“A house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” v. 17
Is your church robbing people? Is your pastor a thief? Am I, as pastor of my church, stealing the power and presence of God from people for the sake of worldly gain? Let me be blunt. In too many cases the answer to these questions is a resounding, yes. Too many churches have become places guilty of larceny of the highest order. Just like the temple Jesus cleared, we have taken a place intended for prayer and turned it into a place of entertainment and self promotion. We have lured people in promising them a connection with God through our clever activities, but have robbed them of prayer. When Solomon first built the Temple, he dedicated it to God as a place of prayer (1 Kings 8). Centuries later, Jesus comes into his father’s house of prayer, to find the outer court, designated for prayer, filled with cages and coins. The desire for money had squeezed out the place of prayer. Our Lord’s judgment was clear; They had turned the house of prayer into a place of robbery. Oh friends, let us not water this down by debating the issue of bake sales in the church. This totally misses the point. The problem here is much deeper. Can we not see what a great crime has been committed here? The place of prayer was gone. This was the primary purpose of the temple, and yet the leaders, in a desire for other things, had stolen this precious access to God from the people! Have we not done the same?
In the book of Acts we see that prayer was the very lifeline of the church. It was central to everything. Christ had died to give us access to God by faith (Romans 5:2). If ever there was a generation blessed with the privilege of prayer it is the church. Yet we have made prayer the unwanted step child of the church today! We have stolen prayer from the people and given them finance meetings instead. Tell your church there will be a prayer meeting this Wednesday night. The following Wednesday tell them you’re having a seminar on Christian finance. See which one is most widely attended! Yet we pastors must not rail against our church for this, because we have created the monster, by not teaching our flock the value of prayer. We may be preaching it, but are we modeling it? Pastor do your people see you as a leader in prayer or as a CEO of a corporation? When our members are lying sick and facing their final hours, it will be prayer, not programs, that usher them into the peace of God. When you step into the pulpit are you armed with power points or power to make the points? The latter comes from prayer. No amount of preaching tips and tricks can change a heart. Only the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and that comes from the prayer closet, not the web site. Prayerless preaching is also a form of robbery. Your people came this Sunday looking for a word from God. They also came looking for his power and presence. Prayerless preaching is a con job. True gospel preaching is born in prayer. Get back into the delivery room preacher and stop robbing your people.
Church we have taught the world to devalue prayer, as a silly waste of time, because we have failed to demonstrate the awesome power of God’s people in prayer. Every great work of God from Genesis to Revelation was born in prayer. Have you counted the number of promises regarding prayer made by Jesus alone in the gospels? Take a look. Our sanctuaries should be places of prayer, but too often they are used for lesser things. Oh friends, I write this convicted of my own larceny. We are criminals of the highest order if we give everything to the world except a true connection with God. Even if we preach the gospel, we rob them of the ability to access it and experience it through prayer. If your church is too busy to pray, then it’s time for repentance. It’s time to clean house. Imagine the Apostles saying to Jesus, “sorry we have a widow ministry to run! No time to pray!” Then we have no time to be Christian, for prayer is the very heart of Christian living. In Acts 6 the Apostles refused to give up prayer and the word of God in order to wait tables for widows, as worthy a ministry as that was. They said, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and ministry of the word.” They turned the world upside down, by first turning their schedules upside down and devoting themselves to prayer. Can we not do the same? We’d better, lest we stand before God and find ourselves charged with theft by distraction. God help us cleanse our own temples. Help us to cleanse the casinos of religious activity and return to the throne room of grace.