45 Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Luke 19:45–46, NKJV)
The corruption of God’s house of prayer is on full display as Christ’s indignation raged against those who had turned temple worship into an oppressive and lucrative business enterprise (Matt. 21:12-13). Jesus used Isaiah 56:7 to expose and condemn their unholy treatment of God’s house and God’s people. Now, the church is God’s holy temple (Eph. 2:19-22). Despite Christ’s pointed warning against defiling God’s house, people continue to defile God’s house of prayer, the church. The reconfiguration of the church constitutes a departure from the faith the Spirit expressly warned would happen (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Gal. 1:6-10). Over time, the church’s worship became polluted with rites and rituals not found in the covenant of Christ. The church’s organization was turned into an ecclesiastical hierarchy ruling over independent congregations of saints. The church’s work became contaminated by material pursuits as people made merchandise of the gospel (2 Cor. 2:17). Jesus does not look on approvingly while the will and wisdom of men corrupt His church (Col. 2:8, 20-23). The church does not belong to us; it belongs to Christ. Christ’s gospel continues to disrupt the innovations that defile God’s house under the guise of progress and advancement (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Jno. 9).
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. (Acts 9:9–11, NKJV)
An important question arises from the aftermath of Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8). Saul asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” and was told to “go into the city, and you will be told what you must do,” to which he complied (Acts 9:6-8). Here is the question: If Saul was saved when Jesus appeared to him on the road, why did Ananias ask him, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord?” (Acts 22:16) The answer is obvious. After three days of blindness, fasting, and praying, Saul was still in need of his sins being cleansed. Although fasting, Saul’s repentance was not all he needed to be forgiven. Although praying, Saul’s prayers did not constitute “calling on the name of the Lord” to be saved. However, when his faith compelled Saul to arise and be baptized, his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus (Rom. 6:3). This is how sinners are saved today. Not by miracles. Not by faith alone, repentance alone, prayer alone, or baptism alone. Do you have the faith to do all Jesus commands so your sins will be washed away?
When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. (Mark 5:6, NKJV)
Quite a number of people believe every part of their daily life constitutes worship. Today’s verse (it is not the only one) shows that is not so. Worship (“to pay homage to, to prostrate oneself in homage”) is a particular action by the worshiper given to the object of worship. Please notice the man was not worshiping Jesus when he saw him from a distance. The man was not worshiping Jesus when he ran to Jesus. It is when he arrived that he “worshiped Him.” Christians are instructed to worship God “in spirit and truth” – such are true worshipers (John 4:23-24). Worship involves particular actions directed toward God (prayer, singing praises, the Lord’s supper, giving, and preaching God’s word (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:15-16; 11:23-26; 16:1-2). Therefore, worship is more than just going to the lake or mountains and communing with nature. God has revealed the worship He accepts. It is our obligation to offer it to Him without our subtractions or additions. Let us live holy, devoted lives every day, and let us worship God as Scripture directs, with right hearts (“spirit”) and God-approved actions (“truth”).
14 And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” (Isaiah 37:14–16, NKJV)
Jerusalem was besieged and it appeared the city would soon be captured by Assyria. God’s prophet assured king Hezekiah that God would overthrow the Assyrian king (Isaiah 37:1-7). Now, messengers from Assyria’s king delivered a letter of intimidation and reproach to the king of Judah (Isaiah 37:8-13). Hezekiah’s faith remained in the Lord, and he brought the threat before Him. In verse 16, Hezekiah honored three attributes of God that we do well to remember when we come to God in time of trouble. He honored 1) God’s holiness and mercy (“the One who dwells between the cherubim” referred to the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place of the Jerusalem temple), 2) God’s sovereignty as the One true God (“You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth,” and 3) God as Creator of all things (“You have made heaven and earth”). When the enemies of truth and righteousness press down upon Christians, we assure our hearts and our faith with these eternal truths. Let us follow Hezekiah’s good example of faith. God does not forsake the faithful (Hebrews 13:5-6).
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. (Matthew 6:9, NKJV)
Once our motives for prayer are pure we are prepared to learn how to pray. The manner of our prayers matters to God. If how we pray is of no consequence, then when His disciples asked Jesus to “teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples,” He would have simply said there is no need to do so (Luke 11:1-2). Yet, He fulfilled their request and taught them to pray. Like them, we need to learn to pray. Jesus offers this model prayer to help us learn to pray reverently and acceptably (Matthew 6:9-13). Prayer is not a liturgical, ceremonial event. It is the disciple’s communication with God. So, Jesus said our prayers must show respect and honor for God’s paternity (“Our Father in heaven”). We are His children, and we trust Him as our Father. God’s holiness defines Him, and our prayers must also acknowledge His sanctity (“hallowed be Your name”). Acceptable prayer is respectful of God. When we pray we praise God’s greatness and admit our lowliness. Recognizing God’s holiness brings us before Him with humble dependence instead of bringing prideful demands before Him.
