God’s house is to be a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13). So, in church services we try to follow that instruction by having intermittent prayer around preaching and singing and by having entire gathering times dedicated to only prayer. What place does prayer actually have in the gathering? This will be an important topic for those who desire to organize worship meetings biblically to the glory of God alone. Especially in the coming years as highly spiritualized prayer becomes more popular. I even heard Thom Rainer, in his podcast “Rainer on Leadership” recently promote the idea of having a prayer team praying during the service because God would be moved by those prayers even though the Bible is plain when it identifies God as the mover, not the one who is moved. What place does prayer actually have in the worship gathering? Is there a valuable place for ‘prayer meetings?’
Just because I know the fallout that will come from writing this, I need to make a clarification here. This is not everything that is to be said about prayer. I am not here addressing the power of prayer, the need for intercessory prayer, or why it seems in Scripture that God answers prayer in mighty ways. The only question I am considering is the proper place of prayer in the regular gathering of believers.
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.
Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
[For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.]
For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.”
Biblical prayer has these characteristics:
- Prayer is primarily not a public affair. Christ instructs us to pray in our closets.
- Prayer is to the point. God does not need us to go on and on.
- God knows what we need and is faithful. Our constant prayer for things or for healing or for change in circumstance only reveals our lack of faith.
- Because prayer is not about us moving God, we pray to praise God’s holy name.
- We pray for God’s will to be done.
- We pray for provision according to God’s will.
- We pray for forgiveness and resolve to forgive others.
- We pray for deliverance from evil.
Considering these characteristics from Jesus’ instruction, we can know some things about prayer’s place in the gathering:
- It should not be our habit to pray lengthy public prayers.
- We should be dedicated to prayer at home in preparation for the worship service.
- Our primary concern is to receive the will of God, which He gave in His word.
What does the Scripture mean when it states that God’s house is a house of prayer?
In Matthew 21, Jesus is running the money-changers out of the Temple complex. They were concerned about personal gain while prayer is about offering ourselves to God, asking His provision, and receiving His will. For God’s house to be a house of prayer is for God’s house (in our case the gathering of believers) to be about God’s will and glory, not ours. So, it is impossible for God’s house to be a house of prayer if we are concerned with trying to pray enough to move God to satisfy or glorify us. In fact, that is the very same thing that the money-changers were doing, trying to build their own kingdoms on God’s shoulders. We simply do it in a way that seems more spiritual by trying to elicit God’s reaction for some sort of personal gain through a practice that we refer to as prayer.
So, prayer in the context of the gathering should glorify God and seek the will of God as revealed in God’s word alone.