A House of Prayer Renovation -Part 1

Imagine that we are back in time. 1

We are in Jerusalem. The temple as you go into Jerusalem is near the city entrance, and back then, the temple was definitely a center for religious, social, and economic activity. So here we are near the temple, and there are a lot of people surrounding us, more people than usual, thousands more. It’s a great time for festivity.

In about a week, the Passover will be arriving. This Passover celebration is a time to remember and look back when in Egypt the blood of the lamb was put on the doorpost so that death passed over the children of Israel and they were saved.

This story is found in Exodus, Chapter 12.

The Passover is a symbol of the foreshadowing of a Messiah who’s going to come and save us from our sins. So the people are celebrating the Passover and the lamb. It’s a symbol that our prayers are being heard. People come from miles away to the city of Jerusalem for this Passover, and as travelers are entering the city, people are greeting them with the words from Psalm 118.

Psalm 118 was usually reserved for such occasions with celebratory pilgrims headed towards Jerusalem. 2

“Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Then Jesus shows up.

Now Jesus is not just any traveler. He shows up riding on a donkey like the king used to do a long time ago, and the crowd greets him in a special way. They’ve heard about him by reputation, and some of them know him personally. Some of the disciples are probably among the people who are yelling and shouting, “Hosanna!” Hosanna means God saves, but at this point it also means a word of praise. They’re excited, because as Jesus comes into the city, they’re thinking that with him there’s going to be a political deliverance that’s going to be arriving in their favor. So everybody is happy and celebrating.

Suddenly something happens that takes everybody by surprise. Something happens that will forever change the way we understand God, the way we understand Scripture, and change the way we live.

Take a look at Matthew 21:12-16:

“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘”My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it a den of robbers.’ The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.

When the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and  heard the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.

“‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise”?'”(verse 16).

The Bible says that Jesus drove out those who were buying and selling there. The word translated drove out is a very strong word. It is reserved for the times when Jesus drives out or does an exorcism of demons.3 Jesus wants to drive out those things that stand in the way of what He’s trying to do in our lives.

The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 11, tells the same story. It informs us that there was also merchandise in the temple. Biblical history tells us that this merchandise, the grain, the oil, the wood… All of this was used for dues, dues in the sense of a club, you know, for money, for the upkeep of the temple building.

Now what were the moneychangers doing inside the temple? As we said earlier, people came from far away to Jerusalem for the Passover. If they wanted to buy anything in the city, if they wanted to buy anything in the temple, they had to exchange their money, a lot like today. If you’re traveling, you want to exchange your dollar for the money of the country where you’re traveling. Not only was there merchandise and moneychangers, there were also cattle in the temple, animals. The temple merchants sold animals for sacrificial ceremonies.

It was a very lucrative business, because people didn’t always carry all their animals with them as they were traveling. Some of them traveled from a long way, and they wanted to travel light. They needed a sacrifice to submit their prayers, and they also knew that the temple sold animals, and those animals had the seal of approval. They had the temple seal of approval, because the animal had to be unblemished. It had to be pure to be acceptable. So then the temple workers collected money to keep the temple going while at the same time providing a service for the people in the Name of God.

Yet Jesus came in there and overturned their tables, chased the buyers and the sellers out. Jesus tells them (verse 13),

“It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

To us, these words may not seem like much, but to those people hearing those words back in the day it was a big deal. They must have jarred their collective memories, these words of the prophets of old.

(To be continued, Part 2)

How shall we pray? 

Are we engaged in business that seem so good, but brings God no glory and only drive a deeper gulf between us and His saving Presence?Between others and God? Are we introducing people to Jesus or getting in the way with our own prayerless agenda.What needs to be overturned inside of us? In the way we represent Him in His House of Prayer?

Prayer: Dear God, business as usual will not do. Renovate Your House. Forgive us for the ways we have stolen attention away from You or been too distracted to notice You. As we turn to you, drive out from us any prayerless and self-centered agendas. Make us Your House of Prayer where Your Spirit dwells. Make our hearts a place where Your Spirit dwells. Lord, Help us. Amen.

A Week of Prayer and our story so far

We ended our First 40 Days of Prayer experience with a daily gathering (instead of a the regular weekly one) based on the themes of the  remaining 7 days for the devotionals.

The objective of the First 40 was to end up  with a new or renewed lifestyle of prayer. The signal that we were on the right path would come from how we would testify for Jesus, and grabbed opportunities to make someone else’s life a little better.

The typical week of prayer most of us had been a part of had involved inviting a “special speaker’ to lead a program for spiritual renewal of church folks.

Nothing wrong with that, but while church folks were still blessed by the week,we emphasized building a praying and outward-focused community of Christ’ disciples.

Here are two main ways we hoped to accomplish this objectives,aside from a daily email devotionals focused compassion:

1. We encouraged people to be attentive to whom God was calling them to invite to the HoPE. In fact, the dream was to have a sign outside of our HoPE space so that a passersby would read: “How may we pray with you? Please come in!”

What if our Houses of Prayer were places where the stranger could be welcome and know that there would find a safe place to pour their deepest prayer and where people of God could support them in their search for God?

2. What if Week of prayers weren’t only events to inspire ourselves, but an occasion to provide spiritual encouragement with practical acts of kindness toward our local community?

As a group, we collected items for homeless people or people in need that we might encounter on the road during our day. Having starter kit bags ready to distribute created an awareness and a  reminder that God had provided for us so that we might bless someone else when the occasion would present itself.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

-Ephesians 2:10

As a follow up to our 40Days, we plan to do outreach as a group on a more regular basis among ourselves and with our local church at large. If you are joining local agencies to provide for the poor while connecting it to Prayer Ministry, please share with us on this blog! We’d love to read about what you’re doing.

2. During our week of prayer, we as leaders receded into the background as much as possible and made space for others to rise to the occasion for leading out in prayers and sharing their story -so far- with God.

The Week of Prayer became an opportunity for living out what the Holy Spirit was empowering us to do. The seven days were a microcosm of the life we are called to live everyday: Share with others our stories with God so far and practice serving another.

In other words, Live the Gospel.

As a community we want to came together to do something for the benefit of those we’ve been praying about: those who have less or are easily forgotten in our society. Prayer is not doing nothing.

Prayer is doing good or doing ministry in the authority of Jesus, and prayer  is the power source of what makes living the Gospel possible.