. The paper concludes with some specific ideas for what the local church as a bustling house of prayer looks like in practice.
Then came the task of bringing it home to my congregation. First, I held a combined adult Sunday School class on our church as a house of prayer, laying the biblical foundation and proposing some ways to go about building it. I was gratified by the good attendance and clear interest.
Next, I wrote an article for our church newsletter. I concluded the article with these two paragraphs.
Becoming a house of prayer involves those things profitable for inculcating a heart for prayer in each of us and cultivating a culture of prayer around us. Prayer must become the environment that sustains life and growth. Just as an oxygen-deprived atmosphere will prompt lethargy and weakness, so an atmosphere deficient in prayer will lead to stunted growth and ineffective ministry. A prayer-rich atmosphere animates, enlivens and invigorates the body of Christ.
The important thing is that we at RPC give attention in light of its own situation to how we can be faithful in serving Christ as a house of prayer we as God’s people are (identity) and are to be (function). Aside from the abuses against which our Lord Jesus warns, there’s really no wrong way to go about it. The only wrong would be its neglect.
Then I wrote a follow up for the congregation proposing three avenues by which we can begin to cultivate a culture of prayer. I look to really get things off the ground with the new year.
Here’s the exciting part. Encouragement begets enthusiasm and expectation. That is exactly what has happened—not encouragement by me but by God. On the heels of introducing the concept to my congregation, God showed us what can happen if we pray (Is. 37:21).
Each year we have an outreach event in early December where we tell the Christmas story through large rod puppets. The script is relevant portions from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The weekend before a good number from the congregation gathered together for concerted prayer for the event. Practice and preparations for the outreach were saturated in prayer throughout the week.
I reported this to the congregation.
The results? 100 people that first night—a record! 110 the next night—a new record! The electricity in the air was palpable. Invited guests came. People previously alienated from the church came—God was at work beyond what we asked or even thought. People lingered over cookies rather than leaving right away. Copies of my evangelistic booklet were taken. I saw people, including kids, reading them. Seeds of the gospel were sown. Repercussions await.
God showed us the difference prayer can make. We gave ourselves to prayer for other scheduled events. The Advent Wreath Service—a remarkable, unprecedented spirit dominated. The Christmas Eve Candlelight Service—unbelieving family members, piles of kids, many visitors. My message on federal headship (of all things!) oriented to kids went over exceedingly well (and surprisingly well considering kids’ messages are not my strength on an easy subject).
God encouraged us remarkably, leaving us with high expectations for 2013 for His making us into the house of prayer He calls us to be. I know full well, though, just as Nehemiah faced opposition in building (Neh. 2:17-20), so we have an enemy who would distract us and attempt to derail what God has put in motion. We must account for that as well in prayer.