7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:7–8, NKJV)
A repeated prayer is not automatically a vain repetition. In Gethsemane, Jesus “prayed the third time, saying the same words” (Matthew 26:44). In today’s text the Lord again drills down to the motive of prayer as He draws attention the method in which we pray. Prayers offered to gain attention and renown are useless to the Father. Excessive words prayed to fill space, lengthen prayers, or to display one’s ability to supplicate deity do not deceive God (even though they deceive the one praying as well as those who hear their wordiness). Neither is prayer a ceremonial recitation of words without thought. Prayer is the earnest expression of the heart to our Father, who knows what we need before we ask. Therefore, when we pray we remember we are communing with an all-knowing, all-powerful God. Vain repetitions do increase the likelihood of God hearing us – just the opposite. He hears and answers those who depend on Him and honor Him in their prayers, not those who use prayer to exalt themselves in the eyes of others.
5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5–6, NKJV)
Just as with alms, our motive for prayer is crucial. Jesus stresses the “why” of our prayers. We have denied the power of prayer and elevated ourselves instead of God when we turn prayer into an opportunity to be seen and praised by others (Luke 18:9-12). We are hypocrites to think God accepts us when we pray with motives of self-importance. Public praise is not the reason to worship God. When that is our motive, that is the only praise we will receive. Jesus is not indicting public prayer given in reverent worship (see 1 Corinthians 14:15-16). It is needed instruction that helps us examine why we pray. When we pray to be seen by God, He will reward us generously and obviously. Let us check why we pray so our Father in heaven will hear us and answer us.
I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4, NKJV)
Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). David was sure that because he sought the Lord that God heard him and delivered him from his fears. His statement suggests several things worthy of every Christian’s attention and acceptance. First, you can find God when you seek Him. Just as God is “not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27), He is a nearby helper of His children, who put their trust in Him (Hebrews 13:5-6; Matthew 6:9). Next, God listens when His children speak to Him. He knows our needs before we ask, but He expects us to come to Him with faith, confident that He hears and responds (Matthew 6:8; 7:8-11). Third, God is able to deliver you safely through every trial. “If God is for us, who can be against us” is our rally cry of victory in Christ (Romans 8:31). We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). Let us seek the Lord with full confidence that He hears us and delivers us. We put our faith and hope in Him, and He delivers us from every fear.
And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:7, NKJV)
Judah was in Babylon, exiled by the Lord God because of her sinful rebellion against Him (Jeremiah 29:1, 4). In this letter to the elders of the people, God’s prophet instructed them to build houses, plant gardens, maintain their families, and be at peace with those who ruled over them. Like them, we live in a strange land as we live for heaven. In times of societal distress we are tempted to become militant against unrighteous governing powers, forgetting that God rules over every nation (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:17). During times of peace as well as turbulence, Christians supplicate heaven, giving thanks and praying “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). While the mobs gather, we live for a better country, a heavenly one. Instead of repaying evil for evil, “have regard for good things in the sight of all men” so that, “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:17-18). In His time, God rights every wrong with just vengeance (Romans 12:19). We are to promote peace in righteousness. That is what sojourners do while living in a foreign land (1 Peter 2:11-12).
15 “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, 17 Seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you?” (Psalm 50:15–17, NKJV)
The wicked, who defy God’s law and break His covenant, have no ground to stand upon and declare what God will or will not do. God is not a talisman or lucky charm to be called upon to conjure up blessings in a moment of crisis. Yet, too many people think of God this way. They have little time or use for God until a crisis occurs, and then they can be heard crying to God for help. God is not a fire-extinguisher on standby only when we have a problem that needs fixing. He commands and deserves our gratitude and faithful allegiance always. The Lord God hears and answers the cries of the righteous (1 Peter 3:10-12). Are you responsive to what God wants from you (His words of instruction)? If not, how can you expect Him to respond to your cries for help? What right do you have to say what God will or will not do, seeing you have rejected His word? Come back to God and obey His word. Then, He will hear and answer your prayers according to His will, not yours (1 John 5:14-15).