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Is the congregation you attend a praying church? We always have an opening and closing prayer, you say. That's good, but is it enough to qualify us as a praying church? Do we have special periods of prayer set aside for members to get together and pray? Does anyone go to them? Are there opportunities for members to make prayer requests and lists kept and distributed of them? How many Bible classes, sermons, and bulletin articles in the past twelve months emphasized prayer? What percentage of the membership prays daily beyond offering thanksgiving for meals? God's house is many things, but it is nothing if it is not a house of prayer. Many congregations would benefit from giving more emphasis to prayer. One said, To pray without action is hypocrisy. To act without prayer is pagan. It's easy for a Christian to be guilty of both.
Do you remember what the Lord said the day He cleaned house at the temple (Matthew 21:12-13)? Try to picture Him standing to one side of the Court of the Gentiles and watching the Jews buying and selling sacrificial animals. His anger grew as their profits amassed. One historian tries to paint the scene:
Money was changed from foreign currency into the half shekel used to pay the Temple tax. These actions were seldom quiet and not always honest. As He watched the buying and selling, the haggling and cheating, His displeasure grew. If those who passed Him by had noticed, they might have seen Him flex an arm made strong by years of carpentry. They may have seen His fists clenched in frustration and anger. Now His eyes looked around the area, searching for something. Then, He saw it, a piece of rope that had been lost or discarded by one of the merchants. Picking it up, He doubled it, making it a whip, suitable to drive cattle out of the Temple area. Now He quickly moved in actions that were startling and upsetting even to those involved in the clamor of the buying and selling. With a strong hand, He turned over the tables of the moneychangers, scattering their stacks of coins. He untied sheep and cattle and with one flick of His whip, sent them into the narrow, winding streets of Jerusalem. With a voice of authority, He commanded the sellers of birds to take them out of the Temple.
What was His complaint? What set Him off like that? In a voice loud enough to be heard clearly above the turmoil, He announced His protest by quoting Isaiah, My house will be called a house of prayer, and ye have made it a den of thieves, (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13). He was talking of Herod's temple, of course, but His new temple, the church (Ephesians 2:21), is no less a house of prayer. If we cannot truthfully say that the church where we worship could be called a house of prayer, how do we expect God to bless it with growth?
Phase 1: Laying the Foundation: Why Should the Church of Christ Pray?
Let's take this image of building a temple, and apply it to building God's house of prayer. The first step to constructing any building is laying the foundation. Upon what foundation does the church of Christ (each congregation) build its prayer life?
The Church of Christ Must Pray to Be Like Its Founder.
The church is the spiritual body of Christ on earth and must continue the work He did when He occupied a male Jewish physical body two millennia ago. While on earth, He sought to save the lost (Luke 19:10); so must we (Mark 16:15). He had compassion on the hurting (Matthew 9:36); so must we (Jude 22). He glorified His Father (John 17:1); so must we (Matthew 5:16). He was never far from prayer; we must never be (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus was disappointed with His disciples when they forgot to pray (Luke 22:45); we must be disappointed in ourselves if we forget to pray (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Prayer is mentioned in the Bible five hundred forty five times (in 511 verses). Jesus is mentioned in connection with prayer sixty-two times (e.g., Matthew 14:23; Matthew 26:36, Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42, Matthew 26:44; Mark 1:35; Mark 6:46; Mark 14:32, Mark 14:35, Mark 14:39; John 14:16; John 17:9-11, John 17:20). He is known to have prayed on at least twenty-two different occasions. We may think a half hour is a long time to pray, but God's Son sometimes spent whole nights in one-sided conversation with God (Luke 6:12). Much of His last hours of freedom on earth were spent in prayer (John 17), as were some of His last breaths (Luke 23:34, Luke 23:46). It is safe to say that no one ever understood and practiced prayer as Jesus did. He encouraged His disciples to pray and inspired them by His example. Luke, more than the other writers, takes notice of Christ's praying. Luke's Gospel of Prayer gives at least twelve references to Jesus' prayer life.
As we analyze these references, we can make several observations. First, we see that Jesus prayed before making major decisions. As His church, we need to pray before appointing elders and deacons, hiring preachers, selecting missionaries, beginning new mission works, purchasing properties, taking on building projects, and before merging with other congregations or planting new churches. Second, we observe that Jesus prayed when facing trials. When congregations go through trying times, they need to increase their prayer time. Third, Jesus prayed on ordinary days (cf. Mark 1:35). He never got too busy to pray (cf. 1 Kings 20:40). His church needs to remember to rely on prayer during non-crisis time. We must not get too busy with emphasizing the next project or activity that we forget to thank God for the success of the last one. We must not get so busy enjoying past success that we forget to pray for upcoming activities.