“...these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
What does it mean to be a house of prayer, and why is it important?
This past Sunday, Jordan closed out our series on Isaiah with a message on being a house of prayer. In Isaiah 56, a house of prayer is described as God’s house, and the place where God gives joy to those who devote themselves to him, regardless of their status or position (in this passage, as a non-Jew or a eunuch). This passage emphasizes the statement made in Isaiah 56:7, that God’s house would be “for all nations.” Interestingly, the next time this statement is mentioned in the Bible is when Jesus quotes it in Matthew 21:13:
“‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you (money changers) are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”
In both the passage in Isaiah 56 and in Matthew 21, God is calling out his people to maintain justice. Isaiah 56 begins with an admonition from the Lord: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed” (Is. 56:1). Foreigners who believed in God were doubting that they were also God’s people, and eunuchs who also followed God felt as if they had no place because they could not produce offspring. But God tells these people clearly that as those who honor him and keep his Sabbath, he “will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off” (Is. 56:5). It is such a clear picture of God’s heart and definition of justice: not only are the righteous upheld and the wicked to bear the consequences of their actions, but God gives special care and attention to the outsider and those who are oppressed. Regardless of a person’s means, background, gender, ability, they are welcomed as equal inheritors in the house of God.
Similarly, Matthew 21 highlights God’s heart for a number of socially marginalized groups: the poor, people who are disabled and children. People selling in the temple courts would scam and cheat people, most likely overpricing their wares precisely because people would come to give their sacrifices to God. Matthew 21 specifically mentions that doves were sold, the animal most often sacrificed by poor people, as a less expensive yet scripturally acceptable offering (Leviticus 14:21-22).
Why would scripture emphasize the connection between a house of prayer and justice?
I believe that it is a reminder that as the people of God, we don’t pray simply for ourselves, that we would receive comfort, riches, high-standing. As people of God, we should already know we have all these things in abundance. Instead, our presence on earth is to share the good news that God has made a way for everyone to be adopted as sons and daughters into this inheritance. Jesus came as a bondage breaker, earth-shaker, proclaimer of the Lord’s favor; to totally upend the order of business that humanity has created for themselves of saying who does and does not belong, of who is worthy to receive God’s goodness. Scripture has been speaking this message for years, but if we look at the world around us today, we as the Church can’t afford to be unawakened to who we are in Christ. We need to stay sharp, to continuously flex our prayer muscle. The world needs to know the good news.
I confess that I’ve been a bit squishy in prayer lately. I’ve been very distracted by the things of the world, despite the fact that I’m engaged in a lot of good things right now (for those of you who know me, this is an unintentional pun). But the message on Sunday, as well as follow up in life group afterwards, has spurred me on to be more proactive in my prayer life. I love how Gail emphasized creating a prayer list in whatever form works for you. For Jordan, it’s a straight up pen to paper list; for Christy it’s notecards. For me, because I spend long stretches of time in my car, it’s post-it notes on my windshield. It’s a small step, but I’m trusting that God will bring breakthrough, and returning to Isaiah 56:7, a wealth of joy for myself and many others.
When we realize who we are in Christ, and are awake to the message of the Gospel, I think that prayer will be a natural response.
The excuses that we make- no time, can’t focus, don’t know what to pray- will ring less true. I will be the first to admit that I’ve used these excuses many times. But God returns me lovingly to where I need to be when I’m reminded that I have the Holy Spirit to help me. In Christ, I have a Spirit of power, love and self-discipline, and I’m far from alone.
I also agree with Elisabeth that prayer ministry is a solid step to sharpening our prayer lives. As Jordan said, the excuses we make are not the real reasons we don’t pray. Often it’s deeper, coming from a place of not believing in our identity as a daughter or son, feeling condemned before God, or wrestling with disappointment and pain from unanswered prayer and relational issues. These are real and challenging things, but there’s also hope to bring them before God and find healing. If you find these and other issues hindering your ability to pray, prayer ministry or simply reaching out to a trusted friend may be exactly the support you need.
I hope that we will grow in our ownership of being a house of prayer. I’m also hopeful that we as a house of prayer will send out many people to preach good news in many different places. I know that we do that already. Praise God for a family of believers who doesn’t shy away from hard things, but trusts that God will continue to uphold them. I am so thankful.
Lord, thank you that in Christ, we have been given a joyful inheritance and an abundance of peace in the midst of pain and hardship in the world. I pray that this body of believers will grow in our ownership of being a house of prayer. I pray that we will rise up and fight the injustice that we see in the world, and preach the good news that invites everyone into righteousness in God. Help us grow in our awareness of injustice, that we will see people with your eyes, and feel about them as you feel about them. Help us to lift up our brothers and sisters who are preaching the good news near and far, so that all the world will know that you are Lord. Protect us as we submit to your will, and help us to always know that we are deeply loved. Amen.
About the Author: Gabby hails from Waco, Tx where she received her undergraduate degree in social work. She calls herself a Michigander now, and is excited for the next adventure with God in Ann Arbor and Detroit! Geography is her favorite subject, and as the American daughter of Filipino immigrants, she is no stranger to a diversity of food, culture and travel. You can often find her at the local rock wall, hitting the pavement around Ypsi/A2 or, her favorite, getting quality time with good friends.