The House of Prayer
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (v. 7).- Isaiah 56:6–8
As Christians consider what the Bible has to say about worship, it is crucial that we consider what all of Scripture says about how we are to come before God when we offer up our sacrifices of praise. This means that we must look at the Old Testament no less than we consider what the New Testament teaches. In so doing, we have to keep in mind that not everything done in worship under the old covenant carries over into the new covenant. For example, we do not offer up animal sacrifices anymore because Hebrews 9–10 tells us that Jesus is the final sacrifice for sin. Nevertheless, there are principles we can discern from the Old Testament Scriptures that can guide our worship practices.
One emphasis in the Old Testament’s teaching on worship is that the temple was to be a house of prayer for all the nations (Isa. 56:6–8). Prayer’s role as one of the defined purposes of the sanctuary where people would meet for corporate worship points to the critical role of prayer in the life of the church. There is an emphasis on corporate intercession that the Lord desires for His people that we see carried into the new covenant, for we read of the gatherings for prayer that the very first Christians held (Acts 12:12). Of course, the earliest believers did not have dedicated sanctuaries for praise and prayer, often meeting in homes for teaching and worship. Still, the corporate emphasis on prayer indicates that it is appropriate to have sanctuaries that are houses of prayer for God’s people. It is good to have a dedicated space where the people of God can gather to call upon His name and even where individuals can go outside of service times to meet with the Lord in a quiet place.
It is surely a mark of spiritual poverty that we devote little attention to corporate prayer when we gather for worship. In many of our modern churches, there is much focus on the music, the sermon, or both, but corporate prayer often seems like an afterthought. It is proper, of course, to focus on the teaching of God’s Word and on the praises we sing to our Creator, but we must also emphasize the practice of prayer. Whether we kneel, sit, or stand as we pray to our God, we are confessing our absolute dependence upon Him to bless our worship gatherings and to sustain us in our service to Him. Prayer keeps us humble before our Maker and reminds us of our need for His mercy, which is key as only those who rely on God’s mercy alone are declared righteous in His sight (Luke 18:9–14). They understand that they have no merit of their own to offer the Lord but rely only on Him for salvation.
The prayer life of an individual and of the church says a lot about their view of the Lord. If we are careful to develop a precise theology and yet have an anemic prayer life, it may be that we have not really grasped with our hearts the truth that we are fully dependent upon God for all things. Christians must not only be “people of the book” who love and do what the Lord reveals in the Bible; we must also be “people of prayer” who depend on God for every good thing.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 5:17