“Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered” (Isaiah 56:7-8).
When God described His meeting place, He used the phrase “house of prayer.” Prayer in Jewish culture and Hebrew word meaning wasn’t just a laundry list of wishes or a heavenly “honey-do” list. There is an earnestness implied in the word, more like begging.
There is also perhaps an element of selflessness in the word as well because the root of the Hebrew word used here has to do with interceding.
While prayer is indeed asking for God to intervene on our behalf, interceding is how we describe prayer that is not for ourselves but for others in need.
When Jesus cleansed the temple, we see that the worldly and self-centered nature of the business going on in the temple deeply disturbed Him.
Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY house shall be called A house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den” (Mathew 21:12-13).
The space God’s people gathered together to seek Him was meant to be characterized by a number of qualities, but in these two passages, we can see three very important factors that are dear to God’s heart.
1. Prayer Is for God’s People and Their Gatherings
God’s heart for his place of worship was that it would be characterized by prayer. There are a lot of things we think of when we think about going to church but is prayer the first thing that pops into our minds.
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension (1 Timothy 2:8).
Of all Paul’s requests of the church, it wasn’t to raise funds for church buildings, outreach projects, or poor saints. It wasn’t for more children’s church volunteers or greeters. It wasn’t for more commitment to small group Bible studies.
While all of those things are necessary for the church, they were not his passionate request. He always asked for prayer! He always gave prayer. Prayer was a heartbeat for Paul’s ministry and it is meant to be ours as well.
The Lord’s heart is for His place of worship (in days of the Bible this would have referred to the temple, but today it refers to our churches and ultimately our hearts which are now the temple of the Holy Spirit) to be a house of prayer, but also that all the peoples of the earth would be united in prayer together.
2. God’s House Is a Place of Racial and Cultural Unity
In the above Isaiah passage, God mentions the foreigners that had yet to know Him. For many of us, we are those foretold foreigners that were grafted into the family of God.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you (Romans 11:17-18).
But the text doesn’t just stop at the foreigners. Next, God speaks of the “dispersed of Israel.” We are watching the Lord’s promise to gather Israel again be fulfilled. And we must remember the nearness of Israel to God’s heart.
In a day of racial turmoil and pain, God’s people must remember that it is His heart for all of us to be united in His house. As grafted in believers, we must also remember how precious Israel is to God’s heart and that it is His will for them to be gathered again.
If we want to be part of God’s work, then we ought to take note of passages like this and consider how important unity is to God’s heart and His plans.
We ought to ask Him to open our eyes to opportunities to join Him in the work of stitching unity, peace, and love between people groups.
3. Prayer in God’s House Brings Joy
As we watch the news and look at the world around us, it is often very hard to not feel the heaviness of the times. Prayer is meant to be our comfort. And as believers, we are meant to come together during times such as these to seek God’s face together. For our comfort and joy.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-6).
It is perhaps easy to take for granted that the Bible tells us “in God’s presence there is joy.” But I think one of the things that so angered Jesus was the way the religious leaders had twisted the means and outcome of God’s presence.
As New Testament believers, faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is ultimately our way of connecting to God. In Old-Testament days of waiting for the Promised Messiah, they performed sacrifices of faith to atone for their sins.
Faith was still central to meeting with the Lord, it was just that the faith took on a different expression for Jewish believers than for Christian ones.
The Lord’s intent for the temple was that it would be a joyful place where all people communed together with their God and that they would all share one another’s joy.
When Jesus arrived at the temple, people’s eyes were narrowly and fearfully fixed on Pharisaical approval and interpretation of Scripture.
Pharisees and many Jews kept themselves from foreigners and even people of lower classes than them. God’s house took from the people instead of uniting them and giving to them. Joy in God’s presence was eclipsed by a system of regulations.
What Does This Mean?
The Lord’s house is meant to be a safe place. A place where joy and prayer grow freely.
All these facets of the phrase “house of prayer” are important to our Lord. And they ought to be important to us as well. When we go up to the house of the Lord, we ought to guard these matters.
We ought to make sure we don’t bring selfishness, commerce, racism, disunity, or any other thing that would hinder a spirit of sweet joyful prayer to the gathering of God’s people. May we cherish the Lord’s joy and presence when we gather together.
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April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.